Skip to content

	Image: Palaeolithic bulls and other animals crowd calcite walls at Lascaux (detail). Photograph by Sisse Brimberg, National Geographic. Getty Images.

Civilisation: creating new worlds

A Learning Curve lecture series with Dr Christopher Hartney

This compelling lecture series investigates the heart of creativity.

As civilisations throughout history have sought renewal and survival, the human capacity for creativity, innovation and problem-solving has remained the master key to recovery from crisis. The 'new’ in all its forms, however, can be a powerful shock to both sensibility and stability. It is often seen as a zone of deviancy, constantly threatening to bring disorder and chaos.

Dr Christopher Hartney unveils what we know of the mechanisms of human creativity and how we can turn it to our advantage. Utilising his extensive knowledge of the civilisations of the past, he will retell the titanic battles between the constraint and unleashing of creativity,

The series explores how world views are renewed, and how and why art is vital to the process. It is designed for those fascinated with the operations of the human mind, and how it makes art, and will appeal equally to lovers of world history and to those who delight in the creative workings of the human mind. It will inspire creators and innovators who seek new insight into the vast range of ancient and modern practices of invention and renewal. Examples will range from the trance states of shamans and diviners, through to analytical creativity, the role of randomness, and how we solve problems. The study of civilisation meets the latest developments in the cognitive sciences in this enthralling story.

Find out more about Dr Christopher Hartney

Image: Palaeolithic bulls and other animals crowd calcite walls at Lascaux (detail). Photograph by Sisse Brimberg, National Geographic. Getty Images.

Various Fridays 10.30am, Saturdays 11am in 2014
See listing for details

Full series: non-member $310, member $230
Per lecture: non-member $45, member $35, student $25

Bookings and enquiries: 02 9225 1878


Become a member

Link above is for series booking

Online bookings for Saturday lectures close Friday 4.30pm prior to each lecture

Ticket price includes entry, lecture notes, coffee during intermissions and a glass of wine after each session

Lectures and lecturers subject to change
No transfers between sessions

Three full working days (Mon–Fri) notice is required to qualify for a refund. All refunds attract an administration charge of 25% of the ticket price(s) with a minimum charge of $5. With subscription tickets there are no refunds for single sessions, unless a session is cancelled. Not negotiable.

Duration 2 hours
Location: Domain Theatre

Proudly sponsored by
Arab Bank Australia

Genesis: prehistory and today

Are there creative mechanisms so essential to the human experience that we can find traces of them equally in prehistoric art and innovative practices today?

Here we shall delve into the depths of the cave art of Southern France to examine how we model reality, and how the creative urge constantly re-adapts and renews that reality. The role in creativity of shamanism, trance states, dream states and other alternative modes of thought will be thoroughly investigated.



Saturday 16 August 2014 11am – 1pm


Friday 22 August 2014 10:30am – 12:30pm

The great tension: China, India and playfulness

With Indian and Chinese civilisations as our background, in this lecture we examine the great tensions in any society between tradition and the radically new. Unless carefully managed, new traditions are rejected and those who try to reform the world can be seen as simply mad. We shall mine fascinating examples from Confucian ideas of self and world transformation, to Daoist spontaneity and Indian ideas of playfulness, and unveil a range of age-old strategies to turn radically new ideas into tradition.



Saturday 23 August 2014 11am – 1pm


Friday 29 August 2014 10:30am – 12:30pm

Narrative ecologies and innovation, Mesopotamia and monotheism

If we want to get to the heart of creativity in the West, it is the stories, myths and assumptions about the self that are vital to the success of the creative process. This is most powerfully highlighted in how the stories from Mesopotamia, Judaism, Christianity, Gnosticism and Islam build into the narrative ecology with which we live today. This lecture examines the ways in which these narrative structures foster or discourage innovation.



Saturday 30 August 2014 11am – 1pm


Friday 5 September 2014 10:30am – 12:30pm

Altered unconsciousness, health and creative rage

The Greeks and Romans knew the importance of unconscious thinking, sleep, divination and rage. In this lecture we look at examples that show that the 'enlightened’, apparently rational classical world was anything but rational. Here we examine ancient processes of innovation through dream cultivation, somnambulism, magic and ritual, and compare this with the latest thinking on the role of the sleeping brain in innovation and renewal.



Saturday 6 September 2014 11am – 1pm


Friday 12 September 2014 10:30am – 12:30pm

What makes a genius: from Voltaire to Edison

Societies change incrementally, in ways that seem to leave little room for individual creative genius – yet that genius still exists. In light of arguments about the impossibility of free will, in this lecture we will examine how, from the medieval period through to the Enlightenment, individuals have struggled to disprove the ancient adage that there is nothing new under the sun; and we investigate the specific creative practices that gave us the modern world.



Saturday 13 September 2014 11am – 1pm


Friday 19 September 2014 10:30am – 12:30pm

Spatial and temporal alterations, inner pilgrimages, and memory palaces as intense play-spaces

This lecture examines the theme of play in its modern Western context and moves quickly to a range of architectural examples, mental and other, which enable intense creativity. We look at how art and the environment can provoke wildly creative responses. This lecture includes discussion on how drugs warp space-time and perception for creative ends, and on the potent ecological dimensions of creative thought.



Saturday 20 September 2014 11am – 1pm


Friday 26 September 2014 10:30am – 12:30pm

The pathology of creativity

Since Freud, creativity has been increasingly seen as a psychological concern. This lecture breaks apart this modern myth, focusing on how to think the unthinkable by examining the ways societies mythologise themselves, and, in doing so, place limits on what can be imagined. We use a range of challenging examples from poetry, cinema and modern art to look at how creative souls constantly seek to break social limits. The lecture will focus on theories of deviancy as creativity and spell out why such a force is necessary for the renewal of any human society.



Saturday 27 September 2014 11am – 1pm


Friday 10 October 2014 10:30am – 12:30pm

How to make a tomorrow

The series concludes by welding the latest theories on innovation and creativity in the neurosciences to the profound lessons we can draw from the study of civilisation and art. A range of models for creativity will be presented that can be deployed on a daily basis to re-enchant our lives and refashion ourselves and our world.



Saturday 18 October 2014 11am – 1pm


Friday 24 October 2014 10:30am – 12:30pm