Good stuff on creativity. Another angle that deserves attention is providing an
environment to assemble the same information in different patterns of context.
This might be an aspect of multiple views that Doug has discussed, but in any
event, new ideas emerge from pattern recognition. Important patterns are
typically buried in the complexity of daily information that streams by
sequentially, and so escape notice. Taking a moment to connect related context,
enables the mind to grasp patterns of cause and effect. Doing this a lot,
produces a web of connections that is mind boggling for those who encounter only
the work product, as you have noted; yet, the mechanics of creating connections
and assembling chunks of stuff in alternate contexts may aid recognition of
useful patterns, which some authorities call "creativity."
Eric Armstrong wrote:
> At last, at last, the concept of "creativity"
> makes sense. Although still somewhat mysterious,
> it is an understandable, usable, even "drivable"
> I have to thank Consciousness Explained, by
> Daniel C. Dennett, for the insights. He relates
> a marvelous party experiment that goes like
> * You tell someone at a party to step out of
> the room while the rest of the group hears
> someone describe a dream. Then, when they
> come back, they ask questions about the
> dream and decide who's dream it is.
> * While they're out, you tell the rest of the
> group to answer every question based on the
> last letter of the question. If <=N, answer
> "yes", otherwise answer "no", with the proviso
> that all succeeding answers should override
> this rule in order to remain consistent with
> previous answers.
> * The person comes back in, and proceeds to
> unknowingly "invent" the dream by the process
> of asking questions. The "dream" therefore
> reflects *their* preoccupations and concerns.
> Dennett makes the point that real dreams probably
> emerge the same way, with images popping up out of
> the "noise" in our heads, in response to the questions
> we are asking ourselves -- i.e. the things we are
> thinking about.
> For me, the essence of creativity has always been a
> matter of persistence -- of doggedly asking a question
> until one day an answer appears -- although it may
> take years before it happens.
> I suspect that the process of seeing an answer is
> mostly, if not entirely, a process of recognizing an
> analogy. So it was that the double-helix vision of
> DNA arose in a dream that featured the intertwining
> snakes of a medical caduceus.
> That mechanism would account for the frequency of
> "simultaneous independent discovery", based on
> environmental factors which cause people to be asking
> the same questions -- questions that may go unanswered
> for decades until other developments in the environment
> provide useful analogies. The similarity of the questions,
> and the analogies, together account for the occurrence of
> virtually identical solutions in locations that are
> widely distant from each other.
> There were some studies of creativity I read a decade
> or so ago. They pointed out that creative bursts
> followed a fairly standard pattern, consisting of
> immersion in a particular domain, almost to the point
> of obsession, followed by a quiet period where the
> person is off doing something else, whereupon a sudden
> flash of insight illuminates the issue.
> A friend had an experience like, when he was solving the
> problem of the "7 golden balls" in high school. The
> problem is this: You have 7 golden balls, all of which
> look the same, but one is different. You have a set of
> balance scales. How can you tell, in 3 weighs, which
> ball is different, and whether it is heavier or lighter?
> My friend worked on that problem for weeks. It consumed
> him. But he never did figure it out. Then he graduated.
> Two years later, as a helicopter pilot Vietnam, he woke
> up the solution in his head.
> Stories like that are fascinating. Equally fascinating
> is a branch of Yoga I heard about in India, that focus
> on sleep creativity. You go to sleep with an issue, and
> wake up with a solution is, I believe, the kind of ability
> it aims at developing. (Got this from a very recent book
> that is an authoritative survey of India traditions. I
> can get the title, if anyone is interested. It's big.)
> A very similar phenomenon came to by way of a spectacular
> PBS special, also available in book form, called "Special
> Friends", I believe. (I can look that up, too.) It was
> about some of the movers and shakers in the early 20th
> century, and how they were friends.
> I recall one fellow in particular who did something
> spectacular. As an experiment, he tried spending a few
> quiet moments each morning "opening himself to God" to
> receive any guidance he could obtain, and act on that
> Note that this fellow had *no* particular belief in God.
> He just tried it out as an experiment. The results were
> spectacular, and he passed on that notion to some of his
> friends -- one of whom was Charles Lindbergh, if I recall
> the sequence of events correctly.
> Now, this process of "opening for guidance" is a highly
> effective method for creating a *life*. Basically, after
> having the night to sleep on things, you spend a few
> minutes in quiet reflection, creating the calm surface
> waters in which to see the "answers from above" reflected
> into your awareness.
> Of course, the process he described is in other cultures
> known as meditation. It does not require any particular
> religious belief, although it is typically accompanied by
> an opening of the heart and an experience of inner joy
> that typically can't be accounted for any other way.
> Of course, even with the process of creativity understood,
> there is still plenty of room for mystery. How does that
> analogy process work? How is that simply asking a
> question repeatedly leads to inspiration? Is it truly
> random, or is there some divine "source" for the
> inspirations that result? How is that the internal
> knowledge structures get reorganized over time to make
> insights more likely in a given area?
> There is nothing in the explanation of the process
> that *precludes* the operation of a divine agency.
> But regardless, it is fascinating to know that
> creativity is somewhat mechanical process that can
> be "worked" very effectively.
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