Before my wittering (below) here's some real, empirical research : (though http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/89/creativity.html (though it's scary to think that these "myths" are so widespread. I kind of read this and think these results are pretty obvious.)
I think the best way of understanding creativity is ArthurKoestler's notion of bisociation, connecting ideas which hadn't been connected before.
HyperText and Creativity
- Wiki and other forms of HyperText helps you discover such bisociations. (WikiIsPayingOff.)
- I believe that such hypertexts can be understood with a chemical metaphor : chemicals react better when ground to a finer granularity (BangTheRocksTogether) and a fine grained wiki is particularly a place to find inspiration. (WikiIsaCauldron, OnGranularity)
- On the other hand, you could do the obvious mechanical thing of trying to connect ''every node with every other. (This reminds me of that medieval philosopher in Spain who had a system for running through the combinations of things. Anyone know his name?
: Maybe Abraham ben Meir ibn Ezra? (Anyway, http://www-gap.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Ezra.html) Anyway,) searching Google found me some interesting links to ArabicMusic and VotingInMedievalUniversities which I should read at some point.)
** Surely this latter can't be a good idea*? But why not? Because the number of bad, uninteresting combinations would swamp the good? Is it like Borges's library with books with every combination of letters? It takes longer to find than to create? (http://jubal.westnet.com/hyperdiscordia/libraryofbabel.html))
- OK, so what this means is that creativity = a network with selective (or structural) bisociation. You only want some ideas connected. Wonder whether there's any general network structure for good ideas which are bisociated. I suppose it's very likely a ScaleFree distribution of links but anything else interesting?
- Well, SocialOriginOfGoodIdeas finds them in sparsely connected "holes". Clearly that's interesting ... find the most distant nodes and ask what would connect them? (See also NetworkEpistemology, WorstConnected)
- Of course, I suppose NoFreeLunch tells us there can't be a general "good idea generator".
A sycophant writes : Phil, you have so many great ideas (like your suggestions for Google-beating SearchEngines), how come you just give them away, here, free and don't try to patent them or something?
Phil (insufferably smug) : I believe creativity - ie. finding interesting bisociations - is something you can practice and get better at. So although IdeasAreCheap, and we're all trying to get by in TheAttentionEconomy, and PatentsSuck, the real reason I give my ideas away is because I think that the more you practice having ideas, the more you'll have. (Just like the MagicPenny :-)
Bleah! Even a literary device like me finds that nausiating! I thought you were going to say ConversationIsAmazinglyProductive, and so luring other people into argument (ArgueAgainstMe) can be a stimulant.
Well, er, that too, of course. Glad you picked up on that other brilliant insight of mine. But let's return to the general NetworkEpistemology question. What general network structures encourage the right kind of conversation? What relations between ideas, between texts, between parts of arguments, are good and creative? Or does NoFreeLunch make such questions meaningless?
Yeah, I seem to remember you were a CriticalRationalist, what happened to ConjectureIsBlind?
Exactly. And there is the question of getting the granularity smaller, so you have a larger number of more freequent interactions betweeen fragments.
But without it crashing into the cacophanous campanology, ringing the changes on everything-with-everything which would be noise. There has to be a HappyMedium, a right scale to avoid GranularityMistakes.
Further : IdeasRot, so if you don't give them away you'll lose them anyway.
More on Bisociation : http://sylloge.com/personal/2004/09/not-having-enough-time-to-finish.html
Quora Answer : Why do some people who are experts or skilled in their field or industry come up with no innovations while others are creative, e.g., a fantastic guitar player but writes no songs or a fantastic mechanic but invents no new mechanical parts?
Ronald S Burt had a good paper a few years ago called Social Origin of Good Ideas : http://www.analytictech.com/mb709/readings/burt_SOGI.pdf
He shows that creativity is often associated with where you are in a social network.
The simple version is that people who act as links between otherwise disconnected groups or bodies of ideas have more "good ideas" than those who are stuck in the middle of a single homogenous group.
If you are a great violinist, but only hang around with other violinists playing the standard repertoire you'll be unlikely to make innovations. But if you also hang around with Swedish folk musicians you might pick up some ideas no one else has. Perhaps an unusual melody for your own composition. Or an interesting way of microtonally pitchbending that revolutionises your playing of Mozart.
If you hang around with car mechanics you might discover something even more radical. Maybe a tool which can be adapted to a mechanism that attaches to your violin and tensions the strings in a new and exciting way. Or a way to compose music with car engines. Or a new kind of windscreen wiper that moves like a bow. Who knows?
People who are highly skilled but not "innovative" are most like just not exposed to enough weird stuff from somewhere else that can inspire them.
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