Friday, April 06, 2012

Jonah Lehrer on Creativity

Jonah Lehrer
Photo by Nina Subin
New York Times

I think this is my third time to blog on Jonah Lehrer, but that shouldn't surprise anyone used to my blog since I'm noticeably intrigued by the art of thinking clearly, critically, and creatively -- though the chronological order for these three might be the reverse if they occur in logically sequential steps. Anyway, I recently read Michiko Kakutani's review -- "How to Cultivate Eureka Moments" (NYT, April 2, 2012) -- of Lehrer's new book, Imagine: How Creativity Works. Based on Kakutani's report, the art of thinking outside of the box is largely a matter of taking two or more old ideas and putting them together in new ways for new applications:
The 18th-century philosopher David Hume, Mr. Lehrer notes, argued that invention was often an act of recombination, of compounding an idea or transposing it from one field to another:
"Johannes Gutenberg transformed his knowledge of wine presses into an idea for a printing machine capable of mass-producing words. The Wright brothers used their knowledge of bicycle manufacturing to invent the airplane[, for t]heir first flying craft was . . . [largely] a bicycle with wings . . . . George de Mestral came up with Velcro after noticing burrs clinging to the fur of his dog. And Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed . . . [Google's] search algorithm . . . by applying the ranking method . . . for academic articles to . . . the World Wide Web[, . . . the] hyperlink . . . [being] like a citation."

In each case, Mr. Lehrer points out, "the radical concept was merely a new mixture of old ideas."

That's sort of comforting. We don't need radically new ideas to be creative; we just need to see new applications for old ideas combined with other old ideas. Easier said than done, no doubt, but Lehrer offers advice:
[G]roup interaction appears to play a key role in innovation . . . . Mr. Lehrer makes a strong case for cities as incubators of innovation . . . . [H]e argues that the sheer density of urban life, "the proximity of all those overlapping minds," forces people to mingle and interact with a diversity of individuals. This . . . creates exactly the sort of collision of cultures and classes that often yields new ideas . . . . The jostle and serendipity of city life, he believes, can provide a model for how the Internet might be retooled to accelerate creativity[, . . . . so he suggests that "i]nstead of sharing links with just our friends, or commenting anonymously on blogs, or filtering the world with algorithms to fit our interests, we must engage with strangers and strange ideas . . . . The Internet has such creative potential; it's so ripe with weirdness and originality, so full of people eager to share their work and ideas. What we need now is a virtual world that brings us together for real."

Collaboration? Sorry folks. Like Mr. Incredible, I work alone. On the other hand . . . that working style didn't work out too well for him, did it? And in fact, I have often collaborated with others. That has worked best when the others are open-minded and flexible, for I'm not. Just kidding. I'm also open-minded and flexible, or at least try to be.

Indeed, I try my hardest to be more than one person myself, so you (or I) might say that I never work alone, for I am 'Legion' . . .

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At 5:27 AM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

... is largely a matter of taking two or more old ideas and putting them together in new ways

According to a scholar, at a lecture some years ago, the then-revolutionary evolution pattern worked out by Lamarck came from 16 old ideas put together in a new way; but none of them was new, not even the two or three sentences that are usually referred to as his own inventions.

The first author who used Combinational Logic in order to develop new ideas being probably Ramon Lull in the 13th century.

At 6:40 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sixteen was a few too many! He ought to have reduced them to make his theory of evolution simpler.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:06 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

"Complex problems have solutions which are simple, easy to understand --- and wrong."

from the book of the Law of Murphy

At 5:22 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yet . . . there's always one that's simple, easy to understand -- and right!

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey, your reply is SO simple. you are right!

At 9:57 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, if only things were so simple . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:17 AM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Jeff, the Anonymous was me :-) The comment was written from an internet point, but looked like it had not been sent at all --- just now, back home, I've found out that it did, but without having let me type the sender (not even "Anonymous").

At 6:36 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Dario.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:37 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

so, things (technology at least) are not so simple... but they work, after all :-)

At 4:20 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

They work clunkily . . . a bit like that old jalopy driven by Archie Andrews.

Jeffery Hodges

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