Tag Archives: Creativity

Science and Art: limits in scientific creativity

This is a follow up to my recent post in this theme. I got encouraging (thank you!) and interesting responses to that post, some of which deserve a highlight. First quote comes from Gregory Lent, an artist:

art is simply listening inwards and being aware of what you feel. true of both art appreciation, and art making …. the permission to do that is more an emotional allowing than any sort of training or “creativity” … it is merely conscious sensitivity …

scientists have this ability, of course, but are too wedded to the intellect to allow it to emerge, or to be part of the daily flow …

The next one is from Steven Grand, AI researcher:

The thing is, all creative thinkers use some kind of analogy. At the artistic end of the scale these analogies tend to be loose, suggestive metaphors. At the scientific end of the scale we build mathematical models. But in between come many shades of analogy, some more concrete and some metaphorical; some symbolic and some more touchy-feely.

The trick, of course, is to be able to shift freely up and down the continuum as required. Not all artists or scientists can do this, sadly. Many artists are unable to anchor their thoughts in reality and many scientists are too scared to let go of certainty.

And finally, a comment from Michael Nielsen, theoretical physicist (quantum information theorist to be precise), posted over at FriendFeed:

(…) I don’t think particularly verbally when I’m doing research. Not visually either. Instead, it’s a mishmash of spatial, kinesthetic, visual and linguistic; very, very hard to describe. In any case, I don’t think I fit your description. I suspect a lot of theoretical physicists don’t.

And actually I could end this post here, as these quotes nicely complement each other. However, there’s one more thing I wanted to add.

After noticing how limited my thinking patterns are, I suspect that there’s a lot of mental barriers for creative thinking in sciences, that are “inherited” during the training process (mainly the PhD studies). There’s quite a lot of “outside” barriers too (see brilliant post by Jean-Claude  on ego-less science), but my feeling is that great ideas don’t appear too often because we simply rarely fall off the track to find them. The times of Ansel Adams who took some of his most beatiful photographs from or in close proximity to his car are gone – science became a crowded tourists destination with thousands of eyes looking for a good picture from exactly the same spot.

I’m very happy where the topic has lead me. The whole theme of intersection between Science and Art becomes a quest for exploring limits in scientific creativity.

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Posted by on April 14, 2009 in Science and Art


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(Do not) Beat ideas half to death

This is short post/note to self – to see if the way I think about science today will change in couple of years. Its enigmatic title comes from Stu Jenks, one of my favourite photographers. He wrote in the introduction to his works:

I’ve been doing a series of spirals. You know how it is with us artists. We take one idea, and then beat it half to death.

If we substitute “artists” with “scientists” it still sounds true. This is efficient (in modern terms of scientific productivity) way of doing research, but probably not always the best one. While I know that many breakthrough discoveries in science were results of years of hard work, not all of them required fifteen years to establish a procedure only. So, the question is if rapid switching between fields (every few years or so) is a good idea? It probably depends. Ask me in a few years how it works in my case.

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Posted by on February 17, 2009 in Comments


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