Wednesday, June 25, 2014

How Do People Get New Ideas?

It's truly amazing what the human mind can do. How can anyone produces music that tickles the soul? Have you ever looked at your mobile phone, GPS or car and asked: how the heck did they come up with this thing in the first place? Well it's all down to one thing: creativity. New idea. Innovation.

But how do people get new ideas?

I rarely experience those bulb-going-off moment because, frankly, my creativity level is horrendously low. Routine is what I do best, and then I looked at people like Hans Zimmer, Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison and thought how pathetic my brain power can be, and to add to my woes all three of them didn't even go to college and Zimmer, the composer for the movie Pirates of the Caribbean had had only two weeks of piano lesson when he was a child.
We often think of those people as a whole different species altogether -- geniuses -- and we seek comfort in knowing that most, if not all, of them are probably more dweeb than we normal people are (with the exception of Schroedinger--that guy tried to get his wife to live with his mistress).

According to old theories, the secret of creativity lies in making analogies. Thomas Edison used analogies when he invented the kinetoscope. Another famous scientist, Johannes Kepler, also loved making analogies. He proposed that like light, the sun-centered spirit (the 21st century term for this is gravity) can travel invisibly from the sun to a far, distant planet and affect its motion.
So the key here is this: what if A can act like B, will they produce the same result?

But how about people who didn't use the analogy paradigm?

Einstein, for instance, might or might not have used analogies to develop new ideas during his lifetime, but he certainly used a lot of thought experiments in the process of developing his famous theory of special relativity. He recalled how, at the age of 16, he imagined himself chasing after a beam of light. When moving at the speed of light, time stops moving and things get weird; one example is the twin paradox. So it is impossible to apply analogies from the real world into a world where people don't age.

Then there's Schroedinger and his famous cat experiment:

A cat is penned up in a steel chamber, along with the following device (which must be secured against direct interference by the cat): in a Geiger counter, there is a tiny bit of radioactive substance, so small, that perhaps in the course of the hour one of the atoms decays, but also, with equal probability, perhaps none; if it happens, the counter tube discharges and through a relay releases a hammer that shatters a small flask of hydrocyanic acid. If one has left this entire system to itself for an hour, one would say that the cat still lives if meanwhile no atom has decayed. The psi-function of the entire system would express this by having in it the living and dead cat (pardon the expression) mixed or smeared out in equal parts. It is typical of these cases that an indeterminacy originally restricted to the atomic domain becomes transformed into macroscopic 

indeterminacy, which can then be resolved by direct observation. That prevents us from so naively accepting as valid a "blurred model" for representing reality. In itself, it would not embody anything unclear or contradictory. There is a difference between a shaky or out-of-focus photograph and a snapshot of clouds and fog banks.--Erwin Schroedinger, 1935.
So how did he come up with such thought? Analogy? Step-by-step brainstorming? Alcohol? Unfortunately both he and Einstein had died so we shall never know the secret to their thought experiment.

In a new study published recently in Cognitive Science, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh performed a word-by-word analysis of a group of designers’ conversations as they brainstormed.

What they found in the sessions they studied is that new ideas didn't spring fully formed after massive cognitive leaps. Creativity is a stepwise process in which idea A spurs a new but closely related thought, which prompts another incremental step, and the chain of little mental advances sometimes eventually ends with an innovative idea in a group setting. --University of Pittsburgh press release.

What they're trying to tell you is that creativity is a slow, painstaking process that comes from connecting a bunch of old ideas to produce something new-- albeit with only a slight modification -- which could sometimes lead to a breakthrough.
I have tried, and am still trying to read more material during my free time to gather sufficient information to be connected to form a string of ideas which, more often than not, fails to go off when it really matters (especially when trying to spark a conversation with an attractive member of the opposite sex).
Well, I have to agree with the researchers that creativity is indeed a slow, painstaking, and sometimes embarrassing process.


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