Saturday, August 17, 2013

Einstein and Combinatory Creativity

This article was inspired by Maria Popova.

Many of us don't often think about where creativity comes from, but if we do stop for a second to wonder, we can quickly realize a few things. We might determine that it's a combination of all experience: all knowledge, all daydreams, all culture, all pressure, all goal setting...and a certain amount of selectivity from the pot. Einstein called this method of choosing "combinatorial creativity".

maria popovaI'll post the entire quote of Einstein's at the bottom of this article, but to keep it simple (like I do), perhaps we should first heed this piece of advice:
"If you want to find out anything from the theoretical physicist about the methods they use, I advise you to stick closely to one principle: don't listen to their words, fix your attention on their deeds." 
"On the Methods of Theoretical Physics," Herbert Spenser Lecture, Oxford, June 10, 1933.
So, basically, in the age of the internet I can relate this to our brutal and anonymous critics. The internet is such a glorious invention. It's a canvas to post our words and our images, to spout our unique opinions (though we often find them to be not as unique as we first thought), to build an audience (whether or not it's a paying one), and to shine our souls (whether or not anyone feels their warmth). 

But how many times has a critic on the other end of a keyboard somewhere, a nameless entity save for a forum handle, taken the wind out of your sails, deflated your tires, and made you feel like you stepped in gum (or worse), all at the same time? It's sure happened to me, but I recently made it a point to not take their criticisms so seriously. Sure, the critics have useful information to give.

Stephen King said: 
“I have spent a good many years since--too many, I think--being ashamed about what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction or poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent. If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that's all.”
So keep putting your ideas out there. Eventually they will spindle together and trap audiences like webs of entertainment and bliss. They will not only affect the minds of the audience members on that first sitting, but eventually, with persistence, they will return as memories. That is what we're going for: the memories. Memories can affect your audience's decision in the future, and artists who call pull off that trick can really change the world for the better -- they can become magicians. 

So let's all give it a try.

And here's the long Einstein quote that I promised to those of you who made it this far. He said:
maria popova"(A) The words or the language, as they are written or spoken, do not seem to play any role in my mechanism of thought. The psychical entities which seem to serve as elements in thought are certain signs and more or less clear images which can be "voluntarily" reproduced and combined. There is, of course, a certain connection between those elements and relevant logical concepts. It is also clear that the desire to arrive finally at logically connected concepts is the emotional basis of this rather vague play with the above-mentioned elements. But taken from a psychological viewpoint, this combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought--before there is any connection with logical construction in words or other kinds of signs which can be communicated to others. 
(B) The above-mentioned elements are, in my case, of visual and some of muscular type. Conventional words or other signs have to be sought for laboriously only in a secondary stage, when the mentioned associative play is sufficiently established and can be reproduced at will. 
(C) According to what has been said, the play with the mentioned elements is aimed to be analogous to certain logical connections one is searching for. 
(D) Visual and motor. In a stage when words intervene at all, they are, in my case, purely auditive, but they interfere only in a secondary stage, as already mentioned. 
(E) It seems to me that what you call full consciousness is a limit case which can never be fully accomplished. This seems to me connected with the fact called the narrowness of consciousness (Enge des Bewusstseins)"
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