Tangential post with Asimov

I ran across this amazing essay by Asimov today, which I think I can tie into the new media seminar, we’ll see. It is something he wrote on creativity in the 1950s and is filled with wonderful take-aways, aka nuggets.

Isaac Asimov Mulls “How Do People Get New Ideas?”

Nugget #1

“Obviously, then, what is needed is not only people with a good background in a particular field, but also people capable of making a connection between item 1 and item 2 which might not ordinarily seem connected.”

This made me think of something that we talk about often that came up in the first session. At the time the question posed was “What is the difference between machine thought and creative thought?” As we discussed, machine thinking has the ability to assemble vast amounts of knowledge, categorize it, organize it, analyze it (to a certain extent), etc. Then what is creative thinking? For me, creative thinking is summed up by this nugget, it is the ability to connect two things that would not typically have been connected. This is what Bush wanted the Memex to help us do, this is what Nelson wants Xanadu to do, but could it even be done by machine? And then, if a machine could, would there be a need for humans?

“My feeling is that as far as creativity is concerned, isolation is required. The creative person is, in any case, continually working at it. His mind is shuffling his information at all times, even when he is not conscious of it.”

Yes, a machine can process far more things for far longer than we can, but can a machine make the same connections as us?


Nugget #2

“The presence of others can only inhibit this process, since creation is embarrassing. For every new good idea you have, there are a hundred, ten thousand foolish ones, which you naturally do not care to display.”

This is the most accurate statement about ideation I have ever heard. I have never worked on a project where the first idea was the one. Often the end result looks nothing like the initial idea. I wonder how much iteration Nelson went through with his various ideas. I get the sense that since he was more of an idea guy that he didn’t like to consider further iterations of his grand idea that may alter it.


Nugget #3

“Probably more inhibiting than anything else is a feeling of responsibility. The great ideas of the ages have come from people who weren’t paid to have great ideas, but were paid to be teachers or patent clerks or petty officials, or were not paid at all. The great ideas came as side issues.

To feel guilty because one has not earned one’s salary because one has not had a great idea is the surest way, it seems to me, of making it certain that no great idea will come in the next time either.”

In my case, I think that my sense of responsibility to my job stifles creativity, which is a bummer. But that is why I enjoy participating in things like the new media seminar, or the ICAT community playdates, which I highly recommend. They are spaces (physical and in time) where I feel comfortable letting my mind wander and weave through all of the ideas flying around me. They give me a recess from my regular duties and allow me to make the sky the limit, instead of the standard pile of restrictions that come along with projects.

Last week when we were discussing the merits of ebooks vs real books and how ebooks will never be able to replace real ones I had an idea. I agree that ebooks will never be like real books, but I can imagine a future where tablet technology is at the point where flipping a page on a ebook reader will be just as responsive as flipping a real page and the reader will have access to the book’s metadata so that it can adjust its weight to mimic that of the real version of the same book. I doubt this would have popped up had I been sitting at my desk going over details on a project timeline. P.s. (Trademark), patent pending, all rights reserved on this idea :p

Anyway, I highly recommend checking out the essay in full, it is well worth your time.

4 Comments on “Tangential post with Asimov

  1. I understand (and to a certain extent share) the sense that creativity and solitude go together. I also enthusiastically endorse the conviction that interactive spaces (the seminar, the web, (ICAT comunity playdates??? Tell me more!)) inspire and amplify creativity. Maybe this is the tension we often return to — the need to contain and focus vs. the need to play and interact.
    Love the idea of the virtually sensory e-book! Patent away. If you can also work in “tangible” bookmarks, post-its, dog-ears, etc., that would be great. Maybe I can cover for you at work while you develop this.

  2. The ICAT community playdates are often, right next to the NMS, the highlight of my week. Each Friday some cool person from the university community gives a short presentation in the ICAT Sandbox, located in the Moss Arts Center. They are every Friday at 8:30 am, and getting up early is totally worth it. I’m always surprised at the amazing things that people are doing on this campus. My goal is to make it to the playdate every week, and I’ll happily drag others along if they’re interested. :p

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