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Creativity isn't born, it's cultivated—this innovative guide distills the work of extraordinary artists and thinkers to show you how.
All the imagination needs to be fruitful is exercise. Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein identify the thinking tools employed by history's greatest creative minds—from Albert Einstein and Jane Goodall to Amadeus Mozart and Virginia Woolf—so that anyone with the right mix of inspiration and drive can set their own genius in motion. With engaging ...
Creativity isn't born, it's cultivated—this innovative guide distills the work of extraordinary artists and thinkers to show you how.
All the imagination needs to be fruitful is exercise. Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein identify the thinking tools employed by history's greatest creative minds—from Albert Einstein and Jane Goodall to Amadeus Mozart and Virginia Woolf—so that anyone with the right mix of inspiration and drive can set their own genius in motion. With engaging narratives and ample illustrations, Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein investigate cognitive tools as diverse as observing, imaging, recognizing patterns, modeling, playing, and more to provide "a clever, detailed and demanding fitness program for the creative mind" (Kirkus Reviews).
Everyone thinks. But not everyone thinks equally well. For real intellectual feasts we depend on master chefs who have learned to mix and blend and savor an entire range of mental ingredients. It's not that what they do in the kitchen is any different from what we do, they just do it better. We like to suppose master chefs were born that way, yet even the most promising individuals spend years in training. It follows that we, too, can learn the tools of the trade and thereby improve our own mental cooking. This process, however, requires us to rethink what gourmet intellection is all about. And rethinking shifts our educational focus from what to think to how to think in the most productive ways possible.
Our tour of mental cookery begins in the kitchen of the mind, where ideas are marinated, stewed, braised, beaten, baked, and whipped into shape. Just as real chefs surprise us by throwing in a pinch of this and a handful of something else, the kitchens of the creative imagination are full of unexpected practices. Great ideas arise in the strangest ways and are blended from the oddest ingredients. What goes into the recipes often bears no resemblance to the finished dish. Sometimes the master mental chef can't even explain how she knows that her dish will be tasty. She just has a gut feeling that this imagined mixture of ingredients will yield a delicious surprise.
Gut feelings don't make obvious sense. Consider, for example, the experience of young Barbara McClintock, who would later earn a Nobel Prize in genetics. One day in 1930 she stood with a group of scientists in thecornfields around Cornell University, pondering the results of a genetics experiment. The researchers had expected that half of the corn would produce sterile pollen, but less than a third of it actually had. The difference was significant, and McClintock was so disturbed that she left the cornfield and climbed the hill to her laboratory, where she could sit alone and think.
Half an hour later, she "jumped up and ran down to the field. At the top of the field (everyone else was down at the bottom) I shouted, 'Eureka, I have it! I have the answer! I know what this 30 percent sterility is.' " Her colleagues naturally said, "Prove it." Then she found she had no idea how to explain her insight. Many decades later, McClintock said, "When you suddenly see the problem, something happens that you have the answer - before you are able to put it into words. It is all done subconsciously. This has happened many times to me, and I know when to take it seriously. I'm so absolutely sure. I don't talk about it, I don't have to tell anybody about it, I'm just sure this is it."
This feeling of knowing without being able to say how one knows is common. The French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal is famous for his aphorism "The heart has its reasons that reason cannot know." The great nineteenth-century mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss admitted that intuition often led him to ideas he could not immediately prove. "I have had my results for a long time; but I do not yet know how I am to arrive at them." Claude Bernard, the founder of modern physiology, wrote that everything purposeful in scientific thinking began with feeling. "Feeling alone," he wrote, "guides the mind." Painter Pablo Picasso confessed to a friend, "I don't know in advance what I am going to put on canvas any more than I decide beforehand what colors I am going to use. . . . Each time I undertake to paint a picture I have a sensation of leaping into space. I never know whether I shall fall on my feet. It is only later that I begin to estimate more exactly the effect of my work." Composer Igor Stravinsky also found that imaginative activity began with some inexplicable appetite, some "intuitive grasp of an unknown entity already possessed but not yet intelligible." The Latin American novelist Isabel Allende has described a similarly vague sense propelling her work: "Somehow inside me - I can say this after having written five books - I know that I know where I am going. I know that I know the end of the book even though I don't know it. It's so difficult to explain."
Knowing in such ambiguous, inarticulate ways raises an important question. McClintock put it this way: "It had all been done fast. The answer came, and I'd run. Now I worked it out step by step - it was an intricate series of steps - and I came out with what it was. . . . It worked out exactly as I'd diagrammed it. Now, why did I know, without having done a thing on paper? Why was I so sure that I could tell them with such excitement and just say, 'Eureka, I solved it'?" McClintock's query strikes at the heart of understanding creative thinking, as do the experiences of Picasso and Gauss, of composers and physiologists. Where do sudden illuminations or insights come from? How can we know things that we cannot yet say, draw, or write? How do gut feelings and intuitions function in imaginative thinking? How do we translate from feeling to word, emotion to number? Lastly, can we understand this creative imagination and, understanding it, can we exercise, train, and educate it?
Philosophers and psychologists have pondered these and related questions for hundreds of years. Neurobiologists have sought the answers in the structures of the brain and the connections between nerve synapses. Full answers still elude us. But one source of insight into creative thinking has been greatly undervalued and underused: the reports of eminent thinkers, creators, and inventors themselves. Their introspective reports cannot answer all our questions about thinking, but they certainly provide important and surprising new avenues to explore. Above all, they tell us that conventional notions of thinking are at best incomplete, for they leave out nonlogical forms of thinking that can't be verbalized.
Take the testimony of physicist Albert Einstein, for instance. Most people would expect Einstein to have described himself as solving his physics problems using mathematical formulas, numbers, complex theories, and logic. In fact, a recent book by Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, Creating Minds, portrays Einstein as the epitome of the "logico-mathematical mind." His peers, however, knew that Einstein was relatively weak in mathematics, often needing to collaborate with mathematicians to push his work forward. In fact, Einstein wrote to one correspondent, "Do not worry about your difficulties in mathematics. I can assure you that mine are still greater."
Einstein's mental strengths were quite different, as he revealed to his colleague Jacques Hadamard. "The words of 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. . . . The above mentioned elements are, in my case, of visual and some of muscular type." In a kind of thought experiment that could not be articulated, he pretended to be a photon moving at the speed of light, imagining what he saw and how he felt. Then he became a second photon and tried to imagine what he could experience of the first one. As Einstein explained to Max Wertheimer, a psychologist, he only vaguely understood where his visual and muscular thinking would take him. His "feeling of direction," he said, was "very hard to express."
McClintock, for her part, talked about developing a "feeling for the organism" quite like Einstein's feeling for a beam of light. She got to know every one of her corn plants so intimately that when she studied their chromosomes, she could truly identify with them: "I found that the more I worked with them the bigger and bigger [they] got, and when I was really working with them I wasn't outside, I was down there. I was part of the system. I even was able to see the internal parts of the chromosomes - actually everything was there. It surprised me because I actually felt as if I were right down there and these were my friends. . . . As you look at these things, they become part of you. And you forget yourself. The main thing about it is you forget yourself." A similar emotional involvement played a critical role in the prelogical scientific thinking of Claude Bernard, who wrote, "Just as in other human activities, feeling releases an act by putting forth the idea which gives a motive to action." For Wolfgang Pauli, a mathematical physicist, emotional response functioned in the place of ideas that had not yet been articulated. Within the "unconscious region of the human soul," he wrote, "the place of clear concepts is taken by images of powerful emotional content, which are not thought, but are seen pictorially, as it were, before the mind's eye."
Some scientists insist that thinking in feelings and mental images can be rationally manipulated. Einstein suggested "a certain connection" between "the psychical entities which seem to serve as elements in thought" and "relevant logical concepts." Mathematician Stanislaw Ulam made the argument even more strongly. He experienced abstract mathematical notions in visual terms, so the idea of "'an infinity of spheres or an infinity of sets'" became "a picture with such almost real objects, getting smaller, vanishing on some horizon." Such thinking is "not in terms of words or syllogisms or signs" but in terms of some "visual algorithm" having a "sort of meta- or super-logic with its own rules." For William Lipscomb, a Nobel laureate in chemistry and, not incidentally, a fine musician, this kind of thinking is a synthetic and aesthetic experience. In his research into the chemistry of boron he found himself thinking not only inductively and deductively but also intuitively. "I felt a focusing of intellect and em otions which was surely an aesthetic response," he wrote. "It was followed by a flood of predictions coming from my mind as if I were a bystander watching it happen. Only later was I able to begin to formulate a systematic theory of structure, bonding and reactions for these unusual molecules. . . . Was it science? Our later tests showed it was. But the processes that I used and the responses that I felt were more like those of an artist." Gut feelings, emotions, and imaginative images do make sense in science, but, like the meaning of a dance or a musical theme, that sense is felt rather than defined.
"Intuition or mathematics?" asks inventor and science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. "Do we use models to help us find the truth? Or do we know the truth first, and then develop the mathematics to explain it?" There is no doubt about the answer: gut feelings and intuitions, an "essential feature in productive thought," as Einstein put it, occur well before their meaning can be expressed in words or numbers. In his own work, mathematics and formal logic were secondary steps: "Conventional words or other signs [presumably mathematical ones] have to be sought for laboriously only in a secondary stage, when the associative play already referred to is sufficiently established and can be reproduced at will." To Wertheimer he explained, "No really productive man thinks in such a paper fashion. The way the two triple sets of axioms are contrasted in [Einstein's physics book with collaborator Leopold Infeld] is not at all the way things happened in the process of actual thinking. This was merely a later formulation of the subject matter, just a question of how the thing could best be written . . . but in this process they [the ideas] did not grow out of any manipulation of axioms." As he told Infeld, "No scientist thinks in formulae."
Scientists may not think in mathematical terms, but the need to express intuitive insight in a form comprehensible to others compels them, in McClintock's words, to "work with so-called scientific methods to put it into their frame after you know." Other scientists confirm the two-part process of intuitive, imaginative understanding followed, necessarily, by logical expression. Metallurgist Cyril Stanley Smith of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has said, "The stage of discovery was entirely sensual and mathematics was only necessary to be able to communicate with other people." Werner Heisenberg, who formulated the uncertainty principle, wrote that "mathematics . . . played only a subordinate, secondary role" in the revolution in physics he helped to create. "Mathematics is the form in which we express our understanding of nature; but it is not the content of that understanding." Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, who also saw and felt things intuitively, noted, "In certain problems that I have done, it was necessary to continue the development of the picture as the method, before the mathematics could really be done."
So much for the myth that scientists think more logically than others. To think creatively is first to feel. The desire to understand must be whipped together with sensual and emotional feelings and blended with intellect to yield imaginative insight. Indeed, the intimate connections between thinking, emotions, and feelings are the subject of a startling book called Descartes' Error (1994), which revisits the famous philosopher's separation of mind (and thinking) from body (and being or feeling) more than three hundred years ago. The author, neurologist Antonio Damasio, finds that neurological patients whose emotional affect is grossly altered due to strokes, accidents, or tumors lose the ability to make rational plans. Because they are unable to become emotionally involved in their decisions, they fail to make good ones. Our feelings - our intuitions - are not impediments to rational thinking, they form its origin and bases. For Damasio, body and mind, emotion and intellect are inseparable. We agree. Not on ly do scientists feel their way toward logical ideas, but creative thinking and expression in every discipline are born of intuition and emotion.
For many people this may come as something of a surprise. Cognitive scientists such as Herb Simon and Noam Chomsky define thinking only as the logical procedures of induction and deduction or the rules of linguistics. Even Howard Gardner, who promotes the notion of more diverse ways of thinking in Creating Minds and Frames of Mind, argues that the thinking of creative people is best categorized by the one mode in which they express themselves. For Gardner and his colleagues, scientists such as Einstein, McClintock, and Feynman are logico-mathematical thinkers; poets and writers are characterized as highly verbal thinkers; dancers as kinesthetic thinkers; artists as mainly visual thinkers; psychologists as intrapersonal thinkers; and politicians as interpersonal thinkers. All of these characterizations seem to make sense, just as it seems to make sense that a baker will use yeast to make bread. But soda breads and flat breads are made without yeast, and yeast can be used to make many other foods, including be er and Grape-Nuts cereal. No single ingredient determines the outcome of a recipe, either in cooking or thinking. Characterizing individuals by a single element in their mental processes is as misleading as describing Einstein as - primarily - a logico- mathematical thinker.
Artists, for example, draw only partially upon visual stimuli. Emotions, kinesthetic feelings, philosophy, life itself, are other sources of artistic ideas. Painter Susan Rothenberg describes her process of painting as "really visceral. . . . I'm very aware of my body in space - shoulders, frontal positions. I have a body language that is difficult to explain. A lot of my work is about body orientation, both in the making of the work and in the sensing of space, comparing it to my own physical orientation." Sculptor Anne Truitt also feels her art in her body. In describing her apprenticeship, she writes: It was not my eyes or my mind that learned. It was my body. I fell in love with the process of art, and I've never fallen out of it. I even loved the discomforts. At first my arms ached and trembled for an hour or so after carving stone; I remember sitting on the bus on the way home and feeling them shake uncontrollably. My blouse size increased by one as my shoulders broadened with muscle. My whole center of gravity changed. I learned to move from a center of strength and balance just below my navel. From this place, I could lift stones and I could touch the surface of clay as lightly as a butterfly's wing. Similarly, painter Bridget Riley describes her paintings as "intimate dialogue[s] between my total being and the visual agents which constitute the medium. . . . I have always tried to realize visual and emotional energies simultaneously from the medium. My paintings are, of course, concerned with generating visual sensations, but certainly not to the exclusion of emotion. One of my aims is that these two responses shall be experienced as one and the same."
Picasso, Gardner's prototype of the "visual thinker," clearly would have concurred. He believed that all sensation, all forms of knowing, are interconnected: "All the arts are the same: you can write a picture in words just as you can paint sensations in a poem. 'Blue' - what does 'blue' mean? There are thousands of sensations that we call 'blue.' You can speak of the blue of a packet of Gauloises and in that case you can talk of the Gauloise blue of eyes, or on the contrary, just as they do in a Paris restaurant, you can talk of a steak being blue when you mean red." Those who look at pictures and do not feel these (or other) associations miss the point. The mixture of feelings and sensations is what gives rise to the painting in the first place.
Because most artistic ideas begin nonvisually, artists also experience the process of translation that Einstein, McClintock, and others have described. Josef Albers may have expressed this process most succinctly when he wrote that art is "the discrepancy between physical fact and psychic effect . . . [a] visual formulation of our reaction to life." Sculptor Louise Bourgeois says, "I contemplate . . . for a long time. Then I try to express what I have to say, how I am going to translate what I have to say to it. I try to translate my problem into stone." Max Bill describes the object of art in similarly sweeping terms, as "the expression of the human spirit. . . . Abstract ideas which previously existed only in the mind are made visible in a concrete form." Paintings and drawings are "the instruments of this realization [by means of] color, space, light, movement." Georgia O'Keeffe wrote, "I long ago came to the conclusion that even if I could put down accurately the thing I saw and enjoyed, it would not give the observer the kind of feeling it gave me. I had to create an equivalent for what I felt about what I was looking at - not copy it." Thus the images of art are no more a direct reflection of the feelings, concepts, and sensations from which they arose than are a scientist's formulas direct expressions of his thoughts. All public languages are forms of translation.
Even those who express themselves in words find that they rarely think in words or generate their ideas in words. The poet e. e. cummings, for one, challenged the assumption that poets are essentially wordsmiths manipulating the rules of grammar, syntax, and semantics. "The artist," he wrote, "is not a man who describes but a man who FEELS." Gary Snyder, also a poet, has expanded on that theme, saying that to write he must "revisualize it all. . . . I'll replay the whole experience again in my mind. I'll forget all about what's on the page and get in contact with the preverbal level behind it, and then by an effort of reexperiencing, recall, visualization, revisualization, I'll live through the whole thing again and try to see it more clearly." Stephen Spender provided an almost identical description of his own creative process: The poet, above all else, is a person who never forgets certain sense-impressions, which he has experienced and which he can re-live again and again as though with all their original freshness. . . . It therefore is not surprising that although I have no memory for telephone numbers, addresses, faces and where I may have put this morning's correspondence, I have a perfect memory for the sensation of certain experiences which are crystallized for me around certain associations. I could demonstrate this from my own life by the overwhelming nature of associations which, suddenly aroused, have carried me back so completely into the past, particularly into my childhood, that I have lost all sense of the present time and place.
The crafting of imaginary worlds, in both cummings's and Spender's cases, took more than a mastery of language; it took an ability to relive sense impressions almost at will. Other writers have said much the same. Robert Frost called his poetry a process of "carrying out some intention more felt than thought. . . . I've often been quoted: 'No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise for the reader.'" The American novelist and short-story writer Dorothy Canfield Fisher also needed to experience what she wrote in order to write well. "I have," she said, "intense visualizations of scenes. . . . Personally, although I never used as material any events in my own intimate life, I can write nothing if I cannot achieve these very definite, very complete visualizations of the scenes; which means that I can write nothing at all about places, people or phases of life which I do not intimately know, down to the last detail." Isabel Allende, too, plans her books "in a very organ ic way. Books don't happen in my mind, they happen somewhere in my belly. . . . I don't know what I'm going to write about because it has not yet made the trip from the belly to the mind. It is somewhere hidden in a very somber and secret place where I don't have any access yet. It is something that I've been feeling but which has no shape, no name, no tone, no voice."
At first the impulse, the vision, the feeling, is unspoken. But in the end it must come to words. Once the poet or writer has relived inspiring or troubling images and feelings, the problem is the same one shared by scientists and artists: how to translate these internal feelings into an external language other people can experience. Fisher described her "presumption" in trying "to translate into words . . . sacred living human feeling." T. S. Eliot, Howard Gardner's exemplar of a "verbal thinker," almost quoted O'Keeffe: "With a poem you can say, 'I got my feeling into words for myself. I now have the equivalent in words for that much of what I have felt.'" Gary Snyder has stated, "The first step is the rhythmic measure, the second step is a set of preverbal visual images which move to the rhythmic measure, and the third step is embodying it in words." William Goyen, a novelist, poet, and composer, characterized his writing process as "the business of taking it from the flesh state into the spiritual, the l etter, the Word."
Science-fiction writer Ursula LeGuin points out the irony in this translation process for writers of fiction: "The artist deals with what cannot be said in words. The artist whose medium is fiction does this in words," which, she goes on to explain, "can be used thus paradoxically because they have, along with a semiotic usage, a symbolic or metaphoric usage." Words are, in other words, both literal and figurative signs of interior feelings, but not their essence. They are, as Heisenberg said of mathematics, expressions of understanding, not its embodiment. So Stephen Spender defines the "terrifying challenge of poetry" as the attempt to express in words that which may not be verbally expressed but may be verbally suggested: "Can I think out the logic of images? How easy it is to explain here the poem that I would have liked to write! How difficult it would be to write it. For writing it would imply living my way through the imaged experience of all those ideas, which here are mere abstractions, and such an effort of imaginative experience requires a lifetime of patience and watching."
"Can I think out the logic of the images?" Relive "the imaged experience"? Create in words an effort of the imagination? The speaker could as easily be Einstein or McClintock as Spender. If this logic of images, of muscular movement, of feeling, is anything, it is not the mathematical logic or the formal linguistic logic that we study in school. Formal logic is used to prove the validity of preexisting propositions. This new "logic" - perhaps Ulam's term, "metalogic," is more appropriate - can prove nothing; rather, it generates novel ideas and conceptions, with no assurance of their validity or utility. This kind of thinking, as yet unstudied and unaccounted for by modern theories of mind, is nonverbal, nonmathematical, and nonsymbolic inasmuch as it does not belong to a formal language of communication. Nevertheless, our challenge here is to describe and understand this metalogic of feelings, images, and emotions. If Ulam is right, the result might be as revolutionary and as fundamental as the rules of sym bolic logic codified by Aristotle thousands of years ago. Such a metalogic might, indeed, explain the creative origins and character of the articulated ideas to which Aristotle's logic can be applied.
At present, the closest concept we have to such a metalogic is the vague one of intuition. Einstein said, "Only intuition, resting on sympathetic understanding, can lead to [insight]; . . . the daily effort comes from no deliberate intention or program, but straight from the heart." His colleague Henri Poincaré, perhaps the greatest mathematician of the late nineteenth century, wrote in Science and Method, "It is by logic that we prove, but by intuition that we discover. . . . Logic teaches us that on such and such a road we are sure of not meeting an obstacle; it does not tell us which is the road that leads to the desired end. For this it is necessary to see the end from afar, and the faculty that teaches us to see is intuition. Without it, the geometrician would be like a writer well up in grammar but destitute of ideas." Physicist Max Planck put it even more simply: the "scientist needs an artistically creative imagination." Indeed, scientist and artist are kin, for their insights begin in the same realm of feeling and intuition and emerge into consciousness through the same creative process.
And that is the point. It is too easy to look at the diverse things people produce and to describe their differences. Obviously a poem is not a mathematical formula, and a novel is not an experiment in genetics. Composers clearly use a different language from that of visual artists, and chemists combine very different things than do playwrights. But neither is all scientific thinking monolithic (physics is not biology) or all art the same (a sculpture is not a collage or a photograph). To characterize people by the different things they make is to miss the universality of how they create. For at the level of the creative process, scientists, artists, mathematicians, composers, writers, and sculptors use a common set of what we call "tools for thinking," including emotional feelings, visual images, bodily sensations, reproducible patterns, and analogies. And all imaginative thinkers learn to translate ideas generated by these subjective thinking tools into public languages to express their insights, which can then give rise to new ideas in others' minds.
A good many scientists and artists have noticed the universality of creativity. At the Sixteenth Nobel Conference, held in 1980, scientists, musicians, and philosophers all agreed, to quote Freeman Dyson, that "the analogies between science and art are very good as long as you are talking about the creation and the performance. The creation is certainly very analogous. The aesthetic pleasure of the craftsmanship of performance is also very strong in science." A few years later, at another multidisciplinary conference, physicist Murray Gell- Mann found that "everybody agrees on [where ideas come from]. We had a seminar here [the Aspen Physics Center in Colorado], about ten years ago, including several painters, a poet, a couple of writers, and the physicists. Everybody agrees on how it works. All of these people, whether they are doing artistic work or scientific work, are trying to solve a problem."
As one musician put it, the "absolute similarities" between the thinking processes of scientist and artist are true not only individually but on a social level, too. What the scientist perceives as common problem solving, the artist understands as shared inspiration - but the "answer" springs from the same creative act. As Nobel Prize- winning immunologist and writer Charles Nicolle put it, "[t]he disclosure of a new fact, the leap forward, the conquest over yesterday's ignorance, is an act not of reason but of imagination, of intuition. It is an act closely related to that of the artist and of the poet; a dream that becomes reality; a dream which seems to create." French physician Armand Trousseau agreed: "All science touches on art; all art has its scientific side. The worst scientist is he who is not an artist; the worst artist is he who is no scientist." Similarly, the constructivist sculptor Naum Gabo once wrote that "every great scientist has experienced a moment when the artist in him saved the scientist. 'We are poets,' said Pythagoras, and in the sense that a mathematician is a creator he was right." Stravinsky believed this too. "The way composers think - the way I think," he wrote, "is . . . not very different from mathematical thinking." No matter how expressed, the perspectives of Gell-Mann and Gabo, Stravinsky and Nicolle converge on the same point, aptly made by Arthur Koestler in his seminal book The Act of Creation: "Newton's apple and Cezanne's apple are discoveries more closely related than they seem." Both require reperceiving and reimagining the world from basic perceptual feelings and sensations.
While the universality of the creative process has been noticed, it has not been noticed universally. Not enough people recognize the preverbal, premathematical elements of the creative process. Not enough recognize the cross-disciplinary nature of intuitive tools for thinking. Such a myopic view of cognition is shared not only by philosophers and psychologists but, in consequence, by educators, too. Just look at how the curriculum, at every educational level from kindergarten to graduate school, is divided into disciplines defined by products rather than processes. From the outset, students are given separate classes in literature, in mathematics, in science, in history, in music, in art, as if each of these disciplines were distinct and exclusive. Despite the current lip service paid to "integrating the curriculum," truly interdisciplinary courses are rare, and transdisciplinary curricula that span the breadth of human knowledge are almost unknown. Moreover, at the level of creative process, where it really counts, the intuitive tools for thinking that tie one discipline to another are entirely ignored. Mathematicians are supposed to think only "in mathematics," writers only "in words," musicians only "in notes," and so forth. Our schools and universities insist on cooking with only half the necessary ingredients. By half-understanding the nature of thinking, teachers only half-understand how to teach, and students only half-understand how to learn.
This kind of half-baked education harms us more than we know. In our own experiences in school (and we both completed graduate school) no one ever even hinted that one could think about problems in any way but verbally or mathematically. It never occurred to us, and no one suggested that it might be possible, to formulate a math or physics problem as a set of images and feelings stewed in our minds or to plot a book or a poem as a series of images and emotions brewed in our bellies. No one ever mentioned that the stage of inventing an idea or solving a problem might be distinct from the stage of translating it into a disciplinary language. No one ever suggested, as this book will do, that the way we learned one subject or came to one insight might be the key to learning how to have insights in other fields.
If, however, the creative thinkers quoted in this chapter have accurately portrayed the manner in which they work - and we will argue that they have - it is obvious that education based solely on separate disciplines and public languages leaves out huge chunks of the creative process. Teachers work to hone students' mathematical and syntactical logic, but they ignore the metalogics of feelings and intuition. We are taught and tested with words and numbers, and it is assumed that we think in words and numbers. No schooling could be more misconceived. As William Lipscomb has said of current scientific education, "If one actually set out to give as little help as possible to both aesthetics and originality in science, one could hardly devise a better plan than our educational system. . . . One rarely hears about what we do not understand in science, and least of all how to prepare for creative ideas." The same can be said for training in the arts, humanities, and technologies. We master the languages of translation but neglect our mother tongue. Feasts are set before us that we do not taste. We honor chefs and refuse to emulate them.
Nothing could be more important, therefore, than recognizing and describing the intuitive "dialects" of creative thinking. As important as words and numbers are to the communication of insight, that insight is born of emotions and images of many sorts conjured within the imagination. Feeling as thinking must, therefore, become part of the educational curriculum. Students must learn how to pay attention to what they feel in their bones, to develop and use it. This is not pie in the sky. Various professions, including medicine, are beginning to recognize intuition as a necessary part of disciplinary thinking. Geri Berg, an art historian and social worker, formerly at Johns Hopkins University, believes that "emotional awareness, like observation and critical enquiry skills, is an important part of providing good health care." Dr. John Burnside, chief of internal medicine at the Hershey Medical Center in Pennsylvania, has argued this even more forcefully. "One of our educational failures," he writes, "is a lack of serious recognition and attention towards the 'gut feeling' or inclination of common sense. Perhaps because this inclination is non-numerical it is glossed over as the 'art of medicine,' implying instinct, passion, or the primeval. But I believe it can be defined and should be taught."
Whether we are attempting to understand ourselves, other people, or some aspect of nature, or simply provide excellent medical care, it is imperative that we learn to use the feelings, emotions, and intuitions that are the bases of the creative imagination. That is the whole point of gourmet thinking and education.
Posted September 4, 2003
Even though this book is rather 'meaty' and not an easy read, it really opened up my eyes as to what I was doing right and wrong when it came to my thought processes and where I was headed scholastically-mentally. A must read for everyone who is interested in opening up all of their intellectual horizons.
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Posted November 4, 2009
Posted September 11, 2009
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