Re: Rational Creativity (Was Re: Definitions for Transhumanism)

Michael Nielsen (
Sat, 25 Apr 1998 10:21:23 -0600 (MDT)

On Tue, 21 Apr 1998, Natasha Vita More (fka Nancie Clark) wrote:

> At 05:15 PM 4/19/98 -0600, you wrote:
> >Do you have a source for the claim that free association was Einstein's
> >basic inspiration?
> Hi Michael. I think both Ian and Dan gave fine examples of this subject in
> their 4/19 postings.

Hi Natasha.

I went back through the extropy archives to find the posts, and
found Ian Goddard's example of Einstein's "travelling on a thought beam"
experiment, which he is often quoted as having come up with as a 16 year
old. Unfortunately, I have a high threshold for believing facts about
Einstein, because there are so many popular urban legends (that he used to
help a little girl with her homework, that he did poorly in school, and
many others).

I'll have a look through the biographies I have to see whether they
mention the light beam example; perhaps Ian could comment on a primary
source if he knows of one. It's certainly a very interesting idea! (I
couldn't find any Einstein examples from Dan Clemmensen, although he did
make an interesting post about the nature of creativity in general.
Perhaps this is what you were referring too).

I do remember that Einstein said (in a note to the mathematician Jacques
Hadamard, who was trying to determine the origins of mathematical
creativity) that his primary mode of thought was non-verbal. I thought
this was especially interesting in connection with the problem of
education, which is largely approached through verbal means.

Einstein also wrote an essay in which he opined that an interest in
epistemology was a characteristic shared by creative scientists.

> Inspiration comes from free association (spontaneous, logically
> unconstrained and undirected association of ideas, emotions, and feelings),
> brain storming, musing, day dreaming or pondering or reflections, for
> example.

One thing I find interesting about your list is that it contains two
different types of sources for inspiration. One is the "idea fairy" who
pops, unprompted, into your head on occasion. For me, that oftem means in
the shower, or while out walking, often when some stress has been
relieved. The other sources are more directed -- for example,
one can deliberatiely "brainstorm", to come up with new ideas. This seems
to be a much more directed form of creativity.

One of my favourite authors is Edward de Bono, who has investigated and
invented methods for enhancing an individual's creativity. Two of my
favourite books by him are "Po: Beyond Yes and No", and "I am right, you
are wrong". The latter, especially, synthesizes much of de Bono's 30 odd
years work on the subject. Contains many good ideas for developing


Michael Nielsen

"I know the answer! The answer lies within the heart of all mankind!
The answer is twelve? I think I'm in the wrong building."
- Charles Schulz