Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘creativity’

19 JUNE, 2012

On Scientific Taste

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“Our taste derives from the summation of all that we have learnt from others, experienced and thought.”

Cambridge University animal pathology professor W. I. B. Beveridge’s 1957 gem The Art of Scientific Investigation (public library; public domain) is the gift that keeps on giving. After Beveridge’s florilegium of insights on the role of serendipity and chance-opportunism and intuition and the imagination in creativity and scientific discovery, here comes a brilliant meditation on the notion of “scientific taste,” extending, as the rest of the book does, beyond science and into creative culture in general:

Taste can perhaps best be described as a sense of beauty or aesthetic sensibility, and it may be reliable or not, depending on the individual. Anyone who has it simply feels in his mind that a particular line of work is of interest for its own sake and worth following, perhaps without knowing why. How reliable one’s feelings are can be determined only by the results. The concept of scientific taste may be explained in another way by saying that the person who possesses the flair for choosing profitable lines of investigation is able to see further whither the work is leading than are other people, because he has the habit of using his imagination to look far ahead instead of restricting his thinking to established knowledge and the immediate problem. He may not be able to state explicitly his reasons or envisage any particular hypothesis, for he may see only vague hints that it leads towards one or another of several crucial questions.

An illustration of taste in non-scientific matters is the choice of words and composition of sentences when writing. Only occasionally is it necessary to check the correctness of the language used by submitting it to grammatical analysis; usually we just ‘feel’ that the sentence is correct or not. The elegance and aptness of the English which is produced largely automatically is a function of the taste we have acquired by training in choice and arrangement of words. In research, taste plays an important part in choosing profitable subjects for investigation, in recognising promising clues, in intuition, in deciding on a course of action where there are few facts with which to reason, in discarding hypotheses that require too many modifications and in forming an opinion on new discoveries before the evidence is decisive.

Although, as with other tastes, people may be endowed with the capacity for scientific taste to varying degrees, it may also be cultivated by training oneself in the appreciation of science, as, for example, in reading about how discoveries have been made. As with other tastes, taste in science will only be found in people with a genuine love of science. Our taste derives from the summation of all that we have learnt from others, experienced and thought.

This last bit, speaking to the combinatorial nature of creativity, is something we’ve heard many times before — from artists, designers, and writers, or the loosely defined “creative world.” So it’s especially thrilling to also hear it from a scientist, revealing the same fundamental framework of ideation and thus blurring the unnecessary cultural line between the “rational” or “practical” disciplines, like science, technology, and engineering, and the “creative” ones, like art, design, and literature. To create, after all, is to contribute to the world with “taste,” integrity, and passion for what you do, no matter what your field of mastery.

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15 JUNE, 2012

Charles Eames in 15 Aphorisms

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“Beyond the age of information is the age of choices.”

Here’s to the birthday of Charles Eames — legendary furniture designer, deft universe-explainer, celebrated champion of design as a force of culture, creative genius of uncommon sincerity, honesty, conviction, affection, imagination, and humor.

100 Quotes by Charles Eames is a tiny gem of a book, originally published in 2007, full of exactly what it says on the tin. Each of the 100 pearls of Eames wisdom, culled from his articles, books, films, interviews, lectures, notes, and office files, appears in 7 languages — English, Complex Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, Brazilian, Portuguese, and Spanish. A beautiful, minimalist cover with debossed typography adds a layer of joy to holding and touching the micro-tome.

Here are 15 of my favorite quotes.

Eventually everything connects — people, ideas, objects… the quality of the connections is the key to quality per se.

Most people aren’t trained to want to face the process of re-understanding a subject they already know. One must obtain not just literacy, but deep involvement and re-understanding.

Beyond the age of information is the age of choices.

If nothing else, a student must get from his training a feeling of security in change.

Innovate as a last resort. More horrors are done in the name of innovation than any other.

Recent years have shown a growing preoccupation with the circumstances surrounding the creative act and a search for the ingredients that promote creativity. This preoccupation in itself suggests that we are in a special kind of trouble — and indeed we are.

To be realistic one must always admit the influence of those who have gone before.

(Because we already know everything is a remix, all art builds on what came before, and creativity is combinatorial.)

We work because it’s a chain reaction, each subject leads to the next.

I don’t believe in this “gifted few” concept, just in people doing things they are really interested in doing. They have a way of getting good at whatever it is.

(Cue in some famous thoughts on finding your purpose and doing what you love.)

Unlike Keats, who said that knowing about the rainbow shatters its beauty, I feel that the knowledge about an object can only enrich your feelings for the object itself.

(Cue in Richard Feynman on the pleasure of finding things out.)

Don’t be like I was. Don’t be afraid of history. Take all of it you can get.

At all times love and discipline have led to a beautiful environment and a good life.

Any time one or more things are consciously put together in a way that they can accomplish something better than they could have accomplished individually, this is an act of design.

Ideas are cheap. Always be passionate about ideas and communicating those ideas and discoveries to others in the things you make.

Take your pleasure seriously.

Used copies can be found online and at Eames Gallery.

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12 JUNE, 2012

Christoph Niemann: Insecurity Is Essential to Great Design

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Inside the mind of one of today’s finest visual communicators.

Christoph NiemannLEGO-lover, dispenser of irreverent wisdom on creativity, author of the excellent Abstract City and That’s How! — is one of my favorite illustrators. In this short video from Gestalten, Niemann discusses his philosophy on design, the state of visual language today, his creative process, his adorable non-neuroses, and more.

A certain amount of insecurity is a very helpful trait for any kind of designer.

Of particular note is Niemann’s point about insecurity, a point we’ve already seen made in other disciplines, from science to cinema.

The video is a teaser for Gestalten’s Data Flow 2, a fine complement to their fantastic Visual Storytelling.

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