Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘creativity’

11 JUNE, 2012

French Polymath Henri Poincaré on How the Inventor’s Mind Works, 1908

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Why to create is to choose the right combinations.

Great books are always Rube Goldberg machines of discovery for other great books, with their intricately woven mesh of allusions, references, and citations. One such particularly prolific treasure trove of pointer to related works is the 1957 gem The Art of Scientific Investigation, which you might recall from recent looks at its insights on serendipity and chance-opportunism and the role of intuition in discovery and creation. Among the countless fascinating books it references is The Foundations of Science (public library), originally published in 1908 by the legendary French mathematician, philosopher of science, and polymath Henri Poincaré (1854-1912), who offers the following account of ideation and the creative process, emphasizing both the combinatorial nature of creativity and the importance of editing and subtraction:

To invent, I have said, is to choose; but the word is perhaps not wholly exact. It makes one think of a purchaser before whom are displayed a large number of samples, and who examines them, one after the other, to make a choice. Here the samples would be so numerous that a whole lifetime would not suffice to examine them. This is not the actual state of things. The sterile combinations do not even present themselves to the mind of the inventor. Never in the field of his consciousness do combinations appear that are not really useful, except some that he rejects but which have to some extent the characteristics of useful combinations. All goes on as if the inventor were an examiner for the second degree who would only have to question the candidates who had passed a previous examination.

The Foundations of Science is now in the public domain and is thus available for free in multiple formats, though with many errors due to the imperfections of optical character recognition technology, from The Internet Archive.

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08 JUNE, 2012

10 Thoughts on Education and Learning from Legendary Architect Frank Lloyd Wright

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“You have to go wholeheartedly into anything in order to achieve anything worth having.”

Frank Lloyd Wright is frequently regarded as modern history’s greatest architect, having masterminded the Guggenheim Museum, Fallingwater, and a number of other iconic structures. He was also, unbeknownst to many, a formidable graphic artist. More than a legendary creator, however, he was also a deep, broad thinker of crisp conviction and wide-spanning wisdom. Frank Lloyd Wright on Architecture, Nature, and the Human Spirit: A Collection of Quotations is lovely pocket-sized micro-tome from Pomegranate (previously), edited by Frank Lloyd Wright Archives director Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, meticulously culling more than 200 of Wright’s most memorable quotes from his published writings and his famous Sunday morning talks, which followed the Saturday evening dinners and film screenings he held at his Taliesin studio. The quotes are divided into subjects like Nature, Work & Success, Beauty, Democracy & Individual, and Creativity, but among his keenest insights explore education and learning. Here are ten of my favorites.

True study is a form of experience. (1958)

The present education system is the trampling of the herd. (1956)

(Cue in Sir Ken Robinson on the industrialization of education.)

Cultivate the poet. The poet is the unacknowledged legislator of this universe and the sooner we knock under to that the better. Get Emerson’s essay on the American scholar and read it once a year. (1957)

Culture is developed from within and education is to be groomed from without. (1959)

(Cue in William Gibson on cultivating a personal micro-culture.)

When anyone becomes an authority, that is the end of him as far as development is concerned. (1948)

Education, of course, is always based on what was. Education shows you what has been and leaves you to make the deduction as to what may be. Education as we pursue it cannot prophesy, and does not. (1955)

An expert is a man who has stopped thinking because ‘he knows.’ (1957)

You have to go wholeheartedly into anything in order to achieve anything worth having. (1958)

There is no real development without integrity, that is — a love of truth. (1957)

(Cue in this morning’s Richard Feynman commencement address on integrity.)

And, finally, an affirmation of networked knowledge and combinatorial creativity:

Quality consists in a developed consciousness and in a capacity for complete correlation of your faculties. If you are not a correlated human being, you are fragmentary, you are awkward, you are not there in any sense with the thing that is needed to be there. (1952)

Frank Lloyd Wright on Architecture, Nature, and the Human Spirit: A Collection of Quotations is a treasure trove in its entirety, full of countless other FLW gems.

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07 JUNE, 2012

Remembering Ray Bradbury with 11 Timeless Quotes on Joy, Failure, Writing, Creativity, and Purpose

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The literary hero in his own words.

What a tragic season it’s been for literary heroes who defined generations of readers and creators. Last month, we lost Maurice Sendak, and this week, Ray Bradbury — beloved author, champion of curiosity, relentless advocate of libraries — passed way at the age of 91. To celebrate his life and legacy, here are eleven of his most timeless insights on writing, culture, creativity, failure, happiness, and more.

On doing what you love, in this wonderful 2008 video interview from the National Endowment for the Arts:

Love what you do and do what you love. Don’t listen to anyone else who tells you not to do it. You do what you want, what you love. Imagination should be the center of your life.

On art, in Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You:

We have our Arts so we won’t die of Truth.

UPDATE: Reader Dr. Karen Funt writes: “‘We have our Arts so we don’t die of the truth’ is really Nietzsche… [W]hether Bradbury realized that he was quoting Nietzsche, I don’t know, but it isn’t fair to Nietzsche to have the attribution of one of his greatest thoughts, given over to another, especially at that person’s death. I’m glad that Bradbury liked the idea, but that does not make it his.”

On reading as a prerequisite for democracy, from the same 2008 NEA interview:

If you know how to read, you have a complete education about life, then you know how to vote within a democracy. But if you don’t know how to read, you don’t know how to decide. That’s the great thing about our country — we’re a democracy of readers, and we should keep it that way.

On creativity and the myth of the muse, in Zen in the Art of Writing:

That’s the great secret of creativity. You treat ideas like cats: you make them follow you.

On creative purpose and perseverance in the face of rejection, in Snoopy’s Guide to the Writing Life:

[S]tarting when I was fifteen I began to send short stories to magazines like Esquire, and they, very promptly, sent them back two days before they got them! I have several walls in several rooms of my house covered with the snowstorm of rejections, but they didn’t realize what a strong person I was; I persevered and wrote a thousand more dreadful short stories, which were rejected in turn. Then, during the late forties, I actually began to sell short stories and accomplished some sort of deliverance from snowstorms in my fourth decade. But even today, my latest books of short stories contain at least seven stories that were rejected by every magazine in the United States and also in Sweden! So … take heart from this. The blizzard doesn’t last forever; it just seems so.

On signal and noise, in Zen in the Art of Writing:

Ours is a culture and a time immensely rich in trash as it is in treasures.

On curiosity and stimulating work, in his fantastic 2001 speech at The Sixth Annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea:

I want your loves to be multiple. I don’t want you to be a snob about anything. Anything you love, you do it. It’s got to be with a great sense of fun. Writing is not a serious business. It’s a joy and a celebration. You should be having fun with it. Ignore the authors who say ‘Oh, my God, what word? Oh, Jesus Christ…,’ you know. Now, to hell with that. It’s not work. If it’s work, stop and do something else.

On joy in one’s work, in the same 2001 speech:

I’ve never worked a day in my life. I’ve never worked a day in my life. The joy of writing has propelled me from day to day and year to year. I want you to envy me, my joy. Get out of here tonight and say: ‘Am I being joyful?’ And if you’ve got a writer’s block, you can cure it this evening by stopping whatever you’re writing and doing something else. You picked the wrong subject.

On symbolism and self-consciousness, in a lovely 1963 project by a high school student asking famous writers to weigh in on symbolism:

I never consciously place symbolism in my writing. That would be a self-conscious exercise and self-consciousness is defeating to any creative act. Better to get the subconscious to do the work for you, and get out of the way. The best symbolism is always unsuspected and natural. During a lifetime, one saves up information which collects itself around centers in the mind; these automatically become symbols on a subliminal level and need only be summoned in the heat of writing.

On the beauty of life’s ephemeral nature, in his final piece in the New Yorker:

Even at [age eleven], I was beginning to perceive the endings of things, like this lovely paper light. I had already lost my grandfather, who went away for good when I was five. I remember him so well: the two of us on the lawn in front of the porch, with twenty relatives for an audience, and the paper balloon held between us for a final moment, filled with warm exhalations, ready to go.

On legacy, through a character in Fahrenheit 451:

Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.

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