Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

14 AUGUST, 2012

How Remix Culture Fuels Creativity & Invention: Kirby Ferguson at TED

By:

From Bob Dylan to Steve Jobs, or how copyright law came to hinder the very thing it set out to protect.

Remix culture is something I think about a great deal in the context of combinatorial creativity, and no one has done more to champion the popular understanding of remix as central to creativity than my friend and documentarian extraordinaire Kirby Ferguson. So I’m enormously proud of Kirby’s recent TED talk about his Everything is a Remix project, exploring remix culture, copyright and creativity — watch and take notes:

The Grey Album is a remix. It is new media created from old media. It was made using these three techniques: copy, transform and combine. It’s how you remix. You take existing songs, you chop them up, you transform the pieces, you combine them back together again, and you’ve got a new song, but that new song is clearly comprised of old songs.

But I think these aren’t just the components of remixing. I think these are the basic elements of all creativity. I think everything is a remix, and I think this is a better way to conceive of creativity.

[...]

American copyright and patent laws run counter to this notion that we build on the work of others. Instead, these laws and laws around the world use the rather awkward analogy of property. Now, creative works may indeed be kind of like property, but it’s property that we’re all building on, and creations can only take root and grow once that ground has been prepared.

One thing to pay particularly close attention to are the many examples of how liberally and broadly Bob Dylan borrowed from other creators, appropriating, modifying, and building upon their work:

It’s been estimated that two thirds of the melodies Dylan used in his early songs were borrowed — this is pretty typical among folk singers.

Kirby gave his talk shortly before Dylan entered the news not as the perpetrator but as the subject of fabulism, by science writer Jonah Lehrer — a pseudo-scandal on which NPR offered perhaps the only truly thoughtful commentary amidst a sea of blood-thirsty sensationalism:

This is the essence of the popular arts in America: Be a magpie, take from everywhere, but assemble the scraps and shiny things you’ve lifted in ways that not only seem inventive, but really do make new meanings. Fabrication is elemental to this process — not fakery, exactly, but the careful construction of a series of masks through which the artist can not only speak for himself, but channel and transform the vast and complicated past that bears him or her forward.

Certainly, the integrity standards of science journalism and the popular arts can, and likely should, be very different. Nonetheless, this parallel — in which Dylan so clearly build his voice by borrowing and appropriating the ideas of others to his own ends of creative expression — is enough to give one pause.

The additive nature of creativity and innovation is, of course, something both history in general and individual inventors in particular can speak to. Kirby cites Henry Ford, who echoes the story of Marconi and the invention of radio:

Mark Twain, unapologetic as ever, put it best: “All ideas are second-hand.”

For more on remix culture and combinatorial creativity, see Dancing About Architecture: A Little Book of Creativity and the 1939 gem A Technique for Producing Ideas.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

05 JULY, 2012

Freeman Dyson on Tool-Creation, Technology, and What Makes a Scientific Revolution

By:

“In every human culture, the hand and the brain work together to create the style that makes a civilization.”

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward, Steve Jobs famously said, “you can only connect them looking backwards.” The same is true of technology and its impact on civilization — thousands of years later, we are able to appreciate the linkage between the products of our mind and the tools we create to further their reach. This is the basic lens of The Sun, The Genome, and The Internet: Tools of Scientific Revolution (public library) by legendary Princeton physicist and mathematician Freeman Dyson (father of science historian George Dyson), originally published in 1999. Tool-creation has been indispensable to scientific progress, Dyson argues — and has been since the dawn of techne.

Science originated from the fusion of two old traditions, the tradition of philosophical thinking that began in ancient Greece and the tradition of skilled crafts that began even earlier and flourished in medieval Europe. Philosophy supplied the concepts for science, and skilled crafts provided the tools.

Dyson refutes the idea that scientific revolutions are concept-driven, a stance pioneered by Thomas Kuhn in his controversial 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and later endorsed by other theory-driven scientists. Instead, Dyson argues, the art of tool-creation is its relationship to science.

The human heritage that gave us toolmaking hands and inquisitive brains did not die. In every human culture, the hand and the brain work together to create the style that makes a civilization….

Science will continue to generate unpredictable new ideas and opportunities. And human beings will continue to respond to new ideas and opportunities with new skills and inventions. We remain toolmaking animals, and science will continue to exercise the creativity programmed into our genes.

Sole discovery, Dyson asserts, is simply inadequate to account for change. Instead, real, functional projects are the basis of revolutions, implicitly adding to history’s greatest definitions of science:

A sustainable project marks the beginning of a new era. An unsustainable project marks the end of an old era.

Lexi Lewtan is an avid reader, writer, and technology nerd. You can find her on geeking out on Twitter and Quora.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

29 JUNE, 2012

Powershift: Alvin Toffler on the Age of Post-Fact Knowledge and the Super-Symbolic Economy (1990)

By:

“We are interrelating data in more ways, giving them context, and thus forming them into information; and we are assembling chunks of information into larger and larger models and architectures of knowledge.”

More than twenty years ago, in 1990, writer and futurist Alvin Toffler, whom you might recall as the author of the Future Shock, penned Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth, and Violence at the Edge of the 21st Century (public library) — a visionary lens on how social, political, and economic power structures are changing at the dawn of the information age, presaging many of today’s cultural paradigms and touching on other timely topics like networked knowledge, the role of intuition, and the value of adding context.

In Chapter 2, titled “Muscle, Money, and Mind,” Toffler lays the foundation of his core argument — the idea that knowledge is becoming the key currency of a new super-symbolic economy, leaving behind the materiality of the industrial age:

Knowledge itself … turns out to be not only the source of the highest-quality power, but also the most important ingredient of force and wealth. Put differently, knowledge has gone from being an adjunct of money power and muscle power, to being their very essence. It is, in fact, the ultimate amplifier. This is the key to the powershift that lies ahead, and it explains why the battle for control of knowledge and the means of communication is heating up all over the world.

But it isn’t until Chapter 8, titled “The Ultimate Substitute,” that Toffler’s vision truly shines as he offers an elegant definition of the knowledge economy and the dramatic shifts in social currency that we’re only just beginning to see reach a tipping point today:

All economic systems sit upon a ‘knowledge base.’

[...]

At rare moments in history the advance of knowledge has smashed through old barriers. The most important of these breakthroughs has been the invention of new tools for thinking and communication, like the ideogram… the alphabet… the zero… and in our century, the computer.

[...]

Today we are living through one of those exclamation points in history when the entire structure of human knowledge is once again trembling with change as old barriers fall. We are not just accumulating more ‘facts’ — whatever they may be. Just as we are now restructuring companies and whole economies, we are totally reorganizing the production and distribution of knowledge and the symbols used to communicate it.

What does this mean?

It means that we are creating new networks of knowledge … linking concepts to one another in startling ways … building up amazing hierarchies of inference … spawning new theories, hypotheses, and images, based on novel assumptions, new languages, codes, and logics. Businesses, governments, and individuals are collecting and storing more sheer data than any previous generation in history (creating a massive, confusing gold mine for tomorrow’s historians.)

But more important, we are interrelating data in more ways, giving them context, and thus forming them into information; and we are assembling chunks of information into larger and larger models and architectures of knowledge.

Not all this new knowledge is factual or even explicit. Much knowledge, as the term is used here, is unspoken, consisting of assumptions piled atop assumptions, of fragmentary models, of unnoticed analogies, and it includes not simply logical and seemingly unemotional information data, but values, the products of passion and emotion, not to mention imagination and intuition.

It is today’s gigantic upheaval in the knowledge base of society — not computer hype or mere financial manipulation — that explains the rise of a super-symbolic economy.

Powershift follows Future Shock (1970) and The Third Wave (1980).

Image HT It’s Okay To Be Smart

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.