Fact and Fiction

Thoughts about a funny old world, and what is real, and what is not. Comments are welcome, but please keep them on topic.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

What do you care what other people think?

In this week's New Scientist there is Creativity special: Looking for inspiration which discusses the issue of how creativity emerges in the human brain, and why some individuals have so much more of it than others.

The last word was given to various luminaries. One comment caught my eye because it was so close to my own viewpoint:

Lee Smolin (theoretical physicist at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario): "The main ingredients in science are intensive immersion in a problem, fanatical desire to solve it (big problems are rarely solved by accident), familiarity with previous attempts leading to an original critique of where they went wrong, reckless disregard for what other experts think, and the courage to overcome your own doubts and hesitations, which are much scarier than anything anyone else can say because you know best how vulnerable your new idea is."

I think the most important point made above is to have a "reckless disregard for what other experts think". Too much respect for other people's ideas causes you to do their research for them, rather than doing your own research for yourself. You must follow your own nose, but remember to be honest with yourself so you don't fool yourself into thinking that things are going well when they are not.

Lastly, my apologies to Richard Feynman for stealing his book title for this posting.


At 1 November 2005 at 02:30, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Smolin's desiderata for creativity are merely the 'through the looking glass' version of 't Hooft's symptoms of 'bad theorising'


The saddest madlib crackpot, almost by definition, sees him (or her)self as fulfilling the Smolin criteria. Merely to be outside the box, in thought and interaction with one's peers, is not enough. The crackpot creates, but creates a load of bollocks. For much the greatest part of the World's population, there is nothing that allows them to distinguish between the output of Feynman, Witten, 't Hooft and the last mentioned's bete noire, mad Myron the Welsh wizard. It's not enough to be creative; you must also be, in some widely accepted sense, right. To be creative and wrong (by much the same standards)is to be in a hell of one's own making. To have the urge to create, and to be a talent free zone, is probably worse.

At 1 November 2005 at 18:29, Blogger Steve said...

I seem to have touched a raw nerve here! I agree that crackpots fulfill the Lee Smolin criteria, but the LS criteria are incomplete, and I'm sure LS himself would recognise that.

I agree with you that crackpots create a load of "rubbish", but that is because they don't do any reality checks on the predictions of their theories. That's why I said in my posting:

You must follow your own nose, but remember to be honest with yourself so you don't fool yourself into thinking that things are going well when they are not.

Quite why you put Lee Smolin into the category of "bad theorist" eludes me, however, I am not really qualified to comment on loop quantum gravity (LS's baby). I believe that the quotation from LS that I included in my posting was very measured and reasonable. He just omitted to mention that you should use reality checks on your work, which is the gap that I plugged myself in my posting.


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