This free Information Age Education Newsletter is written by David
Moursund and Bob Sylwester, and produced by Ken Loge. For more
information, see the end of this newsletter.
"It is a poor carpenter who blames his tools." (Thomas Kuhn; American
intellectual who wrote extensively on the history of science;
"It is the process of working and by watching
yourself work that innovation occurs." (J. Kirk T. Varnedoe,
world-renowned artist and MacArthur Award winner.)
A healthy human brain has a tremendous ability to learn, plus the
curiosity and creativity that enhance learning and make use of it.
Nature, nurture, and tools all contribute to achieving our intellectual
and creative potential. This issue of the Information Age Newsletter
explores biological creativity. The next issue will explore the
possibility of creativity by artificially intelligent computers,
robots, and other computerized tools.
When you think about creativity, do you think principally about
architects, artists, and musicians? How about engineers,
mathematicians, and scientists? Or, how about the creative expression
that will be displayed in the upcoming Winter Olympics? Creativity
takes many forms. Some people express their creativity using simple and
inexpensive tools, while others use more complex tools, such as
Many examples of creativity place it on a high
pinnacle, beyond the capabilities of ordinary people. Such an approach
fails to capture the creativity inherent to all of us.
think rather about a child who is just learning to talk. The child is
moving from communication by sounds and body language to the immense
power of speech. Imagine what children can communicate with a
vocabulary of just a hundred words, plus all of their earlier gestural
communication skills. It takes considerable creativity for the child to
Now think of a child with a speaking
vocabulary of 3,000 words, and the ability to speak in sentence
sequences. Twenty random words would create an immense number of
possible statements—3,000 raised to the 20th power. Most of the
statements would be meaningless. It takes considerable intelligence and
creativity to select a 20-word sequence to effectively and
grammatically express an idea. What’s amazing is that most children
master articulate speech with minimal explicit adult instruction.
on into adulthood. The two of us writing this have a combined basic
written vocabulary of perhaps 30,000 words, and this article will run
about 1,000 words—30,000 raised to the 1,000th power of possibilities.
No one has ever created the exact message we’re creating. So although
we tend to think of creativity as a peak experience, we actually
continuously observe and engage in it.
Intelligence is the precursor of creativity, and it’s about as elusive
a concept as creativity. Many definitions of intelligence exist, and
some explicitly include the concept of creativity. The following
definition combines ideas from Howard Gardner, David Perkins, Robert
Sternberg, and others who have made major contributions to this field:
Intelligence is a combination of the ability to:
- Learn. This includes the range of informal and formal learning via any
combination of experience, education, and training.
and pose problems. This includes recognizing challenges (such as
widespread hunger, homelessness, and disease) , and transforming them
into clearly defined problems.
- Solve problems. This includes
making decisions among alternative solutions, predicting results,
executing responses, and fashioning necessary products and
- Exhibit creativity whenever needed in the above tasks.
healthy intelligent human brain is effective at all of these activities.
These activities are a routine part of everyday life. Some people are
better at these activities than others. Some spend many years
specializing in a narrow area, and through such intensive work, develop
such a high level of expertise in the area that they can solve problems
at its frontiers.
Human intelligence and capacity for
creativity have allowed the human race to survive and prosper. We’ve
learned how to intelligently deal with many common and uncommon
challenges. Our individual and cultural memory of prior experience
provides young people with a predictable resolution to many of the
challenges they’ll confront. Good parenting and schooling help young
people build on the accumulated knowledge and experience of the human
response to a challenge is somewhat predictable, in that
other intelligent people have come to the same or a similar resolution.
response is much less predictable, and so it’s often more
Nancy Andreasen’s respected research (http://brainconnection.positscience.com/content/224_1
suggests that creativity involves the development of an original useful
(assuming broad definitions of the three concepts). Original
thus doesn't require the product to be entirely new. A creative person
can create a new example of an existing form (a symphony or a novel),
or a new combination of existing phenomena (putting an engine on a
wagon to create an automobile). Similarly, a useful product
the scientific creation of a new medication, but could also be the strong
emotional arousal and extended attention that artistic and literary
We can think of creativity in ordinary and
extraordinary terms. As indicated above, ordinary creativity is
ubiquitous in that even something as normal as a conversation is
incredibly creative. We create conversational comments on the fly
shifting thought and syntax at the millisecond level in response to
conversational flow and body language. Conversational comments are original
in that they've typically not been said before, and the
is typically useful
The results of
extraordinary creativity don’t typically manifest themselves during
childhood, but many of the characteristics of highly creative people
can begin to emerge early if appropriately encouraged. Studies of
highly creative people indicate that they are intelligent, typically in
the 120-130 IQ range. They are oriented towards divergent thinking, in
that they can and prefer to imagine a variety of appropriate responses
to a challenge. (Convergent thinking involves the search for a single
correct answer to a problem).
A highly creative personality thus
seeks new experiences, is tolerant of ambiguity, and approaches life
and the world relatively free of preconceptions. This flexibility
sparks unconventional perceptions that others often don't understand or
accept. The highly creative are persistent in expressing their beliefs
however, and so they develop the skills that will allow them to create
superior artifacts and explanations that effectively communicate their
Creative thinking often moves swiftly and at multiple
levels. Solutions often emerge in a flash after a period in which our
mind had wandered across the mental landscape that defined the
challenge—mentally tagging initially unrelated bits of information.
aren’t bound by conventional perceptions of phenomena, or by
established solutions to challenges. Adults tend to see the world in
terms of a focused flashlight, while children tend to think in lantern
terms—everything is an illuminated possibility. Properly encouraged,
children can develop the exploratory tendencies and thought processes
that are central to creativity. Limiting them to conventional
curricular problems and algorithmic solutions doesn’t do much to
develop their imagination and creative potential. Play and games play a
key role in the development of the exploratory orientation that fosters
creativity. The arts provide another powerful playful venue. Children
need to learn how adults have solved similar problems in the past, but
they also need many opportunities in school and elsewhere to creatively
solve their own problems.
Sir Ken Robinson is a world-renowned
expert on creativity. Watch his entertaining, insightful, and widely
observed 18-minute video: How schools stifle creativity http://www.cnn.com/2009/OPINION/11/03/robinson.schools.stifle.creativity/index.html
Next Issue of this Newsletter
The tools that humans have developed open up new vistas for creativity.
A grand piano is certainly a marvelous tool for expression of musical
performance and composition creativity. So is an electronic keyboard.
can a tool itself be creative? Is creativity something that only humans
can do (perhaps using tools they have developed), or might humans
develop tools that then function all by themselves in a creative mode?
Might it be possible to design and build an artificially intelligent
robot that can pick up a guitar and participate in a highly creative
jam session with other (human and robotic) musicians?
We’ll explore such questions in the next issue.
About Information Age Education,
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