We’ve talked a lot about the importance of embracing doubt in order to solve problems creatively, but what is actually happening when we let ourselves be open to ideas? Brain Pickings, from writer and MIT fellow, Maria Popova, looks at “what matters in the world and why”. Her ethos is based on combining to create as the only way to bring about change. Here, she tackles an exploration of different thinkers’ insights into how imagination is essentially an involuntary act, but must be harnessed if it is to aid scientific discovery.
Last week, we took in some timeless vintage wisdom on the role of serendipity and chance-opportunism in creativity and scientific discovery, culled from the 1957 gem The Art of Scientific Investigation by Cambridge University animal pathology professor W. I. B. Beveridge — a brilliant treatise on creativity in science and, by extension, in all endeavours of the mind. Beveridge constructs what’s essentially a collection of quotes by famous scientists and case studies of watershed discoveries to synthesise insights on what makes successful science — and successful creative thinking in general, exploring subjects like serendipity, intuition, and imagination to reveal the habits of mind that produce good ideas.
Today, as promised, we revisit Beveridge’s hefty tome to examine his ideas on the role of intuition and the imagination.
Beveridge cites philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey‘s seminal 1933 book, How We Think, outlining Dewey’s model for conscious thinking: First we become aware of the difficulty or problem, which provides the stimulus; then, a suggested solution pops into the conscious mind; finally, a reason evaluates the idea to reject or accept it — if the idea is rejected, the mind goes back to the previous step and repeats. Beveridge offers a brilliant articulation of the combinatorial creativity that underlies what we often call intuition:
The important thing to realise is that the conjuring up of the idea is not a deliberate, voluntary act. It is something that happens to us rather than something we do.