Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson. Book on the origins of creativity, which consciously plays down the idea of the Lone Genius experiencing a Flash of Revelation in favour of models where creativity emerges from networks.
Makes some very good points. Important inventions usually emerge from several different sources almost simultaneously. This is explained with the concept of the "Adjacent Possible": the inventions come about when certain pre-requisites are met. For instance, oxygen could only really be discovered after accurate scales were invented that could measure the weight loss after a gas is evolved from a solid.
Johnson also adds other concepts. Networks are important as ideas are usually synthesized from other ideas, sometimes in unrelated fields. He also uses the concept of "bricolage" where different ideas are reused. This can be physical, as when the first printing press was based on a grape-press for making wine, or more metaphorical.
I found the large scale implications of this most interesting. Our laws, economy and society seem to be largely built around the Lone Genius theory. For instance, the patent system is set up so that for a long period after an invention the Lone Genius can profit hugely from it: this is presumed to be necessary to give the Geniuses an incentive to benefit us with their inventions. This seems quite likely to be mistaken: even without the patent protection, someone else would be likely to stumble across the same idea shortly after it enters the adjacent possible.
Also, there are ideas coming out of some quarters that things like universities and libraries are obsolete, since people can just suck down the facts they need sitting at home on the internet. But it seems likely that they serve a role as bringing together networks of otherwise unlikely connections of ideas and people.
I wasn't so interested in the smaller scale content, which takes a Wired/Life Hacks kind of approach to how individuals and organizations can boost their creativity. This is the kind of stuff you'd expect to see: allow information sharing, let people meet informally, expose yourself to new ideas from different areas, get a proper balance between a chaotic environment of constant interruptions and a silo environment where people don't communicate.
Overall though, fairly interesting, especially for the details of how some ideas came about. YouTube RSA.
What I'm Watching
Saw the documentary biopic American - The Bill Hicks Story. Uses lots of old photographs collaged into backgrounds and semi-animated with perspective zooms to add interest to the voiceovers. Also contains video of course: some interesting extracts of his older performances.
Fairly interesting if you liked Hicks comedy. But family and friends seem to have made the movie, and it verges on the hagiographic sometimes. Doesn't feel like you're getting the whole story: would have expected some contribution from his girlfriends for instance.
Predictably startled at how young he looks in the footage: I saw him perform live at a student union gig and he seemed like a grizzled veteran who knew it all. Now it seems like he was just a kid when he died aged 32.
Overall, not bad, but too respectful to be a great biography.
What I'm Watching 2
Saw Horizon: Science Under Attack on TV. Nobel-winning biologist and new Royal Society president Sir Paul Nurse examines the war on science. Very good programme: thoughtful and intelligent, well worth watching. Still available on Iplayer in the UK for a bit.
Acquired a Sandisk Sansa music player recently. For the last few years I've been listening to music on my phone when on the move, since that means only one charger and only carrying one gadget. However, the current crop of miniature players aren't really much bigger that the headphones alone. This has 8GB built-in plus another 16GB on the SDHC card, so you can hold a reasonable amount of music.
Quite impressed by it so far. Battery lasts a while. You can drag and drop music onto it. Plays Oggs and WMA as well as MP3. You can navigate and play by folder and winamp playlist. Not too fiddly to use. Only downside is that it doesn't seem that loud even on full volume for some tracks, but that's probably mostly my failing ears.
The CD player on my late-Nineties Panasonic Mini Hi-Fi system seems to have failed. Tape players went a while back. Don't listen to much non-headphone music these days, but could probably do with a replacement. Any recommendations?
Could really do with something that plays MP3s as well, ideally something I could just plug into my computer, grab the collection, then take away again. The speakers are fine and seems a shame to get rid of them.
Works pretty well for most queries as more of the crap is filtered out. However it doesn't seem to be quite as good at finding obscure stuff. Currently I'm using it as my default in the search box, but going back to Google if it doesn't seem to be finding stuff.
What search engines other than Google do you use?
Sports and Fitness. The Good Gym: go for a run, get a housebound neighbour a newspaper or something. Free weights versus machines: each has pros and cons but randomized trials suggest overall benefits about even (Inspired by an article too dumb to link to). Early 20th century Muller system (via).
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