Week of: 
January 25, 2009
What is it: 

What makes an idea or work of art creative?  Can creativity be measured?  Can a computer be creative?  What is the relationship between creativity and consciousness? John and Ken explore their creative sides with Margaret Boden from the University of Sussex, author of The Creative Mind: Myths and Mechanisms.

Listening Notes: 

Ken and John begin the conversation by questioning whether creativity can be understood scientifically. Creativity begins in the brain, so if we study the brain scientifically, can’t we study creativity scientifically?  But creativity seems to be more than a matter of brain waves. Ken and John look forward to talking to Margaret Boden, a world-renowned expert on creativity.

Ken and John discuss with Margaret why she became interested in creativity. She tells them that, next to consciousness, she sees creativity as one of the most challenging phenomena to make sense of in a materialistic framework. Ken and John then ask Margaret how she defines creativity, and they discuss the difference between novelty and progress. Margaret tells them why it is that, if they want to keep this distinction, that they have to relent on the search for a science of creativity in the full sense of ‘science’.

In the next section, Margaret, Ken and John take up where they left off: why can’t computers be fully creative – even if they can come up with the same new combinations of old material as ‘creative’ humans would? Margaret, Ken and John continue to explore the differences and similarities between what ‘creative’ humans can do and what computers can do: who is better at what, why, and what can be done about it. Margaret reminds them that the gap between what computers do do now, and what they may be able to do, one day, is wide. In response to the urging of a caller, they wonder whether similar results between human creative efforts and computer activities can tell us anything about the similarity in how those results were achieved: is the essence of creativity in the product or way of coming up with the product?

In the last section, Ken, John, and Margaret discuss ways to encourage creativity. Many creative geniuses have been anti-social, unfriendly, unpleasant people. Is there any way to be creative and be a pleasant human being? Margaret reminds them that creative ideas comes largely from putting together old ideas in new ways, which means creative people need some exposure to the ‘old’ ideas of the common folk’ – which means they need some decent interaction with normal humans. Margaret, Ken, and John end by discussing the varieties and requirements of creative genius, and revisiting their earlier distinction between the new and the truly valuable creative.

  • Roving Philosophical Reporter (seek to 5:30): Julie ventures to the Digital Center for New Media and Art, an engineering lab in Berkeley, where scientists and artists take small unfelt changes in earth’s movements and turn them into music. Julie  investigate how technology, the earth, and human creativity can combine to form beautiful art.
  • 60-second Philosopher (seek to 49:40): Ian Schoales explores the divergent social responses to seemingly similar phenomena:  forgery and plagiarism. The former often gets cut slack, the latter does not. Does this have to with the different creative requirements of these two activities?

Margaret A. Boden, Research Professor of Cognitive Science, University of Sussex

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