kaberett: Overlaid Mars & Venus symbols, with Swiss Army knife tools at other positions around the central circle. (Default)
[personal profile] kaberett
Some time ago, I asked you what you thought of prompted by "creativity", then utterly failed to engage in conversation or to explain why I was asking.

So: I had been having the kind of evening, you see, where one ends up on a train with one's programmer partner, the both of you dressed in pinstripes, very earnestly attempting to convince aforementioned partner that coding is a creative endeavour... by means of quoting Robert Frost. As it turns out, this gets you pretty strange looks from everyone around you.

And then, more recently, I went on a course entitled Doing Creative Research, which did not change my mind on anything - I was already in firm agreement - but did lead me to Medawar, and the assertion that there is poetry in science, but there is also a lot of book-keeping.

I don't see my science and my poetry as having any fundamental differences. With both I am trying to find new stuff, be that data or forms of expression; with both I rely on intuition to keep my footing, to find my path.

At the Doing Creative Research course we talked, a lot, about the two cultures: about creativity being constructed as flighty, as arty, as distinct from "rigorous" science: about the ways in which scientists shy away from describing themselves as creative because of these perceived connotations of unreliability; which is heartbreaking, really.

So where am I at, at the moment, which what I think creativity is? Making something from nothing, yes, but also: I think I view it as a skillset, as a process, that can be learned; rather than something either intrinsic (a creative person) or extrinsic (a flash of inspiration). And: I think it is about bravery, and trust in oneself, and willingness to take risks in the knowledge that one will be resilient if they do not work as hoped.

Something that That One Gentleman and I disagreed on (or at least, of which I have not yet convinced him) is that making good choices can be in and of itself creative, specifically in the context of writing beautiful and elegant code (but also, really, of anything else). I am thinking of the study I have heard tell of - but never tracked down - that asked amateur and expert chess players to look at a board laid out in front of them and write down all possible moves; the amateurs listed more, because the grandmasters didn't see the bad moves.

I think that probably I wanted to say more on this, but that's what I've the brain for right now; I would love love love to hear your views. <3

(no subject)

Date: 2013-12-24 02:59 am (UTC)
jelazakazone: man wearing tesla coil hat (tesla coil hat boy)
From: [personal profile] jelazakazone
Oooh, I love this post. <3 Love you too!

DH does not think of himself as creative at all. I disagree with his self-assesment. He is drafting his own furniture blueprints/patterns and then making them! He likes elegant coding.

I probably have a lot of feelings on this topic, especially the intersection (or the purported non-intersection) of creativity and science. I am not a scientist, but I find science fascinating.

Keep talking!

(no subject)

Date: 2013-12-24 08:21 am (UTC)
hairyears: (Default)
From: [personal profile] hairyears
Coding is an act of creation; I can't imagine seeing it any other way, no matter how mundane the task.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-12-24 10:43 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] swaldman
I think perhaps some of the "coding isn't creative" (and similar) sentiment comes from conflating creativity and imagination. (not that coding *can't* be imaginative, but it doesn't have to be).

I've had related thoughts about myself and research... I'm good at the bookkeeping side, but I'm not sure how good I am at "thinking of new things to look into" - perhaps the creative and/or imaginative side of the job.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-12-24 11:48 am (UTC)
naath: (Default)
From: [personal profile] naath
I don't think the sort of coding I do is very creative - I'm mostly producing the obvious solutions to other people's problems to order...

I think if I was comming up with new solutions, or if I came up with problems I really wanted answering and then worked on answering them that it would feel a lot more creative.

Sort of the difference between knitting a sock pattern that someone else wrote, and making up your own sock pattern.

(But I'm bad at coming up with interesting questions, sock patterns, etc. so maybe I would say that)

(no subject)

Date: 2013-12-25 10:36 am (UTC)
naath: (Default)
From: [personal profile] naath
Creatively interpretting other people's music is... yes, I've heard that people do that :-p (otherwise why would anyone want multiple recordings of the same piece) but I never achieved the skill level on the piano to do it (and, er, I'm bad at understanding it - but I'm bad at careful listening to music in general).

Maybe there is a similar thing in knitting, maybe it involves subtle changes to the pattern to make it fit better? or look more 'you'? or choice of colour? (even I can pick colours, and not even often the colour in the picture...)

(no subject)

Date: 2013-12-28 09:22 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] swaldman

(no subject)

Date: 2013-12-24 10:51 am (UTC)
simont: (Default)
From: [personal profile] simont
one ends up on a train with one's programmer partner, the both of you dressed in pinstripes, very earnestly attempting to convince aforementioned partner that coding is a creative endeavour

If I've read this sentence the wrong way round then I'll look very silly, but ... your programmer partner is unconvinced that coding is creative? That certainly surprises me. I've felt strongly that coding is creative since middling childhood (in defiance of all those people trying to tell me that "creative" meant "artistic"); I remember insisting on it to my French teacher at secondary school. (I don't recall why we were discussing it in the first place.) I'd have expected a coder to be the last person who needed convincing of that. Shows what I know.

I'd have to suppose the view that science-shaped stuff is fundamentally uncreative must come from the idea that it's 'just discovering' – a novel or a sonnet or a painting had no prior existence before its creator put implement to paper, but all the facts discovered by scientists were already true and it's just a question of finding them and documenting them. And I can't really blame people for seeing it that way; I'd at least have to agree that the ways in which science is creative are more subtle than the ways in which art is.

I think it is about bravery, and trust in oneself, and willingness to take risks in the knowledge that one will be resilient if they do not work as hoped

Yes, well put! There's some resonance there with the thing I wrote on your previous post (in that one of the things I mean by 'creativity' includes confidence to choose a starting approach and be able to cope if it's not quite right). Also this very old entry of mine seems relevant to 'take a risk and be prepared to deal with failure' (and might also amuse you because it goes off on a long sidetrack about me being really not very good at Net :-).

(no subject)

Date: 2013-12-24 10:16 pm (UTC)
simont: (Default)
From: [personal profile] simont
though also horrified at quite how much I *do* use net very much as something to keep my hands busy while not stopping me thinking about harder stuff

Well, it might work better for you! I've seen you play Net, and I know you're a lot better at it than I am even now, let alone what I was like when I wrote that old post :-)

(If you're interested, that was more or less the genesis of my puzzle collection: the version of Net I describe having written there is not the one in the collection, but an earlier 'build one to throw away' first attempt written in Python. The next year I rewrote it from the ground up having worked out all the things that were wrong with that version, and that started the collection proper. You'd recognise the original version's graphics, though.)

And thank you also for contributing so thoroughly first time round in this discussion

You're welcome, and I'm glad it was helpful!

As you might have noticed, this is a subject on which I've done some thinking of my own in the past, so when you asked the question my reaction was less 'is there anything I can say?' but 'how can I turn my giant pile of past ponderings into something short and snappy enough to be useful?'. :-)

(no subject)

Date: 2013-12-24 10:43 pm (UTC)
simont: (Default)
From: [personal profile] simont
Sadly, the giant pile of past ponderings doesn't already exist in a helpfully collected form, and it would probably be rather more difficult for me to collect the outlying parts of it than it was to write a usefully condensed summary of the important bits. But if I think of anything else relevant I'll be sure to mention it to you.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-12-24 12:22 pm (UTC)
simont: (Default)
From: [personal profile] simont
making good choices can be in and of itself creative

I wanted to single this part out in my last comment too, but had to think a bit before I could say anything more interesting about it than another 'well put!'. But yes, this. In fact you could shoehorn quite a lot of creative stuff into this definition (I almost want to say "all of it" but I bet that wouldn't turn out quite right): there's a sort of continuum which at one end has you choosing from a very large range of more or less undifferentiated possibilities (as you might when faced with a blank canvas or empty text editor, say, where you could do practically anything) and at the other end you have very few choices and they already come with a pile of reasons for and against each one (your chess-moves example, or a lot of situations in programming) and the art is to judge well which reasons outweigh which other ones. And somewhere in between is the space occupied by the 'lateral thinking' notion of creativity I mentioned in response to your prior post, where the interesting thing is to spot an option that wasn't immediately apparent and recognise when it's actually better than any of the more obvious ones. But all of those situations can be seen as an opportunity to make a good choice.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-12-25 05:47 am (UTC)
macey: (maths)
From: [personal profile] macey
But. 'the best choice' is not a thing! I mean, not in isolation! Oh, you want to use a bloom filter for that? That's nice, and super quick for existence-checks on large data - but I just gave you internet-scale data and you need to map-reduce this thing, so your bloom filter either breaks or requires an extra reduce step for collation, would you like to rethink that?

I mean, this is something I have Opinions about (so, sorry to jump into someone else's thread ^.^;) because I'm doing a bunch of coding interviews these days, and for example I ask a question which involves checking if two strings have a (roman-alphabet, lowercase-only) character in common. The 'best choice' is, objectively, forming & storing a 26-place bitmap of all words, and comparing with a bitwise and.

If we're coding in C and you don't get to this by the second go around, I may have concerns. But if we're in python, and you're good, you probably gave me:
if set(word1).intersection(word2):
and then moved on, because that's /plenty/ pythonic and elegant (compared to the fair handful of lines you'd need for the bitmap, if you can even remember bit-twiddling in python) (and can I just mention how that one line of code is part of why I love python so much? so elegant! don't even need to .split() the words into char-lists, set does that for you!). Sure, I'd hope you'd come up with the 'best choice' bitmap if I pressed you for large-data-set optimisations, but...

The idea that there is ever a 'best choice' or a 'Just The Right Thing To Do' makes me froth at the mouth a little, as you may have noticed. ^.^;

(no subject)

Date: 2013-12-25 11:34 am (UTC)
simont: (Default)
From: [personal profile] simont
But. 'the best choice' is not a thing! I mean, not in isolation!

*nods* I was taking a little time to think up my own response to the above, but I think you've hit what I was going to end up at.

I have some sympathy for the idea of defining creativity so that it excludes pure optimisation exercises (given some options and a precisely defined utility function, pick the highest-utility one of the options). If nothing else, you have to define it so that it excludes something or else there's no point having the word in the language at all :-) But in many real-world cases, the utility function is not well defined; for programming in particular it's extremely common that five years down the line something turns out to have been part of what you would have liked to be optimising for in the first place (reusability in some particular way, maintainability in the face of an unexpected constraint), and also a lot of utility functions have messy human concepts like 'ease of use' or aesthetics somewhere in them.

And that flexibility of the utility function is what distinguishes a purely computational optimisation exercise from something that has a predictive, intuitive, imaginative, creative dimension at the point where you apply interpretation to the unclearly specified requirements and decide what actually measurable proxy for those requirements you'll choose to optimise for.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-12-27 12:29 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] flippac
There's a quote, about the same age as me, that goes like so:

"programs must be written for people to read, and only incidentally for machines to execute"

It's not unknown to write code for which no compiler or interpreter yet exists if you're in my end of compsci.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-12-24 02:57 pm (UTC)
fascination: Text: 'Just fucking create something', in playful lettering. (Just fucking create something.)
From: [personal profile] fascination
I really like this post, and it's a bit like my own sense of creativity - it's about building and constructing and making foundations; it's something that can be learnt and acquired over periods of time, not something that's always just a flash of inspiration or inherent. So yes, I do agree. (And yes, coding *is* an act of creation - you're trying to express a certain idea or goal and telling the computer to do it. As the Wordpress.org tagline says, 'code is poetry'.)

(no subject)

Date: 2013-12-24 08:57 pm (UTC)
macey: (maths)
From: [personal profile] macey
I totally agree with you that coding is a creative endeavour. There's definitely a lot of parallels between how I plan a big project and how I plan a novel - plotting out the shape, the corners, how I'll approach things, and then actually writing/coding is just filling in the details then tweaking it 'til it works.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-12-25 05:34 am (UTC)
macey: (sheep!)
From: [personal profile] macey
It's so true T__T Also sometimes I wish I could force my colleagues to do NaNoWriMo or something because jdajas;fd poor grammar I can deal with, what I cannot deal with is their utter inability to use written (or, honestly, sometimes spoken) language to convey their intentions well enough for me to do my part of a project. Because that's the part where creativity bites - cooperative projects with handoffs. Bleh.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-12-24 09:10 pm (UTC)
silveradept: A kodama with a trombone. The trombone is playing music, even though it is held in a rest position (Default)
From: [personal profile] silveradept
I don't think it's that they didn't see them, I think it's that the experts, if you ask them about possible moves, you mean moves in which they can gather an advantage, rather than all the moves. I think it's a terminology thing.

As for creativity, mathematics seems to be an endlessly creative discipline, as it involves taking unknown problems and manipulating them until they look like known problems that can be solved. That always seemed to involve lateral thinking as much as following the rules.

I think it becomes more about being able to assimilate data and them get into the right state of mind to let things fall into place.


kaberett: Overlaid Mars & Venus symbols, with Swiss Army knife tools at other positions around the central circle. (Default)

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