The Aha! Moment: A Scientist's Take on Creativity
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
This book is about having ideas and―a much longer haul―making them work. David Jones, best known for his Daedalus column, tells a multitude of stories about creators and their creations, including his own fantastical-seeming contributions to mainstream science such as the unrideable bicycle and chemical gardens in space. His theory of creativity endows each of us with a Random-Ideas Generator, a Censor, and an Observer-Reasoner. Jones applies his theory to a wide range of weird scientific experiments that he has conducted for serious scientific papers, for challenging printed expositions, and for presentations to a TV audience. He even suggests new ones, not yet tried!
Creativity is as essential to science as curiosity, physical intuition, and shrewd deduction from well-planned experiments. But, says Jones, ingenuity is very uncertain. Even for the greatest inventors, about 80 percent of ideas fail. Jokiness can help, and so can lots of random data. Jones has plenty of clever advice that will help spark that madly brilliant private thought in the first place―and will encourage you to take it further.
Neither dense nor demanding, The Aha! Moment is engrossing, edifying, and scientifically serious; yet it is lightly written and asks lots of silly questions. As Jones shows, it can often pay to take an absurd idea seriously.
at 2 a.m. to check that something would fit! And wherever possible, I halt a project overnight. In some way the sleep experience brings a new insight to a problem, maybe allowing the unconscious mind to contribute to it. Things feel different and clearer in the morning. Some of yesterday’s options now seem closed; others seem obvious. More troublesome problems take more time. Bertrand Russell recounts his long agony of 1913.2 He had to give the Lowell Lectures in Boston in 1914; but despite
spreading tape along the underside of the strip. It was all intuitive work. There was no time to be clever. As I imagined things unfolding, the candles would be lit and then the whole rig could be lifted off the cake as one unit. But all the candles on the final cake had to be new. It would look odd and tatty on TV if some candles were old ones, with carbonized wicks, and others were new with white wicks. To experiment with some lighting method, I needed still more candles. I still had to invent
least two other pairs of colors I hoped to try in my chart.) Before I got very far I realized that color TV itself was trichromatic. A TV camera would not see the subtleties of my chart, nor would a color TV receiver reproduce them. I gave up the whole idea. And in the event, I never succeeded in consulting for a TV program that used a whole TV audience as a scientific sample. Much later, I decided to look at color vision again. If I ever completed it, my chart might perhaps find a place in an
with tiny holes much smaller than a light-wavelength. Light, but not much heat, would go through it. It would make highly heat-insulating windows and wonderful lenses too. Sadly, we cannot make anything like it. Indeed, modern optics has far to go. We also waste a lot of power in that truly important recent invention—artificial light. How dreary the northern winters must have been, when even the candle had its magic! But a tungsten bulb uses electricity to make light at maybe 0.5% efficiency.
animals is inefficient in at least two ways. First, you have to give an animal about 4 kilograms of fodder for it to gain weight by 1 kilogram. Second, every society has only a small amount of the animal that it will happily eat. In the West, for example, we eat muscle tissue. Other parts may need to be disguised, in the form of sausages, for example. Worse, we are often very cruel to our animals—think of pigs crammed into small pens and chickens into coops and geese overfed to make paté de fois