Developing a culture of creativity: Research news

Danah Henriksen and I were featured in a recent news story on the MLFTC News titled: Developing a culture of creativity, instead of compliance, in educators. The article provides an overview of our work over the past few years. Given the nature of a news article, it does not include links to the actual research articles. For those who are interested they can be found below:

Danah’s work on creative teachers can be found in:

Carmen and my work on evaluating creative learning environments can be found in

Our work on evaluating creative products can be found in:

Rethinking 7/8 curriculum at Miami/Globe

One of the most exciting parts of my job are the cool people I get to meet. Glen Lineberry is one of them. Glen is Principal at Miami Junior-Senior High School. He describes his school as a “small rural school on the move.” The first thing that strikes you when you meet Glen is his curiosity, energy and passion for ideas. He is widely and deeply read, and conversations with him are often peppered with connections he makes between literature, philosophy, history and art. He truly has an inter-disciplinary mind, one that sees the human endeavor as not being siloed by tradition but rather as being a rich interconnected whole. 

It is not surprising then to see that the project he is passionate about is to completely rethink the 7th and 8th grade curriculum in his school. We on the community design lab team had an opportunity to spend a day on April 13 with the faculty at Miami Junior-Senior High facilitating their curriculum planning experience. The goal of the day was to look at the 7th-8th grade curriculum through an integrated lens. Students, Glen argues, often do not see the connection between their school subjects, and his goal is to create a new curriculum that foregrounds the connections between them and better engages students.

One framing that was discussed for a unit was around history – specifically the time period from the beginning of the first World War to the end of the second. The challenge for the teachers was to create activities and lessons for their particular subject areas (from language arts to STEM, from journalism to music) that would connect with that time in history. Also up for discussion were ways in which people and organizations outside of the school could be brought into the classroom.

The sessions were led by Ben Scragg (our lead design strategist) and it was exciting to see the teachers take on this challenge and explore new ways of thinking about curriculum, student engagement and much, much more with great engagement and creativity. This is ongoing work and we will provide updates as things progress. For now, we are just thrilled to part of one school’s attempt to reinvent teaching and learning.

New optical illusion: An oscillating visual paradox!


A design for the word “illusions” inspired by a design by Scott Kim. 

I have been obsessed with optical illusions for for a long time. This interest has played out in many ways: from the hundreds of ambigrams I have created to the new year’s videos we create as a family. In this post I want to share, what I believe is an original optical illusion, something I have never seen before in my years of playing with such objects.

But first, some context.

Optical illusions come in a variety of types. Two types that I am love are ambiguous figures and visual paradoxes/impossible figures. 

Ambiguous figures are images that can be interpreted in more than one way. The “face-vase” illusion or the “duck-rabbit” illusion are famous examples of such illusions. These illusions usually have two alternative and competing interpretations—and the mind oscillates/flits back and forth between them unable to settle on one. Also, it is difficult, if not impossible, to see both these interpretations at the same time. We see one, or the other, never both together.


Three examples of ambiguous illusions, do you see “two faces or a vase,” “a duck or a rabbit,” and finally, do you see a bunch of cubes with the yellow shape is at the top or at the bottom? 

Visual paradoxes / Impossible figures are images that look like real objects that can never exist in the real world. M.C. Escher created some of the most iconic of such images – the unending staircase and waterfall being great examples. There are many other examples, some of which are represented below.

Three different impossible figures. The first is an impossible cube and the other two are different representations of an impossible triangle (also known as a Penrose Triangle). 

So with this we come to my key discovery/invention—an optical illusion that is both an ambiguous figure AND a visual paradox, i.e. an image flips between two interpretations that are cannot exist in the real world.

Here it is…  spend a moment on it. What do you see? Try focusing on the white “stars” at on the left and on the right? What changes? What happens if you focus on the blue shapes?

What we have is essentially a combination of 2 different impossible triangles. Can you see each of them? Can you see both at the same time? (Note: If you have difficulty seeing the triangles, focusing on the “star-shaped” pattern may help.)

The images below, and the animated gif should be self-explanatory – demonstrating the two independent interpretations of the image.

Better late than never, 21st century learning: New article

Quest Alliance is an NGO based in Bangalore that seeks to equip young people with 21st century skills by enabling self-learning. I have known of Quest and its director, Aakash Sethi, for over a decade now. In fact I had blogged about Quest back in 2008 here, and here and here. Aakash got in touch with me a year or so ago to write a piece for an annual publication they were starting, titled The Learner. I took this opportunity to rewrite our analysis of 21st century learning frameworks for a broader audience. Of course the more academic versions of the article can be found here and here. The diagram of 21st century knowledge can be found here.

Mishra, P., & Mehta, R. (2017). Creating a 21st century educatorThe Learner. Quest Alliance, Bangalore India.

 

Richard Buchanan on Design, Intuition & Creativity: New article

Chain-Rotational ambigram design for the word “design.”
One can read the word both clockwise from the top or anti-clockwise, from the bottom.

Our latest article in the series we write for the journal TechTrends (under the broad rubric of Rethinking Technology & Creativity in the 21st Century) is an interview with Dr. Richard Buchanan. Dr. Buchanan is Professor of Design & Innovation in the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western University, as well as being Chair Professor of Design Theory, Practice, and Entrepreneurship, in the College of Design & Innovation, Tongji University.

The interview covered a wide range of topics: from philosophy to history; from the role of intuition in perceiving the world in new ways to the relationship between design and creativity. Speaking of the latter he says:

I call design thinking creative inquiry. It is a form of creative action… It means asking and answering good questions about every situation we run into. [Designers have the] ability to ask questions of the environment, to interrogate the environment, and to find the answers shows this great perceptive capability.

Buchanan also speaks to the need for developing a systems view of design, saying:

Every product is a system, whether it’s tangible, intangible, information, actional. But the ability to grasp the wholeness takes us beyond the bits and pieces, takes us beyond the tricks of skill that are such an obsessive concern in design education today.

You can read the complete article below.

Henriksen, D., Mishra, P.,  & The Deep-Play Research Group (2018).  Creativity as Invention, Discovery, Innovation and Intuition: an Interview with Dr. Richard Buchanan Tech Trends. DOI https://doi.org/10.1007/s11528-018-0279-4

Community Design Lab at Madison

One of the greatest pleasures of my work here at ASU (with the Office of Scholarship & Innovation) has been the work we have been doing with local school districts. Essentially we collaborate with partner districts and community organizations to develop innovative solutions to the “wicked” problems in education. To achieve this, we use an intentional, collaborative, open-ended design process that values local context,diverse perspectives, intrapreneurial thinking and iterative testing of solutions. More here.

And yes, we are hiring!

The video below is about one such partnership with the leadership team at Madison School District  to address the broad challenge of how might the district’s leadership team become more innovative in their approach to problem-solving? Enjoy.

 

Thanks to the marketing team at MLFTC for shooting and creating the video. “d sign” image created by Punya Mishra

Squaring a circle on Pi day!

Pie upon reflection is nothing but 3.14!
A new version of a design I had created a year ago.
Original idea stolen from the Interwebs

Since it is Pi(e) day, I thought it would be fun to share another design I had created a while ago in response to one of the longest running challenges in geometry: the challenge of squaring a circle. As wikipedia says:

Squaring the circle is a problem proposed by ancient geometers. It is the challenge of constructing a square with the same area as a given circle by using only a finite number of steps with compass and straightedge.

Turns out this is impossible to do—and the main reason are the fascinating properties of the number Pi. More on that here. As Wikipedia goes on to say:

The transcendence of pi implies the impossibility of exactly “circling” the square, as well as of squaring the circle.

This is why “squaring the circle” has come to represent trying the impossible.

Impossible you say? Hah! I laugh at the face of such odds.

I am here to announce that after thousands of years of failure I have finally done what no one has ever done before – I have squared a circle. Not just that, I have gone one step further, I have also circled a square. The proof is in the pudding-pie you say! Well see for yourself. The design below should be self-explanatory.

Squaring a circle by circling a square

The square in the middle is actually a circle and the circle outside is actually a square! Or is it the circle inside is actually a square or the square outside is actually …? Hmmm… Either way, Happy Pi Day!

Join our amazing team

Over the past year the Office of Scholarship and Innovation at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, ASU has taken on a wide array of projects – everything from re-thinking how we support faculty research to reimagining what a computer labs can be; from building cool websites to support the college of education to developing partnerships with schools and districts to rethink education. You can find out more about all of these things by going to the OofSI (pronounced just as it is written) website.

I am lucky to have a dean who has a no-boundaries, cage-busting view of leadership and has provided us with the freedom and the structure to experiment and play. (You can read about her vision in a 3 part series here, here and here). Of course none of this would happen without the right group of individuals – the OofSI team.

This is just a long winded way of saying that we are hiring.

If you want to be part of this amazing team, who are truly at the forefront of educational change (at multiple levels), we are currently looking for one Multimedia Specialist and two Design Strategists. Follow the links to read the job descriptions.

So we are looking. We are looking for highly engaged, creative, energetic, passionate, individuals who can jump in and help the work we do (in partnership with schools and districts). A passion for improving education, a service orientated mindset, a willingness to take risks, a sense of comfort with ambiguity and an openness to collaboration and learning are key. A sense of humor is always a plus.

What typically does not make it into the job description is how important this work is. Maybe the most important work I have ever been part of. This is also the most fun job I have ever had and the potential for significant impact on the world of education is exciting. If you fit this profile or know someone who does, or just want to learn more, drop me a line at punya.mishra@asu.edu.

TPACK at SITE, AERA & ISTE: Newsletter #36

Modification of the TPACK diagram to capture all the sessions
related to TPACK in three upcoming conferences.

Here is a link to Issue #36 of the TPACK newslettera special spring conference issue that contains citations and abstracts for all of the TPACK-focused and TPACK-based presentations that are scheduled for this year’s SITE conference in Washington, D.C. in March, AERA meeting in New York City in April, and ISTE conference in Chicago in June (a total of 46 TPACK-focused sessions in just 3 months!). As the introductory note in the pdf says, this newsletter includes:

… only those presentations that use TPCK/TPACK extensively as either a theoretical framework and/or a focus for investigation throughout the cited conference papers/presentations. The construct is used so extensively in educational technology research and professional learning that including all presentations that mention TPCK/TPACK, but do not focus upon it – even at just these three national/international conferences – would make this newsletter unreasonably long.

Thanks always to Judi and her team for pulling all this information together and sharing it with the world. Previous newsletter are archived here.

TPACK newsletter #35, March 2018

The latest version of the TPACK newsletter (#35) is now available and can be  found here (pdf). All previous issues are archived here. As always, thanks to Judi Harris and her team for all the work that goes into this.

Reimagining a College of Education: Presentation at AACTE 2018

I was recently in Baltimore for the 70th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE), with a team from the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. We presented the work we are currently engaged in under the broad title of Reimagining the Role of the College of Education: One College’s Ongoing Story. Presenters included Carole Basile (speaking about the overall thrust of the College’s initiatives), Nicole Thompson (speaking of how we are reimagining teacher preparation) and yours truly (speaking of the community design labs and the work we are doing with school district partners). Brent Maddin could not make the meeting so his area (reimagining the educator work-force) was presented by Carole. The session was well attended and we got some good QnA at the end. This link  provides a pdf version of the slides we presented.

Multiple metaphors & science learning: New article, new illustrations

180-degree rotational ambigram for “metaphor.”

I have been (co)writing a series of articles for iWonder: Rediscovering School Science, a  journal for middle school science teachers, published by the Azim Premji University. (Previous articles in this series can be found here, the most recent article can be found below, and the complete current issue can be found here.

Mashood, K. K., Mehta, R., & Mishra, P. (2018). To see a world: Using multiple metaphors in science educationiWonder. (1) p. 48-52.

Abstract: As educators, we need to know that new learning is constrained and framed by our prior knowledge. Metaphors offer one way to harness this to our advantage. In this article we focus on a strategy of using multiple metaphors to explain complex scientific ideas, grounding our discussion in one specific example — that of teaching about energy.

 One of the pleasures of doing this series has been that I have created the illustrations that go with the articles. In this article I decided to pay homage to one of my favorite artists, the Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte. I created three original illustrations, given below.

Continue reading →

Evaluating creative learning environments: New article AND instrument

Note: This post (and the SCALE instrument) has been updated on 2.21.18 

Creativity is a key educational goal and essential 21st century skill. That said, much of the existing research in the field of creativity has focused on individual, psychological, and/or personality variables, which, while important, offer minimally practical advice to educators.  The intentional design of learning environments is an area that has not seen much attention in the literature, yet it is profoundly important to supporting creativity in children.

In a recent paper (link below) Carmen Richardson and I propose an instrument (Support of Creativity in Learning Environment: SCALE) that is designed to assess the ways in which a learning environment supports student creativity. SCALE is modeled on The Three-Minute Classroom Walk-Through and is a short, focused, and informal instrument aimed not to evaluate the teacher but rather to gather information about practice. SCALE measures three different aspects of a learning environment: Learner Engagement; the Physical Environment; and the Learning Climate.

The complete process that led to the development of the SCALE instrument can be found in:

Richardson, C., & Mishra, P., (2017). Learning Environments that Support Student Creativity: Developing the SCALE. Thinking Skills and Creativity https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tsc.2017.11.004

The actual instrument, along with some background information and instructions for use can be found below:

Richardson, C. & Mishra, P. (2017). Support of Creativity in Learning Environment: SCALE).

NEW BOOK! Creativity, Technology & Education: Exploring their Convergence

I am thrilled to announce the publication of a new book, a Mishra-Henriksen production titled Creativity, Technology & Education: Exploring their Convergence.  This book is a collection of essays that first appeared the journal TechTrends. 

These essays provide a broad analytic frame for thinking about creativity, technology and education and describe classroom examples as well as strategies for evaluating creative artifacts and creative environments. We see this book as an important resource for educators and practitioners as they seek to incorporate creative work and thoughtful pedagogy in their personal and professional lives. In his foreword, Yong Zhao, Foundation Distinguished Professor, University of Kansas writes:

In this collection of beautifully written essays, Mishra, Henriksen, and the Deep-play Research Group challenge myths about technology and creativity, debate time-honored instructional practices, and play with new ideas for schools to care for and nurture, rather than constrain, creativity. These essays are provocative … refreshing, [and] insightful.

Complete Reference:

Mishra, P., Henriksen, D. & The Deep-Play Research Group (2018). Creativity, Technology & Education: Exploring their Convergence. SpringerBriefs in Educational Communications & Technology. Published by the Association for Educational Communications & Technology & Springer.  [Link to Amazon page]

Creativity in Surgery, Music & Cooking: New article

Here is the next article in our series Rethinking Technology & Creativity in the 21st Century for the journal TechTrends. In this article we feature an interview with Dr. Charles Limb,  professor of Otolaryngology and a surgeon at the University of California, San Francisco. He is also an accomplished jazz musician, loves cooking and in his research focused on better understanding the neural basis of musical improvisation. Three key themes emerged through our conversation:

First, Dr. Limb’s philosophy, background, and experiences illustrate how a trans-disciplinary way of thinking and living enables new perspectives and rich understanding of a phenomenon. Second, his views highlight the phenomenological and evolutionary relevance of creativity. That is, he emphasizes the experience of creativity, and notes that creativity is a core element of humanity that allows our brains to work at the highest level as vital for our survival. Finally, he suggests practicing and developing creativity is important for children and adults, and we must encourage creative development by infusing arts into education across the lifespan.

Warr, M., Henriksen, D., Mishra, P.,  & The Deep-Play Research Group (2018). Creativity and Flow in Surgery, Music, and Cooking: An Interview with Neuroscientist Charles Limb. Tech Trends. DOI 10.1007/s11528-018-0251-3

Sliding into 2018

Over the years our family has developed a mini-tradition of creating short videos to celebrate the new year. These videos are short, always typographical, and usually incorporate some kind of a visual illusion. Our craft has improved over the years, something that can be seen in the overall quality of the videos (link to past videos below). And all this within a budget that has rarely exceeded $10.

View our 10th video, titled Sliding into 2018 created with a budget of  $1.98!!

The previous 10 new year’s videos can be found here: Illusory New Year Videos.

How does this work and how did we do it?

EDUsummIT 2017: Summary Report released

EDUsummIT 2017 is the fifth International Summit on Information Technology (IT) in Education (EDUsummIT 2017) recently held in Borovets, Bulgaria, on September 18-20, 2017. EDUsummIT 2017 was co-hosted by the University of Library Studies & Information Technologies, Sofia, Bulgaria, and the Netherlands Institute for Curriculum Development. EDUsummIT 2017 brought together over 100 policy-makers, educators and researchers around the theme of  “Rethinking learning in a digital age.” There were 9 thematic groups, and I co-lead the team (with Dale Niederhauser) that looked at Sustainability and scalability in research approaches (a prelim blog post on that work can be found here). Other members of the team included (in alphabetical order): Douglas Agyei, Margaret Cox, Sarah Howard, Djordje Kadijevich, Therese Laferriere, Lynne Schrum, Jo Tondeur & Joke Voogt.

The organizers of EDUsummIT 2017, Kwok-Wing Lai, Joke Voogt and Gerald Knezek pulled together the work done by all the groups (as well as some additional cross-group analysis) into a report. That final report is embedded below. Enjoy.

Paul Pangaro on cybernetics, design & creativity: New article

180 degree rotational ambigram for the word “cybernetic,” ©punyamishra

Here is the next article in our series Rethinking Technology & Creativity in the 21st Century for the journal TechTrends featuring an interview with Dr. Paul Pangaro, Associate Professor & Chair of the Master of Fine Arts in Interaction Design program at the College for Creative Studies. Dr. Pangaro has a rich, multi-dimensional background that allows him to provide a nuanced and unique perspective. As we write in the article:

[Dr. Pangaro’s] views, influenced by his early work in humanities, computer science, and film, and driven by cybernetics and conversation theory, are a lens for everything he has done and continues to frame the way he sees the world. Our discussion with Dr. Pangaro highlighted several themes that characterize his current work and perspective on creativity. These themes include: creativity as an act of re-seeing the world; cybernetics and design; and the evolving role of technology, creativity, and conversation in our world. 

Lot more in the complete article, which is linked to below:

Henriksen, D., Mishra, P., Warr, M. & The Deep-Play Research Group (2017). A Cybernetic Perspective on Design and Creativity: a Conversation with Dr. Paul PangaroTech Trends (61)6. DOI 10.1007/s11528-017-0221-1

STEM teaching & leadership for urban educators: Special Issue on #MSUrbanSTEM


The MSUrbanSTEM project was one of the best projects I have ever been part of.  We worked with 124 Chicago Public School STEM educators over three years, in an effort to develop their teaching and leadership in the STEM areas. We have written about this project and presented about it at conferences, but this is the first time that we have an entire special issue of a journal (The Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching) devoted to the project. As we write in the introduction, there are some significant advantages to having a range of articles on a project:

Research on educational programs faces a fundamental and essential tension. By definition, research tends to be driven by specific theoretical frameworks and research questions, generating their strength from this specificity and narrowness of vision. But educational researchers also understand that there is much more to the project or activity than was or could be captured by one study. Any article that seeks to provide an overview of the project provides breadth but lacks depth and specificity. We believe that this special issue provides the right balance between breadth and depth—by allowing us to construct a richer description of a teacher professional development program through ve articles, each of which use different lenses. It is through these articles that some of the richness of the project can be captured and presented to readers.

Below are the titles and references of all the articles in the special issue, as well as a link to the pdf of the introductory article . Do let me know (by email or in the comments below) if you want copies of the other articles.

Continue reading →

Finding the answers to What, When, & Where

Three important questions that we often seek answers for are:

  1. WHAT is it?
  2. WHEN should we do it?
  3. WHERE should it happen?

Turns out these questions can be answered just by replacing just one letter—namely replace “W” with “T.” Here they are:

  1. That
  2. Then
  3. There

Simple.

Here is a visual representation of the same idea that I created while at a meeting the other day.

Design book-review podcasts

I am teaching a new masters/doctoral seminar titled Design in the real world. This is the first class I am teaching here after coming to ASU and it is exciting to back in with students engaged in discussions about design, technology, and its role in our lives as educators. More info about the class can be found here. What I want to share below are three podcasts created by the participants in the class. The task was to review a book around design. Below are the three books and the audio files. Enjoy.

The Design Way by Taylor Kessner

How Designers Think by Christiana Bruchok & Kevin Close

Taking Design Thinking to School by Ye (Cherry) Chen & Wendy Wakefield

 

Cognitive psychology of science: Old article

Science ambigram with 180-degree rotational symmetry

This chapter, published back in 1998, focused on the cognitive science of science. I realized today that I had not uploaded this article onto my website. So, better late than never, here it is. But before jumping into that here are two basic questions: what is the cognitive science of science and how did we approach the topic? Briefly:

The cognitive science of science studies the cognitive processes involved in carrying out science: How do scientists reason? How do scientists develop new theories? How do scientists deal with data that are inconsistent with their theories? How do scientists choose between competing theories? Research on these issues has been carried out by investigators in a number of cognitive science disciplines, particularly psychology, philosophy, and artificial intelligence.ee

[Furthermore] we organize this chapter in terms of a simple heuristic: What do scientists do everyday in their capacity as scientists and what psychological processes are involved in those activities?

Complete citation and link to article given below:

Brewer, W. F. & Mishra, P. (1998) Cognitive Psychology of Science. In Bechtel, W. & Graham, G. (Eds.). A companion to cognitive science. (pp. 744-749). Malden, MA: Basil Blackwell.

EduSummIT 2017: An update

I just returned from participating in EDUsummIT 2017, the fifth International Summit on Information Technology in Education. EDUsummIT is a global knowledge building community of researchers, educational practitioners, and policy makers committed to supporting the effective integration of research and practice in the field of ICT in education. It is held every two years and this year it convened in Borovets, Bulgaria, from September 18 through 20 and was co-hosted by the University of Library Studies & Information Technologies, Sofia, Bulgaria, and the Netherlands Institute for Curriculum Development.

EDUsummIT is held every two years and I have been lucky to have been invited to and been part of the past four meetings, in Paris, Washington DC, Bangkok and now Bulgaria. (More info on past EDUsummIT meetings and the results of these meetings can be found here.)

EDUsummIT is not a conference in the typical sense of the word. It is more of an intense working session (spread over two days) where 100+ academics, practitioners and policy makers, form smaller thematic groups and work together on pre-specified topics. It was my privilege to be co-lead one of the Thematic Working Groups with my friend and colleague Dale Niederhauser. Specifically our group (TWG9) focussed on the topic of Supporting Sustainability and Scalability in Educational Technology Initiatives: Research Informed Practice. Other members of the team included (in alphabetical order): Douglas Agyei, Margaret Cox, Sarah Howard, Djordje Kadijevich, Therese Laferriere, Lynne Schrum, Jo Tondeur & Joke Voogt (see below).

It was a fabulous group to work with and the days of the meeting went by in a blur as we worked together as a team to explore the issue of sustainability and scalability in research approaches specifically as they apply to educational technology innovations. A range of products emerged from the meeting, both from the different working groups individually as well as from the conference collectively. Below I list some of these products – for the record.

  • A call to action: The document was a summary of the recommendations by all of the groups
  • TWG9 Poster: A poster that was presented by the TWG9 group at the end of the meeting (Thanks to Sarah Howard for all her work pulling it together in a really short time).
  • Interim report from TWG9: This is a first draft and is the culmination of the work we did together during the meeting.

There will be other products (journal articles and such) that will emerge at a later date, and I will post them here as they appear.

I would like to take a moment to thank all the organizers, sponsors and most importantly all the members of TWG9 for all their hard work and effort in making this such a great meeting.

Finally, I took a lot of photos during my stay at Borovets and then at Sofia. You can find them on a Google photo album here.

Yong Zhao on Creativity & Courage: New article

Here is the next article in our series Rethinking Technology & Creativity in the 21st Century for the journal TechTrends. This article features an interview with Dr. Yong Zhao, Foundation Distinguished Professor in the School of Education at the University of Kansas and professorial fellow at the Mitchell Institute for Health and Education Policy, Victoria University in Australia. Zhao has been a good friend and colleague since our graduate student days in Urbana-Champaign, so it is great to have him on this series. In this interview it becomes clear that his

…perspective on creativity is firmly grounded in its relationship to thinking, teaching, and learning within educational systems. He speaks with a forward looking trajectory, focusing his attention to what creativity means to the future of schools and societies

Lot more in the complete article, which is linked to below:

Richardson, C., Henriksen, D., Mishra, P. & The Deep-Play Research Group (2017). The Courage to be Creative: An interview with Dr. Yong ZhaoTech Trends (61)5. 415-419. DOI 10.1007/s11528-017-0221-1

The beauty of randomness

random

I have always been intrigued by the idea of how truly random our lives really are. Seemingly minor events can trigger effects, rippling through our lives, effects becoming causes, leading to profound changes and transformations. Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Sound of Thunder” builds on this idea, where the inadvertent death of a butterfly, back in the age of dinosaurs, leads to profound changes in human history.

A similar idea can be seen in the “What if…” genre of historical fiction. The question, “What if the Axis powers had won the war?” leads to Phillip Dick’s novel “The Man in the High Castle.” The question “What if the reformation had never happened?” leads to Kingsley Amis’ novel “The Alteration.” (Incidentally, something interesting I discovered while writing this post was that Amis’ novel mentions an alternate-history novel titled “The Man in the High Castle” by someone called Phillip K. Dick!). This is also the idea behind the film “Sliding doors” though the ending of the film left a lot to be desired (at least in my opinion).

This interest in the the contingent nature of our lives led me to finding other examples (from fiction and film) that aim to capture this idea in powerful and interesting ways. The greatest example of this idea is the novel “Chain of Chance” by Polish science fiction author Stanislaw Lem [Review | Wikipedia page]. Framed as a detective novel or a murder mystery, the novel is actually a philosophical rumination on the role of randomness in our lives and how we seek to find pattern and design even when no such thing exists. As Lem writes:

There’s no such thing as a mysterious event. It all depends on the magnitude of the set. . . Out of the realm of infinite possibilities. . . you chose a certain fraction of cases that exhibited a multifactorial similarity. We now live in such a dense world of random chance, in a molecular and chaotic gas whose ‘improbabilities’ are amazing only to the individual human atoms.

Some of the other examples I have collected from films are included below. One that I could not include is from the film Run Lola Run—partly because I could not find a clip that would capture the ideas since these ideas permeate the entire film. So without further ado, here are my selections that capture the randomness of life, as we know it.

dots-divider

One of my favorite clips is from the 1995 movie City of Lost Children [Wikipedia page]. See the key clip below:

dots-divider

Another great example comes from the 2008 film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button [Wikipedia page]

dots-divider

Finally, a short film called Spin that speaks of some of the same issue, in a very different manner.

dots-divider

Neuroscience & Creativity: New article

brain-based-research

The next article in our series Rethinking Technology & Creativity in the 21st Century for the journal TechTrends was just published. This article features an interview with Dr. Arne Dietrich, professor of neuroscience at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon. He describes himself as a “tour guide into the bizarre world of brain cells and human behavior.” He has written a textbook on consciousness as well as a more popular book on the neuroscience of creativity. In this interview Dr. Dietrich was quite skeptical…

about what neuroscience offers to complex sociocultural concepts, such as creativity. Dr. Dietrich reminded us that creativity is a complex social phenomenon that is, above all, a created construct. Creativity is difficult to relate to other social constructs, such as certain types of thinking or intelligence, without further reducing it to the mechanisms that make it happen. His reductionist approach may seem ironically positivistic for a topic like creativity, but its repercussions are, in the end, deeply humanizing.

Complete article and citation follows:

Mehta, R., Henriksen, D., Mishra, P. & The Deep-Play Research Group (2017). The Courageous Rationality of Being a Neuroskeptic Neuroscientist: Dr. Arne Dietrich on Creativity and EducationTech Trends (61)5. 415-419. DOI 10.1007/s11528-017-0217-x

2017 Torrance Lecture on Creativity: New video

This past April, I delivered the annual E. Paul Torrance Lecture at the University of Georgia. Being invited to give this talk was a huge honor, for two main reasons. First, because of Paul Torrance, the person for whom this lecture is named. Dr. Torrance, known as the “Father of Creativity,” was (and remains) one of the giants of creativity research. The second reason the invitation meant so much were the scholars who had spoken there in previous years (some of whom are listed on this page). They  include pretty much every big name in creativity research. I am not sure I deserve to be in this group—but there was no way I could turn down this opportunity.

My talk (which you can watch below) was titled: From the Swampy Lowlands of Practice to Unbearable Lightness of Theory: Navigating Creativity, Technology, and Teaching

Note: The E. Paul Torrance Lecture is sponsored by the College of Education‘s Torrance Center for Creativity and Talent Development at the University of Georgia. I was hosted by two wonderful colleagues Dr. Sarah Summers and Dr. Desiree Sharp – and managed to get a picture with them and a cut-out of Dr. Torrance :-)

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