Where Do Ideas Come From?

  • change of surroundings - "buy a ticket to get new thoughts" (Mark McGranaghan)
  • working with half-formed thoughts (meta - this note)
  • Understanding Through Building is a part of the puzzle, another one is Reflective Practice to understand how the breakthrough (hopefully) happened
  • creative constraints, like working within Research Themes
  • reforming reference materials

    (...) ideas aren't summoned from nowhere: they come from raw material, other ideas or observations about the world. Hence a two-step creative process: collect raw material, then think about it. From this process comes pattern recognition and eventually the insights that form the basis of novel ideas.

    Creative professionals and the two-step process for developing ideas

  • doodling, mind-wandering
  • Do Your Own Thinking
  • Richard Hamming in The Art of Doing Science and Engineering describes the following steps for coming up with ideas:

    Luck favours the prepared mind

    — Louis Pasteur

    • think hard about the problem - this often happens by gathering reference materials, and preparing a pool of first principle ideas before even hitting that given problem
    • take a break, and leave subconscious mind to process the "upload" (the idea of the "upload" is to satiate the subconscious with the given problem)
    • new idea will most probably come up at the wrong time, capture it, and revise later, repeat the process as needed
  • Richard Hamming also advocates for creating Idea Hooks
    • I'm curious of the role of memory in ideation - the more ideas we want to be able to recombine, the more we should remember, so this might be point in case for using some SRS
    • on the other hand, Alan Kay talks about forgetting and leaving only the scent:

      I think the trick with knowledge is to "acquire it, and forget all except the perfume" -- because it is noisy and sometimes drowns out one's own "brain voices". The perfume part is important because it will help find the knowledge again to help get to the destinations the inner urges pick.

      Alan Kay's advice to Bret Victor

  • deconstructing? - more related to problem-solving than problem-finding, but one interesting first principle thinking from Richard Hamming that I found is around "AI":

    I soon raised the question with myself, "What is the smallest or close to the smallest program I believe could think?" Clearly if the program were divided in two parts, then neither piece could think.

    — Limits of computer applications - AI-I - Richard Hamming

    • this might be a wrong way to think about this specific problem though - the argument depends on binary categorisation (something either "is" or "isn't" thinking), where "thinking" is probably a gradient (Grey Thinking describes the mental model around this)
  • Innatism proposes that we are born with at least some knowledge/ideas - curious if that's only "scaffolding" of "basic functions", or something more
  • Nothing is original.
  • Everything is a remix.
  • Creatio ex nihilo is a myth.
  • Originality is a romantic idea.

— Johannes Mutter - https://twitter.com/JohannesMutter/status/1260188809112817665

I've advocated "learn everything and then forget it except for the perfume". This can create a mental space for thinking which will inescapably be helped by what we know - it's really hard to completely forget! - but in which what we know (mostly meaning what we believe!) is far enough away to allow us to feel things, listen to our subconscious whispers, and generally barge around.

— Alan Kay - https://www.quora.com/What-advice-would-Alan-Kay-give-a-curious-individual-to-improve-their-ability-to-think-and-learn-Is-there-a-place-to-see-his-library-%E2%80%94-every-book-person-and-research-he-has-studied/answer/Alan-Kay-11

  • Alan says that due to cognitive load humans can be easily overwhelmed when learning new things, and it's impossible to have enough "free space" left to create new ideas, he advocates for learning, and then "forgetting" to give space for new thoughts, which will always relate to what the mind already knows

One way to think about a Dynabook is that it is mainly centered about all aspects of user interface design, especially for children, and not just about how to access, learn and use a computer but how to access, learn and use ideas.

— Alan Kay - https://www.quora.com/What-lessons-were-learned-in-aspiring-towards-the-DynaBook-and-have-any-of-its-original-goals-become-dated/answer/Alan-Kay-11

  • Dynabook was supposed to be a tool for children to learn how to "use ideas" and create new ones - so an ideation tool in a sense

Perhaps oddly, I find even this works. If I tell myself to mechanically write down 5 new ideas, I can do it. They're usually bad, but then somehow later in the day I'm more likely to have a good idea arise "spontaneously" [sic]

— Michael Nielsen - https://twitter.com/michael_nielsen/status/1350897498244612096

  • another point in case for "loading data into subconscious mind"
  • The Act of Creation cult classic on where breakthroughs come from; quite long but inviting read, going into a ton of historical tangents all circling around the topic of Where Do Ideas Come From?
    • I also read Art & Fear which is almost an antithesis to "The Act of Creation", stating that art comes from repeatedly "walking the walk", which I think Koestler would agree, is just one of the "magic ingredients"