Re: d'Espagnat wins Templeton Award

From: russell standish <>
Date: Sat, 21 Mar 2009 11:53:28 +1100

On Fri, Mar 20, 2009 at 10:19:52PM +1100, Kim Jones wrote:
> On 20/03/2009, at 6:37 PM, Bruno Marchal wrote:
> >>
> >> Creativity has been the victim of repression in western thinking
> >> since
> >> Socrates, who, along with Plato and Aristotle are the sods
> >> responsible
> >> for giving us the our critical-thinking-dominated and design-energy-
> >> deficient thinking system.
> >
> > ?
> >
> Perhaps I should do better. The last Renaissance revived and polished
> the methods of Socrates and the other thinkers of the pre-Roman
> universe. The way the knowledge was re-assimilated was with a heavy
> flavouring of Roman fascism. The mathematical universe of Islam and
> the pre-Islamic thinkers had to be accommodated as well. The argument
> method (not the only method of exploring a terrain of ideas) was
> perhaps in use before, but Socrates had developed it into a formidable
> procedure.

My take on this recent exchange between Bruno and Kim. As you're both
probably aware from my book, I believe that all creative processes are
evolutionary (though not strictly Darwinian), in that they satisfy
Lewontin's three criteria for evolution:

1. Variation
2. Selection
3. Heridatibility

All three of these elements are essential. In the arena of human
thought (scientific, philosophic, whatever), argumentation (and
experiment for that matter) is the second on the list. Scholarship
is the third - it is essential prevent the wheel being reinvented
endlessly. Most PhD's have lots of number 1 (assuming a bright young
thing trying to make his or her mark on the world), some of number 2
(critical thinking does need to be learnt, but ultimately it is a mix
of tried and true tools and creative, spontaneously generated ones),
and very little of number 3, for which PhD supervisors are essential.

As I understand de Bono (and I acknowledge Kim's superiour knowledge
of de Bono), he provides tools to increase the importance of number 1
(variation) with respect to number 2 or 3. These are techniques like
the "po thought" or the hats. I am reminded very much of some of the
recent interest in a concept known as "relaxed selection", which stems
from an observation that biological evolution is at its most creative
after a mass extinction event. The idea being that the mass extinction
removes a lot of competition between species, and hence "relaxes"
selection pressure. I have been trying out some relaxed selection
processes in my artificial life experiments, although admittedly with little
success so far.

To sum up with the old aphorism "keep an open mind, but not so open
your brains fall out". But means are needed to "relax the selection"
from time to time, to get us out of the Kuhnian paradigm shift
treadmill. There are techniques that can be taught (just like one can
teach critical thinking tools, such as logic and deduction), and I
think this is what Kim is saying. But true creativity cannot be

As for the heridability (aka scholarship issue), this partly justifies
keeping the old curmudgeons around in the department long after their
creative glory days are over. They are best coupled with the young
creative PhD students - although there is also the need for some
independent third force, otherwise you get the disasterous results as
seen in the story Bruno and Prof. X. (I had a milder version of the
same problem for my PhD, and the "third force" was an absolute

Prof Russell Standish                  Phone 0425 253119 (mobile)
UNSW SYDNEY 2052         
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Received on Fri Mar 20 2009 - 20:51:53 PDT

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