Computer-Enhanced Scientific Creativity

This exploratory project is developing a computerized tool to enhance a specific, but very important, kind of scientific creativity.  Significant scientific breakthroughs are often enabled by a reconceptualization of some problem or class of phenomena. This reconceptualization may involve novel metaphors and analogies, especially visual, which allow the problem to be seen in a new light, and may suggest alternative mathematical tools that may be applied to the problem.  The most fruitful reconceptualizations engage our innate (and largely unconscious) mechanisms for understanding and interacting with the world, for these faculties ground intuitive insight and understanding.  Therefore, such cognitive models facilitate a scientist’s intuitive grasp of the phenomena, facilitating experimental design and verification, theoretical elaboration, mathematical formalization, and fruitful extension into new applications.

The creative process is often divided into four phases: preparation, incubation, inspiration, and verification/elaboration.  This project is developing a computerized tool to enhance the incubation phase of scientific creativity, with the goal of inspiring fruitful reconceptualization of a problem. It accomplishes this by exposing the scientist-user to continuous sequences of images designed to engage these innate, unconscious cognitive structures.  The sequence is not fixed, but may vary either randomly or under user direction.  When the image flow seems relevant to the user, they can record their position in it and their own ideas with a variety of low-interference recording techniques.  The project is also investigating means assessing the usefulness of the prototype for stimulating scientific creativity and for empirically evaluating the efficacy of image flows for engaging innate cognitive structures.

Since the goal of this project is to provide a tool to enhance significant scientific creativity, and in particular to facilitate the invention of new, fruitful cognitive models, to the extent it is successful and used, its potential impact on the progress of science could be very great.  However, although its focus is science, it may also prove valuable for enhancing creativity in engineering, mathematics, technology, and the arts.

The first phase of this project is developing a prototype implementation of a creativity enhancement tool.  This involves an implementation of a small core interpreter combined with open-source software for interactive image generation.  The resulting web-based implementation will be made available to scientist-users (and other creative individuals) for their use and evaluation.

For more information on this project, please send me mail or make an appointment to discuss it.

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Last updated: 2008-10-10.