Archive for the ‘thinking’ Category

A LEONARDO DA VINCI CREATIVE THINKING TECHNIQUE

davinci

Leonardo DaVinci’s grotesque heads and famous caricatures are an example of the random variations of the human face made up of different combinations of a set number of features.  He would first list facial characteristics (heads, eyes, nose, etc.) and then beneath each list variations.  Next he would mix and match the different variations to create original and grotesque caricatures.  Below is a hypothetical example of a box similar to one that DaVinci might have constructed:

While the number of items in each category is relatively small, there are literally thousands of possible combinations of the listed features. The circled features indicate only one out of thousands of different grouping of features that could be used for an original grotesque head.

grot

From his notebooks, it is clear that DaVinci used this strategy in his production of art and invention.  He advised to be on the watch to take the best parts of many beautiful faces rather than create what you consider to be a beautiful face.  It is intriguing to speculate that the Mona Lisa, probably the most admired portrait in the world, is a result of DaVinci combining the best parts of the most beautiful faces that he observed and systemized.  Perhaps this is why admirers find so many different expressions in the mix of features on the face of the woman in the painting.  It is especially interesting to consider this possibility in the light of the fact that there is so little agreement about the actual identity of the subject.

One can almost see Leonardo composing a matrix of elements (Apostles, types of reactions, conditions, facial expressions, types of situations) and experimenting with their variations and combinations until he found the right configuration to create that once in a lifetime masterpiece — the “Last Supper.”  Many other artists before him hadlast supper made their own versions of Jesus Christ having his last meal with the twelve apostles, but when Leonardo painted the picture, the scene came alive with new meaning that no one else was able to give, or has been able to give since.

DaVinci would analyze the structure of a subject and then separate the major parameters (parameter means characteristic, factor, variable, or aspect).  He would then list variations for each parameter and combine them.  By coming up with different combinations of the variations of the parameters, he created new ideas.

Think of the parameters as card suits (hearts, spades, clubs and diamonds), and the variations as the different cards within each suit.  You choose the number and nature of the parameters of your subject; what’s important is to generate parameters and then list variations for each parameter.  By experimenting with different combinations of the variations, you create new ideas.

The procedures for using DaVinci’s technique are:

1.     Specify the challenge.

2.     Separate the parameters of the challenge.  The parameters are the fundamental framework of the challenge.  You choose the nature and the number of parameters that you wish to use in your box.  A good question to ask yourself when selecting parameters is: “Would the challenge still exist without the parameter I’m considering adding to the box?”

3.     Below each parameter, list as many variations for the parameters that you wish.  The complexity of the box is determined by the number of parameters and the number of variations used.  The more variations and the more different the variations of each parameter, the more likely the box will contain a viable idea.  For instance, a box with ten parameters, each of which has ten variations, produces 10 billion combinations of the parameters and the variations.

4.     When you are finished listing variations, make random runs through the parameters and the variations for the parameters, selecting one or more from each column and assemble the combinations into entirely new forms.  During this step, all of the combinations can be examined with respect to the challenge to be solved.  If you are working with ten or more parameters, you may find it helpful to randomly examine the entire group, and then gradually restrict yourself to portions that appear to be particularly fruitful.

carwash

5.  Let’s look at an example.  A car-wash owner wanted to find an idea for a new market or new market extension.  He analyzed the activity of “product washing” and decided to work with four parameters: Method of washing, products washed, equipment used, and other products sold.

He listed the parameters and listed five variations for each parameter.  He listed four parameters on top.  Under each parameter he listed five variations for each parameter.  He randomly chose one or more items from each parameter, and connected them to form a new business.

NEW BUSINESS: The random combination of (Self + Dogs + Brushes + Dryers + Stalls + Sprayers + Related Products) inspired an idea for a new business.  The new business he created was a self-service dog wash.  The self-service dog wash has ramps leading to waist-high tubs where owners spray them, scrub them with brushes provided by the wash, shampoo them and blow dry them.  In addition to the wash, he also sells his own line of dog products such as shampoos and conditioners.  Pet owners now wash their dogs while their car is being washed in the full-service car wash.

Five alternatives for each parameter generate a possible 3,125 different combinations.  If only 10% prove useful, that would yield 312 new ideas.  In theory, if you list the appropriate parameters and variations, then you should have all of the possible combinations for a specified challenge.  In practice, your parameters may be incomplete and/or a critical variation for a parameter may not have been described.  When you feel this may be the case, you should reconsider the parameters you specified and adjust the parameters or the variations accordingly.

We tend to see the elements of our subject as one continuous “whole,” and do not see many of the relationships between the elements, even the obvious ones.  They become almost invisible because of the way we perceive things.  Yet, these relationships are often the links to new ideas.  When you break down a subject into different parts and combine and recombine the parts in various ways, you restructure your perception of the subject.  This perceptual restructuring leads to new insights, ideas, and new lines of speculation.

The Gestalt psychologist Wolfgang Kohler demonstrated perceptual restructuring with animals.  He would present an ape with a problem in which bananas were displayed out of reach and could only be obtained by using techniques new in the ape’s experience.  For example, he would give an ape boxes to play with for a few days.  Then Kohler would hang bananas from the ceiling out of the ape’s reach.  When he placed the boxes behind the ape, the ape would try all the familiar ways of reaching the fruit and fail.  When he placed the boxes in front of the ape so that they were visible, the ape would sit and think and suddenly have insight and use the boxes to stand on to reach the bananas.  What happened was that the visibility of the information restructured the ape’s perception.  It suddenly saw the boxes not as playthings but as supports with which to build a structure. It saw the relationship between the boxes and bananas.

In the same way, when you combine and recombine information in different ways, you perceptually restructure the way you see the information.  In addition, the greater the number of combinations you are able to generate, the more likely it is that some combination will serve as an associative link to ideas you could not come up with using your usual way of thinking (i.e., A, B, and D may become associated because each in some way is associated with C).  For example, the three words “surprise,” “line,” and “birthday” in combination serve as an associative link to the word “party.”  I.e., “surprise party,” “party line,” and “birthday party.”

In the car wash example, an associative link was made from the information that was listed to the idea of a bird wash.  The bird wash is a miniature clamp-like device that holds the bird securely in an upright stance so it can be gently washed and hosed (much like a car wash).  It’s designed to help workers cleanse birds who are damaged from tanker oil spills at sea.  It’s expected to save thousands of birds that now expire from the rough handling during clean-up operations.

Michael Michalko me.small Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work by Michael Michalko

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COMBINING THE UNRELATED INTO NEW IDEAS

combine ideas

 

Look at the figure below.combo1

When the lines at the left are combined to form the figure on the right, we can no longer perceive the original two patterns without great effort. Instead, we see a continuous wavy line running through a series of bars. Combining the lines creates a new pattern with new properties. The illustration verifies the seemingly obvious point that from a combination can emerge new properties that were not evident in either of the original lines.

It is the same with concepts and ideas. Gregory Murphy of the University of Illinois had people rate how true certain properties were of individual concepts and their combinations. One set of concepts consisted of the individual words “empty” and “store” and their combination “empty store.” Consider the property “losing money.” Like subjects in Murphy’s study, you probably recognize that losing money is typical of “empty stores,” but not of “stores” in general or of things that are “empty.”  Meaning changes when we combine concepts, and the more novel the combination, the more novel the new meaning. This is why genius is often marked by an interest in combining previously unrelated ideas, goods and services, making novel combinations more likely. Following is one technique of many that demonstrates how easy it is get ideas using combinations.

RANDOM OBJECTS. Select 20 objects at random. You can select any objects, objects at home, objects at work, or objects you might find walking down the street. Or you can imagine you are in a technologically-oriented science museum, walking through the Smithsonian Institute, or browsing in an electronic store and make a list of 20 objects that you would likely see. Make two lists of 10 objects each on the left and right sides of the paper (See example below). Pick one from the left and combine it with one on the right. When you find a promising new combination, refine and elaborate it into a new invention.combo2

In the example, the illustrated combinations yielded the following ideas:

∙         Combining bagel with slicer yields a bagel slicer with plastic sides designed to hold the bagel and prevent rotation when slicing.

∙         Bathtub and hammock combines into a baby tub with a simple hammock in the  tub with a headrest to hold the baby’s head securely, leaving the parent’s hands free to do the washing.

∙         Sunglasses and windows combine to form the idea of tinted house windows,  like tinted sunglasses,  designed to change colors with ultraviolet light to help keep the house cool.

∙         Suntan lotion and insect repellent combines to form a new product— one lotion that protects against both the sun and insects.

You can also try the inverse heuristic to generate ideas, which states that if an object performs one function, a new artifact might be realized by combining it with an object that performs the opposite function. The claw hammer is a good example. So is a pencil with an eraser. Can you create new objects from the list of random objects by combining the object with something that performs the opposite function. How about a small cap for tightly sealing a soda can that could be attached to the lever of the pop-top device?

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HOW TO BECOME A BUTTERFLY

butterflys

Imagine how silent

The woods would be

If no bird sang

Except those that sang best

Imagine how joyful

The woods would be

If every bird sang.

Imagine how dull

The world would be

If no caterpillar

Became a butterfly

Imagine how wondrous

The world would be

If every caterpillar became a butterfly.

You choose how to live your life. You create your own reality. You can choose to be an object in your life and let others tell you who you are and what you are capable of being. Or you can choose to be the subject in your life and determine your own destiny by transforming yourself into a creative thinker.

One day when I was ten years old, I was hiking up a hill to pick blackberries with Dido, my grandfather, when he stopped and picked up a caterpillar. “Look at this. What do you see?” “A caterpillar,” I said.

“Someday this will become a beautiful butterfly. Look at it carefully and tell me what you see that proves this will be so.” I studied the caterpillar carefully looking for a sign. Finally, I said, “Dido, there is nothing in the caterpillar that tells me it’s going to be a butterfly.” “Exactly!” my grandfather said. “And there is nothing in you on the outside that shows others what you will become. Remember this. When people tell you why you can’t do something or become something, remember the caterpillar. You cannot see what is going on inside the caterpillar, and they cannot see what is in your heart or mind. Only you, like the caterpillar, know what you are capable of becoming.”

I think of the caterpillar and butterfly when I think of how people can change. In metamorphosis, little things that biologists call imaginal cells begin to crop up in the body of the caterpillar. At first, they have difficulty surviving. It isn’t until they begin to combine and interact with each other that they get stronger and are able to resist being attacked by the immune system. Then these imaginal cells replace the caterpillar cells, and the caterpillar becomes a butterfly.

I think that is a beautiful metaphor for the process of becoming a creative personality. We do not inherit our behavioral traits directly, through our genes. Instead we develop traits through the dynamic process of interacting with our environment. Think of these traits as your imaginal cells, which need to strengthen and change in order for you to become a creative person.

At first your changes may have difficulty surviving (much like the first butterfly cells), but over time — as you consistently work to change your perceptions, thinking patterns, speaking patterns, attitude, and the way you act — you will find these forces linking up and changing the way you interact with your environment. Like a caterpillar surprised when it becomes a butterfly, you will be surprised when you find yourself transformed from a dull, passive onlooker into an active creative thinker who can change the world.

……………………

(Michael Michalko is the author of Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking Creativity: The Thinking Strategies of Creative Geniuses;  Thinkpak: A Brainstorming Card Deck, and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work. http://www.creativethinking.net)

 

 

THE ARTIST IS A CHIMPANZEE

CHIMPS

Zoologist Desmond Morris performed some interesting experiments with chimpanzees which may provide some insight into intention. In one experiment, chimps were given canvas and paint. They immediately began to paint balanced patterns of color. In fact, some art critics saw incredible similarities between their work and the work of abstractionists. The chimps became so interested in painting and it absorbed them so completely, that they had little interest left for sex, food, or other activities. Similar experiments were performed with children. Their behavior was remarkably like that of the chimps.

It seems to indicate that there is a natural desire to create, to accomplish, to perform, yet, somehow this desire fades as we become adults. An extension of Morris’s experiment involved rewarding the chimps for producing the paintings. Very soon their work began to degenerate until they produced the bare minimum that would satisfy the experimenter. They became bored and uninterested in creating.

A similar behavior was observed in young children as they became “self-conscious” of the kind of painting they believed they were supposed to do. This was generally indicated to them by subtle and implicit rewards, such as praise and approval and the need to conform to what other children were doing. The creative act of painting no longer has meaning in itself. It now has become an activity to experience satisfaction in the form of an external reward or reinforcement. Eventually, the children learn to seek only satisfying words of praise from others, and to collude with others in exchanging flattering remarks that lead to mutual satisfaction.

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT

Here’s an interesting experiment which illustrates the power of internal and external forces on awareness and attention. First, have someone blindfold you. Then make a volitional movement of your choice, for example, walking in figure eights. Make a variety of complex movements. Do something that requires thought. Next, while still blindfolded, have someone passively move you around the room in the same amount of time and then stops you at a certain point.

The next day, have someone blindfold you again and then reproduce the movements of the day before. You will find that your performance accuracy is far better when you made the movements of your choice as compared with situations in which you were passively moved by someone else.

In the first case, because you took an active role and allowed yourself to behave naturally, you became “aware” and “attentive.” This created some passion for the exercise. In the second case, you were passively led around, which did not create much interest or passion.

We are taught to be linear thinkers and to have a fundamentally mechanistic view of the world. We are taught to look for external causes and effects and that these cause-and-effects are predictable and knowable and predictable. This kind of thing emphasizes external control.   For example, flip the light switch, and the light goes on. If the light doesn’t go on, there is an uncomplicated explanation – burned-out bulb, blown fuse, wire down in a storm, or a bad switch.

This sense for external control is what freezes thinking and what prevents the “free” play of awareness and attention. Just as water is metamorphosed into ice, your thinking, which should be fluid and free, becomes frozen. All one has to do is desire and visualize outcome and the creative forces in you will act through you as if you were a medium.  Then you will see that your brain and body are free to do the work naturally and will find the way for you to produce the desired outcome.

CELLO Musicologists say that the cellos made by Stradivarius are even more impressive instruments than his violins. Some years ago, some physicists – experts in Newtonian mechanics, especially the laws of acoustics – analyzed the cello. They studied the wood used to make it, the mixture used to make the glue, the recipe for the varnish, the number of coats of varnish, and so on. They researched all stringed instruments and cataloged the dimensions and sounds.

They concluded that the cellos made by Stradivarius are too small. The ideal cello, according to their research, ought to be three times the size of a violin, but the Stradivarius cellos are noticeably smaller. The scientists concluded that they could make a better cello by making it bigger. So they did, and it sounded awful. Not only wasn’t it anywhere near the quality of a Stradivarius, it wasn’t even as good as the mass-produced cellos that copied the size of a Stradivarius. So, what was the secret Stradivarius knew that the acoustical experts didn’t?

Stradivarius had no secret.

There are just too many interacting variables to reduce the making of a cello to a formula. The quality of the wood makes a difference, of course, but once a piece of wood is cut for the back of the cello, there will never be another piece of wood exactly like that one. Stradivarius had the attitude and belief that building a good cello requires the maker to have the attitude and belief in one’s ability to do so.

What Stradivarius knew that the acoustical experts didn’t is what to do about it. He knew what to change to adjust for the differences in the wood or in the number of pieces of wood used for the ribs or in the number of coats of varnish.

The point is understood by one of the best modern makers of stringed instruments, who, when asked if he could build a Stradivarius, deemed the question absurd. “I can only build my own cello” was his response.

***

Michael Michalko is a creative expert and author of Thinkertoys, Cracking Creativity, Creative Thinkering and ThinkPak. You can review his books at  http://creativethinking.net/#sthash.SXV5T2cu.dpbs

 

 

Why are some people creative and others not?

why.2

The key question isn’t “Why are some people creative and others not?” It is why in God’s name isn’t everyone creative? Where and how was our potential lost? How was it crippled? Why does education inhibit creativity? Why can’t educators foster more creativity instead of less? Why is it that the more expert people become in their fields, the less creative and innovative they become? Why is it that people who know more create less, and people who know less create more? Why are people amazed when someone creates something new, as if it were a miracle?

We’ve been educated to process information based on what has happened in the past, what past thinkers thought, and what exists now. Once we think we know how to get the answer, based on what we have been taught, we stop thinking. The Spanish word for an “answer” is respuesta, and it has the same etymological root as response (responsory), the song people sing to the dead. It’s about what has no life anymore. In other words, when you think you know the answers, based on what has happened in the past, your thinking dies.

This is why, when most people use their imaginations to develop new ideas, those ideas are heavily structured in predictable ways by the properties of existing categories and concepts. Creative thinking requires the ability to generate a host of associations and connections between two or more dissimilar subjects, creating new categories and concepts. We have not been taught to process information this way.

CONCEPTUAL BLENDING

The key to creatively generating associations and connections between dissimilar subjects is conceptual blending. This is a creative-thinking process that involves blending two or more concepts in the same mental space to form new ideas.

Imagine, for a moment, that thought is water. When you are born, your mind is like a glass of water. Your thinking is inclusive, clear, and fluid. All thoughts intermingle and combine with each other and make all kinds of connections and associations. This is why children are spontaneously creative.

In school you are taught to define, label, and segregate what you learn into separate categories. The various categories are kept separate and not allowed to touch each other, much like ice cubes in a tray. Once something is learned and categorized, your thoughts about it become frozen. For example, once you learn what a can opener is, whenever someone mentions “can opener” you know exactly what it is.

You are taught, when confronted with a problem, to examine the ice cube tray and select the appropriate cube. Then you take the cube and put it in a glass, where your thinking heats and melts it. For example, if the problem is to “improve the can opener,” the glass will contain all you have learned about can openers, and nothing more. You are thinking exclusively, which is to say you are thinking only about what you have learned about the can opener. No matter how many times the water is stirred, you end up creating, at best, a marginal improvement.

ice cubes

Now if you take another cube (for example, vegetables) and put it in the same glass with the can-opener cube, your thinking will heat and melt both together into one fluid. Now when you stir the water, more associations and connections are made and the creative possibilities become immensely greater. The vegetable cube, once blended with the can-opener cube, might inspire you to think of how vegetables open in nature. For example, when pea pods ripen, a seam weakens and opens, freeing the peas. This might inspire you to come up with novel ideas. You could, for example, manufacture cans with a weak seam that can be pulled to open the can. You cannot get this kind of novel idea using your conventional way of thinking.

What happens when you think simultaneously, in the same mental space, about a showerhead and a telescope orbiting the earth? When the Hubble telescope was first launched into space, scientists were unable to focus it. It could be salvaged only by refocusing it using small, coin-shaped mirrors. The problem was how to deliver the mirrors and insert them precisely into the right location. The right location was in a light bundle behind the main mirror. The NASA experts who worked on the problem were not able to solve it, and the multi¬million dollar Hubble seemed doomed.

Electrical engineer James Crocker was attending a seminar in Germany when he found out about the problem. He worked on it all day. Tired, he stepped into the shower in his hotel room. The European-style shower included a showerhead on an arrangement of adjustable rods. While manipulating the showerhead, Crocker suddenly realized that similar articulated arms bearing coin-shaped mirrors could be extended into the light bundle from within a replacement axial instrument by remote control. Mentally blending the Hubble telescope and the showerhead created this remarkable solution.

Crocker was startled by his sudden realization of the solution that was immensely comprehensive and at the same time immensely detailed. As Crocker later said, “I could see the Hubble’s mirrors on the shower head.” The NASA experts could not solve the problem using their conventional linear way of thinking. Crocker solved it by thinking unconventionally — by forcing connections between two remotely different subjects.

Look at the following illustration of the square and circle. Both are separate entities.

2crcles. book

Now look at the extraordinary effect they have when blended together. We now have something mysterious, and it seems to move. You can get this effect only by blending the two dissimilar objects in the same space. The power of the effect is not contained in the circle or in the square, but in the combination of the two.

1circle.book

Creativity in all domains, including science, technology, medicine, the arts, and day-to-day living, emerges from the basic mental operation of conceptually blending dissimilar subjects. When analyzed, creative ideas are always new combinations of old ideas. A poet does not generally make up new words but instead puts together old words in a new way. The French poet Paul Valéry is quoted by mathematician Jacques Hadamard in Jacques Hadamard, A Universal Mathematician, by T. O. Shaposhnikova, as saying, “It takes two to invent anything. The one makes up combinations; the other one chooses, recognizes what he wishes and what is important to him in the mass of the things which the former has imparted to him.” Valéry related that when he wrote poetry he used two thinking strategies to invent something new. With one strategy, he would make up combinations; and with the other, he would choose what was important.

Consider Einstein’s theory of relativity. He did not invent the concepts of energy, mass, or speed of light. Rather, he combined these ideas in a new and useful way.

Think for a moment about a pinecone. What relationship does a pinecone have to the processes of reading and writing? In France in 1818, a nine-year-old boy accidentally blinded himself with a hole puncher while helping his father make horse harnesses. A few years later the boy was sitting in the yard thinking about his inability to read and write when a friend handed him a pinecone. He ran his fingers over the cone and noted the tiny differences between the scales. He conceptually blended the feel of different pinecone scales with reading and writing and realized he could create an alphabet of raised dots on paper so the blind could feel and read what was written with it. In this way Louis Braille opened up a whole new world for the blind.

Braille made a creative connection between a pinecone and reading. When you make a connection between two unrelated subjects, your imagination will leap to fill the gaps and form a whole in order to make sense of it. Suppose you are watching a mime impersonating a man taking his dog out for a walk. The mime’s arm is outstretched as though holding the dog’s leash. As the mime’s arm is jerked back and forth, you “see” the dog straining at the leash to sniff this or that. The dog and the leash become the most real part of the scene, even though there is no dog or leash. In the same way, when you make connections between your subject and something that is totally unrelated, your imagination fills in the gaps to create new ideas. It is this willingness to use your imagination to fill in the gaps that produces the unpredictable idea. This is why Einstein claimed that imagination is more important than knowledge.

Just as conceptual blending allows information to intermingle in the mind of the individual, when people swap thoughts with others from different fields this creates new, exciting thinking patterns for both. As Brian Arthur argues in his book The Nature of Technology, nearly all technologies result from combinations of other technologies, and new ideas often come from people from different fields combining their thoughts and things. One example is the camera pill, invented after a conversation between a gastroenterologist and a guided-missile designer.

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You Do Not See Things As They Are; You See Them As You Are

five

Some scientists visited a New Guinea tribe that believed their world ended at the nearby river. After several months one of the scientists had to cross the river to leave. When the scientist was safely across he waved, but the tribesmen did not respond. They said they didn’t see him as nothing existed beyond the end of the world. Their entrenched patterns of belief about where the world ended distorted their perception of reality.

The New Guinea people disregard things which do not fit into the way they were taught to view reality and make them into something consistent with their beliefs. They see what they expect to see.

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT

Take a look at these two tables. Which one of them do you think is longer, and which one is wider?

tables-largesst-001

It might be hard to believe, but the two tables have the exact same dimensions! Measure both table surfaces with a ruler and prove it to yourself. Why, then, does the table on the left look elongated, while the table on the right appears to have a wider width? The illusion of two tables was first discovered by Roger Shepard at Stanford University.

It comes down to how we perceive the scene. Accustomed as we are to photography and Western art, we automatically interpret the scene as three-dimensional. The concept of perspective, first mastered by artists during the Renaissance, is one we encounter in our everyday lives, and our brains automatically assume that the further away an object is from us, the smaller it will be. To compensate, our brain interprets and “lengthens” lines that appear to be pointing away from us into the distance. In this scene, the interpretation made by our brain extends the length of the table on the left by making it appear longer and the shorter side of the right-hand table by making it appear wider. Our brain constructs what we perceive based on our past experiences rather than what is there.

People tend to think of perception as a passive process. We see, hear, smell, taste or feel stimuli that impinge upon our senses. We think that if we are at all objective, we record what is actually there. Yet perception is demonstrably an active rather than a passive process; it constructs rather than records “reality.” Perception implies understanding as well as awareness. It is a process of inference in which people construct their own version of reality on the basis of information provided through the five senses.

THE CLASSIC TEASER OF THE MIRROR

Noble laureate physicist, Richard Feynman, wrote about the classic teaser of the mirror. Why, Feynman wondered, does a mirror seem to invert left and right but not top and bottom? That is, why are the letters of a book backward but not upside down, and why would Feynman’s double behind the mirror appear to have a mole on the wrong hand?

Imagine yourself standing before the mirror, he suggested, with one hand pointing east and the other west. Wave the east hand. The mirror image waves its east hand. Its head is up. Its west hand lies to the west. Its feet are down. Everything’s really all right.

The problem is on the axis running through the mirror. Your nose and the back of your head are reversed: if your nose points north, your double’s nose points south. The problem now is psychological. We think of our image as another person. We cannot imagine ourselves “squashed” back to front, so our brains imagine ourselves turned left and right, as if we had walked around a pane of glass to face the other way.

It is in this psychological turnabout the brain makes that make us believe that left and right are switched.

This is another example that shows the extraordinary extent to which the information obtained by an observer depends upon the observer’s own assumptions and preconceptions. We cannot imagine our image squashed so we construct a reality that assumes an image of ourselves as if we walked around the pane of glass.

THE WAR OF GHOSTS THOUGHT EXPERIMENT

Read the following story. Wait a few minutes. Then write what you remember about the story. You might also want to try it with a friend. Ask a friend to read the story, wait a few moments, and then ask your friend to retell it to you from memory. Compare the stories to see the results.

THE STORY. One night two young men from Egulac went down to the river to hunt seals and while they were there it became foggy and calm. Then they heard war cries, and they thought: “Maybe this is a war party”. They escaped to the shore and hid behind a log. Now canoes came up, and they heard the noise of paddles, and saw one canoe coming up to them. There were five men in the canoe, and they said: “What do you think? We wish to take you along. We are going up the river to make war on the people.”

 One of the young men said, “I have no arrows.” “Arrows are in the canoe,” they said.  “I will not go along. I might be killed. My relatives do not know where I have gone. But you,” he said, turning to the other, “may go with them.”

 So one of the young men went, but the other returned home. And the warriors went on up the river to a town on the other side of Kalama. The people came down to the water and they began to fight, and many were killed. But presently the young man heard one of the warriors say, “Quick, let us go home: that Indian has been hit.” Now he thought: “Oh, they are ghosts.” He did not feel sick, but they said he had been shot.

 So the canoes went back to Egulac and the young man went ashore to his house and made a fire. And he told everybody and said: “Behold I accompanied the ghosts, and we went to fight. Many of our fellows were killed, and many of those who attacked us were killed. They said I was hit, and I did not feel sick.” He told it all, and then he became quiet. When the sun rose he fell down. Something black came out of his mouth. His face became contorted. The people jumped up and cried.

He was dead.

Now look away from the story. Wait a few minutes. Now write the story as you remembered it. How did your stories compare? You will amaze yourself at how different your story is from what you have read.

This story was used by British psychologist, Sir Frederic Bartlett, in his experiments in perception. He asked people to read the story which was unfamiliar to them and then later asked them to write what they remembered. He found that when they recalled the story, they had changed it to fit their existing knowledge, and it was this revised story which then became incorporated into their memory. He demonstrated that existing conceptual patterns of knowledge, beliefs, and theories absorb unfamiliar new experiences and re-interpret them to fit with what they know.

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 Michael Michalko is a creativity expert and author of several books on creative thinking. Discover how to get the ideas you need by visiting www.creativethinking.net

MEMORY TEST: ARE YOUR MEMORIES REAL OR FALSE

memory

The actor Alan Alda once visited a group of memory researchers at the University of California, Irvine, for a TV show he was making. During a picnic lunch, one of the scientists offered Alda a hard-boiled egg. He turned it down, explaining that as a child he had made himself sick eating too many eggs.

In fact, this had never happened, yet Alda believed it was real. How so? The egg incident was a false memory planted by one of UC Irvine’s researchers, Elizabeth Loftus.

Before the visit, Loftus had sent Alda a questionnaire about his food preferences and personality. She later told him that a computer analysis of his answers had revealed some facts about his childhood, including that he once made himself sick eating too many eggs. There was no such analysis but it was enough to convince Alda.

Your memory may feel like a reliable record of the past, but it is not. Loftus has spent the past 30 years studying the ease with which we can form “memories” of nonexistent events. She has convinced countless people that they have seen or done things when they haven’t – even quite extreme events such as being attacked by animals or almost drowning. Her work has revealed much about how our brains form and retain memories.

While we wouldn’t want to plant a memory of a nonexistent childhood trauma in your own brain, there is a less dramatic demonstration of how easy it is to form a false memory called the Deese-Roediger-McDermott digm. Read the first two lists of words and pause for a few minutes. Then scroll down and read list 3. Put a tick against the words that were in the first two. Now go back and check your answers.

LIST ONE

APPLE, VEGETABLE, ORANGE, KIWI,

CITRUS, RIPE, PEAR, BANANA, BERRY

CHERRY, BASKET, JUICE, SALAD, BOWL,

COCKTAIL

 

LIST TWO

WEB, INSECT, BUG, FRIGHT, FLY

ARACHNID, CRAWL, TARANTULA, POISON

BITE, CREEPY, ANIMAL, UGLY, FEELERS, SMALL

 

SCROLL DOWN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LIST THREE

 

SPIDER, FEATHER, CITRUS, UGLY, ROBBER,

PIANO, GOAT, GROUND, CHERRY, BITTER,

INSECT, FRUIT, SUBURB, KIWI, QUICK,

MOUSE, PILE, FISH

 

 

Michael Michalko’s books about how to become a creative thinker can be reviewed at http://creativethinking.net/#sthash.SXV5T2cu.dpbs