Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Thinking in four dimensions

Caught the tail of an interesting interview on NPR this morning. Singer and songwriter Dion described the four dimensions of thought (past, present, future and imagination) he employed in composing a song. Compelling stuff.

Creative thinkers, as we’ve amplified in previous discussions, possess similar combinatorial traits. Geniuses appear to do it effortlessly, flowing in an unconscious realm with great visibility of the past and present. This combination – a rich reservoir of then and now knowledge and experiences, and an ability to combine such elements and imagineer the future – is the root of creative thinking.

As psychologist Sarnoff Mednick explained:

The creative thinking process … (is) the forming of associative elements into new combinations which either meet specified requirements or are in some way useful. The greater the number of associations that an individual has to the requisite elements of a problem, the greater the probability of his reaching a creative solution.
In his tome How Breakthroughs Happen, Andy Hargadon shares an apt (and timely, given the 40-year anniversary of Sgt. Pepper's) story. David Crosby described what the Beatles brought to rock and roll as a recombination of what had come before:
I heard folk sort of [chord] changes with rock and roll sort of beat [in the Beatles music]. Now, most new musical forms are created that way, the synthesis takes place by two disparate streams of stuff hitherto unrelated being mushed together.
Crosby’s “disparate streams” work well with the four-dimensional thought process. Arthur Koestler asserted the moment of creative insight occurs when an individual recognizes that an element embedded in one frame of reference belongs also to another frame of reference, its double membership thus revealing a relationship that can solve a problem (or, for today’s conversation, make music). This act of insight Koestler calls a "bisociative act."

While bisociative acts are complicated and quite rare, perhaps we can coin a new term: quadsociative, the ability to think, combine and create on four planes of thought.

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