Creativity in Science – Sparks of Genius

By Michael Edmonds 23/11/2010 2


In response to my previous post about creativity in science one of the posters, Jenny Rock, recommended the works of Robert Root-Bernstein. I recently obtained Sparks of Genius written by Robert and his wife Michele, and have been absolutely enthralled by this book.

Sparks of Genius: the 13 Thinking Tools of the World’s Most Creative People identifies, chapter by chapter, thirteen thinking tools used by creative people in the sciences, arts and other areas which thrive on creativity. The thirteen thinking tools are:

Observing

Imaging

Abstracting

Recognising Patterns

Forming Patterns

Analogizing

Body Thinking

Empathizing

Dimensional Thinking

Modeling

Playing

Transforming

Synthesizing

Each chapter is rich with examples from history of creative geniuses who have excelled through the use of these tools. Indeed, the book is so rich in detail it is impossible to do it justice here so I will focus on just one chapter, Recognising Patterns, and on some of the general thoughts coming out of the book.

In Recognising Patterns the Root-Bernsteins describe how many artists use pattern recognition to come up with new ideas. Such examples include Da Vinci, who used the patterns in random stains on a wall to inspire him; Leonard Bernstein who recognised a four note pattern occurring in a wide range of musical pieces; young Carl Friederich Gauss whose recognition of patterns within mathematics allowed him to add the numbers 1 to 100 in seconds to the amazement of his classmates; and the proponents of continental drift who recognised how the continents could be fitted together to form the supercontinent, Pangaea.

Throughout the book several key themes emerge. A well rounded education which includes arts as well as science is likely to be beneficial as the creative skills developed are complementary. Indeed the division of knowledge into art and science, and into the individual sciences of chemistry, biology and physics can be seen to be an artificial construct. Botany is complemented by fine art skills, many mathematicians display excellent musical abilities (and vice versa), while most many modern areas of science see scientists drawing upon knowledge from chemistry, biology and physics. Knowledge needs to be taught in an integrative way that encourages deep learning and not surface, rote learning.

It is impossible to do justice to such an thought provoking and information dense book in a single blog, however hopefully the above sparks some interest. Certainly a book worth reading for anyone interested in science, creativity and education. And inspiring enough for me to go looking for my sketch pad.


2 Responses to “Creativity in Science – Sparks of Genius”

  • Fantastic! Creativity in science (or any field really) is sorely needed in today’s world of intense specialisation. At various conferences and events, I have come across many academics who have achieved doctorates for obscure studies in science but who do not have more than a cursory knowledge of science in other branches. Even more of a concern is the growing lack of awareness of the epistemological framework, and related assumptions about knowing, within which one operates.

    I will be adding this to my list of books to read. Might I also suggest Guy Claxton as an author of interest. Not so much from a science point of view but as an educational expert with strong links to building personal creativity in his works.

    • Thanks for the Guy Claxton reference – my Christmas break list of books to read just grows and grows 🙂