[pypy-dev] i just had the book FLOWS reccomeenmded to me

Martijn Faassen faassen at infrae.com
Wed Apr 14 11:26:53 CEST 2004

Alex Martelli wrote:

> Similarly, thanks to the infectiousness of ideas, clear and readable books of 
> essays can be written, excellently useful programs can be coded, perfectly 
> serviceable furniture can be built, etc, etc, without needing each worker in 
> the field to display the creativity that originally sparked the ideas behind 
> the work.  I do not know who invented the concept of table, that of armchair, 
> that of padding a piece of furniture with leather, etc, etc -- without the 
> creativity of those unsung geniuses, our lives would all be poorer.  But, all 
> of those ideas (and many more "minor" ones, relating to processes using in 
> building furniture) _have_ done their "spreading like infections" work, 
> fortunately, so we can all benefit -- _with_ a lot of "followup" work on the 
> part of MANY of us "normal" people, of course.

This is all rather too romantic for me. I suspect that instead of some 
kind of romantic spark of unsung geniuses, in many cases we are looking 
at the end result of an incremental process. An accumulation of fairly 
simple ideas on how to improve matters, filtered by what actually 
worked. Similarly, the amazingly complicated beautiful natural world is, 
according to biological science, not the result of a creative spark but 
arose through mutation and natural selection. The result of patient 
optimization with an occasional reshuffling *can* look like an amazing 
idea afterwards.

> We _do_ know (roughly;-) who invented computers, programming, Python, all 
> sorts of nifty algorithms &c used in its library, and so on, and so forth.

And a clear example of accumulation and optimization can be witnessed 
there. Python is a perfect example; there wasn't a breakthrough of 
genius involved with astoundingly new ideas, but a good combination of 
existing ideas. This *is* creative in my book, and did create something 
new. Many people were involved in the invention of computers.

Witness the phenomenon of an idea being 'ripe' for its time, and 
multiple people having the same idea at approximately the same time. 
Apparently the memetic niche just opened up and people (smart people, 
creative people) could fairly easily move into it.

> But that doesn't really change the picture: again, thanks to this wealth of 
> accumulated cultural baggage, it _IS_ quite feasible for the rest of us to 
> _use_ these ideas, just like accountants, ordinary cooks, furniture makers,
> etc, use the products of past creativity to help us all live better.

Instead, accountants, cooks and furniture makers can and do apply 
optimization. This can lead to results that look like genius creativity 
on the longer term. A flat surface of rock can over time turn into a 
wooden table with legs.

I've written poetry before. I don't know whether it's any good, of 
course, which one could use an argument against me here. I've noticed 
that the core of a poem does require a different style of thinking than 
the polishing later. But to take that different style of thinking and 
apply this as a template to all creativity doesn't make much sense to 
me. To get a potentially new idea, an unusual combination or twisting 
and turning of existing concepts is required. It requires an experience 
with these concepts; you've been turning them around in your mind for a 
long time. In poetry these are feelings and their expressions in 
language. Because feelings are involved, to introspection it feels 
impressive when you've reached a combination that reverberates.

In other fields feelings are not so directly involved, I suspect 
creativity can creep up on one more. An accountant who by careful 
thinking through of laws and circumstances can come up with an original 
way to legally spare his client some taxes is creative in my book. And 
like a programmer, such accountant could excitedly try to tell someone 
else who will just shrug and not consider it creative at all.

I do agree with Alex's thesis that fairly uncreative activitiy is a 
necessary ingredient of human society in many cases. I'm glad we don't 
all want to be programmers working on a new software system; this way 
some of us can be the grunt programmers, the taxi drivers and the cooks 
of this world.



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