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Recap: on HipBone / Sembl Thinking

Monday, March 10th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- briefly picking up a strand from an earlier post & running with it ]
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Some of the fish in the pool HipBone / Sembl swims in - slide credit Cath Styles, & h/t Derek Robinson

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I just wanted to reiterate an Einstein quote that I slipped into the middle of a post on the Black Madonna and iconography recently, where some readers more interested in the Sembl / HipBone games and their applicability to analytic work and creative thinking may have missed it:

The words or the language, as they are written or spoken, do not seem to play any role in my mechanism of thought. The psychical entities which seem to serve as elements in thought are certain signs and more or less clear images which can be “voluntarily” reproduced and combined. There is, of course, a certain connection between those elements and relevant logical concepts. It is also clear that the desire to arrive finally at logically connected concepts is the emotional basis of this rather vague play with the above mentioned elements. But taken from a psychological viewpoint, this combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought – before there is any connection with logical construction in words or other kinds of sign, which can be communicated to others.

The above mentioned elements are, in my case, of visual and some of muscular type. Conventional words or other signs have to be sought for laboriously only in a secondary stage, when the mentioned associative play is sufficiently established and can be reproduced at will.

According to what has been said, the play with the mentioned elements is aimed to be analogous to certain logical connections one is searching for.

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Combinatory playessential feature in productive thoughtanalogous to certain logical connections one is searching for — these three phrases sum up pretty exactly the congitive training function of the HipBone / Sembl games.

As I said earlier, I have to wonder how many of our analysts are deeply versed in this “combinatory play” of images and kinesthetic experiences, way below the threshold of conscious thought.

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Education: a call for actors, directors, composers, conductors

Sunday, March 9th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- leaping as far out of the box from Education: on Engineers, the Navy — and excuse me, Jihad as I can manage ]
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Director / Actor Jean Renoir as Octave in Rules of the Game


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Let me dive directly in at the deep end.

If, as Keith Oatley suggests, theatre is “simulation that runs on minds“, what does that tell us about actors (as compared with the rest of the population) as experienced simmers of complex realities, potential scenario planners?

Where does that leave Ronald Reagan vis-a-vis Margaret Thatcher? What about directors vs actors? What of Jean Renoir (depicted above)? Or Clint Eastwood, actor, director — and one time Mayor of Carmel, CA?

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On another tack:

In one of my all-time favorite quotations — because it covers so much ground, aptly, from Middle Eastern politics to JS Bach — the music critic and pianist (and yes, Palestinian, and other things as well) Edward Said once wrote:

When you think about it, when you think about Jew and Palestinian not separately, but as part of a symphony, there is something magnificently imposing about it. A very rich, also very tragic, also in many ways desperate history of extremes — opposites in the Hegelian sense — that is yet to receive its due. So what you are faced with is a kind of sublime grandeur of a series of tragedies, of losses, of sacrifices, of pain that would take the brain of a Bach to figure out. It would require the imagination of someone like Edmund Burke to fathom.

If contrapuntal composers and conductors can hear, feel the conflicts between, and at times, at least for a while, balance and resolve them, what then might Bach be able to teach our analysts, policy and policy makers?

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And finally, to quote Cornelius Castoriadis:

Philosophers almost always start by saying: “I want to see what being is, what reality is. Now, here is a table. What does this table show to me as characteristic of a real being?” No philosopher ever started by saying: “I want to see what being is, what reality is. Now, here is my memory of my dream of last night. What does this show to me as characteristic of a real being?” No philosopher ever starts by saying “Let the Mozart’s Requiem be a paradigm of being, let us start from that.” Why could we not start by positing a dream, a poem, a symphony as paradigmatic of the fullness of being and by seeing in the physical world a deficient mode of being, instead of looking at things the other way round, instead of seeing in the imaginary — that is, human — mode of existence, a deficient or secondary mode of being?

What then could we learn from Mozart (and Bach, and Shakespeare, Said and Renoir) about the better understanding of our present mode of existance?

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Yes.

I am suggesting that there is in fact such a thing as genius, that it is a “still, small voice” available to any who care to listen — and that we might be wise to center our educational ideas around its care and feeding…

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Lind on “the Navy’s Intellectual Seppuku”

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

William Lind had a very important piece regarding an extraordinarily ill-considered move by the Navy brass:

The Navy Commits Intellectual Seppuku 

The December, 2013 issue of the Naval Institute’s Proceedings contains an article, “Don’t Say Goodbye to Intellectual Diversity” by Lt. Alexander P. Smith, that should receive wide attention but probably won’t. It warns of a policy change in Navy officer recruiting that adds up to intellectual suicide. Lt. Smith writes, “Starting next year, the vast majority of all NROTC graduates will be STEM majors (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) with minimal studies in the humanities … As a result of the new policy, a high school senior’s best chance of obtaining a Navy scholarship is to apply for Tiers 1 and 2 (engineering, hard sciences, and math), since CNO guidance specifies that not less than 85 percent of incoming officers will come from this restricted pool.”

….The engineering way of thinking and the military way of thinking are not merely different. They are opposites. Engineering, math, and other sciences depend on analysis of hard data. Before you make a decision, you are careful to gather all the facts, however long that may take. The facts are then carefully analyzed, again without much regard for the time required. Multiple actors check and re-check each others’ work. Lowest-common-denominator, committee-consensus decisions are usually the safest course. Anything that is not hard data is rejected. Hunches have no place in designing a bridge.

Making military decisions in time of war could not be more different. Intuition, educated guessing, hunches, and the like are major players. Hard facts are few; most information is incomplete and ambiguous, and part of it is always wrong, but the decision-maker cannot know how much or which parts. Creativity is more important than analysis. So is synthesis: putting parts together in new ways. Committee-consensus, lowest-common-denominator decisions are usually the worst options. Time is precious, and a less-than-optimal decision now often produces better results than a better decision later. Decisions made by one or two people are often preferable to those with many participants. There is good reason why Clausewitz warned against councils of war.

Read the whole thing here.

Rarely have I seen Lind more on target than in this piece.

Taking a rank-deferential, strongly hierarchical organization and by design making it more of a closed system intellectually and expecting good things to happen should disqualify that person from ever being an engineer because they are clearly too dumb to understand what resilience and feedback are. Or second and third order effects.

STEM, by the way, is not the problem. No one should argue for an all-historian or philosopher Navy either. STEM is great. Engineers can bring a specific and powerful kind of problem solving framework to the table. The Navy needs a lot of smart engineers.

It is just that no smart engineer would propose to do this because the negative downstream effects of an all-engineer institutional culture for an armed service are self-evident.

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Materials from the Archive 2: Adam Elkus interview

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- capturing another item now vanished from its original URL ]
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Aother repost of a web-page I occasionally want to link to, but which has disappeared into the mists, saved only by the Internet Archive, god bless ‘em.

This second one comes from the Abu Muqawama blog, lately of CNAS, and features an interview Adam Elkus did with me — extremely handy when presenting my work to possible funders, publishers etc — thanks agan, Adam!

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Interview: Charles Cameron

July 31, 2013 | Posted by aelkus – 3:15pm

Periodically, I’d like to give Abu M readers some exposure to interesting thinkers they may not otherwise read. I’m leading off the first interview with Charles Cameron. It’s hard to exactly summarize his interesting career. Though his work on religious thought and apocalypticism has the most relevance for Abu M readers, he also is a game designer and Herman Hesse aficianado. He specializes in rapid-fire blogged juxtapositions of interesting connections in the news, which you can read over at the Zenpundit archive. I was most interested in Cameron’s unique style of analysis, which may have utility to people interested in things like Design and applied creative thinking for security subjects.

Adam Elkus: Your blogging is very reliant on pictorial juxtapositions and connections between disparate things. How did you come to this method, and what is it useful for?

Charles Cameron: I think we’re moving pretty rapidly from an era of textual to a time of graphical thinking — and I’d tie that in to some extent with the arrival of cybernetics. Cause and effect can be represented by a straight line, cause effect and feedback needs to be a loop. So there’s a return to the visual and the diagrammatic, visible all over the place from sidebars in major news media to Forrester’s systems diagrams, the OODA loop, Social Network Analysis and PERT charts to Mark Lombardi’s paintings — that’s high science to mass media to museum-grade art. More generally, we see that the network rather than the line is the underlying form for everything from the internet to Big Data….And if you look back, you’ll see that all this picks up on themes we haven’t seen since the Renaissance.

Another way I see it is in terms of polyphony. If you want to model all the voices in a conflict, all the various stakeholders in a problematic situation, you need a notation, a way of representing their various tensions and interactions — a way to score their polyphony. And polyphonic & contrapuntal music is the closest analog we have — JS Bach is going to be the master here.

Creative insight, and indeed all thought, depends on analogy (Hofstadter; Fauconnier & Turner; Koestler) — so my Hipbone/Sembl Games and DoubleQuotes are designed to procure & explore creative/associative leaps & the fresh insights they bring, and nothing else. This is more a poet’s mode of thought than an engineer’s mode, & underused in heavily tech oriented analysis. The necessities of visual thinking also point me toward a humanly readable graph with “the magical number seven plus or minus two” nodes, with the nodes themselves not single data points but rich & complex ideas in compact form (nasheed, flag, logo, anecdote, video clip, quote), with multiple-strand, discipline- and silo-jumping juxtapositions between them.

Almost all of the above is prefigured in Hermann Hesse’s Nobel-winning novel, The Glass Bead Game, which has been my central intellectual inspiration for at least the last two decades.

AE: You study apocalyptic tropes in religious movements. Which vision of apocalypse do you find most disturbing?

CC: Well, first I should say that I’m not talking about the current pop-culture trope of nuclear-devastated landscapes and zombie invasions. I’m talking religious “end times” beliefs, aka eschatology, cross-culturally, and with specific attention to those with violent potential.  Religion is often pigeonholed under politics, as though it’s just a veneer and everything can be satisfactorily explained without considering, eg, that it treats life after death as, if anything, a more powerful motivator than life before it — so we miss the turning point that “end times” thinking represents, with its implication that the current war is the final test on which you will be judged pass/fail by the One who created life, death and you yourself…

Broadly, I pay particularly note to unforeseen apocalypses, clashing apocalypses, and fictitious apocalypses. Muslim (Mahdist) apocalypticism was widely ignored because we knew so little about it, until well after 9/11 – yet the hadith saying the Mahdi’s victorious end times army with black banners will sweep from Khorasan (plausibly: Afghanistan) to Jerusalem has long been a major lure in AQ propaganda — while its correlate, the Ghazwa-e-Hind, is still largely dismissed. By clashing apocalypses I mean what happens when rival apocalypses mutually antagonize one another, as when the Mahdi is equated with Antichrist in Joel Richardson’s writings, or when Judaic, Christian and Islamic apocalypses clash over Israel and the Temple Mount — probably the driest tinder in the world right now, And by fictitious apocalypses, I mean the ones influentially but mistakenly portrayed in works of best-selling fiction such as the Left Behind series, or Joel Rosenberg’s far more engaging politico-religious novels.

AE: How has the study of apocalyptic tropes and culture changed (if it has at all) since 9/11 focused attention on radical Islamist movements?

CC: USC’s Stephen O’Leary was the first to study apocalyptic as rhetoric in his 1994 Arguing the Apocalypse, and joined BU’s Richard Landes in forming the (late, lamented) Center for Millennial Studies, which gave millennial scholars a platform to engage with one another. David Cook opened my eyes to Islamist messianism at CMS around 1998, and the publication of his two books (Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature), Tim Furnish’s Holiest Wars and J-P Filiu’s Apocalypse in Islam brought it to wider scholarly attention — while Landes’ own encyclopedic Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience gives a wide-angle view of the field in extraordinary detail.

I’d say we’ve gone from brushing off apocalyptic as a superstitious irrelevance to an awareness that apocalyptic features strongly in Islamist narratives, both Shia and Sunni, over the past decade, but still tend to underestimate its significance within contemporary movements within American Christianity. When Harold Camping proclaimed the end of the world in 2011, he spent circa $100 million worldwide on warning ads, and reports suggest that hundreds of Hmong tribespeople in Vietnam lost their lives in clashes with the police after moving en masse to a mountain to await the rapture. Apocalyptic movements can have significant impact — cf. the Taiping Rebellion in China, which left 20 million or so dead in its wake.

AE: What advice do you have for people looking to understand esoteric secular and religious movements relevant to national security and foreign policy?

CC: Since “feeling is first”, as ee cummings said, to “know your enemy” (Sun Tze) requires an act of empathy, the ability to feel how the enemy’s feelings must feel. That’s not an easy task for the rational secular mind, but to get a sense of the apocalyptic feelings of the jihadists, I’d recommend reading Abdullah Azzam’s Signs of the Merciful in Afghanistan, with its tales of miracle upon miracle, considering the impact of those narratives on pious but unlettered readers sympathetic to the idea of jihad…

Pay no attention to pundits. For real expertise, follow twitter and blogosphere, not Fox or CNN. Read widely.  Read above your pay grade, see what the experts think are most significant distinctions. Look for similarities in own tradition and explore the differences — read Rushdoony on Christian Dominionism and C Peter Wagner on the New Apostolic Reformation to compare with the Islamist narrative.

Look for blind spots, and focus on them — they’re as important as the rear view mirror is when driving.  Watch for undertows, movements in the making. Read comments sections, which will contain more unvarnished truth than is entirely comfortable.  Notice where disciplines (or silos) intersect — learning which applies in two disciplines is at least twice as valuable as learning that only occurs in one. Read where worldviews collide. Lastly, I’d ask you to explore any tradition, whether you think it’s idiotic or not, until you know what’s most beautiful in it — so that, again, you see it with empathy & nuance, not just in black and white…

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In good, really good company

Friday, January 10th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- mildly NSFW if your office can't handle Leonardo, which IMNSHO we should be able to manage now in this 21st century CE -- and besides, it's the weekend ]
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Well, we here at Zenpundit have a particular interest in creative thinking, and this last evening I unexpectedly found myself in excellent creative company…

…in a months-old blog-post by an old friend, an astrophysicist by profession who goes by the name Cygnus on the web — presumably after the constellation that harbors Deneb, and also Kepler-22b, the “first known transiting planet to orbit within the habitable zone of a Sun-like star” (WikiP, since I know no better). Cygnus means “swan” in Greek, and Zeus became a swan for his own imperious purposes when he saw LedaHelen of Troy being one of their offspring (see eggs in Da Vinci‘s image below), with the Trojan War ensuing.


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Here’s then, is the A-Z of creative folk, as Cygnus pulled it together last April as part of an “A-Z- Challenge” — I’m honored and awed to be named in the company of such as Andre Breton, Donald Knuth, George Carlin, Octavia Butler, Samuel R Delany, Dame Frances Yates and the rest:

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For April 2013, my theme for the Blogging from A to Z Challenge was “An A to Z of Masters of the Imagination that You Oughtta Know About.”  In other words, on each day I profiled a person whose brains were just overflowing with weirdness and creativity.  Here’s a list of the posts:

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So that’s Cygnus’ list — quite a dinner party! You’ll recognise some members of your own constellation of creatives here, perhaps — feast on some of those you’re not yet familar with! Cygnus blogs about games and such at Servitor Ludi.

As for me, I’ll simply offer you William Bulter Yeats‘ great poem Leda and the Swan, to celebrate the company I just found myself in, and close out a memorable evening:

Leda and the Swan

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
                                 Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

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