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Cognitive Tools for Creative Thinking

Friday, May 15th, 2015

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a “zen“]

It has been some time since I have touched upon this topic. Recently though, I initiated a discussion at work on ways to enhance and stimulate creativity and  creative thinking and presented a suite of methods for generating and refining ideas. I didn’t get into the insight-based aspects of creativity, nor the high-level kinds of synthesis you see with people who have genuine mastery over a field or domain. My focus was more on developing people’s ability to think divergently, generate or recognize novel ideas and then refine or develop them.

Therefore, many of these are active, intentional exercises or strategies. They tend to be productive but their creativity is not quite the same as what is produced, say, when a skilled musician is “jamming”, an inventor is tinkering or a painter or scientist is experimenting in the “flow“.  The following are also not an exhaustive list:

Creative Problem Solving (CPS)

Developed by Alex Osborn and Sidney Parnes, CPS seeks to harness Divergent and Convergent thinking in a holistic, multi-step, learning process. In essence, the students are sequentially alternating between Generating ideas and Focusing on refining, evaluating, applying them until the “problem” is solved. This is one of the older models of instilling creative thinking and has been widely used, particularly for well-defined or technical problems.

Edward DeBono Lateral Thinking Exercises

DeBono developed a system of forced choice and association exercises that are well suited to promoting critical and creative thinking at the same time as students address a concept or activity. Lateral Thinking exercises lend themselves naturally to being made into graphic organizers or as leading questions in class or group discussion. Some examples:

PMI – “Plus, Minus, Interesting”                             OPV – “Other People’s Views    

ADI – “Agreement, Disagreement, Irrelevant”  APC – “Alternatives, Possibilities, Choices”

EBS – “Examine Both Sides”                                      CAF – “Consider All Factors”

HVLV – “High Value, Low Value”                             AGO – “Aims, Goals, Objectives”

TEC – “Target, Explore, Conclude”                          PISCO – “Purpose, Input, Solutions, Choice”

Related to Lateral Thinking, but not the same, is Horizontal Thinking. While the former are concrete exercises, horizontal thinking is using a familiar area of knowledge to look for analogies and patterns in less or unfamiliar fields. Both Lateral and Horizontal thinking differ from the traditional model of analytical-reductionist Vertical Thinking associated with critical thinking done within a subject matter field. Vertical thinking and Lateral/Horizontal thinking complement one another

 

 

 

Variations on “Brainstorming

We all have used brainstorming. There are some ways to make brainstorming more productive.

Ideational Pools – Ask a series of open-ended questions to a group that creates a much richer, single “pool” of ideas than simple brainstorming

Uses, Instances, Similarities – this is usually about a physical object and the purpose is to generate as many alternatives as possible – i.e. “How many different uses can you think of for a piece of rope?”. It is both divergent and lateral thinking as an activity.

Synectics – Extends brainstorming by taking the results and developing metaphors, similes, metonymy/synedoche that describe/explain them

Group Roles (or stages)

  1. Generator: Comes up with ideas
  2. Conceptualizer: Organizes, categorizes, renames ideas
  3. Optimizer: Refines ideas with a view to action – the “How”
  4. Implementor Takes action

 

Morphological Synthesis

Morphological synthesis works through decomposition and forced association, There are several variations but it works best with well-defined problems. Examples.

  1. Define the problem or identify a thing. List all of the attributes.
  2. Combine and re-configure attributes in new ways

or

  1. Divide problem into parts
  2. Develop a solution for each part
  3. Combine solutions

 

Critical Question Mapping

A system of fast learning, developed by friend of ZP Dr. Terry Barnhart, discovers the “what” of a situation by having everyone brainstorm all of the critical questions that must be answered to find a solution. No declarative statements may be made, only questions asked. After the group has exhausted the potential questions, the questions can be organized into clusters, a learning strategy, divided for research, etc.

 

Scenario Exercises

The use of imaginative but realistic premises for a thought experiment and discussion. Popular in the fields of futurism, alternative history and physics, they allow the students to explore reasons behind making decisions, constructing hypothetical, framing problems or as an allegorical experience before exploring the real situation or problem. Scenarios come in different forms and draw on both critical and creative thinking:

Counterfactual: Ex- “What if the South won the Civil War?”

Futurist: Ex- Imagine a world entering a new ice age – how would Illinois ecosystems be impacted by the climate change?”

Physical: Ex- “Schrodinger’s Cat”

Paradoxical: Ex – “Could a man travel through time and kill his own grandfather? Could you drown in the fountain of eternal life?”

 

Doublequotes

Juxtaposing opposing or incompatible authoritative views to encourage synthesis or reflective choice. This is a favorite technique of Charles Cameron in his Hipbone method of analysis that he employs regularly here at ZP.

 

 

Moral Reasoning

Like Scenarios, moral reasoning and ethical dilemmas push people to think both creatively and critically. Example:

“A madman who has threatened to explode several bombs in crowded areas has been apprehended. Unfortunately, he has already planted the bombs and they are scheduled to go off in a short time. It is possible that hundreds of people may die. The authorities cannot make him divulge the location of the bombs by conventional methods. He refuses to say anything and requests a lawyer to protect his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination. In exasperation, some high level official suggests torture. This would be illegal, of course, but the official thinks that it is nevertheless the right thing to do in this desperate situation. Do you agree?”

Many ethical dilemmas and student solutions can be analyzed according to Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development but the value for creative thinking is in creating the conditions of a forced choice requiring a resolution.

 

 

What techniques do you use for creativity?

 

The learning is looped

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — Ts learn from CTs learn from Ts learn fro.. ]
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DQ Stealing
btw, this is a special format doublequote, yeah?

**

Brachman and McCants note in the conclusion to Stealing Al-Qa’ida’s Playbook:

Jihadi ideologues closely follow Western thought and U.S. strategic planning for insights that can be used against the United States and its allies.

and acknowledge their own borrowing, not only in the title, but also in the earliest pages of their work:

Although we would like to claim credit for the approach described in the introductory paragraphs, it is modeled after a similar approach used by Abu Bakr Naji, a rising star in the jihadi movement. In his 2004 work, The Management of Barbarism,* Naji urges fellow jihadis to study Western works on management, military principles, political theory, and sociology in order to borrow strategies that have worked for Western governments and to discern their weaknesses.

**

And here’s Naji, in The Management of Savagery (which Will McCants translated) on borrowing from non-Muslim sources of military expertise:

Wisdom is the goal of the believer, and even if we generally follow in the footsteps of the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of God be upon him) and his Companions (may God be pleased with them), we only accept that our policies in any jihadi action are Sharia policies, unless the Sharia permits us to use the plans and military principles of non-Muslims in which there is no sin.

[ .. ]

Following the time-tested principles of military combat will shorten for us the long years in which we might suffer the corrupting influences of rigidity and random behavior. Truly, abandoning random behavior and adopting intellectual, academic methods and experimental military principles and actually implementing them and applying military science will facilitate our achievement of the goals without complication and enable us to develop and improve the execution (of our plans), by the permission of God.

**

In practice, the loop is in fact a spiral, with each side learning, both on the battleield and on the mindfield, from the other.

The Brachman / McCants paper was published in 2006. I only learned of the Arabic translation today. For those interested in OODA loop timing, that looks to be an almost decade-long time-lapse, eh?

Or am I the slow one?

Intelligence vs the Artificial

Friday, January 16th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — who believes that detours are the spice of life ]
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Craig Kaplan:

Craig Kaplan

Maurits Escher:

M Escher

**

There’s a fasacinating article about Craig Kaplan and his work with tiling that I came across today, Crazy paving: the twisted world of parquet deformations — I highly recommend it to anyone interested in pattern — and I highly recommend anyone uninterested in pattern to get interested!

Kaplan himself is no stranger to Escher’s work, obviously enough — he’s even written a paper, Metamorphosis in Escher’s Art — the abstract reads:

M.C. Escher returned often to the themes of metamorphosis and deformation in his art, using a small set of pictorial devices to express this theme. I classify Escher’s various approaches to metamorphosis, and relate them to the works in which they appear. I also discuss the mathematical challenges that arise in attempting to formalize one of these devices so that it can be applied reliably.

I mean Kaplan no dishonor, then, when I say that his algorithmic tilings, as seen in the upper panel above, still necessarily lack something that his mentor’s images have, as seen in the lower panel — a quirky willingness to go beyond pattern into a deeper pattern, as when the turreted outcropping of a small Italian town on the Amalfi coast becomes a rook in the game of chess

**

Comparing one with the other, I am reminded of the differences between quantitative and qualitative approaches to understanding, of SIGINT and HUMINT in terms of the types of intelligence collected — and at the philosophical limit, of the very notions of quantity and quality.

Enantiodromia: the French Revolution

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — abstraction and pattern recognition as devices to evade one’s foibles, preferences, analytic assumptions ]
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Robespierre facial reconstruction
Robespierre, forensic reconstruction

**

The itaicized portion of the quote below just happens to be a concise statement of the pattern known as enantiodromia [1, 2, 3] — and the puzzlement it represents to linear (as opposed to loopish) thinkers:

Since the collapse of Jacobin rule after Robespierre’s execution in Thermidor Year II, debate has raged over how an event that began with the promise of liberty and fraternity degenerated so rapidly into fifteen months of mass imprisonment and death.

**

The quote above is from The World Turned Upside Down, a review of Jonathan Israel‘s Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from the Rights of Man to Robespierre by Hugh Gough in the Dublin Review of Books. Here’s the full para:

Anyone looking for a neat explanation of the French revolutionary terror faces the problem of choice. Since the collapse of Jacobin rule after Robespierre’s execution in Thermidor Year II, debate has raged over how an event that began with the promise of liberty and fraternity degenerated so rapidly into fifteen months of mass imprisonment and death. During 1793 and 1794 around three hundred thousand people were jailed, many of them dying from disease and neglect, a further seventeen thousand were guillotined or shot and a quarter of a million killed in civil wars, of which the Vendée was by far the most deadly. After Thermidor the revolution’s opponents argued that terror on such a scale was inherent in the entire revolutionary project from the outset, part of a “genetic code” of violence and intolerance deeply embedded in the revolutionary gene. The revolution’s supporters, on the other hand, defended terror as the product of difficult circumstances, a regrettable but necessary expedient to combat the threats posed to the republic by civil war and military invasion.

**

Dichotomy.

The two sides of the debate are separated by their political associations with the events in question. Take away the sentiment-engagers — bread vs cake, revolution, Bastille, Marseillaise, the guillotine, the tricoteuses, the American revolution, Marx, whatever — thus viewing the image as simply one of contending forces, preferring neither one to the other, and the paradox resolves itself into a simple self-biting circle: the oppressed press back until they are themselves the pressors.

Jung knew this archetypal pattern — but I suspect he is little known in the history silo, and has indeed been expelled from the silo of the psychologists.

Somewhere in back of the event is a pattern, and when sufficiently abstracted the pattern will illustrate with commendable impartiality the forces in play in the whole.

For the analyst, that impartiality, that wholistic perspective, is pure gold.

For myself, it was Reason enthroned in Notre Dame that truly set my teeth on edge.

**

Image source:

  • Robespierre’s likely appearance, a forensic reconstruction
  • **

    And a Happy New Year to us all!

    Spirals: plus ça change

    Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — a striking image from the Cassini probe, a “spiral” staircase ]
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    Spirals, which are close to concentric circles and close to ellipses, can also be “squared” or “oblonged” — pattern recognition is not always neat in its observation of definitions, and this can as easily be a cognitive feature as a bug:

    Besides, Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose could almost be the motto for pattern recognition, emphasizing the naturally cross-disciplinary, cross-silo nature of analogical cognitive strategies.

    **

    The top panel image is of the North Pole of Saturn, as recently captured by NASA’s Cassini mission. As blog-friend Bryan Alexander notes at Infocult, NASA says of this image, which it calls The Maelstrom:

    The vortex at Saturn’s north pole — seen here in the infrared — takes on the menacing look of something from the imagination of Edgar Allan Poe.


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