What struck me about this Scientific American article on creativity is what an impoverished notion of creativity the scientists have. Solving that little problem about how to get out of a tower with a rope is “creative”? If you’re a ten-year-old, maybe. Or a psychologist. Creativity as problem solving. Is that what scientists really think? Maybe the imagination does interest itself in problems, or is engaged by problematic situations (to grab a term from John Dewey), but the process is more open-ended than the scientists appear to think it is.

Conservative Science Studies

I know the American radical right has a problem with science, but I had no idea they had adopted the doctrine of the four humors; next thing you know, Sarah Palin will be talking about the four fundamental elements of earth, air, fire & water. Oh, read it yourself, as much as you can take before you bust out laughing, but the upshot is that the choleric John McCain will make a better president than the phlegmatic Barack Obama.

“For a Coming Extinction” (W.S. Merwin)

For a Coming Extinction

Gray whale
Now that we are sinding you to The End
That great god
Tell him
That we who follow you invented forgiveness
And forgive nothing

I write as though you could understand
And I could say it
One must always pretend something
Among the dying
When you have left the seas nodding on their stalks
Empty of you
Tell him that we were made
On another day

The bewilderment will diminish like an echo
Winding along your inner mountains
Unheard by us
And find its way out
Leaving behind it the future
And ours

When you will not see again
The whale calves trying the light
Consider what you will find in the black garden
And its court
The sea cows the Great Auks the gorillas
The irreplaceable hosts ranged countless
And fore-ordaining as stars
Our sacrifices
Join your work to theirs
Tell him
That it is we who are important

[W.S. Merwin]

See also: This imminent extinction. More: Right whales written off. “It is we who are important.

Pretty Brains

From one of my favorite blogs, Neurophilosophy, comes this lovely image of a 19th century papier mache brain. Be sure to click through the caption so you can see the whole thing in multiple views. Speaking of brains, I enjoyed reading Jonathan Mayhew’s inventory of his own neurological state, especially as it relates to music. What I know about music I’ve had to learn by conscious effort & my interest has been driven mostly by a love of language set to music. Song seems to me the very highest art. Here is a piece on the Miller-McCune blog about MRI studies of musicians’ brains done while they are actually playing. (Unfortunately, the Youtube videos have been removed, thought it is still possible to find tape of Monk & Bird playing.) The problem of how the brain creates our human worlds is, I think, the basic problem of philosophy & science. Is the process of consciousness linguistic? I think so. That is, I don’t think modern consciousness could have evolved without language. Consciousness requires a symbolic system. Not quite sure what to make of this large-scale color-naming experiment, but it suggests that there is strong clustering in color names among English speakers. Apparently, when babies — before they develop the ability to talk — see colors, a “non-linguistic” part of their brains processes the information. Not sure that makes the color perception any “purer,” as the headline suggests, unless you want to associate language with impurity. Which, come to think of it, makes sense philosophically & mythologically: Eden & the Fall, the use of tools for labor, including language . . .

Best Name of a Place to Work

Donald Lamb is the fortunate soul who gets to print on his business card that he is the director of the Center for Astrophysical Thermonuclear Flashes at the University of Chicago. I actually wrote a poem once about a cosmic gamma ray burst, though apparently this is a different phenomenon from the one described in the article. The poem is called “Seeing Stars: The New Cosmology” & it’s in my book Magical Thinking.