Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The observer effect for creativity

I wrote about one of my favorite routines for having ideas that consists in relaxing, abandoning myself to pleasures such as eating chocolate, smoking a cigarette (for smokers, I am not anymore) or drinking a glass of wine once I am aware of the details of an issue. And that's preferably better doing it in a familiar and private space; the bathroom if you can't find any place to stay alone. That's my theory of "Bathroom Thinking."

It's quite acceptable that to solve a problem or to get inspired for something, the mind needs to take a rest and get away from the very issue. James Webb Young wrote about it already in 1939:

Drop the whole subject and forget about it. Turn the whole problem to the unconscious mind and to what stimulate your emotions.
Out of nowhere the idea will appear. It will come to you when you are least expecting it - while shaving, or bathing or most often when are half awake, in the morning. It may wake you in the middle of the night.


So if you don't feel you are doing enough to solve your problem, if you believe that empty-mindedness will delay your creative process, then you are wrong. Actually you are on the right path. 
Salvador DalĂ­ had his own technique described in "Fifty Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship" to generate ideas (and you won't say he was a conventional artist). According to him one should sleep comfortably sitting in an armchair and holding a heavy key between the fingers. When sleep come, consciousness is released and it's when mind starts creating, mixing and transforming. In that very moment the hand would release the key that falling into a plate would wake one up, thus enabling the subject to remember those inspiring ideas. This is what he called "Slumber with a key".

So once again: to produce ideas by looking constantly at the problem is not the most effective procedure to describe the situation and to have good inspiration. This is somehow what the "Observer Effect" states. As an example of it, to measure the temperature of a liquid by introducing a thermometer into it, liquid's temperature will change due to thermometer's mass. Or a psychologist trying to study a patient, will affect the result because of his social interaction. 
These are just examples to show that it's impossible to know the nature of a phenomenon with precision by looking at it. 

I think that looking constantly at a problem alters the perception of it, inhibits ideas generation and makes difficult for creative solutions to come out. Ideas will not appear naturally unless attention is driven away from the issue. Talking about measuring temperature, if we pretend not to measure it, it won't come to us. But with creative ideas we are luckier. Ideas use to pop spontaneously in our mind, we all have experimented our "Eureka" moment. Wouldn't you call this inefficiency at problem solving caused by obsessive trouble-shooting the "observer effect for creativity"?