SUBRATA DASGUPTA
scholar, writer, professor

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Creativity Studies

The study of creativity in the sciences, engineering and technology, art, literature and scholarship has been the focus of my working life since about 1990.   As a computer scientist, I was led to creativity studies in two ways:  how do computational concepts help our understanding of the cognitive process of creativity?  and, secondly, how do cognitive ideas about creativity aid in understanding the process of computer systems design?

 

The following book, my earliest publication in creativity studies, explored both these questions.  It is also my first venture into cognitive history.

 

CREATIVITY IN INVENTION AND DESIGN:  Computational and Cognitive Explorations of Technological Originality.  Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1994.


From the publisher's blurb:

"In recent years, developments in cognitive science and artificial intelligence  have provided a powerful computational framework in which creativity can be studied and the creative process can be described and explained.  In this book, creativity in technology is discussed within such a framework.  Using an important historical episode in computer technology as a case study, namely, the invention of microprogramming by Maurice Wilkes in 1951, the author presents a plausible explanation of the process by which Wilkes may have arrived at this invention."

 

In 1992-93, while this book was in press, I stumbled across a remarkable set of documents in the rare books section of the Joule Library, University of Manchester Institute of Science & Technology, on the design of the Brittania Bridge, the world's first wrought iron railway bridge designed and built in the mid 1840s by Robert Stephenson and his associates. The bridge was tubular, effectively a wrought iron tunnel that spanned the Menai Straits in Wales.  The two documents I came across were records of this engineering project as it developed, authored respectively  by Stephenson's assistant and a famous engineer Sir William Fairbairn who was also involved in the project.  

      These works prompted me to construct a cognitive account of the design process for the Britannia Bridge, which would also serve as a test of a 'law of design' I had proposed.  The outcome was the following paper:

 "Testing the Hypothesis Law of Design:  The Case of the Britannia Bridge".  Research in Engineering Design, 6, 1, 1994, 38-57.

 A much more ambitious examination of creativity in the realm of design and invention in technology followed:


TECHNOLOGY AND CREATIVITY. Oxford University Press, New York, 1996.

From the publisher's blurb:

"Are inventors inspired by a divine muse as artists through the ages have claimed to be or is there a more down-to-earth explanation.  In [this book] ... Dasgupta  brilliantly argues that such processes can be understood scientifically, and he offers a groundbreaking exploration of how cognitive science can shed light on the technological mind....

... He reveals that inventors -- who have long sat in the shadows of the great artists and theoretical scientists -- possess a unique and remarkable kind of imagination that puts them squarely on the level of the most exalted physicists, painters, chemists, and poets."


Advance Praise:
 
"An exciting exploration of linkages between technology and creativity, an exploration that is alternately punctuated by deep insights and broad visions"  Robert Weber, Psychologist.

 "... an original and valuable book ... as readable as it is authoritative and stimulating..."  Donald Cardwell, Historian of Science & Technology.

Postpublication praise:
 
"... a wide ranging study of the cognitive origins of technological creativity ... The reader cannot help but be impressed with both the breadth and depth of the author's knowledge."  IEEE Annals in History of Computing(USA)

"Dasgupta makes a noble attempt to inquire into the creative design process".  New Scientist  (UK).
 

"Despite the emphasis on technology, Dasgupta's insights have broad applicability to other forms of creativity, providing much to ponder for psychologists and engineers interested in ... the creative process."  Science Books and Films (USA)


 My most recent view of the role of computation and artificial intelligence  in understanding creativity is expressed in the following article:

 "Shedding Computational Light on Human Creativity", Perspectives on Science, vol. 16, no. 2, 2008, 121-136.

 As I became more interested in the marriage of the empirical methods of historical and biographical research with cognitve theory, a number of biographical case studies of creativity in the sciences and in art were published as papers:

"Multidisciplinary Creativity:  The Case of Herbert A.  Simon", Cognitive Science, 27, 2003, 683-707.
 
"Innovation in the Social Sciences:  Herbert A. Simon and the Birth of a Research Tradition", The International Handbook on Innovation (L.V. Shavinina, ed.), Elsevier Science, Oxford, 2003.

 "Cognitive Style in Creative Work:  The Case of the Painter George Rodrigue", PsyArt, An Online Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts, 2005.  www.clas.ufl.edu/psa/journal/2005_dasgupta01.shtml.

"Jagadis Chandra Bose as a Creative Being", Physics News, 39, 4, 2009, 95-102.
 

Like any reasonable person I'm a Darwinian when it comes to the natural organic world.  I am not, however, a committed Darwinian when it comes to the creative process.  I believe that creativity entails an evolutionary process but not one that is Darwinian, that is, not involving blind variation and selective retention as Darwinian natural selection posits.
      In recent years I've been engaged, with other creativity researchers in a controversy about whether creativity is Darwinian or not.  My personal disagreement has been with the most visible current proponent of the Darwinian view of creativity, the psychologist Dean Keith Simonton.  My personal contibution to this debate are in the following articles:

"Is Creativity a Darwinian Process?"  Creativity Research Journal, 16, 2004, 403-413.
 
"On the Blind-Mindedness of Creative Thought.  Comment on 'Creative Thougfht as Blind-Variation and Selective-Retention: Combinatorial Models of Exceptional Creativity", Physics of Life Reviews, 7, 2010, 188-189.

 "Contesting (Simonton's) Blind Variation, Selective Retention Theory of Creativity", Creativity Research Journal, 23, 2, 2011, 166-182.








 





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