Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

The art of serendipity

with 2 comments

Douglas R. Hofstadter

Serendipitous observation and quick exploration of potential are vital elements in [creativity]. What goes hand in hand with the willingness to playfully explore a serendipitous connection is the willingness to censor or curtail an exploration that seems to be leading nowhere. It is the flip side of the risk-taking aspect of serendipity. It’s fine to be reminded of something, to see an analogy or a vague connection, and it’s fine to try to map one situation or concept onto another in the hopes of making something novel emerge—but you’ve also got to be willing and able to sense when you’ve lost the gamble, and to cut your losses…

Frantic striving to be original will usually get you nowhere. Far better to relax and let your perceptual system and your category system work together unconsciously, occasionally coming up with unbidden connections. At that point, you—the lucky owner of the mind in question—can seize the opportunity and follow out the proffered hint. This view of creativity has the conscious mind being quite passive, content to sit back and wait for the unconscious to do its remarkable broodings and brewings.

The most reliable kinds of genuine insight come not from vague reminding experiences…but from strong analogies in which one experience can be mapped onto another in a highly pleasing way. The tighter the fit, the deeper the insight, generally speaking. When two things can both be seen as instances of one abstract phenomenon, it is a very exciting discovery. Then ideas about either one can be borrowed in thinking about the other, and that sloshing-about of activity may greatly illumine both at once…

A mapping-recipe that often yields interesting results is projection of oneself into a situation: “How would it be for me?”

Douglas R. Hofstadter, Metamagical Themas

Written by nevalalee

May 29, 2016 at 8:40 am

2 Responses

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  1. Love it! Know when to start and when to stop – I struggle with this is both writing and art. Particularly the ‘sunk cost’ idea of effort already spent – it’s so hard to walk away from your investment. But sometimes you must.


    May 29, 2016 at 9:05 pm

  2. Thanks! It occurs to me that “sunk costs” is a very important concept in writing, or any kind of art. I might turn that into a blog post!


    June 7, 2016 at 3:35 pm

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