On creativity

I keep having weird dreams at night in Dobrzyn (typical of when I’m traveling), and keep forgetting them, as one is wont to do when you wake up and then go back to sleep. If I write them down, that act just keeps me awake for a long time, so I really need some kind of voice-activated recorder next to the bed.

Not that the dreams mean anything, but they’re weird enough to ponder. Last night, for instance, I dreamed that there were two types of chestnut trees, red ones and black ones, and one of them (but not the other, and I forget which one) could ensnare you by throwing their twigs around your arms or legs. Then you’d be in trouble! I woke up while trying to figure out whether a tree I’d encountered was a red or black one.

I won’t even try to interpret that—it clearly has something to do with a horse penis—but, after I woke up, and tried hard to fix that dream in my brain for the morning, I started thinking about something else: had I done anything really creative in my life? If so, what was it? Don’t ask me why that question arose: weird things emerge in the night from the adyts of your brain.

Well, even half asleep I knew how to answer that one. I did at least one creative thing, but it involved science rather than art or humanities.

It was writing half of the book Speciation (the other half was written by Allen Orr, and we tweaked each other’s sections). I recently reread the book while preparing to write a more popular version (Speciation is a technical work intended for students and professors in evolutionary biology, and you shouldn’t read it without the right background), and I was amazed at how creative I was around 2003. I kept thinking, “Damn, I was smart back then! What happened to me?”

I hasten to add that I could never write such a book now: I suppose either my brain has hardened out of a youthful suppleness, or I just no longer have the attention span to read and synthesize a gazillion papers. The book’s synthesis was, I think, truly creative, and I’ve done nothing before or after that I could say shows the same kind of creativity. (The book is now 13 years old.)

I’m not trying to brag here, but am giving this as my one example to prompt answers from readers, for as soon as I pondered the question I wanted to pose it to others. So, please, answer this question in the comments:

What is the most creative thing you’ve ever done?

Now it could be a single photograph, a book, an article, a painting or anything that show imagination out of the ordinary, like rearing a child in a creative way. Link to a photo or a post or a book, if you’d like, and don’t be modest.


  1. Posted September 7, 2017 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Thinking back, I’ve done nothing truly creative. At the time I might have thought I was being creative, but now I don’t think so. I was just cranking a machine.

    In a deterministic universe, what does “being creative” even mean? I think creativity is like free will–a convenient illusion.

    Now you are interested in dreams, you should try lucid dreaming. It takes time to develop but gives some insight into the mind state of dreams.

    • Danny Kodicek
      Posted September 7, 2017 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      It depends what you mean by ‘I’. You *are* the machine, after all. And if the machine produces something original and interesting, then it’s being creative. Nothing wrong with that.

      • Posted September 11, 2017 at 11:35 am | Permalink

        Cf. Douglas Hofstadter’s “On The Seeming Paradox of Mechanizing Creativity”.

        • Danny Kodicek
          Posted September 21, 2017 at 7:20 am | Permalink

          If you put “Cf Douglas Hofstadter” after pretty much everything I wrote, you probably wouldn’t be far wrong…

  2. Danny Kodicek
    Posted September 7, 2017 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    This YA book came from a dream, as it happens. All that remained when I woke up was soaring through a large room to see a teenage boy sitting on a kind of throne wearing a viking helmet, but somehow I knew what it was actually about. The broad brush was formed during my walk to the station, and it took me the next fifteen years to actually finish writing it (with a break of about twelve years in the middle!)
    I’m pretty happy with it still, although there are a few bits I do get the urge to tidy up from time to time. Not that it matters – I’ve never persuaded more than a few people to read it.

    The only other thing I’ve ever written based on a dream was a short story that was the result of waking up with a start and exclaiming “Cryogenic hairdresser!”

  3. Posted September 7, 2017 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    I’ve been DJing a few years now. While I do focus on the sound, I’ve managed to teach myself to light a room quite well. This was a psychedelic Sixties night I did in an Edwardian church hall, of all places, for a 60th birthday party… https://scontent-lhr3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/560081_202962606481600_1267593472_n.jpg?oh=efb53aa76d82f796940c57aee58f0440&oe=5A60750B

    • Liz
      Posted September 7, 2017 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

      That looks awesome.

  4. Barry Lyons
    Posted September 7, 2017 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    I think the most creative thing I’ve done is a screenplay (a comedy) that I co-wrote with a friend. It’s now being looked at by some people in Hollywood!

  5. Historian
    Posted September 7, 2017 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure if creative ideas diminish with aging. But for me, and apparently Professor Coyne, the real problem appears to be that it is much more difficult to concentrate than I was able to just a decade or so ago. I do not know if such a situation is entirely due to ageing or that there are now more distractions, such as the internet, than there were 40 or 50 years ago. Occasionally, you hear about people 80 or 90 years ago who just graduated from college. My kudos to them.

    • rickflick
      Posted September 7, 2017 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

      There are many examples of artists who do some of their best work in their late years.
      Matisse, Cezanne, etc. On the other hand mathematicians are said to peak in their 20s. Einstein was most creative rather early and faded in midlife – if my memory serves(and it tends to let me down more often as time goes by).

  6. Posted September 7, 2017 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    If a lifestyle choice could be considered creative, my early 30s were it for me. After a loss I retreated to the woods, thinking of Thoreau, and my cat and I lived in an abandoned 70s era hippie/jebus-freak school bus in the Berkshires. My buddy [who had seven d*gs]ran a power line to the bus from his cabin 50 yards away so I had juice to power a propane heater. After five winters of brutal winters, feline Sofia and I returned to civilization

  7. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted September 7, 2017 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    I’ve written some light verse including 3 mildly risque limericks, and some serious verse.
    I wrote a Master’s Thesis on William Blake, and solved a few tough math problems that others had gotten ahead of me on.

    Best software achievement:
    A Computer program to solve the “Queen’s Problem” that ran 3000 times faster than the standard undergrad textbook solution.

    Most original short poem-
    I wrote this while substitute teaching at a local high school and was supervising a lit class in which the students had been assigned to write a sonnet. To help them get started, I mustered this up after a little over an hour.

    This sonnet form be a severe restraint
    Confining my verse to iron shackles
    My spirit must with free verse work to paint
    This assignment is past my craft to tackle

    Petrarch, Dante, Milton, these dead white men
    How bear they upon our joys and sorrows?
    My song bursts forth past their limits and den
    Write not yesterday’s verse but tomorrow’s.

    My aspiring muse winds up to heaven
    Now I descend unto high school classroom
    Are my syllables ten, nine, eleven?
    The period bell doth foretell my doom.

    The task before me- to write a sonnet.
    Yes, ma’am, teacher. I will get right on it.

    • Larry Smith
      Posted September 7, 2017 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

      Clever sonnet, though I admit I was hoping to read a limerick or two…

      Re: n-queens problem: congrats for that, but maybe you should dust off your old program and go after the $1M prize that has been bandied about lately in the press and at chess sites: http://en.chessbase.com/post/solve-a-chess-problem-win-a-million-dollars

      • somer
        Posted September 8, 2017 at 6:12 am | Permalink

        Yes clever you for that maths problem and the others – you should try for the prize re the queens problem

  8. Liz
    Posted September 7, 2017 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    I don’t remember my dream from last night but the night before that was odd. Most dreams are I think because they are dreams. I was auditioning for an a capella group (which I have never done and have no plans to) and the group was sort of “hazing” me by giving me songs to sing, not that were very hard, but that I didn’t like. My friend from high school who I haven’t seen in a while was in it but I don’t remember what she was doing. I’m seeing her at a wedding coming up and I think that’s why. I have no idea what the hazing part was about with the a capella.

    This might not be the most creative thing I’ve done as much as something I’ve done about which I am passionate. In college, I applied for an Interdisciplinary Studies major. The student had to create it, find advisors, and apply. It would then be reviewed by the board to either be accepted or rejected. I asked my Physics (for the non-majors class) professor and a Muslim Religious Studies professor to be my advisors for a “Philosophy, Religion, and Science” major and they both agreed. They were supportive. I wrote up everything and what classes I was going to take (at that point, I had already taken most), and was really happy with myself. It was everything I was passionate about when everyone around me didn’t care. Still to this day, I have a lot of difficulty finding people who understand me or who have an interest in any of what I do. I was in a philosophy class when I opened the response in an envelope. It was rejected. So I majored in Philosophy instead. I’m not sure that was creative. It was just my passion.

    In terms of artwork, I used some charcoal to draw to pieces in 2015. They were very difficult with the charcoal because charcoal is messy. I usually will do these in pen if I do them but I haven’t in a while. I’m not sure if the links will come through but here they are. I had to post them to Instagram to be able to get a link to share.

    I’m sure there are other creative things I have done but I’m not thinking of them right now. These things (the major and the charcoal pieces) came to mind first.

    View this post on Instagram

    Artwork Charcoal 2 #2015

    A post shared by Liz Strahle (@eliz164) on

    View this post on Instagram

    Artwork Charcoal 1

    A post shared by Liz Strahle (@eliz164) on

    • Liz
      Posted September 7, 2017 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      draw these* pieces

    • Kevin
      Posted September 7, 2017 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      Those are good.

      • Liz
        Posted September 7, 2017 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

        Thank you, Kevin!

    • Mark R.
      Posted September 7, 2017 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

      I like these…cool style.

      • Liz
        Posted September 8, 2017 at 8:32 am | Permalink

        Thanks so much.

  9. Randy schenck
    Posted September 7, 2017 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    I am going to assume creative can also mean productive, imaginative and just accomplishment. Not being in the science field my work, while still doing it, would be different from the creative world of most in this group. However, during my working years I had various assignments and sometimes those were difficult. Twice I was on a small team that had to open brand new automated warehouse facilities in different parts of the country, one in Texas and one on the West Coast. One facility was 1/2 million sq. ft. and the other was about 3/4 million. These are much more difficult assignments or jobs than simply managing a facility that is already operating. Opening a new facility is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, and lots of hard work.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted September 7, 2017 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

      Having designed a few sewage pumping stations and seen the results ‘commissioned’ I can fervently confirm that, if much machinery is involved, the commissioning process can be quite complicated and on occasion fraught with difficulty. And it’s usually wanted to be debugged and working ‘by the end of the week’.


  10. Posted September 7, 2017 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    I built a little 14′ wooden sailboat in my backyard here in Hong Kong. My wife reckons that’s not really creative because “you’re just following the plans”, but during the construction (a lapstrake build based on a design by the great American naval architect Nate Herreschoff), meant I had to tweak and twiddle and invent (be creative!) as I went along.
    It was the pretty much the first thing I’ve ever built out of wood. I amazed friends and family (and myself) that I actually finished it, did so in just six months which included a typhoon, and she sailed sweetly. She was very pretty too.
    I say “was” because she was destroyed by Typhoon Hato here in Hong Kong a few weeks ago. But I don’t mind. She’s gone back to Poseidon and is with the Great Ocean of the Universe in due course to be star dust again…
    We empathise with the folks in Houston, in the Caribbean, and soon to be, Florida all of us facing regular hurricanes which will become more frequent and severe by all accounts.
    Still, Keep dreamin’ Prof!
    Forse in HK

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted September 7, 2017 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

      We were practising drawing Mondrian-like abstracts in pastel in Art lesson at school. I had an impression of floating sailboats in my mind and drew a few verticals and horizontals and filled in a few of the enclosed rectangles. My efforts produced something creative, striking, and beautiful – even the other lads (boys grammar school) were stunned.

      This was my best ‘art’ ever; then I added some extra lines and areas, thinking to make it better still but the ‘finished work’ was merely good.

      From which I learned that knowing when to stop is the hardest part of life. YMMV.

  11. Ron Entwistle
    Posted September 7, 2017 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Creativity as far as I can tell is problem solving.

    As a child I found myself in a closed religious cult-like situation with contradictory values regarding integrity. While honesty was valued, I was being coerced emotionally and physically to attest to unbelievable beliefs. I could not justify pretending to gain acceptance and respect of essentially everyone I knew. So my child mind developed a value system and set of principles I called “selfism”. Sounds Randian but I viewed the self as an instrument of optimizing positive influence in the world. I developed game whereby I could maintain integrity and had a chance of winning. It was a game of self-reflection, learning, reason, course correction, and contribution. Having my own sense of purpose protected me from the insults and isolation a child can experience in systems of dogma. It didn’t protect me entirely, there are profound psychological obstacles I still contend with. But the pressure I experienced supercharged the pursuit to optimize influence through personal development that I’ve made a deep and fulfilling career of it making music and helping other people make theirs.

    The child brain is the most powerful learner in the universe. One way to think about personality is that it forms as the brain finds ways to maintain homeostasis when confronted by discomfort. It’s problem solving. The child mind will adapt to get what it needs and the repetition of what succeeds is the hardwiring of personality. So as much as I think the development of “selfism” is interesting, I have to admit that personality itself is a vastly more impressive manifestation of creativity.

    • Posted September 8, 2017 at 7:52 am | Permalink

      “Creativity as far as I can tell is problem solving.”

      I don’t know about that. The song “I Am The Walrus” doesn’t appear to solve any problems, but it’s pretty creative.

      • rickflick
        Posted September 8, 2017 at 9:38 am | Permalink

        It solves confusion about a person’s sense of identity. 😉

  12. bugfolder
    Posted September 7, 2017 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    It’s hard to single out “most creative,” but the creative thing I am most proud of was (like your _Speciation_) a book-length synthesis of concepts: in my case, the concepts allowing one to design one’s own origami in a systematic way. It was first published in 2001.

    It seems to have been kindly thought-of by its readers, and went into a 2nd edition a few years ago. Cover and description here (it’s also on amazon and the usual venues).


  13. Posted September 7, 2017 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    Probably this:


  14. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted September 7, 2017 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    Back in the 1980s I had a brief career as a (very minor) science fiction writer, with three published stories to my name. For one of these stories I designed a starship in considerable detail. I also did quite a bit of world-building — designing plausible planets and aliens — for stories that never got written.

    My primary career has been as a software architect, and I continuing to do this recreationally even in my retirement. I’ll mention just a couple of projects that I’m particularly proud of.

    During my gamer phase, my RPG of choice was a game called Asheron’s Call. This game was unusual in being automation-friendly (up to a point), and the in-game economy came to rely on services provided by user-designed bots for crafting, spellcasting, trading, and so on. I built a scripting platform on which many of these bots ran, and used it to create a rather elaborate system of scripts for myself that combined the features of GPS navigation and self-driving cars to enable automated exploring, mapping, shopping, and so on. I could type a one-line command to “go to Cragstone”, for instance, and the script would take me there by whatever combination of spells, portals, and cross-country running would do it the quickest. Or I could say “buy arrowheads” and it would consult a database of merchants to find the nearest one with the best price on that item, go there, and do the transaction. Or I could say “make 50 healing potions” and the script would look up the recipe, run around to the appropriate merchants to buy the ingredients, bring them all home, and do the crafting, all without manual intervention.

    At the moment I’m involved in a project to track the dance careers of my ballet school’s alumni. I do this by using the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine to retrieve historical snapshots of ballet company rosters, which I scrape into a database of dancers and the positions they’ve held. After collecting enough of this sort of data, I’m able to piece together fairly complete timelines of individual dancers’ careers as they move from company to company. This sounds like a lot of rote work, but the creative part has involved building a flexible scripting framework that lets me very quickly specify a custom scraper for each company’s website, so that harvesting the names and positions is largely automatic, and I can step through the history of a given company in a couple of hours.

    This is admittedly a fairly nerdy sort of creativity, but I get a lot of satisfaction from solving these sorts of technical challenges in a creative way.

  15. mfdempsey1946
    Posted September 7, 2017 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    I’ve written three novels and consider each to be a good read whether or not they represent any sort of genuine literary achievement.

    But my most creative and worthwhile act was finding a way to help a 26-year-old Brazilian women progress from virtually zero English to a reasonable degree of fluency in only five and a half months. Even though at that time I knew not one single word of either Brazilian or any other form of Portuguese.

    Though I did not realize it until much later, the day in December 2009 when my boss at the ESL school in Los Angeles where I was working assigned me to be this student’s private tutor drastically changed my life.

    Despite our language barrier, my student and I found ways to work together, and the result was wonderfully happy for both of us.

    So now I am living in Brazil and learning Brazilian Portuguese. Before this, neither was remotely on my radar. I am glad to be having this unexpected adventure relatively late in life.

    This was, it seems, a decision made for me by the effect on me that this unanticipated experience had — since I “made” this decision despite unanimous advice to the contrary from other Brazilian students and despite mentally fighting against it as hard as I could myself.

    So maybe this story has some relevance to the free will debate — a debate that has overturned aspects of my Catholicism-founded life that I (like, I suspect, many others) am still working to assimilate emotionally despite realizing intellectually that free will in the Catholic sense appears to be just a fantasy.

    • Matthew Jenkins
      Posted September 10, 2017 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

      Happy for you: I returned to the UK from Brazil in 2014 and miss it lots. In case you’re still teaching, I wound up teaching pilots preparing for their ICAO English exam. Pilots are excellent students, fun to be with, and the books available are possibly the best textbooks ever.

      Just thought I’d mention it!

      • rickflick
        Posted September 10, 2017 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

        As a US recreational pilot myself, I think I can identify with the exuberance of pilots. There is something about the technology that is freeing and perhaps lends itself to being eager students. Now, if I could only learn french…

  16. yazikus
    Posted September 7, 2017 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    I think my most creative side emerges when cooking. I take great pleasure in finding new and interesting ways to pair foods and flavors.

  17. mirandaga
    Posted September 7, 2017 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    The most creative thing I’ve ever done in my sleep was to compose a rhymed quatrain that woke me up laughing. In my dream the ditty didn’t have a title, but on remembering it when I woke up I named it “Three-car Pile-up.” It went like this:

    The guy was in his Element
    The woman had a Soul,
    The other car was a Mirage—
    No damage on the whole.

    In my waking hours the most creative thing I’ve done was to translate Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies—this in Cambridge, MA in the late 70s. It was a total labor of love—no one had asked me to do it and I originally had no thought of publishing it; I just didn’t like the existing translations and wanted one that I could read for my own pleasure. It took me two years of daily, pretty much round-the-clock work and became an obsession—so much so that I ultimately quit my day job at the Harvard Book Store. I mounted a roll of paper above my typewriter so I could work without having to put in another piece of paper (I still have the scrolls, some of them as long as 10 feet). My German wasn’t nearly as good as it should have been, and my method of translating was a bit unorthodox: I’d memorize the poems in German and recite them over in my head (or out loud in the shower or while driving) until they gradually started to morph into English.

    The finished translation did get published—by Breitenbush Books in 1981—to favorable reviews, one of which, in The Malahat Review, said, “Throw away all your other translations of the Duino Elegies and get this one.” It was reissued by Tavern Books in 2013. You can find it here: http://vivid-samurai-3592.herokuapp.com//books/duino-elegies

  18. Posted September 7, 2017 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    I write screenplays that never go anywhere.

    Here’s the first 15 pages of “At Your Age!” which begins with, well, a mitochondrial DNA reference.

    Here’s the treatment for “To Clarksville and Back”:

    Also known as the Monkees movie that will never be made because of the cost of the music royalties.

    And here is my Monkee Mythbuster YouTube channel beginning with the first of seven videos. I get to use all the research learned writing the treatment above.

    I now make whiteboard animation videos for clients and am revising a screenplay, a suspense film that takes place at Niagara Falls in a possible near future called “Slowly I Turn.”

  19. toniclark2014
    Posted September 7, 2017 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Two books of poetry (a chapbook and a full-length collection). Most recent: Chameleon Moon.

  20. Kevin
    Posted September 7, 2017 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Landscaping. I’ve added enormous aesthetic value to three homes and my parent’s home. I’ve won several neighborhood awards, been told I have a gift for landscaping, and have seen that when you make your house better other people make their houses better.

    Beauty can be contagious. The reward is a more pleasant planet to live on.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted September 7, 2017 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

      You should send some pics into PCC. Landscape might fit into the wildlife position. It’s urban wildlife. We had a type of rock fountain put in the front, very creative but the guy who put it in was the creative one.

    • Mark R.
      Posted September 7, 2017 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

      Landscaping is tough work, but creativity is paramount. I steal landscaping ideas from others so I agree with Randy. See if Jerry will publish some pics. Maybe you can wait until a bird lands close-by. 🙂

      • Kevin
        Posted September 7, 2017 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

        Landscaping is all about stealing. I suppose that’s what literature, art, and music are too.

  21. John Laughlin
    Posted September 7, 2017 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    I have published three books all of which deal in some way or another with what archaeology can and cannot do for biblical studies, particularly the TaNaK. The latest, published in 2015, Reading Joshua: A Historical-Critical/Archaeological Commentary, I would consider my most creative. One of the reasons is that I was allowed by the publisher to incorporate my own English translation of the Hebrew text of Joshua into the manuscript. Another reason for thinking this is probably my most creative work is that being a non-believer (I “de-converted” from Christianity many years ago), I wrote the book from an atheistic point of view which made dealing with the horrible theology of the book, particularly the “holy war” motif, much more honest and forthright (in my own mind, at least)than any attempt to decode such horrible stories into some-kind of Jewish-Christian apology as is often the case with authors who still believe that YHWH really was (still is?)a living god! But I agree with Jerry: I started my research for this book over 10 years ago. I think during the intervening years I have lost a lot of my cognitive brain cells! I’m sure the loss has nothing to do with a lot of single malt Scotch in the meantime…..speaking of which…..

  22. rom
    Posted September 7, 2017 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    The thing I did that I thought was pretty neat was develop a model for a zinc solvent extraction process.

    The whole thing started with the question why is the extraction curve for zinc with DEPHA ‘s’ shaped? The reasons given in text books did not seem to fit with what was happening in this process. So the question became what shape should the extraction curve be? After slogging through the algebra came up with a family of curves that depended on the strength of the extractant (equilibrium constant). Realizing the equation could be linearized it was possible to determine the equilibrium constant from the lab data we had.

    Using this equation, then developed a process model for seven stages of extraction, scrubbing and stripping (each stage had quite different conditions) and low and behold the model predicted surprisingly accurately the behaviour of a 1 tonne/day zinc pilot plant we were running.

    Several years later presented the model at a conference.

  23. Alex Kleine
    Posted September 7, 2017 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Maybe the chestnut tree ensnaring you was a consequence of you disliking the Lord of the Rings movie franchise so it was a subconscious attempt in order to scare you into liking it and disregarding the original source material.

  24. Diana MacPherson
    Posted September 7, 2017 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    I do a bunch of creative things every day at work, from finding creative solutions to gain acceptance of something new to wording proposals in ways that make them understood well enough that others, that know nothing about them, know enough to give them money or not.

    Lately, my creativity is in aqua-scaping. I like the constraints of freshwater, low tech fish tanks. Here are two of my four tanks. The long one is my largest – a 65 gallon. Let’s see if these work….if not, I have added the links as well.
    URL: 65 gallon

    URL: 8 Gallon Cube Aquarium with Betta

    • Mark R.
      Posted September 7, 2017 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

      Those are lovely. Good for the blood pressure too! What kind of lighting are you using on the 65gal?

      I used to have a 65g-tall aqua-scaped tank using 250w halides. The plants loved it, but once I added fish and started feeding them, the algae got out of control. In some ways, I found reef tanks easier. Maybe because they had a lot more high-tech filtration gadgets.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted September 7, 2017 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

        LED lights work really well now and they provide consistent output. On the 65g I have two 48″ Current USA LED+ that I run for 9 hours. I used HO T5s back in the day in a 30 gallon but these are much better.

        • Mark R.
          Posted September 8, 2017 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

          Aha! Yeah, LED technology has come a looong way since I kept aquariums. Those halides sucked up a lot of energy and were hot…no downside to LEDs…except the initial investment.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted September 8, 2017 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

            I’d say the only downside is if some of the lights crap out you have to buy a whole new unit if it’s not still under warranty, but that probably beats the cost I had with replacing the bulbs, given that is shouldn’t happen very often.

  25. rickflick
    Posted September 7, 2017 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been in software development most of my professional career which was immensely rewarding as a creative outlet. It’s one long series of problem solving challenges. Creative solutions, of varying degrees of originality, are required to stay usefully in the game – as is the case with many professions.
    But, I’ve always had visual arts as my avocation. Probably the most significant manifestation here was my work as editor on a documentary on US immigration. There’s a trailer down a bit on this page.


  26. ploubere
    Posted September 7, 2017 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    I have degrees in fine arts, and work in and teach design and graphics, so lots of creative activity. One of my favorite projects was in a 1-year masters program, where I built a machine out of junkyard parts that walked around in a circle. It had a cam shaft, powered by an electric motor, that moved rods with shoemakers’ stays on their ends to make it walk. It also had aluminum-cast bowler hats on top that bobbed up and down.
    This was in the late 80s, so the only video I had of it in action was on a video tape, which I can no longer play. It did get featured briefly in a local news show. Here are photos:

    • Liz
      Posted September 8, 2017 at 8:33 am | Permalink

      I enjoyed all of these. I especially liked the WIFI picture.

    • Mark R.
      Posted September 8, 2017 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

      I was looking for the machine you described, but ended up looking at your fine 2D artwork instead and never saw the machine. Very enjoyable and provocative work. Thanks for sharing.

      I do dioramas. http://Www.mark-armor.com

  27. Posted September 7, 2017 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    Like Diana and Rick and others I’ve been creative in small ways in my work in IT over the years – too creative sometimes, according to one of my former managers.

    I now write and present on IT as part of the world’s largest research & advisory firm. At least some of our work is meant to be “thought leading” and I like to think that I’ve managed to achieve that from time to time with original insights regarding best practices and technology trends. (I anticipated much of the new NIST guidance on passwords several years ago, for example.)


    • Posted September 7, 2017 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

      PS. I also do some art, but not much, and hardly at all for several years: https://deviantallan.deviantart.com/gallery/

      • rickflick
        Posted September 7, 2017 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

        Your Jabberwock is identical to the one that’s been lurking in my own brain for many years. How’d you lift it?

        • Posted September 7, 2017 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

          It’s a freehand copy of John Tenniel’s illustration from whichever of the Alice books it’s from.


        • Posted September 7, 2017 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

          PS. Per the credits on the picture’s page.

  28. Posted September 7, 2017 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    I am professionally creative. I like to think, or hope, this ability doesn’t decline and believe it has more to do with, let’s call it “immerson”.

    Creativity is frame-blending, smahing ideas together. The process works like this:

    Phase One, you need to be in the playful phase, and switch off judgment. This allows you to blend ideas, and stretch your subject into new areas in an ideas space. For “advanced” creative thinking, you often need to iteratively build on what you achieved before. This is why it resembles thinking in that you have “reached” a further away point already, from where you continue. You cannot get there right away, because creativity is not a divine spark, but “building” on a foundation that came before. This foundation is culture and knowledge(!), and the mileage you achieved and blended already.

    Now work with it. Almost nothing is good straight away. Most people fail because they take their subject too seriously in the wrong phase, judge too quickly, and give up. Once you let go, and just let the creative juice flow, in an associative fashion, you will get somewhere. Keep that.

    Phase Two: now, you switch on expertise and judgment. You are not allowed to throw your work away, but instead, you do the opposite extreme: you take it very seriously. What hidden patterns, meanings do you see? What could the “artist” (your intuitions) have meant? What does it remind you of? How could it be improved? You cannot start over. You must keep some “insight” and repeat iteratively.

    Rinse and Repeat. That’s really it.

    Beginners will be more on the “bricolage” side of things, perhaps rather random, resampled, using found stuff, relying on cliché etc. The more advanced form is more purposeful, coherent, and goal-oriented. An artist wants to express something; a designer create towards a set purpose. The “tools” are also a bit more refined and abstract, like setting rules, imposing limitations, blending of abstract concepts, not concrete things etc.

    Complicated subjects require special knowledge, and many previously generated insights (i.e. you are further away from a commonly “known” point in discourse/ideas/design space). As you complete a project, or let it rest, you forget these things, and hence, you need to immerse yourself again to truly continue from there. That’s what makes it astonishing in retrospect; “how did I do this?”. The same happens, in my opinion, when you read fiction or watch a TV series, but drop it halfway, then try to get back “into” it a while later. You have forgotten how you “got there” to continue, because you lost the “meaning” of the parts.

    Another theory, which is mine, is that philosophy works the way it does, because you always need to start in a familiar place in this ideas space, where philosophers stretch and build their ideas from there into uncharted territory. It also fails (in a sense) for that same reason, because it doesn’t take the model-dependency into account enough. I’m a realist, though, i.e. there are objectively better explanations, but we still only have models to work with. Like with trousers, some may not always be universially a better fit. It’s very well possible that one model is very good at caputuring one bit better “locally” while another might overall fit better.

  29. Posted September 7, 2017 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    I write music constantly, and I’m pretty proud of some pieces I’ve composed. I don’t do much creative writing anymore, but there was about a 3 year window 10 years ago when I pumped out several hundred pages of stories and poems. I wouldn’t exactly say I am proud of any of those though. They were entertaining at the time.

    I think I’m most proud of my statistical work when I can create a novel methodology or approach that improves our ability to make inferences (in certain situations only, of course). I would link to papers, but the two I am proud of are currently under review or revisions.

  30. Posted September 7, 2017 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    My most creative moment was when I figured out the mathematical key needed to partition all standard diversity measures into independent(unrelated) within- and between-group components. This single principle led to a cascade of new results and unified many old results that had seemed unrelated. It also showed that there were serious logical flaws in most of the standard work on diversity and differentiation between groups, in both ecology and population genetics; it even shows that standard population genetic beliefs about the factors facilitating population divergence (a precursor to speciation) are wrong. The key came to me one night at 2 am after several years of attacking this problem every day, every waking hour, and playing with possible solutions numerically every free moment. Everything flowed at once out of that magical moment and I knew immediately that it was right.

    See the result here:
    and in many follow-up articles.

    • rickflick
      Posted September 7, 2017 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

      Amazing accomplishment. Congratulations.

    • Aldoleopold
      Posted September 7, 2017 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

      Wow – a eureka moment!

  31. grasshopper
    Posted September 7, 2017 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    A nyctograph will solve all your nocturnal recording problems, Jerry. No power source required at all and it doesn’t require any illumination, except the impetus of your own ideas.
    It was invented by Lewis Carroll to aid note taking at night. It saved him the bother of groping for matches or a tinderbox in the dark. It will, however, require you to learn a mostly orthogonal alphabet.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted September 7, 2017 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

      Of course, Carroll would have had to light a lamp. These days, a handy LED torch (or just a cellphone) would provide enough light to scribble a note in a notebook without unduly disturbing oneself (or a smartphone notebook app…)


  32. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted September 7, 2017 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    30 comments and nobody’s asked what sort of mushrooms they have in Poland? 😉



  33. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted September 7, 2017 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

    Since PCC asked – I’ve ‘created’ a few things, none of them terribly original in the sense of being totally different from anything somebody else has done, but certainly not a direct copy of someone else’s work.

    I’ve designed a few fair-sized sewage pumping stations, which is more complex than it sounds and needs attention to a lot of fiddly details if the result is going to work satisfactorily. The design is never straightforward, there’s always limitations imposed by the site or ground conditions or topography. One does have to be ‘creative’ to come up with a design that works.

    And I wrote (and maintain) a friend’s car-parts stock-keeping and ordering program (currently a monster with 11,000 lines of code though probably 2/3 of those are in routines I’ve borrowed from other sources). It’s certainly some sort of creativity.

    Oh, and I used to plot car trials, which are a navigational exercise following a twisting route with intentional hidden traps in it – the competitors who miss the traps lose points. Winner is he who loses least points. The thing is, all the traps must be logically bulletproof because the entire field of competitors is scrutinising your ‘plotting’ and will legitimately object if you incorporate one that doesn’t stand up. That requires considerable creativity – probably of the same devious sort involved in setting crossword puzzles.


  34. James Walker
    Posted September 8, 2017 at 1:48 am | Permalink

    Not sure if it counts as ‘creative’ (I think of it as my job) but I’ve (co-)written or edited four academic books. I find journal articles (of which I’ve currently (co-)written 18) more satisfying, though – books tend to get messy and out of control.

  35. Diane G.
    Posted September 8, 2017 at 3:22 am | Permalink

    subbing creatively…

  36. kelskye
    Posted September 8, 2017 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    I don’t think I’ve been creative, but partly that’s because creativity was always synonymous with artistic expression. And on that, aside from a few piddling attempts at writing music, and some bad haikus, I’ve led a creative existence consuming far more talented people’s efforts. This I don’t mind at all because some people really do express themselves through their arts than I ever will..

    If anything I do can be called creative, it’s the little ways I’ve come up with coding solutions, or solutions for design problems. But that kind of ‘creativity’ feels more problem solving than creativity. That given a set of data and a problem to be solved, my spark is to see a consequence that others in the immediate vicinity do not. It’s more craftsmanship than creativity really…

  37. Posted September 8, 2017 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    A 7-album lo-fi musical about Dictyostelium-based slug creatures on the planet Theia and the collapse of their civilization because of environmental degradation (spoiler: it crashes into earth to make the moon).

    My next project is a choose your own adventure album about Manitoban entomologist Norman Criddle.

  38. Taskin
    Posted September 8, 2017 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    I work as a ballet pianist and write some of my own music to play for classes. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have a creative outlet where not only can I compose whatever I like, but I have a venue in which to perform it. It’s fantastic to have someone react positively to one of my compositions but it’s also oddly satisfying to play something and have no one notice anything out of the ordinary, I can sneak my own pieces in and they fit without disruption.
    A couple years ago I put together a cd of music for teaching dancers improvisation. My goal was to be as varied in my writing as I could. I had a lot of fun and I think my most creative moments are among these.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted September 8, 2017 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

      I’m a trustee at a ballet school (PNB in Seattle) and watch a lot of classes in my role as student advocate. I love it when accompanists get creative and slip in some of their own music or improvise on show tunes or jazz classics.

      It’s true that accompanists often go unnoticed, but I had a moment at last spring’s school performance when I realized I’d watched so many classes that I could identify several of the accompanists by ear, without looking at the program.

  39. Posted September 8, 2017 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    Engineers are endlessly involved in creating “new” designs. But in reality almost everything “new” one designs is a fairly modest variation on some fairly well prescribed design templet. But one design I did, and just only one circuit in a very complex system, comes to my mind as a truly original electronic creation. I was about 22. We were designing a system for the Manned Spaceflight Center in Houston. There was to be a large display array containing high voltage neon bulbs. As a challenge, the head engineer asked everyone in the engineering group to come up with a minimum component circuit to drive each individual display element. Conventional design called for one memory element(flip-flop) and one driver circuit. At least 16 discreet elements three of which must be active – at a minimum. I was so keen to produce the cleverest design, and be the “top dog” designer. After hours of thinking I managed to come up with a circuit of something like 14 elements. But instinctively I knew there had to be something better. Do dreams or just sleeping inspire problem solving? Well that night my dream did. I woke up thinking IT CAN BE DONE WITH AN SCR (silicon controlled rectifier) One active element and six passive ones. Howie was a hero, and the circuit was adopted. Maybe I burned my creative spark out then and there for I never afterwards came up with anything quite as original and neat.

  40. Posted September 8, 2017 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    Cooking and gardening/landscaping (6 gardens installed from scratch). Many years ago, I designed and sewed a very close replica of the Pink Panther as a Halloween costume for an adult.

  41. Asa
    Posted September 9, 2017 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    An allegorical painting I did for DNA.

    And one where I snuck in The Descent of Man

    • rickflick
      Posted September 9, 2017 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      Wonderful realism. This requires great technical skill. The style always reminds me of some kind of magic.

  42. Anne Houde
    Posted September 10, 2017 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    For the 25 years I have been teaching biology to college students, I have engaged them in a conversation about where the creativity is in science. They have always seemed quick to understand that choosing a research question, framing a hypothesis, and developing experimental predictions are acts of great creativity. By doing scientific research, I have been highly creative! Now that the artistic side of my brain is becoming active through photography, I continue to be creative.

  43. Posted September 10, 2017 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

    This is not about the most creative thing I´ve done, it´s just something (related) I wanted to share:

    The very creative Alexander von Humboldt used to say that the sky is the “aerial ocean”. I love the expression and one happy day I found evidence of the swell:


  44. Posted September 11, 2017 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    I don’t know about *most* creative, but one moment I really enjoyed was realizing that Donald Davidson’s theory of events is correct *in a Newtonian universe* and in a relativistic one, it is not.

  45. Posted September 21, 2017 at 6:06 am | Permalink

    I tried to be creative most days and my most recent celebration of my creativity is sharing my poems on my blog. My post today is about creativity in case you have time to look? Have a creative day! Sam 🙂

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