Scientists as artists

Post by Myia Connely

Often, when people mention creativity, it is associated with art. However, everything in this world includes creativity–especially science. Creativity is involved in the process of discovering new ideas and concepts.

Drawing of a hand holding a yellow pencil that connects to a pink brain via a squiggly line, the
drawing represents the hand drawing the brain.
A hand holding a pencil that is drawing a brain. Image by Myia Connely

In an article I read by Craig Loehle, “A Guide to Increased Creativity in Research – Inspiration or Perspiration,” the author discusses the difficulty maintaining creativity during research, which many scientists encounter due to opposing pressures. Loehle mentions various challenges and suggests solutions to these challenges to optimize creativity. He does this via examples of others’ work and personal matters. The author also addresses the prenotion that inspiration is less important than perspiration, or effort, but instead is an equal balance of both. With this, he leaves
the audience with an overarching theme that ultimately aims to a better understanding of creativity and inspiration, leaving individuals compelled to be ambiguous in means of successful outcomes.

Firstly, Lohle suggests being smart about the subjects you choose to research. He mentions what he calls “The Medawar Zone” (pg. 2) which is the relationship between the difficulty of a problem and its payoff. If the problem is too easy to solve, its payoff may be low because it might be insignificant to science, but if the problem is too hard and maybe even unrealistic, there might not be any payoff at all. Furthermore, choosing problems that are intermediate in complexity yields optimal benefits. To this, Lohle adds that some of the best research topics come from things such as anger or controversy. For example, if you become furious while
reading someone else’s work, you have most likely noticed a problem that you can refute.

Another example is following topics that are heavily disputed; where there is smoke, there is fire. For creativity, Lohele expresses to the readers the importance of boredom and quiet time. He discusses how these two aspects of creativity are heavily underrated. Scientists, he explains, think long hours and full days of work are required, but instead, you have to think a bit before starting. Craig Lohle says go on a walk or a run, or even stare out a window. Lastly, the author tells his readers to recognize the wave. Creativity will come sporadically, some days it’s hard to come up with ideas whereas other days you’re exploding with ideas, so it is important to know when creativity has entered the chat.

Loehle’s article discussing inspiration and perspiration was is inspirational. I couldn’t help but let my mind wander far and wide. The writing was educational, but also entertaining and exciting to read with the approach the author used. In prior research and training during my scientific career, creativity and inspiration have never been emphasized, which I think many students in the sciences can relate to. I have come across many articles and books that focus on building
creativity, but Lohle’s version is one that impacted the way I think of modern science. My advice to other scientists, as Lohele says, is to “…Throw off your chains!” (pg. 8).


Myia Connely is an undergraduate student of the University of Wyoming.

references

Loehle, C. 1990. Increased creativity in research – inspiration or perspiration? Bioscience 40(2): 123-129.

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