Douglas Hofstadter – Metamagical Themas (1985)

by vyh

Careful analysis leads one to see that what we choose to call a new theme is itself always some sort of variation, on a deep level, of previous themes. The trick is to be able to see the deeply hidden knobs!

Some readers … feel that I am unwittingly implying that it is easy for anybody to be a genius: after all, a crank can crank a knob as deftly as a genius can. The crux of their objection, then, is that the crux of creativity is not in twiddling knobs, but in spotting them!

Well, that is exactly what I meant by my slogan. Making variations is not just twiddling a knob before you; part of the act is to manufacture the knob yourself. Where does a knob come from? The question amounts to asking: How do you see a variable where there is actually a constant? More specifically: What might vary, and how might it vary? It’s not enough to just have the desire to see something different from what is there before you. Often the dullest knobs are a result of someone’s straining to be original, and coming up with something weak and ineffective. So where do good knobs come from? I would say they come from seeing one thing as something else. Once an abstract connection is set up via some sort of analogy or reminding-incident, then the gate opens wide for ideas to slosh back and forth between the two concepts.

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