If Ideas Had Shapes

A quoteblog ranging from philosophers in bathrobes to galaxy-rises

Tag: creativity

Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

It has been my observation, culled over years and years of eliciting “Ma Mignonne” translations from relatives, friends, colleagues, and students, that those people who do the most imaginative, liveliest, and most polished jobs are invariably those with the best senses of humor. They are people who love to play with ideas, juggle words, take risks, laugh at themselves, be silly, let themselves go. I suppose it suggests that having a sense of humor is tightly bound up with a propensity for intellectual risk-taking.


Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

Every task involves constraint,
Solve the thing without complaint;
There are magic links and chains
Forged to loose our rigid brains.
Structures, strictures, though they bind,
Strangely liberate the mind.

James Falen’s “odelet in praise of constraints”, quoted in DRH’s book

Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

In any case, the imposition of any reasonably sharp set of constraints will force a writer to explore and discover pathways in semantic space that would otherwise have been left entirely unexplored, and that is a very simple but very deep truth about language and thought.

Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

This is my style at its most pure, and, I must say, at its most joyous. Paradoxical though it surely sounds, I feel at my freest, my most exuberant, and my most creative when operating under a set of heavy self-imposed constraints. I suspect that the welcoming of constraints is, at bottom, the deepest secret of creativity—and that, of course, is why poetry, built on a foundation of constraints, is so central to this book. Translation, too, is a dense fabric of constraints—and thus, needless to say, the merging of translation with poetry gives rise to such a rich mesh of interlocking constraints that the mind goes a bit berserk in a mixture of frustration and delight.

Mary Shelley – Frankenstein (1818)

Everything must have a beginning, to speak in Sanchean phrase; and that beginning must be linked to something that went before. The Hindus gave the world an elephant to support it, but they make the elephant stand upon a tortoise. Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos; the materials must, in the first place, be afforded: it can give form to dark, shapeless substances but cannot bring into being the substance itself.

(author’s introduction)

Douglas Hofstadter – The Mind’s I (1981)

This dichotomy of the creative self into a conscious part and an unconscious part is one of the most disturbing aspects of trying to understand the mind. If–as was just asserted–our best ideas come burbling up as if from mysterious underground springs, then who really are we? Where does the creative spirit really reside? Is it by an act of will that we create, or are we just automata made out of biological hardware, from birth until death fooling ourselves through idle chatter into thinking that we have “free will”? If we are fooling ourselves about all these matters, then whom–or what–are we fooling?

from the reflections on C. Cherniak’s “The Riddle of the Universe and Its Solution” (1978)

Douglas Adams – The Salmon of Doubt (2002)

I get very worried about this idea of art. Having been an English literary graduate, I’ve been trying to avoid the idea of doing art ever since. I think the idea of art kills creativity.

…if somebody wants to come along and say, “Oh, it’s art,” that’s as it may be. I don’t really mind that much. But I think that’s for other people to decide after the fact. It isn’t what you should be aiming to do.

Douglas Adams – The Salmon of Doubt (2002)

But nowadays everybody’s a comedian, even the weather girls and continuity announcers. We laugh at everything. Not intelligently anymore, not with sudden shock, astonishment, or revelation, just relentlessly and meaninglessly. No more rain showers in the desert, just mud and drizzle everywhere, occasionally illuminated by the flash of paparazzi.

Creative excitement has gone elsewhere—to science and technology: new ways of seeing things, new understandings of the universe, continual new revelations about how life works, how we think, how we perceive, how we communicate.

Douglas Adams – The Salmon of Doubt (2002)

He doesn’t need to be serious. He’s better than that. He’s up in the stratosphere of what the human mind can do, above tragedy and strenuous thought, where you will find Bach, Mozart, Einstein, Feynman, and Louis Armstrong, in the realms of pure, creative playfulness.

Douglas Adams – The Salmon of Doubt (2002)

People often ask me where I get my ideas from, sometimes as often as eighty-seven times a day. This is a well-known hazard for writers, and the correct response is first to breathe deeply, steady your heartbeat, fill your mind with peaceful, calming images of birdsong and buttercups in spring meadows, and then try to say, “Well, it’s very interesting you ask that…” before breaking down and starting to whimper uncontrollably.