Claude Shannon’s “Creative Thinking” Speech: A Genius Reveals How To Be Creative

Jimmy Soni, The Mission, Aug 10, 2017
Commentary by Stephen Downes

The post is at heart an advertisement for a book about Claude Shannon, and you get the speech beginning only at the half-way point. And also, I think a good part of it is wrong, as we would expect when a mathematician attempts to discuss educational theory. But it's also a good example of what we might call 'folk education theory', analogous to folk psychology, containing commonsense ideas not validated by research or science.

Shannon writes, "I think we could set down three things that are fairly necessary for scientific research or for any sort of inventing or mathematics or physics: 

  • The first one is obvious — training and experience. You don’t expect a lawyer, however bright he may be, to give you a new theory of physics...
  • The second thing is a certain amount of intelligence or talent... an IQ that is fairly high to do good research work... this, we might say, is a matter of environment; intelligence is a matter of heredity...
  • You have to have some kind of a drive, some kind of a desire to find out the answer, a desire to find out what makes things tick... so far as motivation is concerned, it is maybe a little like Fats Waller said about swing music — 'either you got it or you ain’t.’"

These three things characterize a huge swath of thinking about education today; its what we see coming from the Ed Reform movement, it's what we see coming from Silicon Valley, it's what we see coming from the instructivist camp. And it's wrong.


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