The Tao of Creativity

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0. Intro 🎬

Shakespeare would have grasped wave functions, Donne would have understood complementarity and relative time. They would have been excited. What richness! They would have plundered this new science for their imagery. And they would have educated their audiences too.
~ Ian McEwan (in The Child in Time — here, a physicist upbraids a fiction writer)

On A Mission

This time, I’m on a mission to take you—and me—into the mind of a creative. Who that creative is, we may never find out. Many have tried and failed in that very quest. But that’s not going to stop us, amirite?

So buckle up your seatbelts. Here we go.

And lest you were holding on to any lingering visions of embarking on a serene gondola ride—say you took a cue from the dapper gondolier in the pic above, what with the placid waters on which he gently steers his blissful tourists, oblivious to the menace of the fluorescent-green octopus that waves its tentacles in alarmingly unfriendly gestures—I suggest that you revise your beatific vision. Maybe just a bit; you may even want to consider being on your tentacles, excuse me, on your toes.

Thing is, our seemingly unflappable landscape—more like the “waterscape”—is going to get perturbed, really quick, and possibly with unpredictable effects such as having the rug and the wavy gravy shebang pulled from right under us.

In Deep Waters, Or, Juxtaposition (Part 1)

With that, I invite you to check “Exhibit A“, coming right up: An enormous sea creature, ersatz it is not, identified, in fact, as having a purple hue. And as we collectively wrap our tentacles, excuse, our heads, around this phantom of a menace, we gather that it’s on some kind of stealth mission in the murky depths of the ocean. Oh my, how it brandishes its tentacles—which are, gulp, numerous and varied in their palpably terrifying ways—like there’s no tomorrow.

Gulp. Houston, we have a problem.

Someone please tell me, “We will live to see a tomorrow.”


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1. We Prep For Our Creative Dive 🏊

Join (Or Start) A Book Club

Yeah, goodbye Montgolfier Bros, you guys up in the skies: Better you than us in your unruffled, airborne zeppelin, far from the madding crowd below. Speaking of which—not of madness, but of creativity, though I’ve witnessed exactly these two being confabulated and spoken of in the same breath—they say that creativity is a renewable resource.

I couldn’t agree more, and to which I’ll add that reading books—and sharing with others our unique impressions of the reading experience as well as hearing the experiences of others—rejuvenates us in ways we would not have considered possible had we engaged with reading as a solitary activity.

So go join a book club, or start your own.

On Mississippi Waters, Or, Juxtaposition (Part 2)

First, though—and collectively forgetting armchair travels for a minute because we’re not out of the woods yet—we need to grapple with that creature risen out of murky, oceanic depths, the descent whereto could well mark twenty thousand leagues under the sea.

And for crying out loud, could you please stop, for a minute or two at least, your enigmatically muttering, metronome-fashion, that unnerving marking twain incantation or whatever those words are? (Allow me to remind us that, at least the last time I checked, we sure weren’t trawling the swollen waters of the Mississippi River. Just saying.)

Brother, we got bigger troubles: For example, that nightmarish creature—check the pic below from the comfort of your armchair—is arising, swimming at a fast clip, and accelerating stealthily closing in on yours truly, stride by stride.


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2. We Need To Go Deeper 🚧

The earth does not want new continents, but new men.
~ Jules Verne (in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea)

My Credentials In Creativity (Kind Of)

Got your attention now? Good.

With that marine mayhem behind us, let’s resurface, take a deep breath, and start talking reason, even as our frayed nerves—no doubt jangled by that tsunami of a forcing function that was the fearsome sea creature—return to their quiescent state. For example, you could be excused for asking, “Akram, you teller of tales, what credentials you got in the creativity department?” Without missing a beat, and realizing that some handwaving is in order, I blurt out, “Well, it depends.

Ow, now you didn’t have to hit me that hard on the head with that fiendish instrument the mallet. You see, everything had gone dark for a few minutes. It sure did. When I came to, all I could tell myself, consolingly, was, “Darn, gotta stay on my toes!

Getting Used To It

Speaking of how some people don’t take too kindly to this handwaving business, I wonder if they may just never take inspiration from the hilarious observation—by math whiz John von Neumann, who was evidently also a student of the human condition—that “In mathematics, you don’t understand things; you just get used to them“.

There goes handwaving out the window. Sheesh. Some people.

Now We Debrief

Anyhow, with danger (apparently) having passed, let’s you and I together recall that old chestnut about how “forewarned is forearmed,” or something like that. So tell me—quick now with the multiple-choice question coming up—that spine-chilling creature with which we just had a life-endangering encounter, you know the one captured in the pic above, is that creature:

  1. An aquatic version of a dementor from that Harry Potter movie you saw just the other day?
  2. Merely a figment of dreamscape, burrowing into the cellar of your memory, Inception-style?
  3. The Lochness Monster in fiendishly clever Halloween disguise, right after getting parole from the keepers of the lochs in the Scottish highlands?
  4. Our chum the friendly octopus from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, brought to generations of beguiled readers from the fecund imagination of Jules Verne?

So which answer did you pick from the multiple choices above? What? Did you say, “All of the above“? Heh, that won’t quite fly, or swim either; such a thesis doesn’t quite hold water.

Wait, What?

But check the happenings coming right up… “Good grief“—channeling Snoopy this very second—what do I spy through the corner of my eye, perched on the roof of my writing shack? So the channel of the Suez Canal this is not, even as continue channeling Snoopy.

Thankfully, or so I think, we’re at least back on terra firma.

And that thing perched on the thatched rooftop, a terra cotta soldier it sure doesn’t look like. It looks like…


If it isn’t that beguiling sniveler, the singular Ms Owl herself in the paparazzi pic below, which was hurriedly taken smack outside your blogger’s writing shack. Anyone even remember how your blogger had escaped from the clutches of henpecking at the hands—the beak, I suppose—of Ms Owl, and not too many moons ago either?

Don’t we ever get a break?

For crying out loud, first we had a close encounter with that fluorescent-green octopus, you remember the one that would wave its (many) tentacles menacingly, and on its heels we’re now afflicted by another menace—this one on my shack’s roof, smilingly goofily, its feathers bedaubed an outrageous fluorescent-green—complete with a speech bubble, and a blank one at that! Well, thanks a lot, Ms Owl, for at least trying to intimate your enigmatic sentiments (and designs!) to us mere mortals.

We can only wonder what other (creative) creatures lurk in these regions…

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3. Is Creativity Sheepish, Or Owlish? 🐐

On or around December 1910, human character changed. I am not saying that one went out, as one might into a garden, and there saw that a rose had flowered or a hen had laid an egg.
~ Virginia Woolf

Let Me Count The Ways

Sigh, does creativity come by as we lounge on neatly mowed pastures? Or does it perch in treetops, owlishly, tantalizingly? Is it analogies all the way down—an eminently plausible assertion, if you ask me, though nobody does that sort of thing much anymore—as Pulitzer Prize-winner Douglas Richard Hofstadter would have us believe?

Ah, lemme count the ways.

So yeah, now we warm up in earnest for our dive into the creative mind.

Down periscope.

Inception, At 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Here’s the deal—and let’s pretend that our intrepid Captain Nemo’s underwater ship, the Nautilus, has safely returned to harbor—about fancifully juxtaposing (1) the adventures of the Nautilus (ala Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea) with (2) the happenings surrounding that eerie refrain about “going deeper, and deeper still” into dreamscapes (ala the movie Inception).

Riches beyond riches, I’m telling you, are to be had by those who can cultivate the discipline to connect the dots. Take, for example, the observation from no less a smart cookie than Arthur Schopenhauer that “Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see“. For another, take Google’s Inception-inspired network, prior to whose inception most Deep Learning networks known as CNNs (ala Convolutional Neural Networks) just stacked convolution layers deeper and deeper, hoping to get better performance.


Stop. The. Presses.

What’s that critter, headed our way? Smaug the fire-breathing dragon, amirite?

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4. Enter The Dragon 🐉

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader. For me the initial delight is in the surprise of remembering something I didn’t know I knew.
~ Robert Frost (in his breathtaking essay The Figure a Poem Makes)

Nope, Not The Martial Arts

Looks like we got yet another (creative) creature lurking in these nether regions; that this fire-breathing creature is partially blue and only partially green—what with the two critters we ran into earlier also being green, and that, too, in their entirety—doesn’t really give me much comfort, if you ask me.

And forget ace martial artist Bruce Lee for a minute—look, you can watch the classic kung fu movie Enter The Dragon all you want, just not right now—and please focus on the splash which the following entries are about to make as we delve right into the guts of this critter called creativity:

  • Did You See That? 👓

  • We’ll Play And Play And Play 🎾

  • There Is No Spoon 🔎

  • Inspiration Is Perishable 🍄

  • I Never Metaphor I Didn’t Like 🎭

  • A Fire To Be Lit 🌋

  • Remember, To Err Is Human ⛩

  • Our Cognitive, Tech-Enhanced Exoskeleton 🐌

  • Carve Up The Creative Space (With Models) ⛏

  • Should Inspiration Grab You 👻

  • I Am, Therefore, I Think 🔦

  • Logic Does Not Seek To Straightjacket 📦

So there you have it, a dozen or so sections make up the bulk of this essay’s remainder—and hey, I profusely thank you for hanging in here with me as we warm up for the descent—all that coming right up!

Allow these signposts, if you will please will, to serve as a lay of the land, where each signpost foretells a tale that’ll be told.


An Eternal Flame

As the incorrigible book-lover that I am, I should give you a heads up that some sturdy specimens—of books, what else?—will be making guest appearances from here on. Be careful with their content because, for some of them at least, I can rightly, and with a clear conscience to boot, quote the words of writer Liz Else when she alerts the reader (in connection with approaching the intriguing book entitled The Mind Is Flat) with the advice to “Light the touchpaper and stand well back.

Oh yeah, stand well back, lest you get singed by the flames, with all that notwithstanding my confession that

I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.
~ Anna Quindlen

Yeah, it’s quite alright to smolder in the flames of a worthwhile book. So there. I said it.

Plus, I loved the turn of phrase as wrought by whoever this fine writer Liz Else is; what else has she written—so I can get my hands on it—is what I now want to know.

But I—aye, aye—I digress.

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5. Rallying The Troops 📣

He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.
~ President John F. Kennedy (speaking of Winston Churchill, the writer, orator and leader who, as Prime Minister, led Britain to victory in the Second World War)

Bring In The Troops

What’s rallying the troops (and those pesky tropes) got to do with creativity? Glad you asked. Creativity, at least the last I checked into its miasma, still wouldn’t lend itself to being studied as a disembodied, detached specimen, floating in a jar of ether; it clamors, instead, to be grappled with on its own terms, creativity does, I’m telling you.

Put another way—and formulated most memorably perhaps by Marshall McLuhan—”the medium is the message“.

Even more relevant still to what we have on our hands, we get to grapple with creativity in the context of the art of writing. Or, as poet extraordinaire Emily Dickinson magnificently put it, we approach the wherewithal of creativity from the vantage point of the refracted idea which suggests that we “Tell it, but tell it slant.”

Context Is Key, In Five Easy Pieces

Having set the stage for our dive into creativity (in the context of the art of writing), I would be remiss if I didn’t point you in the direction of a slightly more extensive exploration of a related, near-mirror theme—that of the art of writing in the context of creativity—all within the span of five easy pieces, like so:

  1. On Writing: Or Why I Write
  2. On Writing: Or How I Write
  3. On Writing: Or Wow, I Write
  4. On Writing: Or Now I Write
  5. On Writing: Or A Row With How I Write

Checking that motley crew of five, I hear you ask, “Darn. You wrote all that, Akram?” To which I reply, “Well yeah, all I did was attempted—the operative words here is ‘attempted’—in the spirit of exploring a handful of themes.

And what you’ll find—as you rummage around those five easy pieces—are admittedly meandering journeys through the landscape of writing, mostly stuff that I’ve picked up, osmosis-style, over the years, circling back to retell through the prism of my (evolving) understanding of marshaling creativity in the service of writing, plus a handful of (hopefully) original and altogether modest contributions to the writing landscape itself.

Hmm… I sure wish I had written just one more piece, thereby making it Six Easy Pieces, thus joining the communes and canons of the essentials of Physics as explained by its most brilliant teacher—sigh, live and learn.

A More Beautiful Question

Yo, check this, a confession in the style of the world’s first essayist, Michel de Montaigne: So I occasionally despair, as and when the thought crosses my mind that my way of occasionally speaking in parables—dare I say as I did a minute ago with the Six Easy Pieces—may leave you a bit flustered.

As they say, life is short, and the art is long. Or something like that. But what do I know?

At any rate, and as we finish warming up for our dive proper into the realm of the creative mind, shall we remind ourselves in the words of E. E. Cummings (from his Introduction to New Poems) that “Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question“. Put another way, asking the (right) questions beats (only) answering questions any day.

With that, I’ve got to make a confession about my “tropes”—come to think of it, that word sounds suspiciously like “troops.” There’s complementarity at work again.

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6. Marshaling Those Tropes 📖

That’s not writing—that’s just typing.
~ Truman Capote?

My Tropes Are…

…on the ropes, frankly, if you really must know. And you did want to know, amirite? And what of redeeming your truly from the scathing indictment above: “That’s not writing—that’s just typing.

Anyhow, one thing we know: Let’s call off that hunt for the Red October, will you? We got plenty on our hands already; no need to get the periscope down after all; and definitely  no need to pinch your nose in anticipation of diving feet-first into the waters. That’s right, we’re steering clear of the Red October’s revolutionary, possibly apocryphal, magneto-hydro-dynamic (MHD) marine propulsion system, made famous by a certain submarine.

For starters, those propulsion system are expensive. Big bucks. I mean, you skip financing, say 20,000—hmm, where did we run into that number before?—of those Subway sandwiches and you’re not going to make the tiniest dent in paying off one of those MHD marine critters.

I’m telling you, settle instead for the much more affordable hot tub spa, if, that is, you can level up your pool maintenance game and get the pool chemistry right (darn, especially those finicky chlorine levels!)

But I digress.

Nonetheless, yes, my tropes are on the ropes still. Tattered. And torn. Sigh, and we cry until dawn (Take that, Thomson Twins—yeah boy!)

Does Something Elude You?

So what? If tropes (momentarily) elude me, even as we gather in hot pursuit of this critter called creativity—you surely remember those vows we made when signing up for the mission at the outset to burrow into the mind of a creative, right?—it doesn’t have to elude you. Oh no, it does not.

You ready? Remember those beguiling (half-dozen) signpost we talked about a few breaths ago?

We’re going in.


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7. Did You See That? 👓

One writes only half the book; the other half is with the reader.
~ Joseph Conrad

  • Let’s get one thing squared away: Should anyone—not you, of course—have the gall to call me a Luddite for being enamored of physical books, would they be justified? If so, would you support such a stance? Why, or why not?
  • Now that I got us thinking—yep, we do that sort of thing around here, sometimes as many times as two times a week—let’s cast our eyes on the very first book specimen that’s making a guest appearance above.
  • Yes, as our ace detective Tintin investigates something (or the other), we notice that our Scrabble tiles spell a sweet word… YOU!
  • Oh yeah, we’re spellbound enough (no pun intended, honestly) already.
  • Coming back to our book specimen, Seeing What Others Don’t, it sure speaks intelligently to the varieties of experiences whereby we gain (new) insights.
  • And since I’ve touched on the physicality of the printed medium (ala books-in-print), allow me to expand a bit on the related theme of “affordance”—this particular meme I picked up first from an interesting book which goes by the unabashedly longwinded name of The Distraction Addiction: Getting the Information You Need and the Communication You Want, Without Enraging Your Family, Annoying Your Colleagues, and Destroying Your Soul.
  • The physical medium, as that other book—the one with the mile-long title—argues convincingly, provides tactile engagement (hey, bring out those bright fluorescent highlighters and sticky tapes, yay!) for which our mammalian brains are especially suited, evolutionarily speaking.
  • Having taken in our first signpost, let’s move on to the second one, shall we?

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8. We’ll Play And Play And Play 🎾

I decided that, when I was a kid, I used to enjoy the subject for the fun of it. I used to like nature and do it for the fun of it. So what I ought to do is play games with it, just whatever was curious and interesting to me—I should just play. You see?
~ Richard Feynman

  • Check the Go gopher riding the wave, which is a giveaway that we’ve got play on our minds.
  • Oh, and is play good for you—at more levels than I can count on my fingers—or what? And I’m not fibbing: Play is so important that it’s been deemed by child development experts (people who are clearly way smarter than I am) as “the serious business of childhood.”
  • So let’s keep play in our lives, as this terrific book—Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soulplayfully teases out and convinces the reader of, over the relatively short span of its 242 pages.
  • I loved in particular the passage in the book about a couple of preeminent scientists (Nobel Prize-winning) relishing playfully in their labs, treating those labs as their playground!
  • When we play, it’s not just you—or me—but… US! (Check what our Scrabble tiles have spelled for us in the pic above.)
  • With that, let us go with the flow, yo, and check what lies in hold for us.

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9. There Is No Spoon 🔎

I never consciously invented with a pen in my hand; I waited until the story had told itself and then wrote it down, and, since it was already a finished thing, I wrote it fast.
~ John Buchan

  • Remember the last time you were working on something and got into “the zone,” where everything was just flowing? Is that a great feeling or what, getting more done in a handful of unencumbered hours than in an entire “normal” day?
  • That state of experience—psychologists call it, rather floridly, “flow”—can be cultivated, I’m told on good authority. So let’s start sowing the seeds (of focused creativity), cultivating them, harvesting them, and reaping the rewards.
  • Like the protagonist Neo in the movie The Matrix, things go swimmingly when one is engaged in the state of “flow”—geographically speaking, this can be done in any state you care to name: Texas, California, Massachusetts, even Alasksa, or so I’m told by my blog’s ragtag research staff.
  • So use the flow, Luke (Skywalker), use the flow; it’s a mesmerizing experience, and it will take you places.

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10. Inspiration Is Perishable 🍄

I don’t know anything about inspiration because I don’t know what inspiration is; I’ve heard about it, but I never saw it.
~ William Faulkner

  • Don’t waste your breath on trying to summon inspiration, waiting for the muse to alight and infuse you with that creative spark. Take, instead, Jack London’s advice on—shall we say, wrangling—inspiration and go after your creative spark with a club. (It is famed writer Jack London who once said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club“.)
  • Closer at hand, and in the words of the authors of the fine book standing upright in the pic above—and I’m paraphrasing here from memory—”When inspiration grabs you, grab it right back.” And to which I can only add that while you’re at it, grabbing inspiration, can you also please grab a fruit smoothie for me? I hear such stuff is good for boosting immunity during these times of COVID-19.
  • Or take a page from Carol Dweck’s “growth mindset” meme and generate your very own motivation, a close cousin of what we’re after, with or without a club.

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11. I Never Metaphor I Didn’t Like 🎭

Your manuscript is good and original, but what is original is not good; what is good is not original
~ Samuel Johnson

  • Heeding lexicographer Samuel Johnson’s mortifying advice above on commingling the dynamic duos—good things, provided we can properly commingle them, do come in pairs—of writing quality (goodness and originality), I say we invest in exploring the bond, in general, between metaphors and oxymoron, a kinship that runs surprisingly deep.
  • Take, for example, the book standing upright in the pic above and notice the clever commingling of the words “accidental” and “creative”. A lovely book that you should not miss, it demystifies the dialectics—think opposing yet complementing qualities—of “accident” and “creation.”
  • I’m liking this already. The sun shines gloriously. The birds chirp. And our Scrabble tiles spell, yes, yes?… YES!
  • Lest we get too carried away—hey, “A little Madness in the Spring; Is wholesome even for the King,” in the words of  Emily Dickinson, poetess extraordinaire who needs no intro—and we forget all about a related gem, check out George Lakoff’s Metaphors We Live By, a book I myself have long been meaning to get a hold of and read to my heart’s content.
  • Maybe it’s time.
  • Meanwhile… Wait, what? Another owl hooting! (Dear reader, I’m gonna have a cardiac—remember our skirmish with the sniveling Ms. Owl earlier?—so keep those defibrillating paddles on hand.)

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12. A Fire To Be Lit 🌋

I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.
~ Albert Einstein

  • Notwithstanding hearts aflutter, check the owl perched above, the one tilting its head sideways? Woot (Excuse me,  Mr. Owl, I really meant to say “hoot”.)
  • Either way—woot or hoot—your wise (and curious) ways, Mr. Owl, are the envy the world over. Oh yes, it’s good to get the mind roaring, even if we humans can’t keep up with your circadian rhythm that’s decidedly veered toward nocturnal activities.
  • And either way—with or without burning the midnight oil—one of the coolest things someone said to me the other day was their studying outside of their profession (mainly) to create new connections from outside sources, which then supply them with insights that they can then bring back to their daily job, sparking creativity and innovation. How cool is that?
  • So yes, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire“, as the genius poet of yore, William Butler Yeats, once remarked. So c’mon, light my fire.
  • Plus we need to remember the wise (and curious) owl. And if ever I get a tattoo—look, I likely never will, extrapolating from the zero tattoos I currently sport—it will be that of an owl.
  • Again, don’t hold your breath. Meanwhile, I invite you to check out what some top thoughts leaders have to say about several areas of human pursuit, including, of course, creativity, amirite?
  • Aha, forsooth, I spy Escher-inspired artwork—framed and signed—coming right up.

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13. Remember, To Err Is Human ⛩

You have to let the madman out. The madman has got to be allowed to go wild. Then you can let the architect in and design the structure. After that, you can have the engineer come in and put it together. And then you let the janitor in to clean it up. The problem is, most people let the janitor in before they let the madman out.
~ Professor Betty Sue Flowers (on the art of writing, as quoted in John Trimble’s gem of a book entitled Writing With Style)

  • Yep, framed artwork it sure is, clearly inspired—aha, there’s that theme again—by the recursive leitmotif of the late Dutch painter, MC Escher.
  • Wait, what? “Those three whippersnapper penguins,” you say, “have supplanted the venerable towers of Hanoi—three, to be precise—which have befuddled generations of computer science students?
  • On top of all that, some wise aleck philosopher in your class was nearly guaranteed to message the non sequitur that “To err is human; to recurse, divine“. And generations of computer science student, huddled together in auditorium masses, collectively thanked (not!) their professors (and that annoying philosopher who was wont to toss non sequiturs around like confetti).
  • But I digress (Hey, it’s good to digress, no?)
  • Hmm… I got this nagging feeling that something’s missing in the pic above? And I don’t mean to be peremptory or something, but can you, like, help me here?
  • Are we missing the crucible of human-machine co-evolution which was vaunted to take us into uncharted territory?
  • Meanwhile, I invite us all—let’s drive home the message that it’s perfectly alright to sometimes miss and make mistakes—to hold on to the observation by ice hockey great Wayne Gretzky that “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.
  • The common cold that afflicts writers… That pesky albatross know as the writer’s block.

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14. Our Cognitive, Tech-Enhanced Exoskeleton 🐌

I am convinced that engineering is fundamentally a creative discipline, and the technical drudgery that prejudices many people is no more drudgery than found in any other creative discipline. Yes, hard work is required, but as a reward for that hard work, you can change the world.
~ Edward Lee (in Plato and the Nerd)

  • Now you see it, now you don’t, as they say: Face-palming himself, your truly realizes that it was a sturdy book specimen—remember how each vignette in the series of our self-styled signposts so far has a guest appearances by a book?—that was missing in the previous vignette!
  • Rushing to make amends, I snuck in my copy of Plato and the Nerd, which—inserting a sigh of relief here, ahhh—now completes our thematic integrity (and sanity, because that nagging feeling earlier about something amiss was driving me nuts.)
  • But all’s well, and we can now dwell on some more coolness in the realm of—you guessed it!—creativity. The subtitle of the fine book featured in this vignette has for its subtitle the giveaway phrase “The Creative Partnership of Humans and Technology“.
  • Speaking of this creative partnership (between us and our machines), one especially profound observation that someone shared with me the other day has to do with how this type of thought—does tech drive us, versus do we drive tech?—has been posited in scientific circles for the advancement of science. That is, with each new discovery, we uncover something more.
  • But does that lead us, the thinking above goes, down a particular track of discovery, different from one we would’ve gone down if we had thoughtfully chosen another path of exploration? Or does it not? How cool is that and whatnot?
  • Oh, and raise your hand if ever your mind felt numbed by Taylorism, and the mere mention of that fiendish word sent a shiver down your spine. We’re not talking stuff Pavlovian, but stuff having to do with those time and motion studies. (Remember time-lapse photography of living creatures in motion?)
  • But creativity wins out in the end, running rings around the militarism, day I say, of Taylorism. Yeah!
  • Hah, plus now we got some modeling ahead of us (No, sorry, your brick-and-mortar house remodeling will have to wait.)

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15. Carve Up The Creative Space (With Models) ⛏

All models are wrong, but some are useful.
~ George Box (statistician extraordinaire)

  • Aha, our Scrabble tiles spell the word… IF! (Anyone remember the utterly charming (and disarming) movie A Room With A View, the one in which the hero has on the wall of his tourist room in Rome a framed print with this very word—”If”—written boldly?
  • The bottomline is that we creatives slice and dice the creative solution space with models. And nope, this has nothing to do with the serrated knife that Vietnam War veteran John Rambo was wont to brandish at the drop of a hat, in scene after scene of mind-numbingly gratuitous violence in his eponymous movies (each one, dare I say, alarming, and not the least bit disarming.)
  • We prefer peace; we do our slicing and dicing with pen in hand and paper at hand—ala “mens et manus“—dividing and conquering problems with models, the fruits of our mental labors. Not Herculean by any means, but labors of our passion nonetheless, amirite?
  • So take a page from Scott Page’s book—the one making a guest appearance above—and see what I’m yammering about. Plenty of good stuff (using slick mathematical models) with guidance on carving up those elusive conceptual spaces wherein dwell the seeds of creativity.
  • Hey, speaking of spaces, check this: “Let there be spaces in your togetherness,” or so said the Lebanese mystic Kahlil Gibran many moons ago, blissfully unaware of how remarkably true his words would ring when applied to the social distancing in effect during these times of COVID-19.
  • I see glimmers of light just around the corner. Do you?

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16. Should Inspiration Grab You 👻

The time which we have at our disposal every day is elastic; the passions that we feel expand it, those that we inspire contract it; and habit fills up what remains.
~ Marcel Proust (in Remembrance of Things Past)

  • Look around. Nature has treasures for the taking, inspiring the next generation in the making. So yes, that’s how we cook and get baking.
  • But faking I’m not; nor confabulating; and leaves I’m definitely not raking, not anytime soon, at least not until next Fall for crying out loud.
  • But I digress.
  • All I’m saying is, make a moment here and there to look around you, notwithstanding that our Scrabble tiles spell… ME! (This fugue, if you will, is really about you and me, amirite?)
  • Hey, who on my blog staff decided to arrange our Scrabble tiles into that word?
  • Oh, and since we are in the throes of grappling with creativity in the context of the art of writing, let’s grab a box of Kleenex and mount a full-frontal assault on the common cold of writing which afflicts us all, at one time or anther: the writer’s block.
  • And here I wish to usher in some thoughts of the genius teacher of English, Professor John Trimble, whose singular work on writing style (Writing With Style, aka WWS), as regular readers know, has exerted immense influence on yours truly to the point where my writing life can be cleanly divided—much as the World Wars (WW) divided history into pre- and post-WW—into pre- and post-WWS.
  • Enough said. He (Professor Trimble) said, in WWS: “Remember, many of your best ideas lurk in your unconscious. If you slow down to edit what you’ve written, you’ll put an airtight lid on those thoughts and begin experiencing the agonizing “blocked” feeling we’re all familiar with. Blockage occurs when the creative process gets short-circuited by the picky critical process.
  • And even though our Scrabble tiles spell a solipsism-tinged word—ME!—this is in equals parts about YOU and ME. It’s about US!
  • Do I tile—excuse me, tire—you?

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17. I Am, Therefore, I Think 🔦

What I cannot create, I do not understand.
~ RichardFeynman

  • We got this. We know a thing or two about how smart machines think, don’t we?
  • For crying out loud, even our Scrabble tiles are shouting… AI!
  • Oh yeah, we humans never cease to make machines in our own image. Is that a creative act or what?
  • Remember, too, all that jazz about The Chinese Room Argument? So yeah, heady stuff. But we got this. We’re pragmatists, and won’t be lured down beguiling labyrinths.
  • Speaking of which, stay tuned for future stuff—right here on our blog—on the subject of ML and AI (And not to worry; we don’t do boring stuff around here.)
  • Hey, come back!

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18. Logic Does Not Seek To Straightjacket 📦

Humor is something that thrives between man’s aspirations and his limitations. There is more logic in humor than in anything else. Because, you see, humor is truth.
~ Victor Borge

  • Aha, you’re back. Good.
  • Let’s get this right: Logic is no villain, and neither is it at war with creativity. If anything, it complements it like there’s no tomorrow.
  • Oh yes, logic and art and engineering go hand-in-hand. Should you have any doubts, I invite you to check out Plato and the Nerd—nice, I notice that even our ace detective, Tintin the stalwart is on board, him first, of course, having made sure that he had overseen me (correctly) arrange our Scrabble tiles to say… LOGIC!
  • How about we bring in the marvelous logician Lewis Carroll (pseudonym of course for the the real man, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) whose books have charmed generations of readers?
  • I hope you get the idea; logic is cool and rational, but, in the right hands, and with the right touch, logic can also be turned into a barrel of monkey, amirite?
  • What monkeys? Yo, there’s a luciferous cat appearing on the scene. My cat.

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19. Oh, The (Moonlit) Tales I Could Tell 🗿

As moonlight shines back at the sun,
he heard the call to come home, and went.
When light returns to its source,
it takes nothing
of what it has illuminated.
~ Jelaluddin Rumi (in the translation by Coleman Barks entitled The Essential Rumi — Published by HarperOne)

Frozen in time, on a Saturday morning to be precise, if you check the pic above, here comes (came?) my lovely feline friend, poking his nose into everything and anything—whoever coined the phrase “as curious as a cat” sure knew what she or he was talking about!

Oh, the tales my cat could tell. So why don’t we rename this section “Oh, The (Catnip) Tales I Could Tell”, given half a chance. Meow, meow, and meow.

Yow,” he purrs, “Tell your readers, Akram, how you came upon using the word ‘tao’ in this essay’s title, won’t you?” And I’m like, “This is (best) left as an exercise for the reader”. But we do provide some hints, such as spotting a book by the beguiling title of The Tao of Microservices in there:

Did you see that? My cat now digresses and, in turn—in a virtuous act of counter-transference—makes me digress. Darn.

I’m telling you, this whole digression business is contagious.

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20. The Soul Of A New Machine 🎃

Love is the vital core of the soul,
and of all you see, only love is infinite.
~ Jelaluddin Rumi (in the translation entitled The Essential Rumi, by Coleman Barks — HarperOne)

A messy desk is the harbinger of creativity, it’s got to be, or so I tell myself (and my family and my friends and…) Anyhow, and while “militate” is not the word I’m after… Why, thank you. “Gravitate” it was! So I tend to “levitate,” excuse me, gravitate toward all things which trace their lineage back to the venerable Turing Machine.

So I figured it would be a pity to not make at least make one, tangential reference to the soulful book that is Tracy Kidder’s The Soul Of A New Machine, which you’ll spy in the pic above. Seoul-ful, um, soulful stuff.

Never mind, too, for now anyway, that book on serverless computing (bearing the name Apache OpenWhisk), also in the pic above, and which I was digesting while I was—in my free time of course—digging into the guts of, and even contributing a bit to, the open source project (for stateful, serverless computing) called a while ago.

And don’t even get me started on the gem stand upright (also appearing in the pic), bearing the catchy name Hackers & Painters—see already the gravitational pull on me of all things tracing their lineage back to Turing-inspired computations?

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21. The Tiles Of March 📅

And now we wind down, taking one long, wistful look—behind the scenes, really—at the tiles of March. Excuse me, the Ides of March. (Evidently, we’ve been playing Scrabble a bit much lately, one tile too much.)

Reminds me of the time one reader asked me a tad bluntly, “Akram, aren’t you educated or something?

Look, if you’re still with me—check in the pic above the reviving epsom salts I had on hand just for this sort of eventuality—I was planning on taking you behind the scenes on how this blog post got written.

Plus how one reader called me a sprezzatura. And I was like, “sprezza-what?” And how, upon putting two and two together and learning that an Italian word this sprezzatura critter is, I had reached out to a brilliant friend who’s originally from Italy. Plus how I began running into this word more and more—finding it nearly everywhere I turned—for example in John McPhee’s bracing book entitled Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process.

Oh, did you ask me, yo, and a tad rhetorically, too, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Goodness, after all the trouble we’ve seen already and had skirmishes with on top of everything—already forgot that nightmarish creature lurking in the depths of the ocean, the one that was swimming at a fast clip, stealthily closing in on yours truly, not to mention Ms. Owl the sniveler alighting on the rooftop of my writing shack?—why in the world would I be afraid of the demure and introverted writer that Virginia Woolf presumably was?

Okay, her name has wolf in it, I concede. But that, too, is spelled differently, plus…

Oh, did I hear you say, “Akram, get out of here already, will you?

I can, and will.

Till next time.


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