Our brains can’t think creatively if we don’t put together and share things

Some people think that collective creations of the past were highly creative and show a limit on our ability to innovate. But not so fast. During most of history people created by putting ideas together, a process we called “synthesis.” Even philosophers think that invention is connected to synthesis. In a 2008 speech, Stephen Jay Gould, an evolutionary biologist, spoke to the question of why human beings can invent. “The answer is clear. Human beings are shaped by our genes. Like most organisms, we prefer a good, resistant seed in our head to a random sugar scoop on the floor. We also like to know that a chromosome has the capacity to generate human beings. Only if it has the capacity do we allow the seed to sprout.” He went on to question our recent “throwaway society” and ask: “Where does all that go when it’s thrown away?”


Consider DNA, which scientists are just now figuring out how to read. And consider the three floors of anything that’s built without it. Many things are made with tools and random bits of good, resistant material. But still many are built. The Sims game, for example, requires the player to find furniture parts through searching and requires the player to look for orders of magnitude more than she has access to. It’s the prototyping. The players have to write into a messageboard that turns into a database, which eventually creates the game.

Without a culture of collecting, we would have less of everything, much less creativity.

Design and creativity, in short, in the world of microarchitecture is partly about collecting. You build something with a great deal of repetition of parts. You collect these parts and store them with the parts instead of trying to find different ones. With all our technology, we are already free of all kinds of waste. We’re throwing away all our trash, just like animals do. Computers and other digital technology are made to cut through and scatter waste.


Science, in summary, is mostly about recycling.

There’s a reason to call it “assemblage.” Made in the bone and then saved, this is the way the world is always made. Our own success and waste is the same: we make and we’re creative. (That is, genetically.) In “The WTF Report,” now on Amazon, comedian Sam Harris, a molecular neuroscientist, extols the wonders of learning to remix. He writes, “The more normal things in your life that emphasize ‘knowing what works,’ the more important it is to discover that applying one innovation or a another allows you to invent something new.” The Internet of Things does the same thing by continuously demonstrating new innovations to new users all around the world. We can even replicate a how-to share on the web with social media, so that when we put together an idea we’re putting together the ingredients, the idea, the designer and the audience. Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, calls this whole process of information exchange, collaboration, and recombination, “cybernetic.” Without a culture of collecting, we would have less of everything, much less creativity. And without creativity, that’s a pretty flat world.

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