Sparks of Genius: The Thirteen Thinking Tools of the World's Most Creative People

Sparks of Genius: The Thirteen Thinking Tools of the World's Most Creative People


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Creativity isn't born, it's cultivated—this innovative guide distills the work of extraordinary artists and thinkers to show you how.


All the imagination needs to be fruitful is exercise. Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein identify the thinking tools employed by history's greatest creative minds—from Albert Einstein and Jane Goodall to Amadeus Mozart and Virginia Woolf—so that anyone with the right mix of inspiration and drive can set their own genius in motion. With engaging narratives and ample illustrations, Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein investigate cognitive tools as diverse as observing, imaging, recognizing patterns, modeling, playing, and more to provide "a clever, detailed and demanding fitness program for the creative mind" (Kirkus Reviews).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780618127450
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 08/09/2001
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 422,850
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.05(d)

About the Author

ROBERT and MICHÈLE ROOT-BERNSTEIN have been studying and consulting on creativity for more than a decade. Robert, a professor of physiology at Michigan State University and the winner of a MacArthur Fellowship, has also written Discovering: Inventing and Solving Problems at the Frontiers of Scientific Knowledge. Michèle, an award-winning historian, has written about and taught history and creative writing. Together the Root-Bernsteins are the authors of Honey, Mud, Maggots, and Other Medical Marvels.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
Rethinking Thinking
Everyone thinks. But not everyone thinks equally
well. For real intellectual feasts we depend on
master chefs who have learned to mix and blend and
savor an entire range of mental ingredients. It's not
that what they do in the kitchen is any different
from what we do, they just do it better. We like to
suppose master chefs were born that way, yet even the
most promising individuals spend years in training.
It follows that we, too, can learn the tools of the
trade and thereby improve our own mental cooking.
This process, however, requires us to rethink what
gourmet intellection is all about. And rethinking
shifts our educational focus from what to think to
how to think in the most productive ways possible.
Our tour of mental cookery begins in the
kitchen of the mind, where ideas are marinated,
stewed, braised, beaten, baked, and whipped into
shape. Just as real chefs surprise us by throwing in
a pinch of this and a handful of something else, the
kitchens of the creative imagination are full of
unexpected practices. Great ideas arise in the
strangest ways and are blended from the oddest
ingredients. What goes into the recipes often bears
no resemblance to the finished dish. Sometimes the
master mental chef can't even explain how she knows
that her dish will be tasty. She just has a gut
feeling that this imagined mixture of ingredients
will yield a delicious surprise.
Gut feelings don't make obvious sense.
Consider, for example, the experience of young
Barbara McClintock, who would later earn a Nobel
Prize in genetics. One day in 1930 she stood with a
group of scientists in the cornfields around Cornell
University, pondering the results of a genetics
experiment. The researchers had expected that half of
the corn would produce sterile pollen, but less than
a third of it actually had. The difference was
significant, and McClintock was so disturbed that she
left the cornfield and climbed the hill to her
laboratory, where she could sit alone and think.
Half an hour later, she "jumped up and ran
down to the field. At the top of the field (everyone
else was down at the bottom) I shouted, 'Eureka, I
have it! I have the answer! I know what this 30
percent sterility is.' " Her colleagues naturally
said, "Prove it." Then she found she had no idea how
to explain her insight. Many decades later,
McClintock said, "When you suddenly see the problem,
something happens that you have the answer - before
you are able to put it into words. It is all done
subconsciously. This has happened many times to me,
and I know when to take it seriously. I'm so
absolutely sure. I don't talk about it, I don't have
to tell anybody about it, I'm just sure this is it."
This feeling of knowing without being able to
say how one knows is common. The French philosopher
and mathematician Blaise Pascal is famous for his
aphorism "The heart has its reasons that reason
cannot know." The great nineteenth-century
mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss admitted that
intuition often led him to ideas he could not
immediately prove. "I have had my results for a long
time; but I do not yet know how I am to arrive at
them." Claude Bernard, the founder of modern
physiology, wrote that everything purposeful in
scientific thinking began with feeling. "Feeling
alone," he wrote, "guides the mind." Painter Pablo
Picasso confessed to a friend, "I don't know in
advance what I am going to put on canvas any more
than I decide beforehand what colors I am going to
use. . . . Each time I undertake to paint a picture I
have a sensation of leaping into space. I never know
whether I shall fall on my feet. It is only later
that I begin to estimate more exactly the effect of
my work." Composer Igor Stravinsky
also found that imaginative activity began with some
inexplicable appetite, some "intuitive grasp of an
unknown entity already possessed but not yet
intelligible." The Latin American novelist Isabel
Allende has described a similarly vague sense
propelling her work: "Somehow inside me - I can say
this after having written five books - I know that I
know where I am going. I know that I know the end of
the book even though I don't know it. It's so
difficult to explain."
Knowing in such ambiguous, inarticulate ways
raises an important question. McClintock put it this
way: "It had all been done fast. The answer came, and
I'd run. Now I worked it out step by step - it was an
intricate series of steps - and I came out with what
it was. . . . It worked out exactly as I'd diagrammed
it. Now, why did I know, without having done a thing
on paper? Why was I so sure that I could tell them
with such excitement and just say, 'Eureka, I solved
it'?" McClintock's query strikes at the heart of
understanding creative thinking, as do the
experiences of Picasso and Gauss, of composers and
physiologists. Where do sudden illuminations or
insights come from? How can we know things that we
cannot yet say, draw, or write? How do gut feelings
and intuitions function in imaginative thinking? How
do we translate from feeling to word, emotion to
number? Lastly, can we understand this creative
imagination and, understanding it, can we exercise,
train, and educate it?
Philosophers and psychologists have pondered
these and related questions for hundreds of years.
Neurobiologists have sought the answers in the
structures of the brain and the connections between
nerve synapses. Full answers still elude us. But one
source of insight into creative thinking has been
greatly undervalued and underused: the reports of
eminent thinkers, creators, and inventors themselves.
Their introspective reports cannot answer all our
questions about thinking, but they certainly provide
important and surprising new avenues to explore.
Above all, they tell us that conventional notions of
thinking are at best incomplete, for they leave out
nonlogical forms of thinking that can't be verbalized.
Take the testimony of physicist Albert
Einstein, for instance. Most people would expect
Einstein to have described himself as solving his
physics problems using mathematical formulas,
numbers, complex theories, and logic. In fact, a
recent book by Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner,
Creating Minds, portrays Einstein as the epitome of
the "logico-mathematical mind." His peers, however,
knew that Einstein was relatively weak in
mathematics, often needing to collaborate with
mathematicians to push his work forward. In fact,
Einstein wrote to one correspondent, "Do not worry
about your difficulties in mathematics. I can assure
you that mine are still greater."
Einstein's mental strengths were quite
different, as he revealed to his colleague Jacques
Hadamard. "The words of the language, as they are
written or spoken, do not seem to play any role in my
mechanism of thought. The psychical entities which
seem to serve as elements in thought are certain
signs and more or less clear images which can
be 'voluntarily' reproduced and combined. . . . The
above mentioned elements are, in my case, of visual
and some of muscular type." In a kind of thought
experiment that could not be articulated, he
pretended to be a photon moving at the speed of
light, imagining what he saw and how he felt. Then he
became a second photon and tried to imagine what he
could experience of the first one. As Einstein
explained to Max Wertheimer, a psychologist, he only
vaguely understood where his visual and muscular
thinking would take him. His "feeling of direction,"
he said, was "very hard to express."
McClintock, for her part, talked about
developing a "feeling for the organism" quite like
Einstein's feeling for a beam of light. She got to
know every one of her corn plants so intimately that
when she studied their chromosomes, she could truly
identify with them: "I found that the more I worked
with them the bigger and bigger [they] got, and when
I was really working with them I wasn't outside, I
was down there. I was part of the system. I even was
able to see the internal parts of the chromosomes -
actually everything was there. It surprised me
because I actually felt as if I were right down there
and these were my friends. . . . As you look at these
things, they become part of you. And you forget
yourself. The main thing about it is you forget
yourself." A similar emotional involvement played a
critical role in the prelogical scientific thinking
of Claude Bernard, who wrote, "Just as in other human
activities, feeling releases an act by putting forth
the idea which gives a motive to action." For Wolfgang
Pauli, a mathematical physicist, emotional response
functioned in the place of ideas that had not yet
been articulated. Within the "unconscious region of
the human soul," he wrote, "the place of clear
concepts is taken by images of powerful emotional
content, which are not thought, but are seen
pictorially, as it were, before the mind's eye."
Some scientists insist that thinking in
feelings and mental images can be rationally
manipulated. Einstein suggested "a certain
connection" between "the psychical entities which
seem to serve as elements in thought" and "relevant
logical concepts." Mathematician Stanislaw Ulam made
the argument even more strongly. He experienced
abstract mathematical notions in visual terms, so the
idea of "'an infinity of spheres or an infinity of
sets'" became "a picture with such almost real
objects, getting smaller, vanishing on some horizon."
Such thinking is "not in terms of words or syllogisms
or signs" but in terms of some "visual algorithm"
having a "sort of meta- or super-logic with its own
rules." For William Lipscomb, a Nobel laureate in
chemistry and, not incidentally, a fine musician,
this kind of thinking is a synthetic and aesthetic
experience. In his research into the chemistry of
boron he found himself thinking not only inductively
and deductively but also intuitively. "I felt a
focusing of intellect and em
otions which was surely an aesthetic response," he
wrote. "It was followed by a flood of predictions
coming from my mind as if I were a bystander watching
it happen. Only later was I able to begin to
formulate a systematic theory of structure, bonding
and reactions for these unusual molecules. . . . Was
it science? Our later tests showed it was. But the
processes that I used and the responses that I felt
were more like those of an artist." Gut feelings,
emotions, and imaginative images do make sense in
science, but, like the meaning of a dance or a
musical theme, that sense is felt rather than defined.
"Intuition or mathematics?" asks inventor and
science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. "Do we use
models to help us find the truth? Or do we know the
truth first, and then develop the mathematics to
explain it?" There is no doubt about the answer: gut
feelings and intuitions, an "essential feature in
productive thought," as Einstein put it, occur well
before their meaning can be expressed in words or
numbers. In his own work, mathematics and formal
logic were secondary steps: "Conventional words or
other signs [presumably mathematical ones] have to be
sought for laboriously only in a secondary stage,
when the associative play already referred to is
sufficiently established and can be reproduced at
will." To Wertheimer he explained, "No really
productive man thinks in such a paper fashion. The
way the two triple sets of axioms are contrasted in
[Einstein's physics book with collaborator Leopold
Infeld] is not at all the way things happened in the
process of actual thinking. This was merely a later
of the subject matter, just a question of how the
thing could best be written . . . but in this process
they [the ideas] did not grow out of any manipulation
of axioms." As he told Infeld, "No scientist thinks
in formulae."
Scientists may not think in mathematical
terms, but the need to express intuitive insight in a
form comprehensible to others compels them, in
McClintock's words, to "work with so-called
scientific methods to put it into their frame after
you know." Other scientists confirm the two-part
process of intuitive, imaginative understanding
followed, necessarily, by logical expression.
Metallurgist Cyril Stanley Smith of the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology (MIT) has said, "The stage of
discovery was entirely sensual and mathematics was
only necessary to be able to communicate with other
people." Werner Heisenberg, who formulated the
uncertainty principle, wrote that "mathematics . . .
played only a subordinate, secondary role" in the
revolution in physics he helped to
create. "Mathematics is the form in which we express
our understanding of nature; but it is not the
content of that understanding." Nobel Prize-winning
physicist Richard Feynman, who also saw and felt
things intuitively, noted, "In certain problems that
I have done, it was necessary to continue the
development of the picture as the method, before the
mathematics could really be done."
So much for the myth that scientists think
more logically than others. To think creatively is
first to feel. The desire to understand must be
whipped together with sensual and emotional feelings
and blended with intellect to yield imaginative
insight. Indeed, the intimate connections between
thinking, emotions, and feelings are the subject of a
startling book called Descartes' Error (1994), which
revisits the famous philosopher's separation of mind
(and thinking) from body (and being or feeling) more
than three hundred years ago. The author, neurologist
Antonio Damasio, finds that neurological patients
whose emotional affect is grossly altered due to
strokes, accidents, or tumors lose the ability to
make rational plans. Because they are unable to
become emotionally involved in their decisions, they
fail to make good ones. Our feelings - our
intuitions - are not impediments to rational
thinking, they form its origin and bases. For
Damasio, body and mind, emotion and intellect are
inseparable. We agree. Not on
ly do scientists feel their way toward logical ideas,
but creative thinking and expression in every
discipline are born of intuition and emotion.
For many people this may come as something of
a surprise. Cognitive scientists such as Herb Simon
and Noam Chomsky define thinking only as the logical
procedures of induction and deduction or the rules of
linguistics. Even Howard Gardner, who promotes the
notion of more diverse ways of thinking in Creating
Minds and Frames of Mind, argues that the thinking of
creative people is best categorized by the one mode
in which they express themselves. For Gardner and his
colleagues, scientists such as Einstein, McClintock,
and Feynman are logico-mathematical thinkers; poets
and writers are characterized as highly verbal
thinkers; dancers as kinesthetic thinkers; artists as
mainly visual thinkers; psychologists as
intrapersonal thinkers; and politicians as
interpersonal thinkers. All of these
characterizations seem to make sense, just as it
seems to make sense that a baker will use yeast to
make bread. But soda breads and flat breads are made
without yeast, and yeast can be used to make many
other foods, including be
er and Grape-Nuts cereal. No single ingredient
determines the outcome of a recipe, either in cooking
or thinking. Characterizing individuals by a single
element in their mental processes is as misleading as
describing Einstein as - primarily - a logico-
mathematical thinker.
Artists, for example, draw only partially
upon visual stimuli. Emotions, kinesthetic feelings,
philosophy, life itself, are other sources of
artistic ideas. Painter Susan Rothenberg describes
her process of painting as "really visceral. . . .
I'm very aware of my body in space - shoulders,
frontal positions. I have a body language that is
difficult to explain. A lot of my work is about body
orientation, both in the making of the work and in
the sensing of space, comparing it to my own physical
orientation." Sculptor Anne Truitt also feels her art
in her body. In describing her apprenticeship, she
It was not my eyes or my mind that learned. It was my
body. I fell in love with the process of art, and
I've never fallen out of it. I even loved the
discomforts. At first my arms ached and trembled for
an hour or so after carving stone; I remember sitting
on the bus on the way home and feeling them shake
uncontrollably. My blouse size increased by one as my
shoulders broadened with muscle. My whole center of
gravity changed. I learned to move from a center of
strength and balance just below my navel. From this
place, I could lift stones and I could touch the
surface of clay as lightly as a butterfly's wing.
Similarly, painter Bridget Riley describes her
paintings as "intimate dialogue[s] between my total
being and the visual agents which constitute the
medium. . . . I have always tried to realize visual
and emotional energies simultaneously from the
medium. My paintings are, of course, concerned with
generating visual sensations, but certainly not to
the exclusion of emotion. One of my aims is that
these two responses shall be experienced as one and
the same."
Picasso, Gardner's prototype of the "visual
thinker," clearly would have concurred. He believed
that all sensation, all forms of knowing, are
interconnected: "All the arts are the same: you can
write a picture in words just as you can paint
sensations in a poem. 'Blue' - what does 'blue' mean?
There are thousands of sensations that we
call 'blue.' You can speak of the blue of a packet of
Gauloises and in that case you can talk of the
Gauloise blue of eyes, or on the contrary, just as
they do in a Paris restaurant, you can talk of a
steak being blue when you mean red." Those who look
at pictures and do not feel these (or other)
associations miss the point. The mixture of feelings
and sensations is what gives rise to the painting in
the first place.
Because most artistic ideas begin
nonvisually, artists also experience the process of
translation that Einstein, McClintock, and others
have described. Josef Albers may have expressed this
process most succinctly when he wrote that art
is "the discrepancy between physical fact and psychic
effect . . . [a] visual formulation of our reaction
to life." Sculptor Louise Bourgeois says, "I
contemplate . . . for a long time. Then I try to
express what I have to say, how I am going to
translate what I have to say to it. I try to
translate my problem into stone." Max Bill describes
the object of art in similarly sweeping terms,
as "the expression of the human spirit. . . .
Abstract ideas which previously existed only in the
mind are made visible in a concrete form." Paintings
and drawings are "the instruments of this realization
[by means of] color, space, light, movement." Georgia
O'Keeffe wrote, "I long ago came to the conclusion
that even if I could put down accurately the thing I
saw and enjoyed, it would not give the observer the
kind of feeling it gave me. I had to create an
equivalent for what I felt about what I was looking
at - not copy it." Thus the images of art are no more
a direct reflection of the feelings, concepts, and
sensations from which they arose than are a
scientist's formulas direct expressions of his
thoughts. All public languages are forms of
Even those who express themselves in words
find that they rarely think in words or generate
their ideas in words. The poet e. e. cummings, for
one, challenged the assumption that poets are
essentially wordsmiths manipulating the rules of
grammar, syntax, and semantics. "The artist," he
wrote, "is not a man who describes but a man who
FEELS." Gary Snyder, also a poet, has expanded on
that theme, saying that to write he must "revisualize
it all. . . . I'll replay the whole experience again
in my mind. I'll forget all about what's on the page
and get in contact with the preverbal level behind
it, and then by an effort of reexperiencing, recall,
visualization, revisualization, I'll live through the
whole thing again and try to see it more clearly."
Stephen Spender provided an almost identical
description of his own creative process:
The poet, above all else, is a person who never
forgets certain sense-impressions, which he has
experienced and which he can re-live again and again
as though with all their original freshness. . . . It
therefore is not surprising that although I have no
memory for telephone numbers, addresses, faces and
where I may have put this morning's correspondence, I
have a perfect memory for the sensation of certain
experiences which are crystallized for me around
certain associations. I could demonstrate this from
my own life by the overwhelming nature of
associations which, suddenly aroused, have carried me
back so completely into the past, particularly into
my childhood, that I have lost all sense of the
present time and place.
The crafting of imaginary worlds, in both
cummings's and Spender's cases, took more than a
mastery of language; it took an ability to relive
sense impressions almost at will. Other writers have
said much the same. Robert Frost called his poetry a
process of "carrying out some intention more felt
than thought. . . . I've often been quoted: 'No tears
in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in
the writer, no surprise for the reader.'" The
American novelist and short-story writer Dorothy
Canfield Fisher also needed to experience what she
wrote in order to write well. "I have," she
said, "intense visualizations of scenes. . . .
Personally, although I never used as material any
events in my own intimate life, I can write nothing
if I cannot achieve these very definite, very
complete visualizations of the scenes; which means
that I can write nothing at all about places, people
or phases of life which I do not intimately know,
down to the last detail." Isabel Allende, too, plans
her books "in a very organ
ic way. Books don't happen in my mind, they happen
somewhere in my belly. . . . I don't know what I'm
going to write about because it has not yet made the
trip from the belly to the mind. It is somewhere
hidden in a very somber and secret place where I
don't have any access yet. It is something that I've
been feeling but which has no shape, no name, no
tone, no voice."
At first the impulse, the vision, the
feeling, is unspoken. But in the end it must come to
words. Once the poet or writer has relived inspiring
or troubling images and feelings, the problem is the
same one shared by scientists and artists: how to
translate these internal feelings into an external
language other people can experience. Fisher
described her "presumption" in trying "to translate
into words . . . sacred living human feeling." T. S.
Eliot, Howard Gardner's exemplar of a "verbal
thinker," almost quoted O'Keeffe: "With a poem you
can say, 'I got my feeling into words for myself. I
now have the equivalent in words for that much of
what I have felt.'" Gary Snyder has stated, "The
first step is the rhythmic measure, the second step
is a set of preverbal visual images which move to the
rhythmic measure, and the third step is embodying it
in words." William Goyen, a novelist, poet, and
composer, characterized his writing process as "the
business of taking it from the flesh state into the
spiritual, the l
etter, the Word."
Science-fiction writer Ursula LeGuin points
out the irony in this translation process for writers
of fiction: "The artist deals with what cannot be
said in words. The artist whose medium is fiction
does this in words," which, she goes on to
explain, "can be used thus paradoxically because they
have, along with a semiotic usage, a symbolic or
metaphoric usage." Words are, in other words, both
literal and figurative signs of interior feelings,
but not their essence. They are, as Heisenberg said
of mathematics, expressions of understanding, not its
embodiment. So Stephen Spender defines
the "terrifying challenge of poetry" as the attempt
to express in words that which may not be verbally
expressed but may be verbally suggested: "Can I think
out the logic of images? How easy it is to explain
here the poem that I would have liked to write! How
difficult it would be to write it. For writing it
would imply living my way through the imaged
experience of all those ideas, which here are mere
abstractions, and such an
effort of imaginative experience requires a lifetime
of patience and watching."
"Can I think out the logic of the images?"
Relive "the imaged experience"? Create in words an
effort of the imagination? The speaker could as
easily be Einstein or McClintock as Spender. If this
logic of images, of muscular movement, of feeling, is
anything, it is not the mathematical logic or the
formal linguistic logic that we study in school.
Formal logic is used to prove the validity of
preexisting propositions. This new "logic" - perhaps
Ulam's term, "metalogic," is more appropriate - can
prove nothing; rather, it generates novel ideas and
conceptions, with no assurance of their validity or
utility. This kind of thinking, as yet unstudied and
unaccounted for by modern theories of mind, is
nonverbal, nonmathematical, and nonsymbolic inasmuch
as it does not belong to a formal language of
communication. Nevertheless, our challenge here is to
describe and understand this metalogic of feelings,
images, and emotions. If Ulam is right, the result
might be as revolutionary and as fundamental as the
rules of sym
bolic logic codified by Aristotle thousands of years
ago. Such a metalogic might, indeed, explain the
creative origins and character of the articulated
ideas to which Aristotle's logic can be applied.
At present, the closest concept we have to
such a metalogic is the vague one of intuition.
Einstein said, "Only intuition, resting on
sympathetic understanding, can lead to
[insight]; . . . the daily effort comes from no
deliberate intention or program, but straight from
the heart." His colleague Henri Poincaré, perhaps the
greatest mathematician of the late nineteenth
century, wrote in Science and Method, "It is by logic
that we prove, but by intuition that we
discover. . . . Logic teaches us that on such and
such a road we are sure of not meeting an obstacle;
it does not tell us which is the road that leads to
the desired end. For this it is necessary to see the
end from afar, and the faculty that teaches us to see
is intuition. Without it, the geometrician would be
like a writer well up in grammar but destitute of
ideas." Physicist Max Planck put it even more simply:
the "scientist needs an artistically creative
imagination." Indeed, scientist and artist are kin,
for their insights begin in the same realm
of feeling and intuition and emerge into
consciousness through the same creative process.
And that is the point. It is too easy to look
at the diverse things people produce and to describe
their differences. Obviously a poem is not a
mathematical formula, and a novel is not an
experiment in genetics. Composers clearly use a
different language from that of visual artists, and
chemists combine very different things than do
playwrights. But neither is all scientific thinking
monolithic (physics is not biology) or all art the
same (a sculpture is not a collage or a photograph).
To characterize people by the different things they
make is to miss the universality of how they create.
For at the level of the creative process, scientists,
artists, mathematicians, composers, writers, and
sculptors use a common set of what we call "tools for
thinking," including emotional feelings, visual
images, bodily sensations, reproducible patterns, and
analogies. And all imaginative thinkers learn to
translate ideas generated by these subjective
thinking tools into public languages to express their
insights, which can
then give rise to new ideas in others' minds.
A good many scientists and artists have
noticed the universality of creativity. At the
Sixteenth Nobel Conference, held in 1980, scientists,
musicians, and philosophers all agreed, to quote
Freeman Dyson, that "the analogies between science
and art are very good as long as you are talking
about the creation and the performance. The creation
is certainly very analogous. The aesthetic pleasure
of the craftsmanship of performance is also very
strong in science." A few years later, at another
multidisciplinary conference, physicist Murray Gell-
Mann found that "everybody agrees on [where ideas
come from]. We had a seminar here [the Aspen Physics
Center in Colorado], about ten years ago, including
several painters, a poet, a couple of writers, and
the physicists. Everybody agrees on how it works. All
of these people, whether they are doing artistic work
or scientific work, are trying to solve a problem."
As one musician put it, the "absolute
similarities" between the thinking processes of
scientist and artist are true not only individually
but on a social level, too. What the scientist
perceives as common problem solving, the artist
understands as shared inspiration - but the "answer"
springs from the same creative act. As Nobel Prize-
winning immunologist and writer Charles Nicolle put
it, "[t]he disclosure of a new fact, the leap
forward, the conquest over yesterday's ignorance, is
an act not of reason but of imagination, of
intuition. It is an act closely related to that of
the artist and of the poet; a dream that becomes
reality; a dream which seems to create." French
physician Armand Trousseau agreed: "All science
touches on art; all art has its scientific side. The
worst scientist is he who is not an artist; the worst
artist is he who is no scientist." Similarly, the
constructivist sculptor Naum Gabo once wrote
that "every great scientist has experienced a moment
when the artist in him saved the scientist. 'We are
poets,' said Pythagoras, and in the sense that a
mathematician is a creator he was right." Stravinsky
believed this too. "The way composers think - the way
I think," he wrote, "is . . . not very different from
mathematical thinking." No matter how expressed, the
perspectives of Gell-Mann and Gabo, Stravinsky and
Nicolle converge on the same point, aptly made by
Arthur Koestler in his seminal book The Act of
Creation: "Newton's apple and Cezanne's apple are
discoveries more closely related than they seem."
Both require reperceiving and reimagining the world
from basic perceptual feelings and sensations.
While the universality of the creative
process has been noticed, it has not been noticed
universally. Not enough people recognize the
preverbal, premathematical elements of the creative
process. Not enough recognize the cross-disciplinary
nature of intuitive tools for thinking. Such a myopic
view of cognition is shared not only by philosophers
and psychologists but, in consequence, by educators,
too. Just look at how the curriculum, at every
educational level from kindergarten to graduate
school, is divided into disciplines defined by
products rather than processes. From the outset,
students are given separate classes in literature, in
mathematics, in science, in history, in music, in
art, as if each of these disciplines were distinct
and exclusive. Despite the current lip service paid
to "integrating the curriculum," truly
interdisciplinary courses are rare, and
transdisciplinary curricula that span the breadth of
human knowledge are almost unknown. Moreover, at the
level of creative process, where it really counts,
the intuitive tools for thinking that tie one
discipline to another are entirely ignored.
Mathematicians are supposed to think only "in
mathematics," writers only "in words," musicians
only "in notes," and so forth. Our schools and
universities insist on cooking with only half the
necessary ingredients. By half-understanding the
nature of thinking, teachers only half-understand how
to teach, and students only half-understand how to
This kind of half-baked education harms us
more than we know. In our own experiences in school
(and we both completed graduate school) no one ever
even hinted that one could think about problems in
any way but verbally or mathematically. It never
occurred to us, and no one suggested that it might be
possible, to formulate a math or physics problem as a
set of images and feelings stewed in our minds or to
plot a book or a poem as a series of images and
emotions brewed in our bellies. No one ever mentioned
that the stage of inventing an idea or solving a
problem might be distinct from the stage of
translating it into a disciplinary language. No one
ever suggested, as this book will do, that the way we
learned one subject or came to one insight might be
the key to learning how to have insights in other
If, however, the creative thinkers quoted in
this chapter have accurately portrayed the manner in
which they work - and we will argue that they have -
it is obvious that education based solely on separate
disciplines and public languages leaves out huge
chunks of the creative process. Teachers work to hone
students' mathematical and syntactical logic, but
they ignore the metalogics of feelings and intuition.
We are taught and tested with words and numbers, and
it is assumed that we think in words and numbers. No
schooling could be more misconceived. As William
Lipscomb has said of current scientific
education, "If one actually set out to give as little
help as possible to both aesthetics and originality
in science, one could hardly devise a better plan
than our educational system. . . . One rarely hears
about what we do not understand in science, and least
of all how to prepare for creative ideas." The same
can be said for training in the arts, humanities, and
technologies. We master the languages of translation
but neglect our mother tongue. Feasts are set before
us that we do not taste. We honor chefs and refuse to
emulate them.
Nothing could be more important, therefore,
than recognizing and describing the
intuitive "dialects" of creative thinking. As
important as words and numbers are to the
communication of insight, that insight is born of
emotions and images of many sorts conjured within the
imagination. Feeling as thinking must, therefore,
become part of the educational curriculum. Students
must learn how to pay attention to what they feel in
their bones, to develop and use it. This is not pie
in the sky. Various professions, including medicine,
are beginning to recognize intuition as a necessary
part of disciplinary thinking. Geri Berg, an art
historian and social worker, formerly at Johns
Hopkins University, believes that "emotional
awareness, like observation and critical enquiry
skills, is an important part of providing good health
care." Dr. John Burnside, chief of internal medicine
at the Hershey Medical Center in Pennsylvania, has
argued this even more forcefully. "One of our
educational failures," he writes, "is a lack
of serious recognition and attention towards the 'gut
feeling' or inclination of common sense. Perhaps
because this inclination is non-numerical it is
glossed over as the 'art of medicine,' implying
instinct, passion, or the primeval. But I believe it
can be defined and should be taught."
Whether we are attempting to understand
ourselves, other people, or some aspect of nature, or
simply provide excellent medical care, it is
imperative that we learn to use the feelings,
emotions, and intuitions that are the bases of the
creative imagination. That is the whole point of
gourmet thinking and education.

Copyright (c) 2000 by Robert and Michèle Root-
Bernstein. Reprinted by permission of Houghton
Mifflin Company.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Preface xi

1. Rethinking Thinking 1
2. Schooling the Imagination 14
3. Observing 30
4. Imaging 50
5. Abstracting 70
6. Recognizing Patterns 92
7. Forming Patterns 115
8. Analogizing 136
9. Body Thinking 160
10. Empathizing 182
11. Dimensional Thinking 202
12. Modeling 226
13. Playing 246
14. Transforming 269
15. Synthesizing 296
16. Synthesizing Education 316
Notes 331
Biography 246
Minds-on Resources 365
Illustration Credits 374
Index 378

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Sparks of Genius: The Thirteen Thinking Tools of the World's Most Creative People 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Even though this book is rather 'meaty' and not an easy read, it really opened up my eyes as to what I was doing right and wrong when it came to my thought processes and where I was headed scholastically-mentally. A must read for everyone who is interested in opening up all of their intellectual horizons.
dijits More than 1 year ago
Far more global way to think about the areas of intelligence, and the varied gifts each person holds.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago