Processors, state changes, different kinds of memory… I know it’s far from a novel comparison, but the readings for this week made me think a lot about similarities between human cognition and computer processing. In 506 we’re learning the basics about how computers work. (And yes, in spite of using them daily for work and personal life, this is new information for me.) The concepts of extended cognition (Clarke), Symbolic Material Culture (Renfrew), and symbolic representation (Deacon), as well as Wong’s ancient evidence of a propensity for decoration, all point to a creative essence. Creative in the sense of building and looking for answers – not necessarily coming up with something no one has ever ever thought of before.
In Dr. Garcia’s Networks and Creativity class we’re talking about the distinction between an idea and a process of creation – R. Keith Sawyer’s Explaining Creativity (2012) describes the conflict between the Idealist theory, which posits that an idea is the creative process, and the Action theory, which posits that the creative process lies in the execution of the idea (Sawyer 87). Sawyer comes down squarely on the side of the Action theory, which I would associated with the concept of extended cognition. Both Action theory and extended cognition recognize the importance of ongoing interaction between the person with the idea and that person’s environment. The anecdote between Richard Feynman and Charles Weiner in “Supersizing the Mind” reminded me of this distinction. The paper Feynman used to write was integral to his creative process. Indeed, without that external storage, if you will, he would not have been able to accomplish what he did.
As its name suggests, Dr. Garcia’s course explores the role of networks in the creative process, attributing great importance to the context of a creative act. This may refer to a creator’s social context (people who helped, supported, critiqued, etc) but also to political factors and individual circumstances. In that class we’ve also discussed the idea that being creative has a lot to do with accessing and applying stored information quickly. Our external and symbolic storage systems make it possible for us to access and apply so much more information than if we were doing it all “in our heads” without these references.
Personally I’m fascinated by the idea of our daily communion with the outside world as input that we process, store, and sometimes output into action. I find myself using the term “processing” frequently to refer to needing time with new input before coming up with an answer. And of course, the mac’s rainbow pinwheel of death is the symbol this process conjures in my mind.