Creativity and innovation, cornerstones of scientific and artistic progress

It’s World Creativity and Innovation Day today. In fact, the whole preceding week, 15-21 April, is celebrated as World Creativity and Innovation Week. To quote the website, “World Creativity and Innovation Week, April 15-21, celebrates the unlimited potential of people to be open to and generate new ideas, be open to and make new decisions, and to be open to and take new actions that make the world a better place and make your place in the world better too.”

The importance of creativity and innovation can hardly be overestimated. Throughout the history of science and art, progress was sparked by the innovations of those individuals who nurtured and positively exploited their creativity.

Creativity and innovation - weighty subjects that impact on every aspect of our lives, from art to science, from mathematics to literature. (© All Rights Reserved)
Creativity and innovation – weighty subjects that impact on every aspect of our lives, from art to science, from mathematics to literature.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Of course loads have been said about the art of innovation, and many clever people have devoted their lives to the study of creativity. Yet these remain elusive subjects, with much disagreement as to what constitutes creativity, and how you can increase/improve your own creative abilities.

I’ve featured many inspirational individuals, who have been responsible for amazing creativity and innovation, on this blog in the past, and hope to feature more in future. Rather than attempting to turn this post into a meaningful, comprehensive overview on the science of creativity (which would be pretty much impossible anyway), let me rather simply applaud all those innovators who have dazzled the world with their creative contributions, however big or small – may the river of human innovation never run dry, and may every day be a creativity and innovation day.

Poet’s Day, mathematically speaking

Today is Poet’s Day, a day to celebrate the sensitive souls who, through the ages, shared their deepest thoughts through verse and rhyme. I have to admit to being more of a ‘prose person’ than a ‘poetry person’, but that by no means implies that I don’t have the greatest respect and admiration for a good poem – it’s simply not my very favourite literary form.

Of course there’s a close relation between poetry and mathematics – a subject that is close to my heart. It was Einstein who said: “Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas.”

Mathematics in general seem to play an important role in poetry. Not only is there mathematics in the structure and rhythm of poetry, but many poems have also been written that contain overt mathematical themes. In a 2010 article entitled Poetry Inspired by Mathematics, Sara Glaz from the University of Connecticut, discusses some examples of such poems. More examples can be found in an earlier article from 2006 by JoAnne Growney, Mathematics in Poetry. In the latter article, Growney elegantly states, “As mathematicians smile with delight at an elegant proof, others may be enchanted by the grace of a poem. An idea or an image expressed in just the right language–so that it could not be said better–is a treasure to which readers return.”

The wonderful Fibonacci number sequence not only pops out in nature, but now claims its place in the world of the poet as well.
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An interesting new poetic form which I’ve discovered while doing some background reading for today, is the so-called “Fibonacci poetry”, which is based on the Fibonacci number sequence. Fibonacci numbers are a sequence, starting with 0 and 1, where each subsequent number is the sum of the previous two, i.e. 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,…

Fibonacci numbers occur often in nature, as I’ve discussed in an earlier blog post.

In poetry, the number sequence can refer to the numbers of letters, syllables or words in successive lines of the poem. These poems, known as ‘Fibs’, are six lines long, typically starting with a single letter/syllable/word in the first line. They can, however, theoretically start with any number of letters/syllables/words in the Fibonacci sequence.

Even though this form, originally introduced by Gregory K in a blog post on the GottaBook blog, appears to still be more popular among mathematicians than among poets, it has managed to garner a mention in the New York Times Books section. Their example, based on syllables, neatly illustrate the concept:

Blogs 
spread 
gossip 
and rumor 
But how about a 
Rare, geeky form of poetry?

I like the idea, I really do – very cool indeed! So, without further ado, herewith my own humble Fib for the day:

Words
and
numbers
sequences
not just in nature
but warming the hearts of poets too.

(uhm, assuming ‘poets’ is a single syllable word, of course…)

Happy Poet’s Day, everyone!  And please do share some Fibs, if you’re that way inclined!

Hugo Gernsback, the father of Science Fiction

It’s time to put on your Spock-ears or fire up your light sabre (depending on whether you’re in a Star Trek or Star Wars mood, of course), dig out your favourite science fiction book or movie, and settle back for a day of serious sci-fi appreciation.  Today we celebrate the birth of Hugo Gernsback (16 Aug 1884 to 19 Aug 1967), the American inventor and publisher who is sometimes called the ‘Father of Science Fiction’ for the contribution he has made to the establishment of science fiction as an independent literary form.

Gernsback considered a perfect science fiction story to be “75 percent literature interwoven with 25 percent science”.
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Gernsback was a pioneer of the modern genre of science fiction. He founded the first sci-fi magazine, ‘Amazing Stories’, in 1926, and later, after losing ownership of this magazine through bankruptcy, founded two subsequent titles, ‘Science Wonder Stories’ and ‘Air Wonder Stories’. Gernsback also played a key role in starting the idea of science fiction fandom, by publishing the contact details of the people who wrote letters to his magazines – this allowed the fans to start contacting each other, and to organise themselves into an active social movement.

In honour of Gernsback’s contribution to the genre, the annual Science Fiction Achievement Awards are called the ‘Hugos’. He was also one of 1996’s inaugural inductees into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.

Keeping yourself in shape on Book Lover’s Day

A few days ago I wrote a bit of an ode to the paperback book. Today, however, we turn our focus from the book itself to those who lovingly cherish all things book-ish – it’s Book Lover’s Day.

The day is, confusingly, also celebrated in early November, but perhaps it’s not that strange – as any true book-lover will tell you, we’ll happily celebrate our love of books every day of the year!

A good book and some quiet time – what more can one ask for?
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Whether you love reading, collecting, or simply handling books, this day is for you. Maybe you’ve grudgingly given in to the pressure of the e-book wave, but you’ll know that nothing matches the pure joy of smelling a new, freshly opened book, discovering a well-worn copy of a special book in a second-hand book-dealer, or simply leaning back and enjoying a lazy day with a relaxing read in hand.

And how great is it to discover a wonderful new author you never knew before?

Considering some of the incredible books that have appeared so far this year, there’s certainly no reasons for complaint from the book-lovers among us. Except perhaps a lack of time, or budget, to get around to all the great reads out there.

If you thought reading is only good for the mind, here’s another titbit to further convince you of the advantages of ‘book loverism’: it turns out that readers may be less obese than non-readers! In an article by Fred C. Pampel in the Sociology of Health and Illness journal, entitled “Does reading keep you thin? Leisure activities, cultural tastes, and body weight in comparative perspective”, it is stated that “While sedentary leisure-time activities such as reading, going to movies, attending cultural events, going to sporting events, watching TV, listening to music, and socialising with friends would seem to contribute to excess weight, a perspective focusing on socioeconomic status (SES) differences in cultural tastes suggests the opposite, that some sedentary activities are associated with lower rather than higher body weight.” One of the findings in the article is that people who spend more time reading and generally participating in intellectual activities, and less time shopping and watching TV, have a lower body weight than their peers.

OK, maybe suggesting reading books will help keep you in shape is a bit of a stretch, but if it can help turn one more soul out there on to the joys of reading, why not?

So what books are you enjoying at the moment?

Celebrating Paperback Book Day – accessible, affordable magic

Today we celebrate one of my favourite things in the world – it’s Paperback Book Day.

I’m sure all readers of this blog will agree there’s something very special about opening and smelling a new paperback for the first time. At the same time, there’s real magic in finding a well-read, well-travelled paperback copy of a great book at a secondhand dealer – it’s nigh impossible not to buy it and take it home with you.

A stack of paperbacks to warm a chilly winter’s evening – pure bliss!
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On this day in 1935 the first Penguin paperback was published in Great Britain. Before Penguin paperbacks appeared, you essentially had only three reading options – expensive hardcover books, library books, or inferior quality (both in production and content) paperbacks.

Penquin paperbacks were the brainchild of Sir Allen Lane who, after visiting Agatha Christie, found himself at the train station facing a bookstall containing only magazines and low quality Victorian paperbacks. Deciding this was not acceptable, and that good, contemporary books should be more readily available and affordable, he started a new publishing company, which became Penguin books.

Early Penguin titles included works by Agatha Christie and Ernest Hemingway. The books were colour coded – orange for fiction, blue for biography and green for crime. They sold for the price of a pack of cigarettes (sixpence), and started a publishing revolution – a staggering 3 million paperbacks were sold in the first 12 months.

Despite the massive growth in digital publishing, e-books and e-readers, and a corresponding decline in hardcover sales, the paperback market still appears fairly healthy, with many active participating publishers, including Picador, Faber & Faber, Vintage, Dover, HarperCollins, and many more.  Only recently, EL James’ ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ broke all previous paperback sales records, amazingly passing the one million sales mark in only 11 weeks (the previous record, Dan Brown’s ‘Da Vinci Code’ took 35 weeks to reach the same sales).

Of course the appearance of quality paperbacks not only implied increased access to good fiction – academic titles also became more accessible, covering a wide range of fields from art to zoology, mathematics to medicine. The importance of paperback books in the worldwide distribution of knowledge and information can hardly be overstated.

Go on, grab a book and get lost in a world of imagination and knowledge – on paperback. As Bernard Shaw once said, ‘If a book is any good, the cheaper the better’.