Getting lost in the land of ideas
I’ve mentioned I’m building a creative oracle. So what is that? What does it do?
I've heard people describe spaced-repetition tools like Anki as programmable attention. That's a wonderful framing for a design space. What kinds of attention are there? In what ways might we program it?
Spaced-repetition is designed to program convergence — specifically memorization. A creative oracle is a tool designed to program divergence.
In machine learning terms, to converge is to make a decision, or to arrive at a solution to an objective.
Our creative tools should help us converge efficiently, right? Well, there’s a dilemma here. Converging too early gets you stuck in local maxima — e.g. stuck at the top of a dull foothill in the landscape of ideas.
When you feel like you don’t have any good ideas, it is because you’ve gotten stuck in a local maxima. You might be frustrated that your foothill is boring, and yet every other direction around you looks even worse.
A change of perspective is worth 80 IQ points.
- Alan Kay
But here’s the thing — there might be a mountain of an idea right across from you, but you can’t see it. You’ll never find it unless you leave your hill and descend into the dark valley. In machine learning, this is called deception. To go up, you paradoxically must go down. To find something interesting, you paradoxically must let go of objectives.
When you’re dealing with deception, by definition the objective is a false compass.
- Kenneth Stanley, Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned
Having an objective is fine for hill-climbing, but terrible for hill-finding because deception is everywhere. The shape of reality is a constantly changing, rugged landscape, full of unevenly distributed surprises.
How do we navigate this rugged landscape without getting stuck in local maxima? By fending off convergence, and embracing creative divergence.
Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.
- Erich Fromm
The job of a creative oracle is to help you get lost in the landscape of ideas. Wander enough, and you might just stumble upon a new mountain.
I'm building a new tool for thought. I have a general sense of the direction I’m traveling, but I will be as surprised as you are at what I discover along the way. I'm posting these little emails as trail markers, every week or so. I share updates, ideas, design patterns, and snippets of books and papers.