I've noticed something curious about creativity. (Like when doing the Babble challenges, or just when thinking in general.)
I have a bad idea. ("Send an object to the moon using a bird in a spacesuit") I don't write it down, instead trying to generate other ideas. Yet the bad idea keeps lingering on my mind. Eventually, I say "okay, fine, I will write you down!" and suddenly there's a sense of flow and relaxation, as if though new space has opened up for other ideas.
Ed Sheeran describes something similar:
If I was advising anyone to start songwriting, I’d just say: write anything that comes into your head. Anything. Just get stuff out there. I kinda treat songwriting as a dirty tap in an old house. When you run a dirty tap, it’s clogged up, bit of dirt in it, bits of mud. You run it, mud’s going to come out, a little bit of water, a bit more mud, and then suddenly it’s going to start flowing clean water.
You’ve got to unclog the pipes when you’re songwriting. So just start writing bad songs. Write songs for the sake of it. Write a song a day. Just sit down, pick a chord, write a song, get that song out of you, and the more and more you do it, the more and more you unclog the pipes.
I’d say, if you want to start songwriting, just start. Don’t worry too much about writing the best songs possible. If anyone wants to listen to growth, go on YouTube, type in “Ed Sheeran Addicted” and you’ll hear a song that I did when I was 12. And the singing is dreadful, the songwriting is dreadful, the guitar playing is dreadful, and now I’m here talking to you as a professional musician.
When I did the "100 ways to light a candle" Babble challenge yesterday, something similar happened. I had the lingering idea of "I could ask someone else to do light the candle", but also thought "That's a boring answer". Yet it kept lingering. Finally, I wrote down "There's a general class of strategies around getting the help of other people". And suddenly that unblocked a whole range of similar ideas -- some of which I really liked, like:
"Destroy a bunch of other light sources in the world, thereby strongly increasing the incentive for others to light this candle"
"Go around the neighbourhood, finding a bunch of lit candles, place them next to you in a beautiful pattern EXCEPT that in a symmetry-breaking place is your candle. Wait until someone fixes it."
It was as if though the initial thought was a bunch of junk clogging the pipe. But by reifying the idea that this was an entire class of strategies, and writing the boring answer down, I suddenly opened up for the water to flow freely through the rest of the pipe.
What on earth is going on here? Why would minds work like this? What does it tell us about the structure of human cognition?
Also, I'm really excited about LessWrong's new prediction feature, so let's make some use of it: