Einstein: Theory of Creativity

Posted in: Creativity | (Français) le12 November 2012

Einstein won the 1921 Nobel Prize in physics for his work on the Theory of Relativity. He is considered by many to be a creative genius. When asked about his creative thinking process, he would say, “combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought.”

What he really meant by “combinatory play?” According to psychologist Richard D. Smith from Missouri Western State University, Einstein’s combinatory play would be the act of combining, or relating unrelated items to solve problems, create new ideas, and even rework ideas.

Einstein was trying to say that his creative thought process was about relating unrelated items and connecting things that have nothing in common to create new ideas. There is a term for this way of thinking, it’s called analogical thinking.

Einstein himself made extensive use of analogies in his quotes and scientific reflections. For example, to highlight the difference between wire telegraph and radio transmission, he would use a cat as analogy:

“You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat.”

He was able to stretch his imagination to compare things that had really nothing in common at all.

When asked if his theoretical formula E = mc2 could have any practical application in creating something like a bomb. He said: it would be practically impossible, “like shooting birds in the dark in a country where there are very few birds.”

He would warn about the danger of technology in the hands of the enemy by referring to an axe:

“Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal.”

These examples show how his mind was always thinking analogically, which probably led to his amazing insights. To apply Einstein’s combinatory play into our creative thought process, we have to start by thinking analogically.

Maybe we should not only give him credit for the Theory of Relativity, but the unexplained ‘Theory of Creativity’ as well.

Add a comment

  • Rosario says:

    Great post, really enjoyed it!
    — Rosario

  • Mr Me says:

    Yes, great post.