Creativity is a prerequisite for progress in science

Creativity is fun intelligence.

This quote is often attributed to Albert Einstein, but it is difficult to find evidence that it was the origin of the statement or that he said it at all. Most agree, however, that creativity was an important prerequisite for Einstein’s great discoveries.

The ability to be creative is not limited to artists, performers, designers, and advertisers. The great advances in the natural sciences would not have been possible without a little creativity.

Just think of the aforementioned Einstein or, say, Isaac Newton. Or the Nobel laureates May Brett and Edward Moser and their groundbreaking experiments.

You cannot distinguish scientific creativity as a separate form of creativity, says author Hilda Ostby.

I wrote the book Creativity – the brain science behind ideas and why daydreaming should save the world. Research in this field does not have a clear and clear definition of what creativity is, but according to Ostby, the key lies in some form of “thinking differently”.

Creativity is about the ability to think outside the box and the ability to think unconventionally. It’s essential if you want to create a great piece of art or break down barriers in science, Ostby says.

An important part of creativity is being able to choose which direction you want to go, says physicist and woodcarver Tor Ole Odden.

You must know the subject

Of course it doesn’t help to be creative if you don’t know the topic. But it does not apply only to physics and medicine. The author must master the language, the sculptor must know the properties of the material, and an advertising campaign is unlikely to be particularly good without professional weight.

Creativity has to do with the fact that there are many possible ways to solve a problem, says researcher Tor Ole Odden from the Department of Physics at the University of Oslo, but scientific creativity has to happen within a certain framework.

He knows what he’s talking about. Odin was raised in a Norwegian-American family in Wisconsin, USA, and is himself a woodworker.

In our sculptures our frames. We work with wood, we have a tradition of working in it and we have to use some specific tools. He says that creativity occurs in this context.

Physics has different frameworks. It must conform to the laws of nature – such as the law of conservation of energy, which states that energy can never arise or disappear, but can only change from one form to another.

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In this context, the tools and methods of physics nevertheless provide a wide scope for creative work.

You need to know basic physics, but these tools and methods give us a framework in which we can work and get creative, says Odden.

He works at the Center for Computing in Science Education (CCSE) where they research and test the use of programming in education. Here they also see an opportunity to bring some creativity to subjects often perceived as cold and impersonal.

The brain is naturally creative.  Don't get bored if you're not always creative, says author Hilda Ostby.

The brain is naturally creative. Don’t get bored if you’re not always creative, says author Hilda Ostby.

Daydream blows

Hilde Ostby refers to Einstein’s first edition of the theory of relativity, the so-called special theory of relativity, as a very good example of how creativity works in science.

Einstein created a problem for himself that no one asked him to solve.

After ten years of thinking and reasoning, and all the while keeping this in mind, a solution suddenly appeared. Ostby believes that with the mind in mind, which is meant here in a figurative sense, of course, this is not accidental.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve exploded into research on what’s called daydreaming. It’s when you get into your own thoughts and look for the connections that pop up. Perhaps you plan what you eat, think about the past, and make plans and visions for the future, she says.

In this case, the memories are consolidated so that they remain in the memory, and you can process the relationship with yourself and others.

Ostby says that most big ideas originate in a daydream state.

Leading ideas will emerge when we can bear to think about our thoughts for a while, when we follow long lines of thought to the end point. Just like Einstein.

It will enable students to be creative

With his creative background in woodcarving, Odin Tor Ole often disappointed when he studied physics – when the tasks he was working on had only one correct answer and only two or three paths lead to them.

An important part of creativity, Odden says, is the ability to choose the direction you want to go and think about difficulties as they arise, rather than having to get past you.

Students are not expected to invent all of physics on their own within three or five years. It took hundreds of years to get to where we are today.

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– We think it’s a little smaller. How can we help students see physics as a creative topic? How can we help them apply the tools to the problems they find important?

There are many interesting things that the student can discover something new. It’s not a new law of nature, Auden says, but rather an interesting little new piece.

He believes that the most important thing is to give students ownership of their own learning.

creative coding

On some physics topics, Odden and his colleagues at CCSE have tested what they call math essay. Here the students will choose their own problem, they will code their computer program and, of course, they will have to relate the tools and methods of physics and they will make a report on what they have done.

In all joints it is possible to be more or less creative. Where and to what extent creativity comes, varies from person to person.

– He looks so smart. Research shows that doing things in new ways creates different ideas. This puts you on the wrong track, says Hilda Ostby.

On the other hand, when we focus on solving specific tasks, we simultaneously remove all external associations and thoughts. Strangely enough, no more educational institutions are aware of this.

We want students who have pioneering ideas for coconuts. Ostby says that constantly forcing them to deliberately look at ratings and scores that make them stressful will reduce their associative daydreaming.

Many students feel so stressed and so preoccupied with their grades that they overwhelm everything else. Ostby doesn’t think it’s a good starting point for creativity.

It is important to create safe spaces. What I do as a writer is to create such spaces where I can afford to make mistakes. Research into creativity also shows that the ability to make mistakes is very important.

Universities have everything to gain from cultivating good minds. Then they should put as little pressure on the students as possible and take good care of their good bosses, Ostby says.

Completely harmless using creative coding

Security is also another aspect of the university with access to advanced and expensive technology. It’s not just about getting students to use mass spectrometers and electron microscopes. And maybe you should think twice before chemistry students get creative in the lab.

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One of the reasons for that this is my accounty very beautiful, this is not dangerous. The worst that can happen is that the computer program you created crashes. You can make many attempts and look at many different problems without having to learn a new tool, says Tor Ole Odden.

Difficult but stimulating and interesting

At CCSE they also interview students who are trying to do this math essay.

– What we hear over and over is that they like it a lot when we give them the chance to be creative in this way. Odden says they find it challenging, but interesting and motivating for most students.

Not everyone, that’s true enough.

Some say that’s why they chose physics specifically not It is a creative topic and because it has pure answers that you can think of. They see it more as a puzzle that can be solved. It’s okay, but I think it’s a slightly wrong way of looking at the subject, says Odin.

Hilda Ostby believes that no one should worry if they are not feeling creative.

– People are very different. We have different memories, we have different immune systems, some daydreams more than others, and we have different abilities for creativity. Some like to challenge boundaries, while others like to constantly have boundaries.

Creativity is always everywhere. The brain is creative in nature. Don’t get bored if you don’t always feel creative, says Ostby.

I think the students will be better equipped

For students who want to become Einstein, Newton or Nikola Tesla, it is of course useful to stimulate their creativity as quickly as possible.

Students learn to use creativity because we want them to have an original attitude to the topic. Auden says physics and other natural sciences are creative subjects and don’t always come up if you have a traditional science education.

When you do research, there is not only one way to achieve a goal.

He hopes and believes that students who receive this type of education are better equipped, whether they complete their studies at university or choose a different direction.

– At least that’s the point. Especially the fact that they have to define their own problem. They get a way to attack it and learn to introduce it to others. It’s a more realistic situation than just writing answers to several mandatory tasks.

– Auden says you get a better understanding than if you learn in other ways.


Hilda Ostby: Creativity – The science of the brain behind ideas and why daydreams should save the world. Book at Cappelen Damm, 2020. (Abstract)

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