Gary Marcus: Defining Creativity

Interview

Friday, November 23, 2012

Kurt Andersen talks with Gary Marcus about what science knows, and doesn’t know, about creativity. Marcus is the director of New York University’s Center for Language and Music, and the author of Guitar Zero, a book about how the brain learns.

Marcus is skeptical of tests that measure creativity, like the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking. “They correlate somewhat with actual achievement. It’s like measuring someone’s height and saying, ‘Are they going to be a good basketball player?’ On average, taller people are better basketball players. But it’s an average, and it’s a pretty indirect measure.”

The key problem for all scientific approaches to creativity, Marcus thinks, is that creativity isn’t one thing; there is no box in the brain. Instead, he sees an interplay of personality traits and particular aptitudes that develop over time. “I think I’m creative as a scientist and as a writer. I’m not creative as an artist or as a musician,” he says, although Marcus writes music. Being good at songwriting, or any other field, involves too many separate skills and abilities for science to locate what is happening. But components of the skill might be definable. “Being good at rhymes,” he suggests. “That might be a fine enough ability that science could [one day] nail it down, and say ‘this is how the brain gets good at rhyme.’”

Marcus emphasizes that mastering conventions of a field (and when to break them) is a key component of art making. But “part of creativity,” he says, “is just the guts to break the rules.” He wants creative scientists working in his own lab, of course. “The thing I care about the most is: are they troubleshooters, problem solvers? In the real world of science, nothing ever goes as planned, and you want people who sit there and try to fix it.” This is true in aspects of art making as well, he points out. “You try out a chord structure and it doesn’t work. Either you sit there and look at it, or you say ‘How can I make this better?’”

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Guests:

Gary Marcus

Produced by:

David Krasnow

Comments [2]

Marcus is right to be skeptical of creativity tests, as we should be of any tests, however, his comments indicate that he doesn't know much about the Torrance Tests. His metaphor of the correlation between height and basketball playing as compared to the predictive validity of the TTCT is very oversimplified, and inaccurate. A better comparison would be a measure of athletic ability in childhood predicting sports ability in adulthood. The ability is there, but the motivation, interest, opportunity, and disruptive life events are not accounted for.

Feb. 12 2013 10:08 AM
eugene cantera from www.dlpmusicprogram.com

I imagine it's hard for science to quantify creativity - it's hard enough for critics!

Nov. 26 2012 04:23 PM

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