February 12, 2006March 3, 2006Meeting Report

February 19, 2006

Dr. Laurens Gunnarsen

What is Creativity, Anyway?

Dr. Laurens GunnarsenLaurens Gunnarsen is a physicist and the son of HAGSA members Walter and Margo Gunnarsen. He had spoken at previously meetings about his work with exceptionally gifted children. This talk was about creativity, what it is, how to nurture it and how to measure it. Part of the problem with creativity is that it is difficult to accurately define and measure. Dr. Gunnarsen alluded to Justice Potter Stewart's famous line about pornography, "I can't define it but I know it when I see it," but creativity is more complex than that. Often true creativity is not recognized until decades after it has occurred.

Dr. Gunnarsen was critical of the idea that creativity is simply the result of hard work, as some have suggested. A lot of natural talent is also required. How does one identify and nurture the talented people? He cited Soviet research from the 1950s to identify mathematically gifted children. He quoted Timothy Gowers who defined a prodigy as someone who can do something at a young age that others can do only after long study or not at all. However, for solving problems, genius is often neither necessary nor sufficient. Some first rate mathematicians were not good at arithmetic in grade school!

Dr. Gunnarsen went into the subject of intelligence and creativity testing. He cited a longitudinal study by Terman of those who did well on intelligence tests. They generally did well in their careers but two future Nobel Prize winners just missed the cut for his study. There were no Nobel Laureates in his study group. He missed some of the most creative people! Intelligence testing was first applied in a big way in America in the First World War. It was used to sort out draftees for various military jobs in that war and in subsequent wars. After the war the tests were used extensively in education. Creativity tests were devised for pilots in the Second World War. Since then the creativity tests have been criticized for giving essentially the same results as intelligence tests and for not being correlated with later creative achievement. Laurens suggested that the Welch test, which is essentially an aesthetics test, might be a good indicator of future creativity. Gowers claims that the more creative people preferred ambiguous drawings while less creative people preferred regular, straightforward drawings. However, even today we do not have good standardized tests for creativity for most of the arts and sciences.

The question period brought references to John Donne's opinion that genius and madness are closely related. We also considered as likely the idea that many creative people were able to winnow the "possible" solutions for a problem to a number small enough that their unconscious minds could handle without being overwhelmed.

Report prepared by Wayne Luney, Recorder


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