Creative Experiments

15 September 2002

Well, I feel appropriately fêted now. There were last minute illnesses and people who had to decline or cancel, but I managed to celebrate having written The World Builders with Mark, David, Amber, and Wendy and Daniel, and that was enough people (and enough people who don't know each other) to make it feel like an event, without being enough to cause restaurant seating problems. The people who said they'd be there in spirit couldn't seem to agree on what message to give me in my coffee grounds...there was something about a tall dark stranger taking a journey across the water, but I'm not sure why I'd care about that....

We had coffee at Au Coquelet, and then David went home; noodles at Long Life, and then Wendy and Daniel went home; and gelato at Mondo Gelato, and then Amber went to her home and Mark and I went to ours. Oh. Mondo Gelato. Oh my. Wendy and Daniel had been earlier in the day and recommended it highly enough that other restaurant patrons may have stared...Daniel, be it known, is very fond of chocolate. As am I. As is Amber. And when Daniel is fond of something, he's not shy about making that clear. (Happily for Wendy.) So. We sallied forth, and I got half a scoop of orange chocolate and half a scoop of dark chocolate, and my oh my, was that good. Mark got kiwi. Amber got lemon cream. Yum. I said to Mark, "If I write another book, can I have gelato again?" Generally I am a fan of chunks in my ice cream. Chunky ice cream is a good thing. But gelato is a different experience, and can be quite, quite good with no chunks whatsoever.

I took no pictures whatsoever, although I brought the camera. I forgot.

On the train, I read Fault Lines the rest of the way through, and it wasn't very good. But I can see what Wilhelm learned from it, I think, and what she was able to move past after writing it, and that was somewhat valuable to me. I finished two books on Asian immigration when we got home, and determined that a third was of no use to me, so I'm ready to go to the library.

It now looks like I'll be going to the library tomorrow (my books are due tomorrow), because I've been doing other stuff around here all day. Talking to Timprov, talking to Mark, talking on the phone to my parents, playing cribbage. Stuff. We went to church this morning, and Pastor Ron reminded me of the dormouse in A. A. Milne's poem, because his sermon went on, and on, and on. Ah well. It's all okay now. I'm going to read some more of Karin Lowachee's Warchild, although it gets the dumbest Cranberries song in the world in my head. ("War-choild! Victim of political pride!" That song taught me another valuable lesson: you should never, ever ask your listeners, "Who's the loser now?" They will be tempted to answer, "You are! Loser!" Or maybe that's just me. But, you know, there's at least one person like me in the world.)

Yesterday Wendy was saying that a lot of the people she ran into in the lab would find out she writes and would say, "I could never do anything that creative!" And she would say to herself, "If you can't be creative, I don't know what you're doing in the sciences!" I, too, would be baffled. But I think science and art have the opposite mystiques here. I think the arts look a lot more subjective and inspiration-/intuition-based than they sometimes are, and the sciences look a lot less subjective and inspiration-/intuition-based than they sometimes are. And the difficulties of explaining what I mean here multiply every time I think of it. Mostly what I'm talking about in the sciences is not the analysis of numerical data, although that occasionally does feature amazing leaps. It's the design of experiments and the interpretation of the analyses of the experiments that require a trained intuition. And once an artist has figured out what the artistic goal or subject is -- what book to write, what sculpture to mold or hew -- the steps for doing it are clear.

But non-scientists who take science courses are handed pre-designed experiments that look pretty deeply obvious. Ooooh, look, it's a pendulum, let's time the period of its swing! What do we find out? Ooooh! It's very hard for any of us to look at that and see intuition at work. But people saw pendulums swing for centuries, millennia, before anybody worked out classical mechanics. The most elegant experiments seem obvious in retrospect, but there's almost always a trickier way to do something. Time, Love, Memory was really good in this, I think: it showed a scientist designing all sorts of experiments, over and over again, figuring out not what he knew -- that's the quantitative part -- but how to know more. There's no quantifying that, no formula to apply.

My dad and I have been having an ongoing e-mail conversation about engineering and creativity. He works with a lot of engineers, and he feels that the entire system is skewed to an anti-creative, anti-innovative attitude in engineers, which is counter-productive to the work they could be doing. But the image that engineering has in our culture seems to be as a default for anyone who has a mathematical proficiency, rather than as a profession for creative thinkers. The pure sciences don't have it quite so bad. But it could be a lot better.

On the flip side, technical proficiency and hard work tend to be quite underrated in the image of the artist.

Back to Warchild and the Not The Moose Book and whatever else I manage to get to. Late post. I'm sure you've managed to deal with your lives.

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