Guest post: Creativity and the Scientific Mind by Graham Storrs

I met Graham when I publicly denigrated the opening line of one of his novels.  Thankfully he’s a forgiving chap and hasn’t held it against me – must be the Yorkie heritage.  Since then I’ve found great delight in reading his short stories.  Graham writes what is known as hard science fiction; all technical and precise and really delightful futuristic stuff.  I knew I had to have a post from Graham during the workshop about being both a scientist and a writer, so I’m very pleased to have him along today to share his insights with you.

Creativity and the Scientific Mind

CC via Iguana Joe

When I was a small boy (imagine a skinny little thing with intense gaze and short trousers) I used to design spaceships. One I remember had a special hull alloy – a mixture of aluminium, to make it light, and lead, to protect the occupants from radiation.

It wasn’t until I was very much older, looking back, that I suddenly realised how ridiculous this mixture was. Since then, I have often wondered how it was that, even as a child, I could have made such a mistake. I think the answer is that I was thinking magically, not like an engineer or scientist.

To the scientific thinker, the addition of aluminium to lead does not make it light, it just makes it lighter. To the magical thinker, the properties of materials may be bestowed upon whatever possesses them. Either way, I wasn’t being particularly creative, I’m afraid. Why weren’t my hulls made of chitin (to pick on a random substance that hulls could be made of but aren’t)? Or, for that matter, why have ships with hulls at all (to try challenging the premises)? Continue reading

Balls on a trampoline, alligator wrestling and forgetting your keys: Marcus Chown has the answers.

A while ago I offered readers the chance to ask tricky questions of cosmologist and author Marcus Chown.  The questions were exactly what I would expect of my astute and intelligent readership.  Read on to find out what Marcus has to say in response.

Graham said:
OK. Marcus, we hear from scientists so often that “you’d have to know maths to be really able to understand the theory”. Frankly, this always seems a bit feeble. Maths is just a way of expressing reasoning. I suspect what it actually means is that many scientists are not actually able to explain the concepts they deal with but are content to leave this mystery at the heart of what they do and ‘merely’ manipulate the ideas mathematically, almost mechanically. Do you feel there is any truth in this?

Continue reading