Thursday, May 31, 2012

Creative Problem Solving by Analogy

I am currently reading Jonah Lehrer's excellent and insightfull book "Imagine - How Creativity Works". - Lehrer's NPR Talk on the Creative Process

I came a cross an interesting discussion on creative problem solving by analogy - Lehrer refers to the famous tumour puzzle. He had also mentioned about the earlier work on the tumour puzzle by psychologists Mary Gick and Keith Holyoak. I could find their original paper here:

Suppose you are a doctor faced  w i th a  p a t i e nt who has a  m a l i g n a nt
tumor in his stomach. It is impossible to operate on  the  p a t i e n t,  b ut
unless the  t umor is destroyed  the pa t i ent will die. There is a  k i nd of
ray  that can be used to destroy  the  tumor. If the rays reach the  t umor
a ll at once at a  suf f i c i ent ly high  i n t e n s i t y, the  tumor will be destroyed.
U n f o r t u n a t e l y, at this  intensity  the healthy tissue that the  rays pass
through on the way to  the tumor wi ll also be destroyed. At lower
int ens i t i es the rays are harmless to healthy  tissue,  but  they will not
affect the tumor either. What type of procedure might be used to
destroy the  tumor with  the rays,  and at  the same  time avoid destroying
the healthy tissue?

A General wishes to capture a fortress located in  the center of a  country.
There are  many roads  r a d i a t i ng outward from  the fortress. All have been
mined so  that while small groups of men can pass over the roads safely, any
large force will detonate the mines. A full-scale direct  a t t a ck is  therefore

The General 's  solution is to divide his army  into small groups,
send each group to the head of a different  road, and have  the groups
converge simultaneously on the fortress. The analogous solution to  the
radiation problem is to simultaneously direct mu l t i p le  low- int ens i ty rays
toward  the  tumor  f rom different directions. In this way the  h e a l t hy tissue
will be  l e ft  u n h a rme d, but  the  e f f e c ts of the  m u l t i p le  l o w - i n t e n s i ty rays will
summate and destroy  the  tumor.

At an  intuitive level the pa r a l l e ls between  t he Attack-Dispersion story
and the radiation  p r o b l em are clear. Both  situations involve an object  that
must be overcome, surrounded by objects  t h at mu st be preserved. The
t a r g et object in each case occupies a topographically  c e n t r al position in its
environment. In each  situation  the protagonist has  available a weapon with
an effect proportional to the  int ens i ty or  a m o u nt of  the weapon  t h at is
used, and so on.

I also came across a reference to a related book on this theme

The Nature of Insight
Robert J. Sternberg and Janet E. Davidson

The Nature of Insight brings together diverse perspectives, including recent theories and discoveries, to examine the nature and origins of insightful thinking, as well as the history of theory and research on the topic and the methods used to study it. There are chapters by the leading experts in this field, including Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ronald Finke, Howard Gruber, Marcel Just, David Meyer, David Perkins, Dean Simonton, and Robert Weisberg, among others.

The Nature of Insight is divided into five main parts. Following an introduction that reviews the history and methods of the field, part II looks at how people solve challenging puzzles whose answers cannot be obtained through ordinary means. Part III focuses on how people come up with ideas for new inventions, while part IV explores the thinking of some of the most insightful people in the history of civilization. Part V considers metaphors such as evolution and investment as bases for understanding insight. An epilogue integrates all these approaches.

I also came across a dissertation that looked into reverse analogical problem solving as an incubation effect:

In this dissertation, the ‘reverse’ analogical problem solving direction (with ‘source’ being 
displayed to the subject  after  having worked on the ‘target’)  is important since it shows how 
analogical problem solving may be one kind of incubation effect. Incubation effects refer to the 
possibility that setting a problem aside temporarily may help creative problem solving performance . Historically it has been related to the idea that unconscious mental processes are working on solutions to creative problems while the problem solver is not consciously thinking of the problem. 

 However, in modern uses of the term, incubation effects primarily refer to the fact that sometimes leaving a problem aside for a while may improve performance, compared to working on the problem continuously. This modern use opens up for a multitude of potential explanations of incubation effects, including benefits from hints or cues received during time away from active problem solving. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Video to improve Reproducibility - by jove, did you know that ?

We often say a picture is worth a thousand words. Then a Video must be worth a ten thousand words. If this is true, then what took us this long to figure out that scientific journals should publsih videos instead of text. 

Here it is - an online journal that publishes videos of experiments.
The Idea: Journal of Visualized Experiments—JoVE 

an online journal where video is the main medium rather than a supplement. Each JoVE article consists of a short video segment that visually documents the required steps for performing an experiment. The video is supplemented by several paragraphs of peer-reviewed text. JoVE has developed a following in the life sciences, where being able to reproduce the results of an experiment in a timely fashion is a critical component to becoming a successful researcher. - 1765 video articles published, 50 articles per month ! - spans across Neuroscience, Bioengineering, Applied Physics, Immunology, Medicene etc - amazing collection

Origin of the Idea:
The idea for JoVE originated when Pritsker was a Princeton graduate student in molecular biology and needed to replicate a procedure to culture embryonic stem cells. He tried following the text-based description in a peer-reviewed paper, but was unsuccessful despite repeated attempts. "It's a big source of frustration and waste of money and time, because instead of doing your science, you spend your time trying to reproduce something which was done already."

The alternatives at the time were scant: get someone else to show you, or keep trying on your own and hope for a breakthrough. In Pritsker's case, his lab at Princeton paid for him to take a two-week trip to the lab where the original work was performed, in Edinburgh, Scotland—an option many labs don't have, he says. "How many laboratories in the world went through the same trouble, but they could not travel, they did not have this opportunity to go there?"

The point of publishing an experimental procedure in a peer-reviewed journal, says Pritsker, is so that other scientists can re-create it for their own purposes. But the conventional way of transferring what Pritsker calls the "how-to" components of experiments is so inefficient that the experiments are often irreproducible. - Improving reproducibility of scientific article - Visual demonstration is a better way to teach a new technique than just reading the text alone. Scientists mostly learn
Now Think about this: 

Where else does it make sense to replace text by video - sports columns of magazines & newspapers, medical instructions, cooking recipe, equipment operation manual, child care books, all experimental science books.
Also think if it makes sense to replace video by text in certain situations !
If Braille can make text accessible to visually impaired people, what technology can make videos accessible to them  ?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

7 Rules to spot a great innovation - WIRED

How to figure out which kinds of innovation are most worth paying attention - Wired has come up with ways to "size up ideas and separate the truly world-changing from the merely interesting."
 Thomas Goetz lists seven rules for what to look for in great innovations: Look for cross-pollinators; surf the exponentials; favor the liberators; give points for audacity; bank on openness; demand deep design; and spend time with time wasters.
Click here to read the Wired article