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. 

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