Monday, 19 July 2010

A question of definition

Some questions have been going around my head recently, in the context of what creativity is. These questions have been along this theme: Are the defining characteristics of creativity actually just multiple recastings of the same thing?

  • Can a discovery be useful but not interesting
  • Similarly, can a discovery be interesting but not useful?
This was inspired by Colton et al 2000, which looked at how 'interestingness' was evaluated by mathematical discovery systems. Here are some more developed thoughts: 
[Q. Can a discovery be useful without being interesting? I think NO in this domain because if some previously undiscovered concept or conjecture is useful then it has interest because it can be used. 
Q. How about in other domains? Depends on what interestingness means in those domains. 
Q. How domain-specific is interestingness-and how generalised can it be?
In pure maths something is interesting if it helps you progress, therefore interestingness and utility are tied together this way. 
Q. In other domains, can discoveries be useful without being interesting? yes e.g. if they are a means to an end and if it is not your primary concern - I guess this applies to maths too - most maths conjectures are not interesting to me - unless I can see them being useful to me or in solving a notorious problem.
Q. Can things can be interesting without being useful e.g. Doug Zongker's "Chicken" paper is interesting but not useful except as amusement (so does it have some value here in its humour - which is of course its main purpose? Hmmm I can't think of things which are interesting but not useful in some sort of way...)]

Continuing on this line of thought:
  • Is there any difference between things that are surprising and things that are novel [and can I just use novelty to explain both?]
[Surprisingness is linked into novelty - if something is seen before it is less surprising. But there is more to surprisingness than this  - e.g. the result of a process may be surprising not because it is unseen but because it is derived in a different way - so... in a novel way...?]

Colton, S. and Bundy, A. and Walsh, T. (2000) On the notion of interestingness in automated mathematical discovery. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies (53) pp.351-375
Zongker, D. (2006) Chicken Chicken Chicken: Chicken Chicken. Annals of Improbable Research (12) pp.16-21

1 comment:

  1. some comments on the first question pair, from where I have posted these questions on facebook:

    - yes. QED.

    - yes to both. done.

    - Hmm... if something is useful but not interesting, is it uninteresting because it's not much of a discovery? If something is interesting but not immediately useful, does its interestingness make it more likely that folk will find a useful for it eventually?? I'm not helping, am I? ;-)

    - I would suggest that any discovery can be viewed as useful, not useful, interesting and not interesting depending on your standpoint. Most people wouldn't see the usefulness or interest in small discoveries in specialised fields, even if these could have large wider implications. What a micro biologist might find interesting, a computer scientist may dismiss as irrelevant. It is all a matter of perspective.

    - Useful implies useful for something. Interesting is interesting to a particular person who has their own idiosyncratic interests. Hence reading random articles on Guardian Unlimited is interesting for me, but not useful for my job. The ipad is novel, but not really surprising.