HUMAN CREATIVITY….I’m currently reading a book about a mathematical problem called the Riemann Hypothesis and came across a paragraph so breathtakingly wrong that I just have to share it:
In the math department….the mathematicians are doing one of three things ? staring out of the window, writing furiously with a pencil, or scribbling with chalk on a blackboard. This is what they are paid to do, and they appear to be doing it very well. This is, I suppose, what also goes on in a literature or history department at any university. But there is one difference ? on the whole, historians, literary critics, and even writers are recycling material; adding their own spin, certainly, but essentially recycling facts, words, emotions, and descriptions that usually exist in some form already. Mathematicians, however, are innovators….
Mathematics is symbol manipulation. The basic symbols are numbers and variables and operators, which, although few in number, can be combined and manipulated to create stunning and unanticipated vistas of abstract thought.
Literature is also symbol manipulation. The basic symbols are words, and they too can be manipulated in wildly complex ways that produce stunning and often unanticipated vistas of human knowledge and emotion.
Manipulating the abstract symbols of mathematics is a different ? and generally less accessible ? kind of genius than the manipulation of words on a page, but can there really be any question that great writers and historians are creating new works every bit as much as great mathematicians?
It perplexes me that smart people so often say things like this. Geniuses like Shakespeare and Newton and Jefferson are just different faces on the vast, multi-sided dice of human achievement, not stairsteps in a heirarchy. Only a very small mind could think otherwise.