analogy as a domain-general, trainable creativity “sub-routine” of the mind?

…which is creativity more like, expertise or intelligence? Thinking about creativity the way we think about expertise is more accurate because both are highly domain specific. Just as someone may be an expert in more than one field, someone may be creative in more than one area, but neither creativity nor expertise generalize broadly across domains. This has been born out in numerous studies looking at the actual creative products produced by people in different domains. The creativity of the stories participants write is unrelated to the creativity of the collages, math puzzles, and other artifacts they create—average correlations are just a little higher than zero—and most of what little shared variance there may be is attributable to differences in general intelligence and access to educational opportunities.

Does this matter? Yes, because it influences both how we assess creativity and how we try to nurture it.

The above quote is from a Creativity Post article by John Baer on the domain specificity (fuller treatment in this research paper) of creativity sparked the following ruminations and generated an interesting and potentially worthwhile research project idea.

I think Baer’s analogy between creativity and expertise is in the “right-er” direction than that between creativity and (general) intelligence, but I think his notions of domain-generality are not sufficiently informed by cognitive theories of transfer and cognitive skill. Reading this and chewing on his cautions against the generality of “divergent thinking” makes me wonder if analogy is one of the “for creativity” sub-routines of the mind (which he specifically argues do not exist). Now might be a good time to explore the literature for the extent to which training in analogical thinking has been systematically attempted and studied, and the extent to which such training has effects beyond a domain.

One hypothesis that comes to mind is that no immediate effects will be observed between domains; rather, the training will produce a “preparation for future learning” effect which better prepares the trainee to take advantage of resources in the transfer domain to be creative via analogical thinking. For instance, if i train in analogical thinking in the domain of the psychology of problem solving, i am not necessarily going to be able to immediately leverage that skill to produce creative products in the domain of, say, musical composition. Nevertheless, having had practice and acquired the “set” of flexibly representing (and re-representing) items/objects/ideas within a domain so as to make novel connections and generate insights (which requires at least a degree of domain knowledge), I can attempt to compile that declarative strategy knowledge into productions that “work” within the new transfer domain. I might consciously bear this strategy in mind as I listen to various streams of music while attempting to compose a new piece or parts for a song, and (at first effortfully, but then gradually effortlessly) apply analogical comparison and mapping to these listening sessions, eventually enabling me to make useful and creative connections between different musical ideas that generate creative insights for my composition process. This process could potentially be modeled by the mechanism of production compilation in the ACT-R cognitive architecture. This seems like an interesting hypothesis that is worth testing and also testable.

Now to the drawing board!


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