Anonymous's blog

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Measuring Creativity...

Recently a Harvard freshman 'Kaavya Vishwanathan' shot to fame for receiving a $500,000 contract for her two novels. However, her novels are now facing plagiarism controversy . Just last month a similar case against the 'Da Vinci Code' author 'Dan Brown' saw the final verdict, where Dan Brown was completely acquitted of any plagiarism charges.

Being a student in grad school in USA, I have always seen a lot of emphasis on 'no cheating', 'no copying' - it is considered to be plagiarism etc etc. and you will be punished. Of course cheating, copying etc. is not good and should not be done regardless of where you are but all these buzz words and now a lot of these plagiarism allegations against these authors has led me to think that - 'what exactly is plagiarism?', 'How do we know that something is plagiarised even when its not exactly verbatim?' - after all writing novels is all about creativity and imagination....

So how do you compare one creative piece of writing (or for that matter even drawing, music, dance etc.) against another and say its the same thing with two different forms of representation? or say that its not the same thing and one is better than the other? - or well, if you put it at a much more abstract level then the question is - how do you measure creativity?..

For example - Lets say a child draws a sketch - she draws a mountain, the sunrise with the sun just peeking through the mountains, a river, a man with a boat trying to cross the river, the soft sand on the shore etc. etc... Now how creative is this sketch? Now lets say she adds a few more elements to this sketch - birds flying across the crimson sky, the coconut trees on the shore etc... - Now is this sketch more or less creative than the previous one? Is there a definite set size of elements that have to be present in order for the sketch (or art form) to be considered creative? Now suppose another child draws a sketch with same/similar elements in different numbers and the sketch is shown drawn at a different angle, then is it less creative because it has same/similar elements? will it be called plagiarism? Does plagiarism depend on whether the second child saw or did not see the sketch of the first child? Does the person against whom the allegations are made; depend on the order in which these people published their art forms?

A lot of these questions intrigued me and here is an interesting article I found on the web on "Measuring Creativity". An excerpt from the Introduction -

The purpose of this paper is to discuss how one might devise a test for creativity, and how such a test might differ from related tests for knowledge, skills, general intelligence, verbal intelligence, quantitative intelligence, memory, common sense, personality, and motivation.

And herez an interesting analogy from the conclusion of the artcile -

Creativity may be a bit like pornography was to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart. He said roughly, "I cannot measure pornography, but I know it when I see it, and I think it ought to be decreased." We may not be able to measure creativity, but we sort of know it when we see it, and it ought to be increased.


  • You made me think when you asked how creativity can be measured...I think it is never possible to quantify it, but we can say that
    A is more creative than B based on observations as to how *differently* he does things...Stuart Nagel's article is good as far as trying to explain the context for creativity is concerned...

    By Anonymous varahasimhan, at 10:27 PM  

  • Yes the elements like knowledge, personality, motivation, common sense etc. that he mentions are actually the contextual elements that foster creativity... On another note, is there anything like good creativity and bad creativity.

    By Blogger anonymous, at 12:26 PM  

  • I think that anything that the society considers good or bad is based on what the people's (people who are part of that society) conditioned minds think as good or a case in point, polygamy can be a norm and considered *good* in a few societies, but as *immoral* in many other societies...

    Extending this thought, good creativity or bad creativity cannot be an objective truth...

    so perverted minds like the Nazi scientists who designed gas chambers may be considered manifestations of bad creativity...

    Now my question will be, is there going to be any use in such classifications for creativity...may be, if routine *tests* for creativity can be framed, then corporations can easily recruit creative people :-)

    After all, the path any innovation takes leads always towards commoditizations followed by mass will any innovation that can measure and categorize creativity...

    By Anonymous varahasimhan, at 11:10 PM  

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