Open and Sustainable Innovation Systems (OASIS) Lab working notes

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Title: Darwin on man: A psychological study of scientific creativity



Presents an historical and biographical study of the development of Darwin's thought and a general discussion of the creative process from the standpoint of developmental psychology. The history of the suppression of scientific thought, Darwin's theories on religion, and the problem of philosophic materialism are also examined. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)

Publication: no_info


Describes the long evolution of Darwin's theory of evolution and how it relates to his reconceptualization of humanity's place in the natural order

example-of:: synthesis

Idea of Z: How can we best bridge private vs. public knowledge? is described very well here, and one of the central tensions of explaining the development of Darwin's idea of man

See, e.g., ch. 1


> : “a new scientific theory differs from a simple “reading” or description of the observed or observable facts” (p. vii)

> “the construction of a new theory is far from being reducible to the accumulation of data, but necessitates an extremely complex structuring of interpretive ideas which are linked to the facts and which enrich them by framing them in a context


Idea of natural selection was not new to Darwin('s world): it was what it *meant* that was new - not as a conservative, but generative force (to create the diversity of species we see today)

> "...the idea of natural selection would, on the surface of things, seem to be Darwin's special characteristic. Yet, it is well known that this idea was almost a commonplace before Darwin began his work. Darwin's special discovery was to see how the idea of natural selection could be transformed from a conservative to an evolutionary force." (p. 7)

Darwin may have had a number of "incorrect" "transitional" ideas

Note: Gruber suggests this to help explain why it took Darwin so long to publish his ideas: not just that he was afraid to publish, but it really took that long to develop his ideas.

If Gruber means transitional in the sense of "ideas that turned out to be "incorrect" when the final theory was formed, but were nonetheless important ideas in the development of the theory", then possible shades of @sosaAccretionTheoryIdeation2019 here, and also what we've been thinking about in terms of the often non-obvious and downstream value of analogy and conceptual combination: not always leading to a directly valuable idea, but opening up a space (e.g., @chanImportanceIterationCreative2015)

> "The movement of ideas is far slower than the swift but transitory currents of the continuous stream of thought which serves as the ''carrier wave'' of creative work" (p., 10)

Observation: hints of Darwin's theory of man were visible in his notes far earlier than the public expression of the theory

How many years were between the first expression of Charles Darwin’s ideas about man and their final development in Descent of Man? [[interval:262.5]] [[factor:2.90]] July 4th, 2021

Quite well-developed ideas in notebooks between 1837-1838; Descent of Man was published in 1871, about 34 years later!

Q: Why did it take so long to publish?

Competing answers (probably a bit of both)

V unfavorable climate

Claim Darwin's theory wasn't ready much earlier than 1971, even though the sketches and broad outlines were in place from as early as 1837

Evidence: key nuances and evidence missing in his thought by 1859; important developments between 1861-1871, as seen in the notebooks.

Very important implications for V: Open and Sustainable Innovation Systems and Z: Prevailing incentives in science are bad for science: Darwin was essentially working on this full-time. Still took that long! Could he have gone faster? Gruber isn't so sure (see preface, and especially Chapter 6 on the rate of cognitive change)

Observation: Darwin's notes seemed essential to his process: he was extremely thoughtful about it (p.21-22)

Seems like we can see incremental formalization at work there: lots of intermingling, not much indexing a priori, lots of it after the fact

Key > "Keeping notes, then was not simply a matter of recording observations. It was the expression of a broad philosophical point of view, and an opportunity for deepening thought and strengthening command of one's personal knowledge" (p. 22)

Chapter 5: The Construction of a New Point of View

> "The ability to look at a situation from more than one point of view and form a coherent impression synthesizing the results of these different perspectives is not something to be taken for granted. Only rudiments of it can be found in other animals, as in a chimpanzee standing off from a situation and deciding upon a wholly new and indirect path to some desired goal. The high development of this ability is an outstanding characteristic of the human animal. We help ourselves with all sorts of tools --- models, books, conversations --- all of which free the individual from the prison of his own immediate here and now by bringing to life the perspectives of other times, places, people."

Referenced in

Z: Context and privacy are in tension when sharing knowledge with others

Consider, for example, how Darwin's notebooks mixed in intensely personal musings and fears with incremental insights that were crucial for developing his theory of evolution @gruberDarwinManPsychological1974.

January 31st, 2021

A fundamental uncertainty is whether the relatively formalized nature of idea: discourse graphs can be integrated with the open-ended, seemingly unstructured, backtrack-ridden, speculative and "half-baked" nature of thinking that underlies real synthesis (see @gruberDarwinManPsychological1974 for vivid descriptions of this). Some past work on whether/how formality can be integrated into systems for supporting thinking suggests there is a real danger that imposing such formalisms may yield more harm (e.g., by cutting off speculative lines of inquiry, imposing too much overhead) than benefits in settings characterized by context-dependent, evolving requirements for formal structure, such as creative knowledge work in uncharted domains (see @shipmanFormalityConsideredHarmful1999 for an excellent introduction to this). A related danger is that the kinds of knowledge that is necessary for