A meditation on creative thought

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I believe the brain plays a game – some parts providing the stimuli, the others the reactions, and so on…One is only consciously aware of something in the brain which acts as a summariser or totaliser of the process going on and that probably consists of many parts acting simultaneously on each other. Clearly only the one-dimensional chain of syllogisms which constitutes thinking can be communicated verbally or written down…If, on the other hand, I want to do something new or original, then it is no longer a question of syllogism chains. When I was a boy I felt that the role of rhyme in poetry was to compel one to find the unobvious because of the necessity of finding a word which rhymes. This forces novel associations and almost guarantees deviations from routine chains or trains of thought. It becomes paradoxically a sort of automatic mechanism of originality…And what we call talent or perhaps genius itself depends to a large extent on the ability to use one’s memory properly to find the analogies…[which] are essential to the development of new ideas.

Stanislaw M. Ulam, Adventures of a Mathematician, 1976, in Scientific American, October, 1994, 83