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Timing creativity

  1. Oct 13, 2009 #1
    Hi everyone!

    A recurrent point-of-emphasis I'm getting, in response to my eternal quest to "become a better physicist", is: "stay creative".

    That being said: I have alternating bouts of creativity and depression.

    For instance, as I write this, I have just come back from solving a problem (from the beginning) I'd been thinking about for awhile in the matter of about 10 minutes.

    On the other extreme: I looked at a Hamiltonian H = q[1]*p[2] - q[2]*p[1], said to myself "That looks like it curls", thought nothing of it, and just blandly chugged out a bunch of equations that were the result of turning a mathematical crank. In retrospect, I suspected a fit of depression.

    That brings me to my question: "how do you "be a good physicist" and "be successful in grad school" if you're depending on such a sporatic and irregular thing as creativity to kick in on time to meet the demands of deadlines?"
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 13, 2009 #2
    This problem is not specific to physics-- it applies to anything that requires creativity. The answer, I think, is to not be discouraged, and just continue working at the problem. There's no question that your brain hashes through things on its own, subconsciously, while you go about your day, and sometimes that is the correct approach. However, I've found that its equally necessary to continue to apply yourself to a problem to find new ways of looking at it. What you call just chugging out equations, turning a mechanical crank, I would compare to drawing a picture, filling out the detail, so you can get a better understanding. If the solution doesn't reveal itself, you just have to step back and find another angle to look at it from.

    There is no wasted work if it leads you to the right path.

    As for creativity on a deadline, think about William Faulkner's famous quote on the subject (in reference, of course, to finding inspiration for writing):

    "I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o'clock every morning." -William Faulkner
  4. Oct 14, 2009 #3
    There's a lot of "grunt work" in physics and the hard part is usually turning the creative idea into something useful. What I do is to keep a notebook. If I have a creative idea, I scribble it down, that way I don't have to work on it immediately. Also, I find that it's a bad thing if I get into a phase when I'm *too* creative. I have these moments when I'm thinking about a hundred ideas a second, and in those situations I really, really have to cool my brain down.

    I usually find that I have far more ideas than time, which is a good thing since I just focus on the one or two ideas that might be useful, and don't worry about anything else.

    People that are involved in physics and math tend to have sharper mood swings that the general population, and it's a struggle to manage those moods.
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