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Creativity in Science: Chance, Logic, Genius, and Zeitgeist

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ISBN-13: 978-0521543699
ISBN-10: 052154369X
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Editorial Reviews


"This engaging and insightful book explores the four candidates that traditionally have been suggested to explain creativity in science. Recommended."
-R.M. Davis, Albion College, CHOICE

"Simonton is a very clear writer, and the empirical support he marshals is impressive. Although the book begins with an advisement of mathematical formulae to be used, Simonton does not bog the reader down with equations. Instead, he affirms the superiority of the change approach as an overarching explanation to scientific creativity with a thorough account of how the causal predictions based on the logic, genius, and zeitgeist perspectives ultimately contradict available data."
-Christopher H. Ramey, Department of Psychology, Florida Southern College, Philosophical Psychology

Book Description

Where do major scientific breakthroughs come from? Do they arise from the logic of the scientific method or do they result from flashes of genius? Are they the products of some mysterious zeitgeist or spirit of the times, or do they emerge from chance, from serendipity? This books provides an answer not by choosing one explanation and ignoring the others, but rather by unifying all four perspectives into a single theory in which chance plays the primary role, but with significant involvement of logic, genius and zeitgeist.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 234 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (May 3, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 052154369X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521543699
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #954,067 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By John Keezell on November 9, 2005
Format: Paperback
Simonton, Dean Keith. "Creativity in Science: Chance, Logic, Genius, and Zeitgeist." Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, UK: 2004.

This book is essentially an extended academic paper supporting this professor's argument for the causes of and correlations with creativity in science. The main idea of the book is that creativity in science is a function of chance, logic, genius, and zeitgeist. Simonton argues that the other 3 are included under the heading of chance. This is a very interesting idea because the conventional wisdom is that genius is the principal player in scientific creativity, and many would not be happy with suggestions otherwise.

The main theory proposed by Simonton is that creative genius is simply a product of random and possibly unrelated ideas being combined in an interesting way through the combinatorial process. Simonton then makes a series of assumptions. From his theory and the assumptions, he concludes the existence of the equal-odds rule, which has been supported by empirical data. The equal-odds rule says that the average publication of any particular scientist does not have any statistically different chance of having more of an impact than any other scientist's average publication. In other words, those scientists who create publications with the most impact, also create publications with the least impact, and when great publications that make a huge impact are created, it is just a result of "trying" enough times. This is an indication that chance plays a larger role in scientific creativity than previously theorized.

This book is filled with interesting quotes. One of my favorites is from a famous physicist named Bohr speaking about another theory. He says, "we are all agreed that your theory is crazy.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Irfan A. Alvi TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 31, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Simonton is a lucid thinker and lucid writer, so I found this book a delight to read, though it's a challenging delight because it reads much like a PhD thesis, with careful reasoning, abundant use of empirical data, and more quantitative analysis than one might have expected.

But that rigor is worth dealing with because many of Simonton's conclusions turn out to be counterintuitive. What is his central conclusion? In a sophisticated way, Simonton makes a strong case that chance (luck) is the dominant factor in scientific creativity and success, while also recognizing the supporting roles of genius (inborn ability), zeitgeist (culture), and logic (basic knowledge of one's scientific domain and its rules of inference).

Yet Simonton also notes that "chance" isn't strictly random and out of our control, since the odds of coming up with important results can be increased by factors such as hard work (eg, increasing number of papers published), exposure to diverse and numerous influences, and fostering an iconoclastic attitude (willingness to think "outside the box," in opposition to prevailing paradigms).

To place this book in a more "popular" context, please see my December 30, 2008 review of Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcom Gladwell.

The bottom line is that I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in creativity and success in science, both at individual and group levels. The book requires sustained concentration, but the effort is well worth it. This book itself exemplifies creative and successful scientific work!
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By Gabriele Walk on October 20, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
perfect in every way
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