The Creative Spark! – My Special Stink Bomb

Did you ever delight at igniting stink bombs? Mixing your chemistry set to get the right stench? Cracking that scent of eggs in Grandma’s basement?

Well, I have my own special little stink bomb.

A prof slipped me a title of a book: Toxic Psychiatry—a scientology book. Soon after, I ditched my medicine. For the next two years, my thesis went on hold. Instead, I did mad science while riding my ten-speed bike.

But I saw the spectacular. The best cartoon-animators see it, too. So do camera crews for the movies. Sadly, scientists still haven’t clued in. Not fully.

What I saw was motion parallax—the weird ways trees, lampposts, and mountains move when you drive by. That’s the simplest definition. Nearby lampposts move faster than the trees. Trees move faster than faraway mountains. But this stuff gets crazier. The more you study and stare, freaky patterns pop up—especially while riding your bike standing on your pedals. Weird predictable patterns.

Psychologists liken motion parallax to tricks-of-the-eye. Not me. I say the (still) world moves in countless ways, depending on the motion of you, the observer. Yet, we slackers fail to measure this morphing monster.

Motion parallax should have the same breadth as the study of calculus. When I took university math, I never studied motion parallax. Not once. Yet, physicists dabble in it. Sensors, optics, and astronomy touch on motion parallax—like an itch on the web of a baby toe. But motion parallax marks more than an itch; it claws a scratch and win lotto. Scratch the back of academic funders. Scratch the back of supervisors. In other words, scratch the back of sceptics. Or stagnate.

My first supervisor scoffed at my idea. (The prof who put me onto Toxic Psychology.) I told her the still world moving is real, not a trick of the eye. Even videos record motion parallax. The movie Waking Life animates motion parallax. My supervisor slammed my idea—until I started to cry.

Roberta Ness says some academic innovators commit suicide. She says even the best-funded, largest scale studies undergo heavy criticism if the studies break beliefs.

And, hey, I don’t have a PhD in Physics. Just nine math classes. And a master’s degree in a non-science. We common folks don’t have a say in science. Not me.

So, here’s one way to kickstart a common-folk study of motion parallax:

Start with a new grid system. Toss the Cartesian coordinate system—that x, y, z simpleton. We need a shinier model. I propose two parallel 3-D coordinate systems. The first coordinate system represents the observer. The other, the objects studied. Motion from one triggers motion in the other. Yes, crazy as it sounds, when you drive past trees, posts, and mountains, they move in measurable ways.

But, there’s a problem with this approach: the grids move, too. Like objects.

The simplest, crudest approach? Slap a grid on your video lens. (Inventors would start with this style but get smarter with each iteration.)

Roberta Ness lists tricks to building ideas in her book Innovation Generation: How to Produce Creative and Useful Scientific Ideas:

• Make hundreds of new ideas. Then, settle with the most “useful,” “plausible,” and “actionable” ideas.
• Rapidly prototype your ideas. In other words, make many modified models until you get it right. Pick the best model.
• Check out the ways others respond to your ideas. If you get flack, but still believe, then keep at your idea.
• Disney uses a brainstorming method that uses three rooms: (1) a brainstorming room where no idea gets judged, (2) a room to organize and cluster ideas into storyboards, and (3) a room to freely criticize, edit, and delete ideas. Students working in groups can use these three stages to create, cluster, and criticize key ideas.
• Mind maps help you organize, cluster, and create. Mind maps have a central idea written on the middle of the page with sub-ideas branching out.
• To manage time, try working in groups. Don’t aim for perfection. When someone slows things down, seek out someone new to work alongside.

But, what makes you a creative genius? Roberta Ness lists the traits:

• Confidence
• Risk-taking tendencies
• Readiness to challenge authority
• Multipotentiality (multipotentialites have many interests and hobbies)
• Willingness to fail

Don’t do as I did. Don’t stall if your special stink bomb makes you cry. Instead, ponder those before you. Pediatrician Herbert Needleman’s research led to the stripping of toxic “lead from paint and gasoline” (Ness, p. 25). His discovery saved lives.

Yet, he spent half a decade and over $100,000 in legal fees freeing himself from charges of scientific misconduct. A paradox? I call it a creative spark!

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