Herbert Simon once famously stated: “design like science is a tool for understanding as well as for acting.” What might be examples of principles, methods, processes, and strategies of a successful art/design and science integration that may accelerate our ability to both innovate and act?
Chris Patrick, NAKFI Science Writing Scholar
Johns Hopkins University
Michele Besso was a close friend of Albert Einstein. As a young man, Einstein and Besso, an engineer, took long walks and talked. The companions would work through problems with each other. It was Besso who introduced Einstein to the work of Ernst Mach, which ultimately influenced Einstein’s approach to physics. Einstein called his friend Besso “the best sounding board in Europe.”
This team on Innovation, Creativity, and Action considered examples of art-science integration that could accelerate the public’s ability to both innovate and act. These examples were to echo the sentiment of Herbert Simon when he said, “design like science is a tool for understanding as well as for acting.”
In response to this prompt, and with the story of Einstein—a creative
genius—and his friend Besso in mind, the team wondered, “What if everyone had their own Besso?”
Consequently, the team developed a “virtual Besso,” a creativity tool. The goal of a creativity tool is to accelerate the birth of novel ideas. The team thinks that a creativity tool should also provide emotional support and encouragement, facilitate divergent thinking, and foster collaboration among individuals. Virtual Besso would be a program that provides users with a creativity-enhancing companion and sounding board.
The same way that Einstein and the real Besso walked together, virtual Besso, an augmented reality program, would provide creative guidance to a user while they walk. Using augmented reality glasses, Besso would offer users visual and auditory stimulation that might enhance their creativity.
On a walk, a user would be able to converse with Besso. A user’s conversation with Besso would prompt the appearance of visual stimulation via augmented reality glasses that would enhance a user’s immediate surroundings with graphics superimposed on the natural environment. These graphics would be linked with elements in a user’s environment, synched in a way that integrates the augmented images into a user’s immediate surroundings. Depending on where a user chooses to walk, images may blossom from a flower or wash up with waves on the shore. Images would appear and disappear gracefully, perhaps flowing in and out of a user’s vision in tandem with moving elements in the environment.
A user would also be able to see Besso’s shadow with the augmented reality glasses. The form a Besso’s shadow takes would depend on its user, as a user would be able to personalize Besso to their liking. A user’s Besso may take the form of a human or an animal, whichever a user prefers. A user could also individualize Besso’s personality.
The personalization aspect of Besso functions to make this program adaptable to a wide audience, from researchers to 12-year-old students—to anyone, really.
Besso is meant to provide a user with emotional support, encouragement, and companionship—all components of a supportive, creativity-enhancing environment.
The team decided that divergent thinking is also key to enhancing creativity. Besso fosters divergent thinking by working like an indirect search engine. A user could tell their Besso one or several key words, and their Besso would present images, text, and auditory stimulation related to—but not exactly matching—these key words. Users could then follow an associative trail of ideas away from their original search terms. Besso’s indirect
search engine would serve to make unexpected connections between topics for a user. Besso would storyboard this process of divergent thinking, keeping track of a user’s history. Users would be able to visit their past searchers and paths of thought.
Users would be able to share their storyboards with other users. The process of sharing storyboards is meant to encourage collaboration between users. The Seed Team envisions Bessos across the world linking together according to their users’ common or complementary interests to make connections between users. Bessos would introduce users in the hopes of spurring collaboration. The team envisions users’ Bessos forming a worldwide network or “invisible college” that brings together creative thinkers from many different fields.
The team decided the best way to test the effectiveness of Besso would be with middle school students. Middle school students would be given a creative writing assignment. Half of the students would take a walk with Besso to discuss their assignment; half would not. Graders would evaluate the students’ assignments for creativity to see if those who had walked with Besso produced more creative assignments.
This testable example illustrates the potential usage of Besso in schools. Team members believe Besso may be a potential solution to education inequality, specifically in mitigating the lack of creative mentors in underserved youth.
Ultimately, the team envisions Besso not only as creativity tool for students, but a creativity-augmenting companion for many audiences.
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