Does creativity wither with age?

Does creativity wither with age?
Hypothesis: No, creativity does not wither with age, though for scientists it appears to.
(1) Knowledge stores. Young people have less knowledge, any idea they generate seems new and original. As aging progresses, stores of knowledge increase and apparent insight is attributable to someone else and dismissed.
Cp ~ 1 /K
K – knowledge store
Cp – self-perceived creativity
(2) The idea queue. As one ages, one develops a large number of ideas. Science, however, unlike blogs, requires more than ideas, they must be tested. Once a sufficient number of ideas is generated, the service rate of testing constrains the number of ideas through the bottleneck of publication. New ideas arrive and sit at the back of the queue unless
(a). a queue jumper is installed, or
(b). the queue is a stack – unfortunately, working on only the most recent ideas may be seen as “flighty.”
(3) Advertising. A third related factor facing faculty is the need for “advertising”. A new idea to take root must be beat into the ground. This requires multiple papers, presentations, etc. on essentially the same topic (with of course each paper being an important contribution supporting the whole line of argument, with new empirical evidence, a different model, alternative parameters, related questions). Would that I could say it once and the whole world would hear. Every moment doing something similar is one less moment I could be doing something quite different.
(4) Resistance. The academic system, like all self-preserving systems, is geared away from new ideas. Several factors are at play.
(a) once tenured, the existential pressure (publish or *perish*) is off
(b) publication is easier for minor adaptations and new ideas than for more radical notions (rich ideas get richer).
(c) professional duties require passing on existing ideas (teaching the curriculum) more than professing new ones.
(d) committees/administrivia suck energy from creative people.
(e) money for new faculty is less restricted than others? [I am not sure whether this holds]
(f) older people are more likely to have children, which also suck away time available.
(5) Time budgets. Communication of ideas is inversely proportional to the generation of ideas. A time budget allows you to generate ideas or communicate them, the more you generate, the less time for communication, and vice versa. The more other things one is doing, the fewer the number of ideas generated.
(6) The nature of idea generation may change. Idea generation can be inductive or deductive
(a) For existing problems and solutions … one can parameterize the question and explore the relevant parameterized space.
(b) Alternatively one can borrow / steal / transfer ideas from related disciplines. (Good artists copy, great artists steal.)
One can take an existing problem – formalize it, and then apply scientific method. This is good for “normal science” but is less likely to achieve real breakthroughs. We need to identify new problems, or new hypotheses for existing problems to make important contributions.
Practice ————> Theory
With age, deductive reasoning may become more common and inductive reasoning less so, perhaps because of the "knowledge store" problem discussed above.
(7) Dysfunctions: A major dysfunction with idea generation is the generation of useless or damaging or wrong ideas. The main punishment for this is either wasted time (if it is not published), or shame and humiliation (if one does get published with a wrong idea). Of course many wrong ideas may be necessary to find right ones. However as one advances, the cost of punishment rises, particularly for public wrong ideas. A young person with a dumb idea is quickly forgotten, as there was no reputation to lose, a famous person with a wrong idea loses reputation.
(9) An alternative hypothesis is that creativity does wither with age. Though I don't like this one as much (for obvious reasons, it implies I will be less creative as I get older). A possible explanation is that older people have "hardened" brains, so new connections are harder to establish. Lots of biology may explain why this is so.


From BBC: Connected cars ‘promise safer roads’.
To be valuable, this must work in a mixed environment. Not all cars will have communication devices reporting to them, and even cars with such devices might see them disabled from time-to-time. Communication between cars is fine, but the key to the future of smart cars is the ability to sense the environment independently, and operate in that perceived (rather than reported) environment. Only that can be deployed.
Consider the first year when only a small percent of cars will have the technology. If the system requires all the cars to have the technology, who will pay extra for it? If it requires no other cars, but adds value, people may buy it.

Goofballs and Trainwrecks: This week in London Transport

I come home to London from WCTR to car bombs and people driving into airports (shall we now inspect all cars driving into airports … and then the security line becomes the target, secure areas always have insecure areas outside boundaries and entrances).
Fortunately, this particular cell were not a particularly competent terrorists, so I will refer to them as goofballs. I have yet to see whether they were competent doctors? One hopes the goofballs healed better than they attempted to inflict harm.
Later in the week, a train derails:
Metronet warned in May over derailment danger. A number of passengers had panic attacks, thinking it was another terrorist attack, coming almost 2 years after 7.7 and days after the Piccadilly smoking car.
The greater harm done by terrorists (even the goofballs) is not the physical damage, but the terror (which gives this -ism its name), and people living in terror. This culture of fear is amplified by news and free flow of information.
The book Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz talks about the curse of abundance, we have too many options and by extension too much information. This repudiates the economists argument of “non-satiation”, required for well-behaved utility functions.
Of course many bad things happen in the world, but when personal tragedy strikes people I don’t know, and will never know, do I really need to know and am I better off if I know?
Cars hurtling on fire toward airport entrances and dud-car bombs might rise to be slightly larger than personal tragedy, but not too much larger. Scarcity makes events like this unusual, and therefore newsworthy, but unlike “dog bites man” wherein the dog was after the man rather than the news-story, getting attention from the news and causing fear is exactly the terrorist aim.
The appropriate response would be to note it, arrest the goofballs, and move-on, rather than obsessing and changing our ways and continuously reminding ourselves of the goofball agenda, and thereby empowering it. Attention is the ransom demanded by terrorists, and we don’t pay ransom for fear of encouraging kidnapping, we should not pay attention for fear of encouraging more random acts of terrorism.

The next big thing in Transportation

I was talking with Benn (see previous post) at WCTR last week (before the article came out), and the question arose, “What is the next big advance in transportation?”
My answer:
The next big advance has to be cars that drive themselves (in mixed traffic). See the DARPA Urban Challenge
(1) it increases people’s range, because they can sleep, work, etc. in their vehicle.
(2) ultimately, (version 2.0) we can put children and other mobility impaired into the vehicles, and send them on their way.
(3) the car can then park itself. (providing door-to-door service, reducing access/egress time for users in cities and saving on parking costs)
(4) it can go faster as the computer has faster reflexes, though it is still limited by braking speeds.
(5) it can close gaps and therefore increase capacity slightly (depending on how mixed the traffic is).
(6) it is deployable now (assuming it works) as it requires no new infrastructure. The requirement for both new vehicles and new infrastructure (the chicken and egg problem) is what has befallen most previous next new things in transportation (think Personal Rapid Transit).
I believe many of these vehicles will in general be smaller (think Bill Garrison’s work), maybe 2 passenger, but perhaps configurable so that an attached platoon can save energy through aerodynamics and space for parking. Say you can chain a few of them together at home, for instance, then a family would go out, but if not everyone were going, the vehicle would be right-sized for the group, with only a little bit of slack.

Getting more mileage from loop detectors

My friend Ben Coifman has a nice mention in a recent article in Science Daily: ScienceDaily: ‘Smart’ Traffic Boxes Could Help Monitor Roads, Save Money
The trade-off between local processing and use of the network for communications is fundamental, and depends on the cost of each. This is something that should be optimized to reduce system costs and improve performance.

How late are planes?

Another NYT piece: Ugly Airline Math: Planes Late, Fliers Even Later citing some work by MIT’s Cynthia Barnhart on airline and passenger delay. Is this due to weather, demand (and high load factors removing slack in the system), or poor labor relations?
The article focuses on Northwest and Continental, though the observations are I am sure more general. The 25 minute average delay seems low to me, but I am operating off anecdote here.

Electronic toll collection and toll rates

A nice article in NYT: Technology Eases the Ride to Higher Tolls citing important work by Amy Finkelstein of MIT on Tax Salience, the less you are aware of a tax, the easier it is to raise, this applies to tolls, so electronic tolls which have less salience than manual, result in the ability to raise tolls faster. Finkelstein’s paper was cited in Levinson and Odlyzko’s “Too Expensive to Meter:The influence of transaction costs in transportation and communication” earlier this year.

a blog about Networks and Places


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