Researcher's Skills and Tasks
Chapter 4 : Researcher's skills and tasks
In Chapter 3, four capacities have been singled out as necessary to the performing of a research process.
These four capacities (memory, mastery, consistency, creativity) will be now surveyed/analysed one by one with reference to three aspects:
Definition : what the scientific community (or some part of it) agrees these capacities refer to; this will provide a clarification of the specific object of analysis.
Composition : the different elements that are considered to be part of each of them; this will serve to resolve each specific object of analysis into manageable units as a pre-requisite for any factual intervention.
Causation : the various motives that are credited to concur to their emergence;
this will aim at discovering the rationale behind the working of each capacity (as a whole and in its parts) as a pre-requisite for any effectual intervention.
This step by step approach should not divert from the fact that these capacities and the parts into which, for analytical reasons, they will be broken up, should be seen not as separate/distinct but as interrelated/integrated entities.
Moreover, it needs to be firmly stressed that this survey/analysis is not intended to be an exhaustive one; on the contrary, it will be conducted only to a certain extent and to a certain depth as it will be deemed sufficient and pertinent to the specific task at issue, i.e. the provision of appropriate guidelines for the building of an educational tool (a courseware) in the area of research methods.
Memory has been defined as "the faculty by which things are remembered" (OED, 1983).
In respect to the act/process of remembering, two extreme position could be detected.
One views it as the exact recording and reproducing of past experiences.
This conception goes up as far as Plato's image of memory as a wax tablet (Plato, Theaetetus).
The other considers remembering as personal interpretation and reconstruction of past experiences.
The best account of this conception emerged as result of the experimental research conducted by Bartlett at Cambridge during the '30s (Bartlett, 1932).
The difference between these two position seems, in large part, ascribable to the different sets of variables they refer to, namely:
- - the ways of processing materials/experiences (e.g. rote assimilation, deep semantic analysis);
- the kinds of materials/experiences to be processed (e.g. figures, facts, concepts, etc.).
In this paper, because of the nature of the topic and the ways of dealing with it, the accent will be more on re-contructive than on re-productive memory.
This means an overall choice to refer, in the course of the analysis, to theories "conceiving of memory not as an ability to revive accurately impressions once obtained but as the integration of impressions into the whole personality and their revival according to the needs of the whole personality" (D. Rapoport, 1961).
The process of remembering has generally been represented as made of different phases characterized by different physical and mental operations leading to different outcomes.
In order to describe these phases, a terminology adopted by/adapted from the works of various authors (I. Hunter, 1964; V. Gregg, 1975; A. D. Baddeley, 1976; K. Higbee, 1977; C. Cornoldi, 1978; M. Gruneberg & P. Morris, eds., 1978 ) will be employed.
Those authors who stress the reproductive aspects of memory, define the operations that compose the process of remembering in terms of:
- sensing : the external world is experienced through the senses;
- storing : the sensed experience is kept in a memory store;
- searching : the stored experience is located and brought to light.
Each of these operations is seen as producing a specific outcome in the form of:
- recording : registration of what has been sensed;
- retaining : storage of what has been registered;
- retrieving : retrieval of what has been stored.
The familiarity/similarity of many of these words with the terminology used in the computer sciences, could convey the idea of some sort of mechanical passivity of the individual in the process of remembering.
This could be (partially) likely to occur in some cases (e.g. rote assimilation of rhymes, multiplication table, formulas, etc.) but it fails to give account of the occurrence of many other memory processes (e.g. remembering of conceptual materials, of complex experiences, etc.).
For this reason, other authors, in order to depict memory as an active process of remembering, employ a different terminology and define the operational phases as:
- perceiving : experiencing/apprehending reality not only sensorially but also mentally and emotionally;
- encoding : using various codes (analogic, digital) in order to get hold of (i.e. to comprehend) the apprehended reality;
- recalling : arising the memory trace of the comprehended reality back to life.
The outcomes of these operations are seen as:
- interpreting : filtering the apprehended reality through the entire personality of the individual and his/her view of the world;
- representing : depicting the interpreted reality in a way consonant to the personality of the individual and his/her knowledge of the world;
- reconstructing : re-enacting the represented reality on the basis of the entire spectrum of past personal experience/knowledge.
Given the fact that both views of memory (reproductive-reconstructive) and the operations-outcomes associated to them can claim aspects of utility and plausibility, it seems appropriate to look for a syncretic bridge across the two positions that would transform them in two poles of the same continuum.
This bridge can be found in the experimental evidence in support of the existence of:
i) different types of memory;
ii) different levels of memory processing;
iii) different ways of memory organization.
i) Different types of memory
The sensed/perceived reality presents attributes (sights, sounds, smells, etc.) that are stored/encoded in different ways by different people.
As early as 1880, Galton collected evidence about the existence of different types of memory, i.e. of different ways of storing/encoding experiences (V. Gregg, 1975).
Bartlett (1932), and more recently Paivio (1971) have claimed the existence of two main types of memory related to different categories of individuals:
- the "verbalizers" (Bartlett) whose memory relies mainly on "verbal symbolic" (Paivio) coding;
- the "visualizers" (Bartlett) whose memory relies mainly on "non verbal imagery" (Paivio) coding.
In other words, there are some people who experience/remember the world preferably in terms of things (objects) and others in terms of thoughts (concepts).
This could account for the existence of photographic (reproductive) memory (e.g. Luria's mnemonist in A. Luria, 1968) as well as elaborative (reconstructive) memory (e.g. Proust in G. Miller, 1984).
In many cases the two types of memory intermingle, producing a multiple coding and this seems to bring support to the image of a reproducing- reconstructing memory continuum.
This view would fit also in with the second bridging aspect now to be examined.
ii) Different levels of memory processing
In 1972, Craick and Lockart introduced the image of levels of processing to give account for the different strengths of remembering. According to them, there is a series of memory processing stages, from sensory to semantic, that produce memory traces.
The strength of a memory trace is in direct relation to the depth of processing; the depth of processing being the result of "a greater degree of semantic or cognitive analysis" (Craick & Lockart, 1972).
Memory is viewed as "a continuum from the transient product of sensory analysis to the high durable products of semantic-associative operations" (Craick & Lockart, 1972).
The image of levels of processing fits, in its turn, with the multiple ways of organizing memories presented by many authors.
iii) Different ways of memory organization
Differences amongst the personality of human beings are acknowledged to produce differences in the ways memory gets organized.
Once again, the most plausible image to emerge is that of a continuum of memory strategies with, on one side simple mnemonics tricks/practices (e.g., rhyming, rehearsal) and, along the continuum, more elaborated ways of organizing materials/experiences.
To these ways, many names have been given as, for instance, schema (Bartlett, 1932), chunks (Miller, 1956), plans (Miller, Galanter & Pribram, 1960), networks (Anderson & Bower, 1973), frames (Minsky, 1975), scripts (Schank & Abelson, 1977), mops, i.e. memory organization packets (Schank, 1980).
All these ways seem to be based on three basic types of organization as expounded by Mandler (1970):
- seriation : organization on the basis of serial order;
- categorization : organization on the basis of some specific features;
- relational imagery : organization on the basis of associations.
Assuming the utility/validity of viewing remembering as a continuum made of different types of memory, different levels of processing and different ways of organizing materials/experiences to be remembered, what is most relevant is to look for the basic motives behind the working of each of these aspects.
The phases pointed out in the reproductive-reconstructive model of memory will be seen, each one, as part of an integrated continuum composed by three aspects:
- feeling (from sensing to perceiving);
- filing (from storing to encoding);
- finding (from searching to reconstructing).
These three aspects will be analysed in order to highlight the causal drives behind each of them (and so behind memory as a whole).
Feeling (sensing/perceiving) is a function of "sensory pattern" and "psychological orientation or attitude" (Bartlett, 1932).
It has been noted (G. Talland, 1971) that "just as we do not perceive all that is perceptible, we do not remember all that we perceive." This means that (consciously/unconsciously) a selection is made concerning what will become part of personal experience.
As remarked by W. James (1890) "experience is what I agree to attend", in other words what moves the attention/what somebody is willing to pay his/her attention to.
Attention is the result of a "selective interest"; without it experience would be "an utter chaos" (W. James, 1890).
The dynamic drives behind the interplay of attention and interest could be sketched in the following way:
Attention can be seen as the cause/effect of a moving experience, moving in a twofold sense:
- physically (not fix) as "no one can possibly attend continuously to an object that does not change" (W. James, 1890);
- psychologically (not neuter) as we seem to pay attention to what concerns/involves our being, in other words to what arises our interest.
Interest can be seen as the cause/effect of a meaningful experience, meaningful in a twofold sense:
- significative, that is having a general signification and meaning that could be rationally apprehended by the individual;
- significant, that is having a specific relevance in relation to the exigencies of the individual.
In order to bring all this to unity, the concept of emotion could be employed.
Emotion would be seen as the cause of attention and interest and at the same time as result of them, i.e. of moving and meaningful experiences in a dynamic twofold ways (from experience to individual and vice versa) insofar as the richness of the emotional world of an individual makes some experience to be moving and meaningful as well as moving and meaningful experiences enrich the emotional world of an individual.
There is a considerable amount of experimental research bringing evidence to the fact that emotions (seen as cause/effect of attention and interest) play a strong role in memory processes and in its outcome remembering (Rapoport, 1961).
But there is something more to account for the strength of memories and this is related to the way experiences get filed (stored/encoded).
Filing. The experiences that have been sensed/perceived on the basis of attention triggered by the selective filter of interest, are encoded in different ways.
For an active view of memory it is important to stress that "much that is encoded in memory is a distillation of what has been experienced , modified, selected and rephrased by our cognitive systems using existing cognitive structures" (Morris, 1978).
The task of encoding is considered by some scientists (J. Bruner, 1964) of paramount importance in view of an effective remembering.
It has been experimentally showed that the better the coding (most appropriate type/most profound degree) the better the likelihood of remembering (Craick and Lockart, 1972).
Types/degrees of coding seem to depend, mainly, on four variables:
- level of expertise of the individual. Past familiar experiences facilitate a mnemonic grasp of further experiences because memory seems to germinate better on experiences having some sort of familiar link with previous memories; this will make them more significative and more significant to the individual and so more memorable.
- variety of attribute of the object. The varieties of ways in which an object is experienced, in terms of attributes (words, images, sounds, etc.) and perspectives (the contextual frame/the associated links) account for multiple/deeper coding and this seems to be conducive to a better remembering (Baddesley, 1976).
- degree of attention/interest of the individual in the object. For reason previously expressed a high level of attention/interest produces a deep level of coding an so a better remembering.
- amount of time available to the individual in dealing with the object. Some authors (Craick and Lockart, 1972) stress the importance of allowing a sufficient amount of time to the individual for a deeper level of coding to be achieved. Nevertheless, it seems also plausible to state that the total lack of some of the above variables would make the occurrence of the coding process quite unlikely no matter how much time the individual would have at his/her disposal.
To be able to activate these four variables should produce a high level of coding that will be likely to result in efficient memory performances. But coding, by itself, is not sufficient unless it is performed within an organized framework where the encoded items of experience are not self floating entities but fitting parts of an organized ensemble.
This leads to the last causal aspect.
Finding. Especially after the publication of Katona's "Organizing and Remembering" (1940), various authors (Madler, 1967, 1972; Tulving, 1972) have stressed the fact that memory is organization, that is, that without organization there is no likelihood of remembering other than in a fragmentary, episodic (short term) way.
At the basis of the drive toward organization there are two exigencies that, once satisfied, could produce at the same time a better structuring and a better remembering. They are:
- effort after meaning. Since the seminal work of Bartlett (1932), it has been pointed out by several authors the importance of meaning in order to organize (into schema, chunks, mops and the many other ways previously mentioned) and so to increase the likelihood of remembering. In fact, there is strong experimental evidence in support of a close direct relationship between the finding of meaning and the probability/efficacy of remembering.
- freedom of fitting. Meaning is generally given by fitting the new experience into pre-existing cognitive structures, So either the experience is already organized in such a way to fit into those structures or there is a need to re-arrange (i.e. simplify, translate, adapt, etc.) the experience in order to fit those structures and so to become meaningful.
Given the different levels/kinds of expertise, the freedom to organize/reorganize the experience in a never ending process on the basis of personal exigencies, i.e. the freedom to fit them into previous cognitive structures, is thought to be quite relevant for an effective remembering (Schank, 1982).
Organization as finding of meanings and fittings of new meaningful experiences in the personal cognitive world of the individual seem to be the key to "the integration of impressions into the whole personality and their revival according to the needs of the whole personality" (D. Rapoport, 1961).
The stress on meaning as the real motor for any real conscious act/process of remembering, bring directly to the next capacity to be surveyed/analysed, that of mastery.
According to the OED (1983), to master something means "to acquire complete understanding of (a fact, a proposition), or complete facility in using (an instrument, etc.)."
Without discounting the practical aspect of mastery (facility in using), the present analysis will focus mainly on the theoretical aspect (understanding) assuming that, in matters of research, theoretical understanding should/would resolve and manifest itself in the practical capability of acting/intervening (i.e. using the instruments of research).
As far as understanding is concerned, two definitions are here proposed.
The first one, expounded by Simon & Hayes (Simon, 1979) while developing a computer program called "Understand", sees understanding as the meaningful interpretation/representation of extracted information.
The second one by Schank & Abelson (1975), sees it as "the fitting of new information into a previously organized view of the world."
These two definitions are seen here as complementary perspectives of the same phenomenon, the former showing understanding as a process (of interpretation/representation) while the latter as the result of it (integration of new information).
On the basis of the previous definitions, the understanding process is seen as composed of two sub-processes (interpretation-representation) performed within and leading towards an integrated cognitive structure (integration).
Referring to the two sub-processes, Simon depicts their occurrence in the following way:
i) interpretation. "A language interpreting process" that "reads the sentences of the problem text and extracts information from them, guided by a set of information extraction rules."
ii) representation. A "construction process" that "accepts information ... from the language interpreting process and builds a representation of the problem space consisting of two parts: a situation description and a set of operators."
In the same paper Simon refers to Moore & Newell (1974) about the existence of different dimensions of understanding in terms of scope and degree, in other words, differences in the width/depth of mastery in interpretation and representation.
The various composing aspects of these two masteries will be now examined.
Mastery in Interpretation
To interpret is "to expound the meaning of" (OED, 1983).
In order to expound the meaning, the mastery of three correlated aspects needs to be achieved.
Using a terminology first employed by Peirce, they refer to:
- Semantics. It involves the mastery of signs. A signs is "anything assumed to have significance and to require interpretation" (Cherry, 1980). Mastery of semantics means the grasping by the individual (reference) of what the sign is intended to designate (referent).
- Syntactics. It involves the mastery of rules. Rules are conventions that govern the relations amongst signs, that is ways of expressing and linking together signs in order to give them the intended meaning.
- Pragmatics. It involves the mastery of signs in relation to users. It concerns the interplay between the sign, the context in which it has been used and the apprehension/comprehension of this interplay by the user (e.g. utterances, contextual clues, worldview).
Mastery in Representation
To represent includes various related actions as "to depict," "to describe," "to display" (OED, 1983).
Here representation is seen as composed of three aspects:
- Organization. It means to discriminate between signs (i.e. the attributes they hold, the meaning they purport) and to arrange them into categories. This is important because "undergoing an experience and not making a lot of discriminations that lead to it is an instance of not really understanding" (Schank, 1987).
- Evaluation. It means to assess value and to assign weight to signs on the basis of specific criteria. This can be viewed as a different sort of discrimination that has to do more with relevancies than with differences.
- Explanation. It means to discover relations (correlations/causations) amongst signs and so amongst aspects of reality.
The mastery in interpretation/representation leads to the fitting of new knowledge into previous cognitive structures.
These structures are personal/general constructs in the form of schemata, chunks, frames, previously referred to, up to paradigms as "constellation of beliefs, values, techniques and so on, shared by the members of a given community" (T. Kuhn, 1970).
The existence of cognitive structures into which new experiences get assimilated has a twofold importance:
- as a knowledge base that makes new knowledge linkable to what is already present in the knowledge base;
- as an inference engine that provides the material for making assumptions (default knowledge) and inferences (hypothetical deductions/probabilistic inductions).
From this analysis mastery emerges as made of meaningful interpretation, useful representation and consistent integration of experiences. What makes this composite dynamic to take place will be attempted to be analysed next.
In order to explore what causes/facilitates the emergence of mastery (i.e. understanding) the same schema based on interpretation/representation/integration will be used.
For each aspect some causal explanation will be put forward. The analysis will make use, in some parts, of the taxonomy of educational objectives in the cognitive and affective domains (Bloom, 1956; 1964).
Interpretation seems to come as result of three endeavours by the individual(s) involved, namely:
- to translate (semantics - knowledge of terminology). This means to have/provide access to information about signs and their correspondences (e.g. foreign unknown sign - native known sign; native unknown sign - native known sign as synonym, image, analogy, etc.).
- to elucidate (syntactics - knowledge of conventions). This means to have/provide access to information about codes (rules, conventions) employed in the use of signs. This could be achieved through examples in which the code is put to work.
- to situate in context. (pragmatics - knowledge of principles and generalizations). This means to have/provide access to information about the referential framework into which signs and rules are activated.
Representation is achieved, as previously seen, trough organization/evaluation/explanation. This requires the performance of three knowledge processes, namely:
- to discriminate. This means to have/provide access to knowledge of taxonomies and to allow for the finding of differences.
- to assess. This means to have/provide access to the knowledge of criteria and to allow for the finding of relevancies.
- to ascertain. This means to have/provide access to the knowledge of facts and to allow for the finding of correlations.
Up to this point, mastery seems to be caused primarily by the access to information/knowledge. But this access, although necessary, is not, by itself, sufficient, to cause understanding, unless a further component intervenes, that is integration.
The mastery in interpretation and representation in order to be successful should take place within and lead towards the integration of new information/knowledge into pre-existing cognitive structures.
Given the fact that understanding builds up on previous understanding (Sternberg, 1982; Schank & Abelson, 1977) the importance of integration is paramount in order to allow for present and future (increasing/deepening) understanding.
In order to achieve integration, two aspects seem to play a decisive role:
- meaning. A sign is understood as long as it possesses a meaning with reference to signs previously known and understood.
- freedom. A sign is understood as long as it is possible to approach it in a familiar way that fits with personal cognitive structures.
This means that integration is enhanced by the previous meaningful acquisition of signs and by the freedom to approach signs in the way most suitable to the individual.
It is worth remarking that the same aspects of meaning (effort after meaning) and freedom (freedom of fitting) that have already emerged as causal forces behind memory/remembering, re-emerge as driving forces in mastery/understanding too. And this, besides stressing the image of human personality as an integrated whole, brings support to the fact that, in general, people remember in the long run what they have, in a deep way, understood.
The importance of integration for understanding ha stressed the importance of meaningful fitting of new information/knowledge into pre-existing cognitive structures. In order to be meaningful the new information needs to be consistent with the one already acquired. This requirement for consistency brings directly to the next capacity to be focused on.
The OED (1983) defines consistency as "the quality, state or fact of being consistent," and, to be consistent as "to harmonize with."
Harmony is described as "combination or adaptation of parts, elements or related things, so as to form a consistent and orderly whole." (OED, 1983).
In this paper this view of consistency as harmony will be retained and, further on, it will be given attributes of meaningfulness (for knowledge engineering) and usefulness (for problem solving).
In other words consistency in research will be thought as meaningful and useful harmony in thinking, in acting and in their mutual interrelations.
To define consistency as harmony within/between thinking/acting means to refer to/to deal with the world of concepts (statements) and objects (facts) in an unitarian non-contradictory way.
This leads to view consistency as composed by two aspects :
i) factual consistency
ii) logical consistency.
i) Factual Consistency
The analysis of factual consistency falls within the domain of epistemology, that is "the science of methods or grounds of knowledge". (OED, 1983).
Here factual consistency is thought as the harmony between theoretical statement(s) and empirical fact(s). This harmony is similar to the one advocated by the correspondence theory of truth that states "the truth of a proposition to consist in its relation to the world; its correspondence to the fact" (S. Haack, 1978).
For this correspondence to be truly operative in the research process it should be corroborated by two concomitant aspects:
- intersubjectivity. The experience about facts and the correlated statements should be shareable by as many people as possible;
- objectivity. The facts experienced and the correlated statements should be supported by empirical (objective) evidence.
It follows that exclusively subjective experiences and/or experiences lacking empirical (objective) evidence refer to statements/facts that do not belong to the scientific domain.
Factual consistency as correspondence between statements and facts based on intersubjective/objective empirical evidence, leads to the emergence of empirical truth.
Given the fact that there are degrees of empirical evidence, it follows as direct consequence, that there are also degrees of empirical truth according to the quality/quantity of supporting evidence each statement/fact commands.
This supporting evidence is at the basis of the formulation of inductions.
An induction is an argument that produces (probably) true conclusion(s) in relation to the level of (probable) truth of its premise(s) (Salmon, 1973).
Induction is important in the research process insofar as it permits to "extend the range of our knowledge" (Salmon, 1973), producing statements (premises) based on empirical supporting evidence that lead to the formulation of further, information richer, statements (conclusions).
Whilst the (degree of) truth is the main task of factual consistency, the validity is accountable to another component of consistency.
ii) Logical Consistency
The analysis of logical consistency falls within the domain of logic, that is "the branch of philosophy that treats of the forms of thinking in general." (OED, 1983).
Logical consistency is here viewed as the harmony (lack of contradictions) between theoretical statements in an argument.
This harmony is similar to the one advocated by the coherence theory of knowledge that holds that "knowledge claims require justification, but also that no belief can be justified except by reference to other beliefs. Since these other beliefs require justification likewise, and since no infinitive regress from belief to belief is possible ... claims to knowledge must ultimately be justified by their coherence with the whole system of our beliefs" (R. C. S. Walker, 1985).
In other words, the coherence theory of knowledge points out the necessity for effective knowledge to be made of (sets of) consistent statements.
What is at stake here is the form of the argument (i.e. the way the various statements interrelate - harmonize with each other) not the content of each statement.
Logical consistency produces logical validity i.e. valid conclusions from accepted true premises.
The capacity for logical consistency enables the formulation of deductions. A deduction is an argument that produces valid conclusions according to the validity of argumenting.
In a deduction there are not degrees of validity. "An argument either qualifies fully as a correct deduction or it fails completely" (Salmon, 1973).
The importance of deductive argumenting is to make explicit the information already contained, at least implicitly, in the premises (Salmon, 1973).
In the process of research these two components of consistency (correspondence/coherence) are operative in the form of inductions and deductions. In an argument, induction should lead to the formulation of (probably) true premise(s), deduction should assist in the drawing of valid inferences and both should lead to the production of (probably) true and valid conclusions.
How this could be brought about, will be analysed next.
As previously pointed out, consistency is made of two components:
- factual consistency (correspondence statements/facts);
- logical consistency (coherence statements/inferred statements).
These two components have three aspects, namely :
- inferred statements or inferences.
Concerning the phenomenology of these three aspect it could be said that:
- statements are formulated (mainly) through the use of signs;
- facts are perceived (mainly) through the use of senses;
- inferences that are produced (mainly) through the use of concepts.
The research process requires consistency to be achieved through the fulfilment of tasks related to those three aspects, namely:
- to express/detect statements;
- to experience/experiment facts;
- to extrapolate/simulate inferences.
In order to do so, the researcher should propose to himself the achievement of three aims, assisted by the use/deployment of logical-technological tools.
The appropriate/efficient use of these tools should facilitates/enhances/causes the occurrence of consistency (factual/logical).
Aims and tools involve:
- well defined / well decoded signs in order to express/detect statements.
This means the use of all sort of tools in the form of sign definers (e.g. lexicon, thesaurus, dictionary, etc.) and sign decoders (e.g. knowledge of conventions, etc.).
- well extended/well intensified senses in order to experience/experiment facts.
This means the use of all sort of tools (D. McCloy, 1984) to assist the researcher in perceiving fact in the most accurate way.
- well amplified/well refined concepts in order to extrapolate/simulate inferences.
This means the use of all sort of tools (D. McCloy, 1984) to assist the researcher in modelling reality and projecting possible consequences of given inferences.
Consistency then should lead to:
- truthful/meaningful description (for knowledge engineering);
- valid/useful explanation (towards problem solving);
- plausible/verifiable prediction (as result of knowledge engineering and problem solving).
This does not mean that consistency leads necessarily to knowledge engineering and problem solving. In fact, while consistency is necessary in defining, experiencing and extrapolating (where actual reality prevails), it is not sufficient in decoding, experimenting, simulating (where potential reality takes over).
For this reason another capacity needs to be brought into play.
Creativity, along with other analogous terms as "productive thinking" (M. Wertheimer), "adventurous thinking" (F. C. Bartlett), "divergent thinking" (J. P. Guilford) and "lateral thinking" (E. De Bono), is employed in different areas of human undertaking to define the capacity , expressed by a person , through a process, resulting in a product (mental/ material) presenting specific distinctive (i.e. creative) aspects.
In this definition three points are salient:
i) creativity is a capacity and, like every capacity, it can be acquired, to some extent, and enhanced;
ii) creativity involves three elements, namely
- the person who thinks/acts;
- the process of thinking/acting;
- the product as/of thoughts/actions.
iii) creativity is a capacity, expressed by a person in a process, and which manifests itself, clearly and wholly, in the product of that process.
For this reason, even if some authors (e.g. Guilford) define creativity by analysing the traits of a creative person, it seems more appropriate to attempt a definition of creativity pointing out the characteristics of a creative product .
According to various authors (H. Poincaré, 1924; D. W. MacKinnon, 1968) a creative product is generally be recognized as being:
- original that is, totally new or highly uncommon;
- valuable that is, having value as an answer to some human exigency;
- elegant that is having beauty and prägnanz (i.e. simplicity and clarity).
Given the fact that original/valuable/elegant elements can appear, in a mental/material product, in various degrees in relation to different frames of reference (individual - group - society - humankind) it follows that there are varying degrees of creativity (D. W. MacKinnon, 1968).
In this paper creativity is viewed as the capacity to find/solve problems in an original/valuable/elegant way.
Creativity is deemed to be made of components that appear in a multiphase process.
These components and phases will now be examined.
There are two main positions with regard to what constitutes a creative product. They have been termed by I. A. Taylor (1975) as:
This position has been expressed mainly by the Gestalt group of scientists (Kohler, Koffka, Wertheimer, Lewin).
In opposition to the behaviourist approach to cognition which sees it as being a sequence of stimuli and responses, the Gestaltists "emphasized the tendency of the mind to organize and integrate and to perceive situations, including problems, as total structures" (M. Scheeerer, 1963).
Wertheimer (1968), in his experiments dealing with problem solving processes, states that "it was an illuminating moment when a strong tendency was found to perceive consistent whole-quantities, 'reasonable groupings' with features belonging to the inner structural nature of the situation."
The holistic approach underlines the importance of restructuring global fields (concepts, patterns) in order to produce new images (conceptual-formal) that would illuminate the solving of a problem.
This process of restructuring can be said to belong to the area of semantics insofar as, in order to reach a solution, the conventional meaning/function of a concept/object has to be creatively altered (overcoming functional fixedness that arises when the usual way of employing specific objects/concepts prevails).
This has been evidenced in a series of experiments conducted by the Gestaltists, especially Kohler (1925) and Dunker (1945).
In more recent times a similar method of problem solving which tries to remove fixedness and facilitate flexibility, has been popularized by the "synectics" approach (W. J. J. Gordon, 1961). This approach relies heavily on the use of analogies and metaphors in order to view things/thoughts from an original, fruitful perspective.
From at least the time of the empiricist associationist philosophers (Berkeley, Locke, Hume) up to the time of Mednick (1962) and Koestler (1964), creativity and its related cognitive processes have been thought of consisting of combining aspects of reality previously kept distinct.
Koestler in "The Act of Creation" presents historical evidence of a series of creative products resulting from/in a combination of experiences belonging to different contexts or, as he states it, to "different frames of reference".
This is what he calls "bisociation."
For Koestler "the bisociative act connects previously unconnected matrices (i.e. frames of reference) of experiences", and thereby leads to original/valuable /elegant discoveries as shown in the cases of Gutenberg, Kepler, Darwin, Pasteur and many others.
This process of making connections (associations/bisociations) could be said to belong to the area of syntactics in that it stresses the formulation of linkages and nodes between units of experience.
In recent times, the importance of free associations as a fertile way towards creative problem solving has been at the basis of the technique called "brainstorming" (A. Osborn, 1953).
Brainstorming encourages the free running of the imagination (Osborn's book bears the title 'Applied Imagination') as a positive condition for the emergence of all sorts of potentially original/valuable ideas.
The terminology employed in these two approaches (holistic-associationistic) and in the related techniques (synectics-brainstorming), makes frequent use of concepts (e.g. analogies, associations, metaphors, etc.) which could equally refer to one or the other perspective.
Besides, the distinction between restructuring and bisociating seems to be, in theoretical and practical terms, difficult to establish.
For this reason it is plausible to state that both holistic and associationistic elements such as the semantics and syntactics of problem finding/problem solving are likely to be jointly at work in the creative process.
This creative process has been represented by G. Wallas (1926) as being made of a series of stages; these have been successively re-formulated, with minor variations, by other authors (J. P. Guilford, 1967; D. W. MacKinnon, 1968).
These phases, which refer to both problem finding and problem solving, should not be conceived of as sharply distinct/rigidly sequenced steps because this is neither what was theoretically intended by their proponents, nor what practically occurs in the actual process of creativity (D. W. MacKinnon, 1968).
The phases, as proposed by Wallas, are:
- Preparation. This refers to "the whole process of intellectual education" (Wallas, 1926). Contrary to a romantic view of creativity as the sudden mysterious flash of inspiration, many authors (Roe, Barron, Guilford) have repeatedly stressed the importance of mastering general and specific knowledge in order to be creative.
As Barron concisely expressed it (1969) "you have to know a lot about the old to see the new".
- Incubation. The phase of incubation is preceded, according to MacKinnon (1968), by a period of concentrated attention, i.e. a deep/intense effort on the problem.
This can lead either to the solution or to frustration and partial withdrawal.
Koestler, to account for what is involved in this partial withdrawal, uses the french expression "réculer pour mieux sauter".
For Wallas, this is the time of incubation. During this period the individual apparently seems to relax, detaching himself/herself from any activity strictly related to the problem, but, actually, going through it in a more or less unconscious way (H. Poincaré, 1924).
This period of incubation can lead to the emergence of the solution as a sudden illumination, a consequence of the adequateness and appropriateness of the efforts in preparation and concentrated attention previously pointed out.
- Illumination. This phase is also characterized as the "Eureka feeling' (C. Rogers, 1961) or the "Aha! experience" (S. J. Parnes, 1975) and represents the culmination of the preceding stages of activity.
Once again it needs to be stressed that the outcome of illumination should not be seen as the output of mysterious forces or as result of pure chance (serendipity).
As pointed out by Pasteur, "chance only favours intervention for minds which are prepared for discoveries by patient study and persevering efforts" (L. Pasteur in A. Koestler, 1964).
Once the problem and the solution have been discovered, a final stage intervenes.
- Verification. This refers to the complete formalization (expressing) and evaluation (testing) of the product. Expressing and testing, often take place not in a linear sequence but in a recursive alternating way, towards better (more elegant) and stricter (more stringent) level of formalization and evaluation.
This phase, like the previous ones, can occupy a relatively brief period of time (e.g. Archimedes' formalization of the principle of buoyancy) or span many years (Einstein's formalization of the theory of relativity) (D. W. MacKinnon, 1968).
The analysis so far conducted has depicted creativity as consisting of holistic/ associationistic aspects, activated in an unitarian process composed of a series of interrelated/intermingled phases (preparation/incubation /illumination/ verification).
What causes these aspects to emerge and this process to take place now needs to be analysed.
An essential, though, by itself, insufficient pre-condition, is deemed to be what instigates a creative process.
Many authors (V. Lowenfeld, J. P. Guilford, J. E. Arnold, in S. J. Parnes and H. F. Harding, eds., 1962) have referred to it as "sensitivity to problems."
This sensitivity has been considered to spring out of curiosity (what C. Rogers, 1961, calls "openness to experience") and receptivity (here intended as awareness of what the individual is experiencing).
These traits/attitudes which (should) belong to the human being in general, but particularly when he/she is acting as researcher, are mainly the result of the whole (stimulating) environment in which the person lives and thrives.
For this reason, even though they are considered of paramount importance, they are not examined but are taken as given, beyond the range of the present analysis.
The existence of this general pre-condition should generate and lead to the emergence of two sorts of dynamic dispositions/relations between the subject inquirer and the object of inquiry.
Empathy has been defined (Koestler, 1964) as "mental symbiosis" with respect to some kind of experience.
Here is seen as an active drive which leads to "engagement" (R. May, 1975), that is, "absorption, being caught up in" something (R. May, 1975) without losing, at the same time, personal identity (L. G. Wispé, 1968).
Empathy, which produces a deep interiorization of frames of reference related to external realities, can possibly account for the unconscious aspects of the creative process.
Active engagement in a problematic experience leads to manipulation as modelling/patterning of (new) forms and shapes.
Wertheimer (1968) has offered many examples of (creative) manipulation of geometrical forms / mathematical patterns for (creatively) finding and solving problems. And E. P. Torrens (1962) has brought evidence of a relationship between freedom of manipulation and development of a creative talent.
Many authors (Guilford, Lowenfeld, Arnold) have postulated that, in order to manipulate creatively, a person needs flexibility (as opposed to fixedness).
Flexibility means the ability of the individual to bend (i.e. to stretch, to reduce, to alter) meaningfully and purposefully the conventional meaning/function of the object.
For Arnold (1962), flexibility allows a person to be "not only ... a participator in the creative act but at the same time ... an observer of [his/her] participation", in a sort of fruitful involvement in - detachment from the problematic experience.
Sympathy is here seen as "intrinsic motivation" with regard to something (T. M. Amabile, 1983).
There is evidence that "intrinsic motivation" as a free/pleasurable inclination towards some problematic aspects of reality, is a powerful drive behind the expression of creativity (T. M. Amabile, 1983).
Sympathy as active motivation is here assumed to result in commitment (R. W. Weiberg, 1988). Such commitment accounts for the conscious efforts in preparation and concentrated attention previously examined.
Active commitment leads to exploration that is to travelling (with the mind and the body) through paths old (the world of common knowledge and common sense) and new (the unknown world and the unexplored sense).
The same authors who have postulated the need for flexibility, have also postulated the need for fluency (as opposed to rigidity).
Fluency means the ability of the individual to move freely within/throughout the objects of knowledge.
Manipulation as restructuring of meanings and exploration as discovery of linkages, could be said to pertain, respectively, to the domain of semantics and syntactics.
In this case, pragmatics would be the implementation of manipulation and exploration taking into account all the aspects present in the relation between the subject (manipulator/explorer) and the object (the manipulated/explored reality).
Creative pragmatics as original search of the most promising paths in problem finding/problem solving could be thought as another way for heuristics. And with the emergence of the concept of heuristics that refers to the entire range of knowledge engineering and problem solving aspects, the analysis reaches its end (that was also its starting point).
In the next chapter, the causal conditions of the researcher's capacities which have, so far, been sketched only at a theoretical level, will be re-stated in the form of practical guidelines whose implementation, in educational tools and experiences, has been hypothesized to facilitate/enhance the emergence of those very capacities.
These guidelines, once produced, will be confronted and integrated with others from the areas of education (theoretical formulations - practical experiences) and communication (hardware - software).
The general aim is to highlight a coherent framework of guidelines which would assist in producing an efficient (skills facilitating, skills enhancing) courseware in the area of research methods.
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