We had friends over for dinner, and the subject of creativity came up. Somebody suggested that the Mathematician’s job was just as creative in nature as mine, at which I balked.
Me: You solve problems.
Mathematician: Which requires creative thinking.
Me: Listen, bub. Your idea of a good time is a knotty algorithm. Your problem solving and my invention of a world out of thin air? Not the same thing. Not that I could solve an algorithm. Or know what an algorithm is, even.
Mathematician: An algorithm is basically a recipe. You create an algorithm in order to solve a specific problem.
Our friends thought that was a great definition but the fact remains: I still don’t know what an algorithm is, and I can’t picture it. Flour + sugar + butter: shortbread. Bush + Cheney + Cowardly Congress: Patriot Act. Those are recipes. But a recipe to solve a problem? In fiction?
Problem: The titanic is going down.
Problem: Character X is terrified of character Z finding out the Truth.
This might mean that (1) algorithms are limited in the kinds of problems they can solve; (2) my brain is simply resistant to the concept of the algorithm. But consider this: can an algorithm build an entire universe? An algorithm is something constructed in response to a question, if I understand the definition correctly. Creativity is coming up with the question to start with. I rest my case.