THINKER’S ALMANAC – January 27

Subject: Creativity – Remote Associates Test

Event:  Birthday of Sarnoff Andrei Mednick, 1928

Look at these three words:  DREAM, BREAK, LIGHT.

Does a fourth word come to your mind automatically, a word that is associated with each of the other three?

Psychologist Sarnoff A. Mednick, who was born on this day in 1928, sought to better understand creative thinking.  After interviewing scientists, architects, and mathematicians to identify their creative process, he noted that one key element of creativity is associations from memory. Being creative means being able to make associations and to connect ideas, especially ideas that aren’t immediately obvious. 

Based on what he learned about creativity, Mednick created the Remote Associates Test (RAT) in the 1960s as a method of assessing creative thinking.  The test is made up of word puzzles where the solver must examine three words — such as DREAM, BREAK, LIGHT — and identify the single word that links all three: DAY — as in “daydream,” “daybreak,” and “daylight.”

Some psychologists argue that the RAT is more a test of linguistic ability or problem-solving than creativity; nevertheless, Mednick’s invention remains a popular instrument.  The RAT not only helps us ponder the relationship between memory and imagination, but it also meets the criteria of Albert Einstein’s definition of creativity:  “Creativity is intelligence having fun” (1).

Try the following examples, which range from very easy to very hard:

  1. dew, comb, bee 
  2. preserve, ranger, tropical 
  3. sense, courtesy, place 
  4. flower, friend, scout 
  5. sticker, maker, point 
  6. right, cat, carbon 
  7. home, sea, bed 
  8. fence, card, master 

Recall, Retrieve, Recite, Ruminate, Reflect, Reason:  What is the RAT, and what insights does it give us about creativity? 

Challenge – Mother Tongue Lashing:  What one word fits between the words ‘Jelly’ and ‘Bag’ to form two separate compound words? Jelly __________ Bag  The answer is the word “bean” as in jelly bean and beanbag.  This is a variation of the RAT called Mother Tongue Lashing. It takes advantage of the wealth of compound words and expressions in English. For each pair of words below, name a word that can follow the first word and precede the second one to complete a compound word or a familiar two-word phrase.

  1. Life __________ Travel
  2. Punk __________ Candy
  3. Green _________ Space
  4. Rest __________ Work
  5. Word  __________ Book
  6. Rock __________ Dust
  7. Spelling __________ Sting
  8. Night __________ House

Sources:  

1-Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.

Answers to the RAT:  1 honey, 2 forest, 3 common, 4 girl, 5 match, 6 copy, 7 sick, 8 post

Answers to Mother Tongue Lashing:  Answers:  1 time, 2 rock, 3 back, 4 home, 5 play, 6 star, 7 bee, 8 light

January 27: The Book of Qualities Day

On this day in 1984, J. Ruth Gendler published The Book of Qualities. In Gendler’s unique book she writes individual profiles of over 50 human emotions, using personification to bring each to life.  In Gendler’s book, we’re reintroduced to familiar emotions, like joy, innocence, and discipline — not just as abstract ideas, but as living, breathing individuals.  

Each of the profiles is an excellent reminder of the power of personification to enliven writing.  In our normal life, we don’t have the power to breathe life into inanimate objects.  When we write, however, he can wield this rhetorical superpower by employing personification.  With personification, it’s as if we’re putting arms and legs on an idea, allowing it to walk around the room.  We can even teach it to talk.

In the following examples, Gendler employs personification to introduce us to “Despair,” “Stillness,” and “Confidence.”   Notice how she employs specific action verbs and concrete nouns:

Despair papered her bathroom walls with newspaper articles on acid rain.

Stillness will meet you for tea or a walk by the ocean.

Confidence ignores “No Trespassing” signs.  It is as if he doesn’t see them.  He is an explorer, committed to following his own direction.

Today’s Challenge:  Abstractions in the Flesh

How would you bring an abstract human emotion to life using personification?  Write a profile of at least 60 words on one specific human emotion.  Use your imagination to explore what the emotion would look like, what kinds of things it would be doing, and what it might say if it could talk.  Select one of the qualities below from The Book of Qualities, or come up with one of your own.  

Anger, Beauty, Certainty, Doubt, Excitement, Fear, Guilt, Honesty, Imagination, Jealousy, Loneliness, Perfection, Suffering, Terror

Before you write your profile, read the following example.  It’s on humor; one quality that Gendler doesn’t write about in The Book of Qualities:

Humor is unpredictable.  He hides around corners and jumps out when you least expect him.  He’s optimistic, healthy, and smart. Never depressing or anxious, he thrives on the unsuspected and spontaneous.  He’s a great companion, constantly reminding you to loosen up, look at the bright side, and smile more often.  He loves to break up fights — when he’s around no one has the strength to make a fist.

Quotation of the Day:  There is no armor against fate; death lays his icy hands on kings. -Jane Shirley

1-Gendler, J. Ruth.  The Book of Qualities.  New York:  HarperPerennial, 1984.