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6.5: Transformation Problems

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    What are transformation problems? In Cognitive psychology transformation problems refer to a major modification or shift in an individual’s thought and/or behavior patterns. Cognitive psychologists have determined that an individual must carry out a certain sequence of transformations to achieve specific desired goals. A good example of this phenomena is the Wallas Stage Model of the creative process.

    The Wallas Stage Model of the Creative Process

    In the Wallas Stage Model , creative insights or illuminations occur in the following stages of work:

    1. Preparation (conscious work on a creative problem)

    2. Internalisation (internalisation of the problem context and goals into the subconscious)and Incubation (internal processing of the problem unconsciously), and

    3. Illumination (the emergence – perhaps dramatically – of the creative insight to consciousness as an ‘aha!’ experience)

    4. Verification and Elaboration (checking that the insight is valid and then developing it to apoint where it can be used or shared).

    As the creative individual (for example a scientist or engineer) works on a problem, if it is a difficult problem they may spend quite some effort, try several different avenues, and clarify or redefine the problem situation. All this activity works to begin to internalize the problem into the subconscious, at which point the ideas about the problem can churn around in the subconscious without necessarily any further conscious input – they are “incubating.” As the problems are incubated, they may begin to coalesce into a solution to the problem, which then dramatically emerges to consciousness as an ‘aha!’ illumination experience. But this experience may or may not be a real solution to the problem – it needs to be verified and tested. It may then need further elaboration and development before it is put to use or shared with other people.

    Historically, Wallas’s Stage Model was based on the insights of two of the leading scientific minds of the late 19th century. On his 70th birthday celebration, Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz offered his thoughts on his creative process, consistent with the Wallas Stage Model. These were published in 1896. In 1908, Henri Poincare’s (the leading mathematician and scientist of his time) published his 1908 classic essay Mathematical Creation, in which he put forward his views on and understanding of the creative processes in mathematical work – again broadly consistent with the Wallas model, although Poincare offered his own thoughts on possible psychological mechanisms underlying the broad features of the Wallas model.

    Poincare speculated that what happened was that once ideas were internalised, they bounced around in the subconscious somewhat like billiard balls, colliding with each other – but occasionally interlocking to form new stable combinations. When this happened and there was a significant fit, Poincare speculated that the mechanism which identified that a solution to the problem had been found was a sort of aesthetic sense, a “sensibility.” Poincare wrote that in creative illumination experiences:

    . . . the privileged unconscious phenomena, those susceptible of becoming conscious, are those which, directly or indirectly, affect most profoundly our emotional sensibility. It may be surprising to see emotional sensibility evoked a propos of mathematical demonstrations which, it would seem, can only be of interest to the intellect. This would be to forget the feeling of mathematical beauty, of the harmony of numbers and forms, of geometric elegance. This is a true aesthetic feeling that all real mathematicians know, and surely it belongs to emotional sensibility.

    Poincare argued that in the subconscious, “the useful combinations are precisely the most beautiful, I mean those best able to charm this special sensibility that all mathematicians know.”Such combinations are “capable of touching this special sensibility of the geometer of which I have just spoken, and . . . once aroused, will call our attention to them, and thus give them occasion to become conscious.”

    Generalizing from Poincare’s discussion, the conscious mind receives a vast range of information inputs daily. The conscious and subconscious mental faculties sort and internalize this information by making patterns and associations between them and developing a “sense” of how new pieces of information “fit” with patterns, rules, associations and so forth that have already been internalized and may or may not even be consciously understood or brought into awareness.

    Which brings us back to a discussion of intuition.

    This page titled 6.5: Transformation Problems is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Mehgan Andrade and Neil Walker.

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