Combinatorial creativity, the connectome, and uniqueness

Combinatorial creativity and the connectome are two ideas that aren’t normally talked about at the same time.

Combinatorial creativity is when you take various bits and pieces that already exist and mash them together to come up with something new. An easy example is music. A composer may borrow a particular theme from another composer but then take the timing or feel from another piece to create something new based on things that already exist.*

The connectome is all of the neural connections in the brain and nervous system of an organism (at least according to wikipedia). In a book titled with the same name, the connectome is fleshed out by addressing how those neural connections come to be. Since those connections are constantly changing by what we experience, our connectomes are different even among those who share a number of features. We may have grown up together, in the same place, as part of the same culture, with similar families and yet both our conscious choices and events that happen to us will change the nature of our connectome.

If you bring together these two notions, it is possible that a specific outcome of combinatorial creativity could in principle be limited to one individual. Said differently, it is only through a connectome that developed over time in the way specific to that individual that the pieces brought together by an act of combinatorial creativity might come to be. If that is at all correct, it seems reassuring both from the standpoint of an individual in a sea of humanity and as a reason to continue to try to create.

* The hardware store is an excellent example of combinatorial creativity where you wander the aisles looking at various gizmos in search of an idea that, when combined with a different material or size or function will solve whatever your problem is.


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