On coming to have Big Ideas

I wonder if the cartoon below (posted in a thread on Seymour Papert’s idea of Big or Powerful ideas) suggests exactly the wrong idea about creative learning (the subject of a current MOOC).

Yesterday I read an essay that chronicled 3 years of Darwin’s 1837-1839 diaries as he worked his way very indirectly around but eventually towards the idea we now call natural selection (providing the mechanism of evolutionary change that can result in organisms adapted to their environment) (Millman and Smith 1997). In retrospect, Huxley (Darwin’s younger colleague) could say “Why didn’t I think of that!?” — natural selection is a Big and Powerful Idea. But what we can make of something after the fact is not a guide how a person plays with projects and interacts with peers to come up with a big idea. Unless one thinks that Darwin was an exception….


Arthur B. Millman & Carol L. Smith (1997). Darwin’s Use of Analogical Reasoning in Theory Construction. Metaphor and Symbol 12(3): 159-187 (abstract)

Seymour Papert (1980): Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas.



About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor teaches and directs programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He studies the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context as well as innovation in teaching, group process, and interdisciplinary collaboration (see bit.ly/pjtaylor). He is especially interested in conversations with others who are, in diverse ways, "troubled by heterogeneity" (bit.ly/tbhblog)

2 Responses to On coming to have Big Ideas

  1. Teryl says:

    Well, have to agree with this because I usually take more than one “Whack in the Head” to help me linger on an idea or come up with it through a long struggle. What if the person in the cartoon was actually in a different setting, that is a gold mine or climbing a mountain? And that he/she had to go through the pain/obstacle for a purpose not random hit–it would be an interesting cartoon teaching about the perspective of working/keeping going to learn and how some will still grumble at the journey while others will thrive in it, rocks and all.

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