June 07, 2005 – Of Poetry and Programming   Leave a comment

I came across Rinus Roelofs’s website today. (I was particularly facinated by his explanation of bar grids.) Rinus is a Dutch artist with a background in applied mathematics and I got to thinking about the interplay among art, mathematics, and creativity.

People who study the brain have discovered that the left hemisphere of our brain seems to control the right side of our body while the right hemisphere does the same for the left side. More interesting to me, though, is the idea that certain ways of thinking are separated between the left and right sides of our brains. (Of course, there are always exceptions, so I will have to generalize for my purposes here.)

Generally, the left side of our brains is geared towards logical, verbal, linear, and sequential thinking. Whereas, our right side favors intuitive, nonverbal, holistic, and random processing. While, in most people, one side or the other is dominant, we all (generally) possess a mix of all these traits.

A casual glance might have us believing that poetry is a right brain task and that programming, a left brain one. I would take another look.

A programming language, by design and necessity, is rigid in its application of its rules of construction. It just has to be that way. The human programmer and the machine computer have to agree in painful detail on what is acceptable and what is not in a programming language. This is also true, to a large extent, with poetry. The author and the reader have to agree on a common verbal language (for example, English, German or Japanese) and all spoken or written languages have rules. Further, a particular style of poetry might have other specific rules associated with it.

Programming expresses algorithms (or instruction recipes) inside the framework of a structured programming language. In a similar way, poetry (and indeed all writing, I suppose) expresses thoughts or mental images inside the framework of a structured verbal language.

I believe that creativity is the love child of the left and right hemispheres of the brain.

The most elegant and truly creative work that I have seen, in either software development or art, are those that were born from parts of both sides of the brain. The creativity of a subroutine or a haiku comes not from the structural parts or from the abstract parts by themselves, but from the imaginative blending of those parts.

If you find you have a dominant side of your brain, you shouldn’t ignore the other side. I would suggest that you give it some exercise. Strengthen it. Your best accomplishments, in my view, will come from the combined efforts of both sides of your brain.

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Posted Tuesday, June 7, 2005 by Grant in Random

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