The relations between creativity in mathematical & biological systems, creativity as a mental process, & creativity in the social world

1 January 2011 - 1 December 2011

Awarded to: Dr  James Griffin

Research partners: Anna Craft, Robin Durie, Pete Ashwin, Ed Keedwell, Katrina Wyatt, Andy Wills, Kerry Chappell, & Varuni Wimalasiri

Funding awarded to Exeter £ 5,500

Sponsor(s): EPSRC

About the project

We have identified the theme of creativity as being a topic that links our various research interests. On the basis of a series of discussions at Bridging the Gap facilitated meetings, we further identified 5 cross-cutting research themes within the broad heading of creativity where we shared research interests. We have subsequently developed an initial model, where we believe these cross-cutting themes constitute specific areas for further trans-disciplinary research.

Over-arching model

We propose to develop a research project which explores the relations between creativity at 3 levels, or within 3 domains, specifically focusing on the translations between these levels/domains.

In turn, it is envisaged that research into each of these 3 levels/dimensions, & the translational relations between them, would inform & generate discipline specific research, by means of opening up new problem areas, new ways of conceiving of problems, new methods for approaching problems, etc.
Cross-cutting themes identified

  • Scale invariance - & its relation to methodological simplification; & also to complex communication pathways
  • Modelling & understanding the process by which a novel “idea” is created; & then from this event of creativity, to innovation – spread & adoption within systems/communities
  • Can research on creativity in the arts have an impact on scientific theories of machine creativity; or, vice versa, can scientific theories of biological &/or machine creativity have an impact on theories of creativity within the arts (& social sciences)?
  • Is there a necessary link between creativity & memory, & of so, what is the nature of this connection?

Each of these themes expresses a way in which the nature of the relations between the 3 levels/dimensions of the over-arching model can be staged or tested. In addition, a further cross-cutting theme may be explored:

  • Relation between error, risk, instability on the one hand; & creativity on the other

Plan of activities

In order to prepare the ground for the work to be accomplished at the research retreat, we propose the following series of activities, which constitute a series of steps towards the identified outcomes:

  1. A series of 3 or 4 research seminars/workshops. These will be presented by 1 or 2 of the current project team, alongside an invited external speaker. Each of the seminars will aim to address one of the cross-cutting themes identified above. Different relevant project team members will take responsibility for identifying appropriate external speakers. Seminars will be primarily for the current team members, but will also be open to any other colleagues interested in the themes. Seminars will be advertised via the Bridging the Gap network. In addition to pushing our thinking about the relevant research themes, these seminars will provide an opportunity for other colleagues to join our team (& thereby to participate in the research retreat).
  2. Alongside these seminars, a workshop to be held with members of the EPSRC funded Artificial Culture in Robotic Societies project. The specific aim of this workshop is to provide learning for team members around issues of trans-disciplinary collaborative working, formulation of transdisciplinary research problems, development of transdisciplinary research projects, etc. [please see note below]
  3. A 2 day (24 hour, lunch-to-lunch) research retreat, the purpose of which is to work intensively towards the identification of, and outline development of, a research problem & project which can be developed into a viable grant application for RC funding. In addition, the membership of the project team should be agreed by the conclusion of this meeting; & an agreed timetable for working towards, & delivery of, the final grant application. Participants in this will consist of current team members; any further colleagues who have aligned themselves with the work on the basis of the seminars; an external facilitator (possibly Peter Johnson from Bath); possibly a number of external experts (such as the speakers from the seminar series).
  4. In addition, a project wiki will be set up.
  5. We anticipate that the seminars & the Artificial Culture project workshop will run over a period of 6 months, leading to the “Research retreat” taking place in October. Should this process prove successful, we would aim to have research grant applications ready to submit in the early New Year.


  1. Identification of 1 (or more) research project themes/research problems which require a transdisciplinary approach
  2. Identification of core team members for research project(s)
  3. Timetable for development & submission of research grant application

Note on Planned Activity 2 – Workshop with EPSRC Artificial Culture Project Team

The Artificial Culture project was funded on the basis of an EPSRC Ideas Sandpit, on Emergence. The project team is richly transdisciplinary, including computer modellers, engineers, social scientists, theoretical biologists and an artist. The project is now in its 4th year. There are a number of strong corollaries between the research themes of both projects. The value of the workshop would consist in the practical learning that could be shared between our research project team and the Artificial Culture team, specifically in the areas of the formulation of our research problem, the design of the research project, and the specific difficulties we might encounter in implementing the research.

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council