As I returned to my too real world, I clicked through my Tivo playlist over breakfast this morning and found Karl Iagnemma on an episode of NOVA Science Now. One of the country’s top scientific inventors and an award winning author, Karl is presented as a man at work in two very different worlds.
Picture a fiction writer and you’re likely to imagine a creative and erratic spirit. Picture a scientist and you see a methodical and analytical thinker. What does it look like when these two worlds work together in the life of Karl Iagnemma and what does this have to do with federalist thinking?
It’s all about the similarities of these not so separate worlds. That imagination fuels the writing process is no surprise. We don’t often think of science, however, as a creative endeavor.
In the 10-minute clip, Karl reveals he approaches each exercise in writing and/or inventing as structured creativity. While leading the team creating robots to explore the surface of Mars, he fills his blank page with proven algorithms and laws of physics. The team’s job is to combine what they know to provide for a reality on the surface of Mars they can only imagine. With so many answers at their fingertips, Karl’s team can never be sure they know what happens next.
In responding to a question about his interest in scientific failures, Karl weaves together creativity, science, conflict and crisis:
I think the heart of all fiction, or almost all fiction, is conflict. As fiction writers, we look for things that aren’t going quite right. It’s Tolstoy’s line about happy families, you know? You can apply that to research. Failed research is what’s interesting.
When you fail at something it often forces you to question your own beliefs, what you thought to be true, and in extreme cases, to question who you think you are. And that makes for interesting fiction. An idea about a scientist in crisis is often the spark for me, and that spark tends to illuminate the story or the novel.
Add this analysis of conflict in fiction to Thoma’s Kuhn’s understanding of crisis in science and you’ll see a Federalist perspective at work. Through structured creativity, Karl Iagnemma is filling the blank pages of his next story and inventing the tools we’ll use to see further into the universe…without ever knowing how the story ends.