These pages are to accompany Chapters 1 & 2 of the Root-Bernstein book, Sparks of Genius:The Thirteen Thinking Tools of the World's Most Creative People. Citations from the book are indicated in color and the relevant page numbers in brackets. (Examples: [4-5], [15].)

"The words of the language, as they are written or spoken, do not seem to play any role in the mechanism of thought."Albert Einstein

To think freely, you must first lego.....

First thoughts....

If there were only one way to strike the spark which could ignite genius, humans would have devised the flint and steel for that a long time ago. Our minds do not work that way—they work in multiple ways. As the Japanese Haiku master Matsuo Bashō wrote many years ago:

Four temple gates
four ways
beneath a single moon

There are many ways to ignite that spark: our ability to think does depend upon the flint and steel of words alone.

In Sparks of Genius: The Thirteen Thinking Tools of the World's Most Creative People, authors Robert and Michèle Root-Bernstein remind us that many of the world's most influential thinkers found more than one way to enter their temples of innovation. Many were polymaths, artists as well as scientists, scientists within their arts.
Physicist ... and musician
Actress ... and inventor [1]
Ethologist ... and artist
Albert Einstein
Hedy Lamarr
Desmond Morris
Some found that ideas arrived from being able to look at a problem from multiple perspectives (perceiving), by recognizing repetition and relationships (patterning), by reducing systems and processes into basic terms (abstracting), by physicalizing thought itself (embodied thinking), through creating externalized systems (modeling), and through plain old mucking about and having fun (playing). None of these avenues necessarily exists alone, unconnected to the others. An essential part of transformative thinking is the synthesizing that can, and does, occur: a synosia of thought that has implications for educating others to be creative and for being creative in the way we educate others.

“Sometimes my feelings are so hot that I have to take the pen and put them out on paper to keep them from setting me afire inside; then all that ink and labor are wasted because I can't print the results.”Mark Twain
Most of all, it is clear that deep within the layers of thought is feeling ... that insistent human force which drives thought itself—the muse, the impulse, the igniting spark.

  • To think creatively is first to feel. The desire to understand must be whipped together with sensual and emotional feelings and blended with intellect to yield imaginative insight. [5-6]

"since feeling is first"

a poem by e.e. cummings
Feeling is first, wrote the poet e. e. cummings. The Root-Bernsteins make the same point, albeit not in the form of a love poem. If we start from the premise that feeling leads to creative thought, our first job in teaching and learning creativity is to make sure that we have laid down the necessary emotional groundwork. The old adage, "I don't care what you know until I know that you care" is, perhaps, the start of the creative life for ourselves and our students.

  • Words are, in other words, both literal and figurative signs of interior feelings, but not their essence. They are, as Heisenberg said of mathematics, expressions of understanding, not its embodiment. [9]

Author Margaret Atwood

"We’re not thought machines, we’re not screaming machines,
we are thought/feeling machines, if we’re machines at all.
(Let's pretend we’re not.)
We are thought/feeling entities."

  • Feeling and thinking must, therefore, become part of the educational curriculum. Students must learn how to pay attention to what they feel in their bones, to develop and use it. [13]

If we educators do not act on this knowledge, then we continue to be part of a system that merely processes students into societal types rather than providing students with the transformational tools that allow them to create and innovate.


Key to this transformation is imagination.

  • If you can’t imagine, you can’t invent… If you can’t conceive of things that don’t exist, you can’t create anything new. If you can’t dream up worlds that might be, then you are limited to the worlds other people describe. You see reality through their eyes, not your own. Worse, having failed to develop your own illusory but insightful “eyes of the mind,” the eyes in your head will not show you much of anything at all. [22]

Sometimes the "eyes of the mind" have to pretend that nothing can be seen at all and imagine how that could be done — that one has to make invisibility visible. As physicist Michio Kaku says in this video, sometimes what we know is not only wrong, but what we are teaching is that something can't be done when, indeed, it can ... if one has the imagination to see what can't be seen.

"Thinking is more interesting than knowing, but less interesting than looking."

Observation leads to asking questions.
Questions lead to imagining answers.

  • The trick … is to live in Illusions and Reality at the same time. Fantasy and imagination suggest how the world might be; knowledge and experience limit the possibilities; melding the two begets understanding. Without the illusions of the mind, a clear grasp of reality is impossible, and vice versa… For the scientist, experimentation keeps imagination from going astray; for the artist, it is a dialectical dilemma. [23]

In the second chapter of their book entitled "Schooling the Imagination," the Root-Bernsteins draw parallels to this dialectic using Norman Juster's acclaimed book of fantasy for children, The Phantom Tollbooth.[2]


"...if something is there, you can only see it with your eyes open, but if it isn't there, you can see it just as well with your eyes closed."

The Phantom Tollbooth

The ways in which we can help students develop and use their minds — their modes of thought, their tools, their flints and steel — will be shown in more detail in subsequent chapters.

  • … tools for thinking are exactly what we have called them: tools. They are just like whisks, knives, graters, spatulas, mixers and blenders—equipment available to anyone. With practice and determination anyone can learn to use them with some degree of skill. We fully expect them to be used with other analytical tools, such as logic, and with communcation tools, such as words and equations. Our tools complement but do not replace other cognitive skills. [28]

A few gadgets for the kitchen [3]
And a few kitchen gadgets otherwise structured[4]

See next: Skill Building
  1. ^ But not the telephone
  2. ^ Both Juster and his illustrator Jules Feiffer have recently (September 2010) released a new title some 50 years after their original collaboration on "Tollbooth". The new book is entitled The Odious Ogre.
  3. ^
  4. ^