We are drawn to the new, the unusual, the unexpected: what we could not predict on the basis of what came before. As vast archives of our cultural past and present go online, scientists can now break out of the laboratory to see how novelty, innovation, and creativity are both made and received in the real world. To track these crucial forms of human experience, I'll introduce simple, but powerful, concepts from information theory, using examples from Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf. And then, through collaborative case studies ranging from the speeches of the French Revolution and papers in theoretical physics to the online arguments of Wikipedians and Breitbart commenters, I'll show how these tools allow us to ask, and answer, two basic questions: Where do new ideas come from? And how do we respond when they arrive?
Simon DeDeo is an assistant professor in Social and Decision Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University, and external faculty at the Santa Fe Institute. He runs the Laboratory for Social Minds, whose collaborative work appears in journals including Physical Review, Cognition, and PLoS Computational Biology.
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