Creativity: Beyond Nuclear Steam Engines

Creativity might be mankind’s greatest achievement: It allows us to go beyond our physical limitations, to create tools that range from a “simple” spear to the Space Shuttle. We can visit the moon and explore the depths of the oceans, live in circumstances inconceivable for other beings on this planet. Whether it was harnessing the fire or creating the wheel, we usually think highly of human creativity.

Creativity allows us to create solutions that are new, without precedent, that allow us to go beyond nature.

Hmm, really?

If we look closely, many inventions are “just” the transference of existing principles to another setting or the combination of different existing principles. There are spiders that roll down hills, being a perfect example of a wheel in nature. Cars itself look like mechanical animals with wheels for legs. This transference of principles explains why creative techniques like the “Analogies” technique work — because it is “nothing special”. We can look at things differently, use them differently, but we cannot create different things.

The problem with this kind of creativity is that it might not always be the best solution. Take, for example, nuclear power: While it can be regarded as the hallmark of mankind’s control over nature, it is — essentially — nothing more than a nuclear steam engine. We use radioactivity to heat water that drives steam engines — in other words, we have “just” replaced wood or coal with something that has a little more “pep”.
But beyond that, we did not do anything special. It is still the same setup with another heat source.

Now, on the other hand, there are quantum leaps in technology. This raises the question: Is it possible to go beyond nuclear steam engines, to convert radiation in energy directly without going through heating water? And is there some creative brain in the world of nuclear physics that is able to find this way, unencumbered from previous “the same but different” solutions?