The Science of Creativity, with David Byrne

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About This Episode

What is the relationship between art, science and creativity? Join us as Neil Tyson explores the nature of creativity with musician, author and former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne. The two discuss whether creativity is hindered or enhanced by restraints, how music and architecture are related, whether machines can be creative, and why studying art makes for better scientists and mathematicians. In studio, Neil is joined by the multi-talented Dr. Mónica López-González, Ph.D., who is not only a cognitive neuroscientist but also a concert pianist, photographer, author and more. Plus, you’ll hear from Professor David Cope, who taught a computer to compose music, and listen to an original piece which it composed in the style of Vivaldi. Maeve Higgins co-hosts, and Bill Nye weighs in on the value of creativity to human survival.

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: The Science of Creativity, with David Byrne.


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  • Debra Hegdahl

    Thank you.

  • MildJoe

    The part about restraints driving creativity was brilliant. So true. Without pressure, things will never evolve.

  • Lamonda Brown

    Thank you so much for giving us artistic scientists some love!

  • Taxil Necrobane

    On an Aside from the episode it self, I feel David himself was the reason Talking Heads broke up. I know he himself was primary reason the rest of the band could not get past it as well as seeing Talking Headless reformation of the band was shot down too.

  • Brandon Miller

    I’d like to say that I’ve enjoyed Maeve as the Co-Host for the past two Star Talks. Hoping to hear more!

    • Then you’re in luck, Brandon, because you’ll be seeing more of Maeve as co-host in the future.

  • Neil deGrasse Tyson and David Byrne? You only get this interview ONCE IN A LIFETIME! 😀

  • Adriano Melo

    About the question “Is it possible to shatter a glass by singing high enough?”

    Yes it is possible, they tested it on the Mythbusters tv show and the singer Jaime Vendera was able to do it.

  • Phil Vuollet

    I really connected to the part about creativity being stimulated by constraints! The real challenges that I enjoy when developing software are often associated with constraints. “How do we do x while working within the bounds of x, y, and z?” There must be some limit to the constraints though, because with too many constraints there would be no creative freedom. That limit might be both personal and situational.

  • Brenan

    Absolutely fascinating. Here were my thoughts on distinguishing science and art (noting that my bias comes from being a performing artist):

    What Vivaldi actually created is an arrangement of notes for instruments. Written, it’s the music notes on the page. The blueprint. The EQUATION, if you will. Every time Vivaldi is performed, the performing artist does it differently. And sometimes it can be played TERRIBLY. If we credit Vivaldi for the blueprint that creates beautiful art we must also credit him with a blueprint that creates un-beautiful, un-artistic noise. Vivaldi’s true creative art is the synthesis of technique, experience, and his own life breath (perhaps spiritual or divine
    to some) only in the moment that he wrote. And in that sense, the creative process and the creative product of both Vivaldi and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity are one and the same: neither moment of creation is scientifically reproducible in its exact form.

    In this sense, the creation of the piece is one artistic act, and the performance of it another. Maybe even the beautifully laid out composition page is yet another, and together it is easy to conflate them; but without the interaction of humans with the creation in the continued re-discovery of that creative equation, there is no art that actually lingers from Vivaldi’s moment to ours. And likewise, it is the continued application of the theory that makes it appear to be a reproducible product, but the moment of discovery is itself art, not

    By separating the inception and the application, we learn that ALL creative acts are time-based art.

  • Adec

    Perhaps someone else has already made this point, but in case not…

    Regarding Beethoven’s 9th vs Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, everyone seemed to agree that likely, due to cultural influences and tones, someone else would have produced a very similar work. On the other side of that, yes some other scientist (or group of scientists) would have come up with the Theory of Relativity. Would they really have though? No doubt, they would have come up with a theory that explains the same law, but most likely they would have coined a different term for it and explained it in a different way with different terminology. Since language is fundamentally symbolic and quite loaded that would colour how we understand the law and it therefore wouldn’t be the exactly the Theory of Relativity. Thoughts?

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