Extrapolation isn’t creativity

Heat a liter of water in a saucepan and measure its temperature.

Let’s say the water’s temperature goes from 20 degrees Celsius to 30 degrees in 10 minutes. After another 10 minutes, the temperature rises from 30 to 40 degrees. 10 more minutes later, it goes from 40 to 50 degrees.

At this point, a naïve empiricist is tempted to state that if you heated the water for 2 hours, it would reach a temperature of 220 degrees Celsius. But we all know how this extrapolation leads us into a trap – at 100 degrees Celsius, when the boiling point is reached.

If we rely merely on extrapolation, we run into unexpected complexity. Instead, we need a creative explanation for why water boils – how at a certain temperature, the energy with which water molecules in a vessel is sufficient to overcome the atmospheric pressure that holds it down.

Extrapolation tells you that the sun will rise tomorrow. Creativity explains how this happens, by postulating that the earth rotates around its axis. Extrapolation can predict seasonal changes every 3 months. Creativity explains the seasons through a tilt in the Earth’s axis of rotation.

To be creative isn’t to derive insights based on extrapolation. This leads you into traps that nature has set for naïve empiricists. To be creative is to explain – to use your imagination to understand why things are the way they are.

Inspiration: Theories are Explanations, not Predictions