February 20, 2004
The Engines of Creation
I’ve discovered a new role model.
Jonathan P. Brown works at the Field Museum in Chicago. He also builds amazing things with Lego Mindstorms, like, oh, you know, a robot that can solve the Rubik’s Cube. There’s also a cannon that can see and a robotic hang-glider.
I so admire people who are smart and have interesting jobs (Brown is an archaeological conservator at the museum) and creative hobbies.
I mean, this is what it’s all about, right? We ditched that whole hunter-gatherer thing so we could spend at least some of our time creating for creation’s sake.
That notion gets some play in a St. Petersburg Times article about Brown’s Rubik’s Cube robot from 2001. Here’s what Mike Wilson writes:
The cube wasn’t going to help anybody do anything. So — this is the big question — why bother?
“It’s something you do just to see if you can do it,” [Brown] says. “I thought it was an amusing thing to do.”
It occurred to us that this impulse — the simple wish to know what you can accomplish — is at the very root of creativity and innovation. Without that impulse in clever human beings, we wouldn’t have computers or the Hoover Dam or the Sears Tower. And without it we’ll never get the things we need to continue surviving on this torn planet. That impulse can save the world.
The article also includes this charming line — another reason, I think, to take Brown as a role model:
[Brown’s] 5-year-old son, Rush — named after Benjamin Rush, a signatory to the Declaration of Independence — has his own Legos.
“As you can imagine, they are kept separate. Underlined. We do borrow bits from each other, under very controlled, mutual-hostages situations,” Brown says.