Proposal Description: MULTI: Multiple User Interactive Template Installation


The goals of this research are fourfold:

1/ To develop a software tool which simulates the experience of synesthesia to
produce concrete, documentable expressions of creativity. Study of controlled,
collaboratively produced outputs permit us to explore the effect of different
computer-visualization techniques upon processes of creativity. A constitutive
relationship between synesthesia and creativity (Campen, 2002) and an
operational relationship between synesthesia and multimedia (Cytowic, 1993)
has been suggested and following these leads, we propose to mobilize
synesthesia as the visualization technique we will target to investigate the
collaborative development of creativity.

2/ To evaluate the methods of testing and measuring creativity expressed
through the use of this tool, and to formulate and elucidate, inductively, the
conception of creativity so arrived at. Using an extensive review of literature to
create a taxonomic ordering of models and concepts of creativity will allow us to
formalize and comparatively analyze the conceptions of creativity operationalized
in this study, situating those conceptions within a comprehensive overview of
theories and models of creativity, such that the present work both builds upon
and extends our conceptual grasp of what has thus far proven an elusive and
empirically ungrounded conceptual field.

3/ To compare individual and collaborative uses of the software tool. We are
interested in exploring how forms of imagination, central as these are to creative
processes and products, are affected by participation in collaborative exercises.
The tool we develop must be capable of allowing us to test the same exercise as
carried out by: a) an individual working alone, b) partners who cooperate in the
exercise through the sharing of one input device, and c) partners who collaborate
in the exercise of using individually enabled input devices to participate all
together, at the same time (i.e. independently but simultaneously) The MULTI
interface configuration will meet this goal.

4/ To evaluate and revise existing studies and reporting on how creativity may be
fostered, in order to advance educational scholarship and practice. This is the
overarching goal of our research: to study and document whether and how an
interactive multimedia tool (Synesthesia software) and collaborative interface
(MULTI) can catalyze and intellectual processes which appear to satisfy generic
conceptual conditions for “creativity” both in process and in outcomes, and to
apply this knowledge directly to the advancement of creativity in educational

Theoretical Framework

Since the mid 20th century there has been an increasing concern that education
prioritize the development of creativity; implicit in this is the assumption that the
development and expression of creativity can be influenced.

There is little recent research investigating the development of creativity in
education, although many commentators support the assertion that creativity can
be developed. Also since the 1950’s, a number of attempts to stimulate creativity
have been undertaken. However, as Ryhammer & Brolin (1999) point out, there
has been a lack of systematic, controlled evaluations of such programs.
1970’s debates on creativity within philosophy regarded creativity as moving
away from product outcomes and being connected with imaginativeness (Elliott,
1971). The concept of creativity has traditionally proven elusive, a broad
spectrum of activity having been described as “creative”. One major distinction
made by analysts is that between ‘high’ creativity and ordinary, everyday,
creativity. Another of the distinctions is between creativity within specific domains
as opposed to creativity as an independent process, applied across domains.
Research into creativity in the 1980’s and 1990’s became rooted in a social
psychological framework recognizing the importance of social structures in
fostering individual creativity (Rhyammar & Brolin, 1999, Jeffrey & Craft, 2000).
This has been described as being a distinct, coherent area of study (Jeffrey &
Craft, 2000): creativity and social systems.

Some significant theories have been put forward in which creativity is seen from
a systems perspective (Cziksentmihalyi, 1998, Sternberg, 1998, Sternberg &
Lubart, 1991a, 1991b, 1995), where various elements of the overall social and
cognitive context are seen as highly relevant to processes and activities of
creating. In particular, Amabile’s (1988) model suggests that even very minor
aspects of the immediate social environment may affect individual creativity.
Exploring the role of the context or subject domain has become increasingly
important over the past decade.

Perhaps most relevant to education is the notion of ordinary or ‘democratic’
creativity. The phrase ‘democratic’ creativity was coined in the National Advisory
Group for Creative and Cultural Education Report (1999) to mean the creativity of
the ordinary person, recognizing that all pupils can be creative.
In the research which we are proposing, we will weave together three main
trajectories of inquiry which have defined contemporary studies of creativity: most
importantly, the impact of the social environment on individual creativity, an
emphasis on imaginativeness vs. product outcomes, and the notion of
‘democratic’ creativity.

Research Design, Hardware and Software Development


What is synesthesia and how might it be related to creativity? For those with
synesthesia, the geometric shape of a triangle may not only perceived visually as
a shape, but may simultaneously be experienced as a sound (e.g. a bell) or a
colour (i.e. red). We are interested in replicating the experience of synesthesia
for individuals who lack or have lost this sensitivity (there is some debate in the
field as to whether this sensitivity is an attribute which all children share, which is
lost in adulthood). Galeyev proposes that “as a specific form of interaction in an
integrated perception system, synesthesia displays an essential human ability.
Synesthesia is not some ephiphenomenon. It is not an anomaly. It is the norm,
though not always evident, in scientific analysis because of the special character
of its origin.” (1993).

Synesthesia has a long documented and investigated history. Many authors have
noted that a large percentage of visual artists report synesthetic sensitivity,
supporting the supposition that synesthesia and creativity may be linked (Marks,
1996, 1978, 1983; Peacock, 1985) According to Andrew Lyons, in a paper
available online titled ‘Abstractly Related and Spatially Simultaneous Auditory-
Visual Objects’, “synesthesia provides a clinical insight into the relationship
between the various human sensory modalities and in particular for the
relationship between audition and vision.” (2004). Our research draws on
Galeyev’s description of synesthesia as the product of creative imagination and
we believe that the light which it can shed on our relationships across
sensory/perceptual media and modalities represents an important, and
significantly under-studied area of inquiry whose implications extend far beyond
the movement of aesthetic sensibility and artistic ability, to encompass scientific
and mathematical intuition, including as well the broad fields of human and social
scientific education.

Waterworth’s (1996) research considering relationship among human
perception, creativity and computer systems is based upon the idea that “the
most salient and vital aspect of interacting with computer systems is consistently
overlooked, that is, the importance of computer systems as perceptual rather
than conceptual tools. Insofar as people interact with them, computer systems
function primarily as sensual transducers which I term ‘synaesthetic media,’ and
not as so-called ‘cognitive-artifacts’” (Waterworth, 1996, emphasis ours).
Waterworth further argues that computers have evolved to be much more than
tools which advance the computational aspects of cognition. Rather, the non-
computational aspects of sensation, imagination, emotion, and fantasy as well as
more plausibly computational faculties such as mental problem solving are now
key factors in interface and software design and it is where these factors
intersect, at the juncture between human reason and human sensation, that the
potential for creativity is most intense.

Through the software application which we develop, participants will be able to
manipulate various media elements (visual images, shapes, sounds, colours)
located within the context of a 3D computer graphic environment which they see
projected on screens around them. Moving media elements by ‘dragging’ and
‘dropping’ them, participants are then able to position and rearrange these
elements on a virtual music score. As musical notation is very complex and not
always logical, and because our priority is facilitating creativity through the
exploration of a synesthetic experience, the music score which participants have
access to will not necessarily be related to the traditional diatonic scale. Rather,
we are particularly interested in exploring and exploiting musical processes and
experiences which are not easy to describe and impossible to indicate accurately
in traditional musical notation: syncopation, harmonics, dissonance, and tone
colour. Each media element will be assigned an audio clip, tone, etc. Once
arranged the ‘composition’ can then be played back and modified.

Developing a tool which mimics experiences of synesthesia, and giving
participants direct control over the expression of such an experience, will allow
us to study constitutive and operational relationships among creativity,
multimedia and synesthesia.


Seamless interaction mechanisms developed in software will allow participants to
interact with content on the wall, transfer focus to different places, swap content,
etc. Wireless laser pointers will provide the user with the ability to manipulate
media elements in several ways. Content can be selected, dragged, dropped,
rotated, and repositioned.

Although it has been the case that information technology is usually abandoned
in favour of traditional media and forms of interaction during face-to-face
collaboration, I believe this has been due primarily to the limitations of the
interfaces and, specifically, an inability to carry out spontaneous collaborative
enterprises. In fact, rather than working against socialized communication and
interaction forms which include gestures as well as verbal interaction, the MULTI
system will be compatible and benefit from these forms of communication being
employed by participants. MULTI does not force people to communicate and
interact with dedicated computer systems; rather, it facilitates face-to-face
collaboration with the assistance of technology. MULTI bridges the gap between
computing environments which are designed to support interaction between one
person and one computer and systems which allow collaboration (remotely) over
a network.