Idea Generator

for physicists, quantum mechanists, cosmologists, and string theorists

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
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This is an application of Freenoting. To make this work for you, you need to Freenote. If you’ve not yet learned to Freenote, you may be able to from the brief instruction following immediately below. More extensive self-training instructions are posted here. The original publication of Freenoting technique is found in Chapter Two of Win Wenger’s book, Beyond Teaching and Learning.

Crucial to remember as a scientist is to avoid the ad hominem fallacy, dismissing an idea or thesis because of who or what is suggesting it rather than treating it on its own merits. What matters is whether the hypothesis checks out, whatever its source, whether enough support is apparent for it to become a theory.

You need to be free to entertain any hypothesis, even if it’s one you’ve come up with yourself, enough at least to check it out. The purpose of Freenoting is to enable you to come up with hypotheses very different from those you ordinarily would coax from already-too-cultivated grounds, to see with fresh eyes a field whose very familiarities are preventing you from discovering fresh answers.

Moiré pattern created by Jacob Yerex
“Growth” — Moiré pattern by Jacob Yerex

The role of scientific method is to pull weeds and let (relative) truths flower. But you need to allow fresh growth in order for this to be very productive. Generate hypotheses first, then weed among them. You don’t have to be over the hill at age 30 as a cutting-edge researcher — you should just be getting warmed up!

Just don’t confuse all of what you need to do as a creative scientist with being just the weed-pulling phase of “the scientific method”! Freenoting is one of the more potent among many very productive things you can do to heighten your scientific creativity and to improve your fluency of fresh ideas in order to have something worth the weeding.

How to Freenote, in Brief

Freenoting is like a brainstorm in that you use it to generate a very high volume of output, initially without critical judgment. Some of that output may be throw-away, but some of it is valuable ideas and notions you might never have gotten to otherwise.

Your rapid discourse (without much repetition) onto a note pad (or computer keyboard if you type fast enough), or onto an audio tape, or even to a live listener, quickly uses up all that you’d normally say in the context. The continued rapid-flow “demand” of your flow will force you to draw upon resources beyond your stock conscious knowledge.

Force yourself to go on without pause or hesitation, force a vacuum into which can upwell some astonishing insights and relatings, many of them remarkably valid and original.

The key is to flow and sustain that flow. Flow faster than you can stop to consciously think what should come next. You’ve got to keep pumping without letup in order to keep up a good head of vacuum pulling up previously unconsidered associations and data.

Rules of Freenoting

  1. Keep that uncritical effusive flow going, without let-up. Rapidly speak, write or type without pause for 15-30 minutes, in the general context but without concern as to whether what you are writing is indeed in the context.
  2. Don’t edit. If it occurs to you, get it down on tape or paper or into the computer, without hesitation, and keep going.
  3. Don’t fear absurdity. Less of this output will be absurd than you might think! Some of what at first seems the most absurd will turn out to have some of the most original and valid elements of value somewhere embedded in it.
  4. Don’t repeat too much. Keep reaching for something different to say in the context. But don’t hang up over whether you’ve said something before — there may be a new association there with that old point. If it comes to mind, say it, get it down, get it expressed and recorded.
  5. Freenote without concern as to something being correct or accurate. Get it all down where you can look at it. Do your editing later, maybe even your secretive shredding later, but definitely not during this torrential flow. Free up as completely as you can during these free-noting intervals from editing your own thoughts and perceptions, by effusing as torrentially as possible.
  6. Your current ongoing perceptions will be somewhat more productive of fresh insights than is your stock of knowledge. Lean your attention somewhat, without editing, toward your ongoing perceptions, especially your ongoing sensory impressions. This will be easier if you speak in present tense, even where relating past events.

Most of our procedures are best when done with a live listener. That is an option also with Freenoting, but hard on the listener, who is in the position of “trying to drink from a firehose.” Also, it is harder for some Freenoters to give themselves the necessary permission to be absurd, so they can flow freely without editing. Notepad or computer — if you can write or type fast enough — is preferred for Freenoting because it is easier that way to go back over what you’ve expressed to see what ideas and insights have emerged.

The above are the short-form instructions for how to Freenote. Some may need to pursue the general online instructions for Freenoting. We guarantee that Freenoting will result for you in many new ideas and insights and understandings (this is also an accelerated learning technique), many more worthy hypotheses among which to weed with the scientific method. Many of these you will find will turn out to be valid, some of them significant.

Indeed, in creativity training and practice, some of the more successful programs teach you to deliberately generate a few absurdities at first, that you will actually get a higher number and proportion of valid ideas resulting from so freeing yourself from self-editing.

Advanced Level

Now to take this forward another level into useful applications in your field of physics, quantum mechanics, string theory or other branch of physical science:

Objective:   to encourage you or let you encourage yourself by whatever means possible into making further breakthroughs in your work.
Method A:   Explain the most advanced concepts and fields to a young child.
Method B:   Correct the brash speculations of a student in your field.
Method C:   Brainstorm with teams using certain Project Renaissance techniques.

See also: Getting Far More and Better Learning for Less Effort
You can more than double your rate of long-term retention of units of learning which substantially involve understanding, by one simple easy practice at the conclusion of that unit

Method A: Explaining advanced concepts to a child

One of the most noted among cognitive and educational psychologists of the twentieth century, Jerome S. Bruner, formerly head of Harvard’s Institute of Cognitive Studies, wrote in The Process of Education that any idea, concept or theory can be taught in intellectually respectable form to any child, at any age level, provided that one puts it to him in the child’s own conceptual vocabulary. Not many have risen to that challenge, though in this past half-century Bruner’s Dictum seems never to have been refuted.

Something of the sort may well be true. One of the intellects I most respect begins her exploration of any new field by first reading the children’s literature on that topic and then going on from there. She finds that this immediately makes key relationships readily apparent to her which otherwise would not be.

In any event, the same data portrayed in a medium unfamiliar to you results in different secondary awarenesses and associations being evoked for you. I presume that a child-directed exposition of your own field is a medium somewhat less than familiar to you.

Whether or not Bruner’s Dictum is literally true, for the purpose here it doesn’t matter. The purpose here is to find a fresh way to look at your own field of work and generate fresh insights and new hypotheses for testing.

Think of a reasonably bright but not necessarily precocious eight-year-old child, real or imaginary. Get that child as real to you as possible, a specific person rather than an abstraction or a general class. (You might even, for at least brief intervals, teach directly to an actual child, give him or her a leg up on future studies, let the feedbacks you experience enter into your direct and indirect and subtle perceptions of your own work.)

To that child, real or imaginary, begin teaching the most basic precepts of your field — in ways that make sense for that child. If you are convinced that key areas of your field are counter-intuitive, fine:  make them make sense anyway for that child to understand. Your reach to do so will instruct your own understanding and perception. As you go, pick up on as many as possible of the secondary thoughts and associations, fleeting impressions and stray notions as this occasions for you — some of these contain the keys to your own breakthroughs!

Method B: Correcting a brashly speculative student

As you go through the remarks below, especially the naive speculations contained in the student’s letter, some things will occur to you — perhaps only to correct the naivete of those speculations. Once even the most trivial-seeming or unrelated — especially the seemingly unrelated — association comes to mind, start Freenoting and sustain the flow in that context for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Then breathe deeply, and recharge further on in the letter. The 40 to 60 minutes of fierce flow-writing is a small price to pay for 10 to 100 major new hypotheses in your own field, most of which will withstand scientific testing!

Helpful hint:   Particular objections and explanations and associations related to specific points will usually work better than blanket rejections, in terms of generating more insights in your professional field. Treat the author of the letter as a very brash student needing your most patient tutelage, but most important is to be alert to and pick up on your own momentary associations as they flash by while you do this. If nothing occurs to you, which is unlikely, you can get yourself started by Freenoting on all the reasons why you don’t want to do this procedure. Even that will work, so long as you follow the above rules.

Please have a Freenoting pad at hand (as per the above instructions). Try to notice and capture each stray associated thought which comes along as you start to address the student’s naive babble. Freenote on it for a forced 5 to 10 minutes as extensively as possible, and see if one or more of these Freenotes don’t move you onto some fresh and useful ground.

I want to enable you, by whatever means feasible, to make further breakthroughs in your work, in addition to, or in parallel with, our other procedures such as Image StreamingHigh Thinktank , and the advanced inventing and discovering procedures found in the book Discovering the Obvious.

A series of questions from a hypothetical student who is speculating wildly on a wide range of scientific conundrums and earnestly needs your explanations. How would you make these subjects understandable to this student?

From a letter dated May 4, 1999


Like a young child gazing at a cloudscape and seeing animals or faces, or like gazing into a fireplace like Kekule and seeing snakes or cities or castles or landscapes, our mind and brain Gestalts undefined or complex perceptions toward something more familiarly recognized and/or relevant.
In that regard, then, you might find it helpful to your own efforts to range over my following uninformed naive babbles and try to instill some sense into me….

I understand that most physicists and cosmologists currently accept paired-particle creation ongoing throughout space and time, and that some hold that all our own physical universe of material and energy is only one of many variously tiny bubbles into material existence from some more fundamental substrate. Big to us because we’re in the midst of it…

Many of the quantum-oriented tend to “view” sub-atomic phenomena not as particles but as a resonance. (Resonance of what?) As patterns of ripples rather than as particles.

Resonance of what?

To properly appreciate that question, sometime you should watch, live or on video, demonstration of a sand tray with various sounds and tones being rippled through it. — Or standing water in your kitchen sink when you have the garbage disposal running under it. Is each sub-atomic particle really like one of those standing-wave ripples? And if so, what’s there that’s being rippled?

Using systems theory to think about sub-atomic waves and ripple:

By definition, a system is the interaction between two or more elements (whether things or processes). What are the two or more elements which are required to comprise what we recognize as a sub-atomic particle?

Even if for initially stochastic reasons, some systems last longer than others. By one or more of the eight strategies for doing so that Dr. Wenger has identified in Toward a General Theory of Systems, what sustains a sub-atomic ripple/wave/particle?

Regarding paired-particle spin issues

What conveys (if indeed Bell’s Theorem really is demonstrated empirically) effects at a distance?

  • One response, from string theory and related corners of the inquiry, seems to be that in some dimensions the distance doesn’t exist, so the transmission of whatever energy is direct, requiring no medium or agent in-between.
  • Another, choosing not to posit extra dimensions, argues some sort of transmittal of energy — by resonance, by mystical psychic or spiritual force of some sort, or by some other as-yet undefined form of energy.
    Can all of this be but one phenomenon?

If we could address it in terms of resonance,

  • What would be resonating?
  • In what medium is the resonance occurring?
  • What can the resonance itself tell us about the medium? About the thing resonating? About other forms of resonance?
Mind map

The “mind map” shown here encompasses elements representative of these phenomena. What are some of the multiple relationships that you can perceive to exist between these elements?


We certainly do find spirituality (however defined) and great art in frequent association, though we’ve always assumed:

  • That was because, historically, the church usually was the only party wealthy enough to patronize and commission the artists; and
  • That it was largely a matter of “make a joyful noise unto the Lord,” rather than the Greek notion of an originating source of inspiration from the Muses.
  • All of this, thus far, can be said without any assumptions or speculations about the existence and nature of deity, afterlife, or any extrasensory phenomena. Thus there is permissible ground for scientific investigation within the boundary agreement between Galileo and the Church.

But all this is perhaps but a sideband relative to the central or Substrate issue…

Now as you patiently try to instruct the babbler of the above porridge into something which makes sense even to him, be alert to the sidebands and “stray thoughts” which occur along the way, and Freenote upon each…..

Also, at points along the way, you will do well to:

Like the very different procedures in the book Discovering the Obvious, this “Freenoting assault on good sense” is a shortcut way to get to many good new hypotheses to test. If you’ve followed the rules of Freenoting with this, you now have some good hypotheses to define and to take to the next step.

It may be best that you get your breakthroughs safely published before letting on to too many colleagues, or to the public, what first suggested them to you. Of the many points you can arrive at via these routes, many or most can be put to verification through empirical or mathematical grounds and, as with Kekule, this should be what people first see, at least until our culture and our subculture of science become more rational.

People learned of Einstein’s notions in physics before they learned of his “Deep Thought” discovery experiments through which he learned them and through which he sought to demonstrate them. In the very long run, I will appreciate some references, getting more already-powerful minds into use of resources like these, and of the procedures in Discovering the Obvious.

Image Streaming   |   High Thinktank

Another, Shorter Stimulus

Here is another possible line of attack for you. Sometimes a simple question can start one’s thinking and perceiving in new directions, even conventionally, and this one can, moreover, be put to Image Streaming or High Thinktank.

We know what acts as a limit on the size of stars: the bigger ones become blue giants and burn up quickly, and probably the biggest ones short-cut the whole process and implode into black holes without much of an evolution, so there aren’t any or many of these around. But….

Question One:   What limits the upper size of galaxies? (I don’t believe I’ve seen any statement in print, or otherwise, about the limiting speed of light as a factor on orbiting mass around super-sized galactic cores, or any such, besides that speed of light gets a bit slippery around event horizons.) Here the Galaxy in Andromeda is about 100 times our own Milky Way’s mass, and I gather that the upper range is around 150 times our Milky Way’s mass, out of all the hundreds of millions of galaxies within current range of our telescopes….

Question Two:   Both stars and galaxies are fractals — a generally or widely recognized relationship — but what precisely defines and forms either as a form of Mandelbrot Set? (Can the specifics of that, even as a speculation, bring other awarenesses into view?)

Question Three:   Universe-as-standing-wave quantum context:  If stars and galaxies are in effect “standing waves,” or at least harmonics of standing waves expressed at the frequencies which generate atomic matter and sub-atomics, what does this characterization bring into awareness for you?

Feel free both to answer accurately and to speculate, and even to answer foolishly. And let us know only those which make sense to you afterwards, so you don’t have to edit until you’ve fully examined what has come out….

Have fun!

Method C: Team Brainstorming

The procedure following below is productive enough in its own right. But you can also take this procedure to an even higher level of use in generating new understandings and new creative ideas. Get some preliminary experience with brainstorming (see the Gravel Gulch method); with Image Streaming; and with Calm-Breathing Patterns, all of which are here free for your use.

  1. Line up as many colleagues (and students) with some background in high-energy physics or astrophysics as you can, in teams of two or three.
  2. Remind members of the tradition in physics of off-the-wall and weird hypotheses turning out to be “true.” Advise them that while many or most of the weird notions they are about to generate will be discardable, some definitely are expected to pan out which were unlikely to have been reached any time soon by any other method.
    Quotation from Niels Bohr
  3. The task of each team will be to brainstorm as many observations as it can, within the team, competing good-naturedly in numbers with the other teams. Prerequisite: a good understanding of brainstorming and its purpose, and the need to eschew argument and defense and judgment in favor of generating more ideas, including even ridiculous ideas, to get the numbers up BEFORE very-much-needed judgment is called into play.Members should be alert to making special note (for later use) of any idea which is greeted by a burst of laughter. Each observation, good or bad, is to be recorded in a list. For additional power, you might print out and use the instructions for brainstorming in Gravel Gulch in the Creative Problem Solving section of this website.
  4. Here is what each of the teams is to observe:
    • (Preferred:) A sand tray, acoustically vibrated so as to set up standing waves across its surface. Or,
    • A stoppered kitchen sink or equivalent filled with water, with the garbage disposal underneath it running so as to set up a pattern of standing waves across the surface of the water.
  5. Challenge the teams to each record 50 or more observations in the brainstorm, within ten minutes. Allow 15 minutes. This is not a standard “brainstorm” for ideas so much as it is a “brainstorm” for things you can say which describe in some way(s) the object of observation. Survey to see which team has the most observations listed.
  6. In the speculative hypothesis stage, teams are to:
    • Treat every observation temporarily as if it were true.
    • Assume that the phenomenon or aspect observed has counterparts in the quantum sub-atomic realm — and in the inter-meta-galactic macroscopic realm.
    • Generate at least one descriptive/predictive hypothesis for each such observation and phenomenon.
    • Force going through the list at a faster-than-comfortable pace, press hard to get a rapid flow of hypotheses generated and recorded.
  7. Then allow, at an easier pace, the selecting of 3 or more of the more interesting hypotheses, defining and specifying how they may be tested, and what the prospective outcomes of those tests could mean for relevant theory.
  8. Then each group “educates” two other groups (or three other groups) on its respective test design. Each team picks one from each of the other team’s 3 or more proposals. Each set of 3 (or 4) teams picks but one, or at most two, of the 9+ (or 12+) proposals reviewed. Put these into the beginnings of a formal project design to present before the whole group.
  9. Then, to go to the next power level in this process, you have the option of either:
    • Image Streaming to discover the main relevant consideration(s) not yet addressed. You can use, even freely print out, the instructions for Image Streaming in the Creative Problem-Solving section of this website. Or
    • Noise-Removal Breathing for clarity, sweeping up and away whatever stands between the perceiver and further clear perceptions and understandings in this context. The free instructions for this procedure, useful for far more than this context, are yours to print out in Winsights No. 28 and No. 29, a monthly column of Project Renaissance.


Some aspects of quantum theory are not so weird, if you treat with wave phenomena as distinct from atomic particles and sub-particles. Bi- or multi-locality is an example of this. Protomanifestations in some underlying medium could easily be at multiple locations before the ripple stabilizes at some one point. We are, remember, a long way from being able to observe sub-atomic particles directly — we have to infer their existence from phenomena which could as easily come from a “readiness state” in some underlying medium as from an actual photon, boson or quark. Some of our best brains may well be confusing the map with the territory. Conventional mechanics might not wholly disappear in the “quantum realm.”

Even if conventional mechanics were wholly absent from the quantum realm (and we begin to imagine that maybe they aren’t — that we are indeed still in one UNIverse), running the experiment described above should stir up a lot of fresh thinking and perceiving, generate new equations and a lot of testable hypotheses which could move matters nicely forward.

If high-energy physicists, quantum physicists and string theorists are not so fully and unscientifically caught up in the romantic assumption that their realm is totally counter-intuitive and approachable only through mathematical fantasy, entirely removed from any possibility of empirical investigation, it should not be so difficult for one of these scientists, somewhere, to stopper his own kitchen sink and begin running his disposal to generate standing waves as suggested — and even changing the angle at which the light is reflected off the rippled surface, to generate dozens more brainstormed observations, hypotheses and descriptive equations.

Can anyone doubt that a team of anywhere from 4 to 40 reasonably competent physicists could, in such an experiment, generate many new testable propositions, several of which would likely be of scientific significance? Even merely one such individual, on his own, if he knows at all how to brainstorm, should be able to have a field day with this. (An online example of brainstorming is provided in the Gravel Gulch problem-solving procedure posted freely on this website. See also “Rules of Freenoting” on the first page of this article.)

Not only as an experiment but as a teaching tool, introducing students to much of even the more familiar phenomena of high-energy and quantum physics, use the demonstration and brainstorm to lay an experience basis in the minds of your students, a basis which can support further and more formal understandings.

Granted there are major differences between the kitchen sink and the underlying medium, if any, in the universe —

  1. the confined space;
  2. the degree of fluidity of the medium;
  3. the particular driving force; and
  4. of course the phenomenological scale.

As value is found in this way of concretizing observations, however, it should be relatively easy for physicists and for physics departments, at the very lowest-tech levels, to vary the first three considerations in ways which can lead to better inferences regarding the fourth. For example, differences in the observations, et al., compiled from a vibrating sand tray, compared to those from the disposal-driven sink full of water. Those differences would speak to issues of granularity vs. fluidity of the underlying medium, if there is one, and give us some reading on whether Planck’s Constant is an absolute phenomenological limit.

The above is but one of several dozens of specific creativity-heightening and problem-solving methods for scientists in all fields, in a book now being prepared by the author, Win Wenger, Ph.D., which he expects to publish in 2009. Several of these methods may be observed on this website at the references listed below.

Related topics

  • Some further speculations are posted in the Science Issues section.
  • Many creative problem-solving techniques, including Image Streaming and Gravel Gulch, are freely available in the CPS Techniques section.
  • Winsights columns, No. 5556 and 58, outline three other new and useful techniques.

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