For us mathematicians, it is very important to understand the situations that encourage our creativity. It is always interesting to see how people working in other disciplines do it.
In the Guardian a week and a half ago, there was a short item about Neil Gaiman, surely one of the most creative people around. He has just announced he will take a holiday of at least six months from social media next year. The problem, he says, is not the amount of time spent using social media; it’s the way it spreads into every cranny of our existence.
People ask me where I get my ideas from, and the answer is that the best way to come up with new ideas is to get really bored.
Watching school plays is ideal. You have to sit there for hours and you can’t read or use a phone or check something on the web. I’ll come out afterwards thinking: “Did I just plot out an episode of Dr Who there? I think I did.”
Not so different, then, from proving a theorem while sitting in the back of a boring lecture …