Revel in the moment of creation.

One powerful generative motion is to take a whole and divide it into its sub-parts. Once cut up, the sub-parts can be recombined, solved individually, maximized over, or even recursively decomposed.


Decomposition is necessary for turning abstract plans into action. For example, take an action like ‘go to Antartica’. That action isn’t executable - it needs to be decomposed into sub-parts (book a flight, go from where you are to an airport, navagate the airport, fly to southern Argentina, travel to the boat, call a tour operator, acquire a permit, etc.).

The sub-parts are decomposed in turn until a concrete action that can be executed falls out of the plan, bottoming out in unconscious behavior (the tapping of keyboard keys, the dialing of a cell phone).

Many arguments hinge on a concept which, when decomposed, dissolves the entire argument. For example, arguments about Free Will where both parties agree on the low level, grounded scientific reality can still rage on, as the conflation of multiple definitions / implications of free will introduce conflation that decomposition can aleve.

Algorithmically, decomposition is ubiquitous. Divide and conquer algorithms, such as mergesort, Strassen’s matrix multiplication algorithm and dynamic programming algorithms all leverage this structure.

Naturally, we should decompose decomposition itself. One way is by asking about the properties of our decomposition: is it mutually exclusive? (No overlap between categories?) is it collectively exhaustive? (do we capture all of the decomposed object in our sup-parts?) Do we end at the conceptual level or the concrete, object level? Those properties can serve as guides for the strengths and weaknesses of a particular decomposition.

Decomposition can be thought of as inverting abstraction. Where abstraction is compressive, decomposition is generative. Where abstraction goes from the concrete towards the conceptual, decomposition goes from the conceptual towards the concrete.

Part of a series on Systematizing Creativity.

Moment of Creation