Your Guide to

Welcome readers from ◎ Your Guide to the Mechanics of Creativity

An excerpt from the Creativity Framework by Dan Zen

This guide is one of five parts. Please start with ◎ Your Guide to the Mechanics of Creativity and then after reading below, follow with◎ Your Guide to Flexibility in Creativity, Your Guide to Content in Creativity and Your Guide to Relevance in Creativity (articles to come).

Terms used in the Framework

In part 1 of the Creativity Framework, creator Dan Zen discusses the terms and structures of creativity. These terms and structures will be used in Part 2 to make content. Let’s go through part 1 now.

A hierarchy! Oh great! Why did you remind me of my boss and my boss’s boss and my boss’s boss’s boss and so on!

Yes, a hierarchy can have negative connotation. In business we have bosses at the top and most of us on the bottom! Boo. This goes right back to feudal systems with many peasants and few lords. Also, Hierarchy can be used for classification leading to stereotypes which, the youth of the day advise, should be avoided at all costs.

In the Framework, Zen demonstrates that hierarchies are not as rigid as we might think and are the basic form of organization. He offers us a different word to use if we are skeptical — that is, TREE.

A ◈ A simple example of a hierarchy is shown below. Of everything, there are animals and plants. Animals include cats and docs and plants have trees, bushes and flowers. Obviously, this is not complete, but will do as a demonstration.

B ◈ We call each item in a hierarchy a NODE. With this diagram in mind it is very clear that:

Context is above the node and content is below the node. — Dan Zen, Philosophy of Nodism

The content of animals is cats and dogs. The context of bushes is plants.

C ◈ Context is often thought of as the past. What happened? What is the context? Conversely, it might be said that content only exists in the future. As soon as content is made, it becomes context for something else. Hence Zen’s quote from our first guide indicating that content (a message) gives rise to context (a medium):

A message is a medium.

You tell a friend a statement. This becomes context for their reply. Zen always found it funny that people say “a picture is worth a thousand words”. And replies:

A word is worth a million pictures.

In the diagram, if context is the past and content is the future then the node is now. Life is the process of turning content into context.

D ◈ Zen has also introduced NODE ZERO at the top. (In computer programming, we start counting at zero.) Node Zero is synonymous with the Universe. Its symbol of a circle within a circle is the symbol of Nodism. See Your Guide to the Philosphy of Nodism (article to come).

E ◈ Continuing the tree analogy, we call the lines BRANCHES. We call the last branches twigs. Haha, okay, no we don’t, but we do call them leaf nodes or END NODES as indicated in blue in the diagram above.

F ◈ A second node circle has been drawn for plants next to the first circle for animals. This is called a SIBLING node when it belongs to the same PARENT. The two nodes are CHILDREN of the parent. This relationship is for composition (more on that later).

G ◈ Another way to look at it is classification (again, more later). Where the SUPER class is above (as in Superman) and the SUB class is below (as in submarine). Zen has used PARA (as in parallel) to indicate the node next to. He used this prefix partially due to a famous creativity phrase that we discuss in the second part to the framework and that is paradigm shift.

H ◈ When we go down a hierarchy we SPLIT things into its ASPECTS. This is called ANALYSIS. A Detective analyizes by breaking things up into parts. When we go up a hierarchy we JOIN things and gain a PERSPECTive. This is called SYNTHESIS, like merging sound waves in a synthesizer.

I ◈ Things lower down are more SPECIFIC and things higher up are more GENERAL. Just watch out, sometimes the hierarchy is flipped. For instance, when we use the term ROOT — we mean the top of the hierarchy as drawn. Yet we usually think of the root as being at the bottom of a tree. Also, the terms BROAD and NARROW are tricky. Broad means more general because there are many things branching out beneath it. Yet the top of the hierarchy which is more broad, is actually drawn as more narrow and visa versa.

Structures used in the Framework

Hopefully the guide to the terms defined through hierarchy was helpful. Now let’s look at how Zen maps a hierarchy across vital organizational structures starting with what we might see when we get up in the morning!

J ◈ Drawers, boxes, containers, etc. help us organize. Above, Zen shows one thing holding two things the first of which holds another two things and the second of which holds three things. Got it? You will soon. These could help you keep your underwear away from your shirts. Or maybe this is a wire frame diagram of a Website with header and content sections. The header has a a logo and a nav. The content has three story sections.

K ◈ Imagine that we erase the side lines of the boxes above. And then we put angle brackets < > around the top lines and the bottom lines. The bottom lines get </ > in front. That is the format of HTML (or XML) which is the code that makes our Billions of Web pages.

L ◈ We have directly mapped the wire frame diagram a Web Designer would make with the HTML code a Front-end Developer would use to show the Web page in a Browser. So XML and HTML are just a way to tag and store a hierarchy.

M ◈ Now, if we just keep the top lines and the indenting we could add bullets or numbers to get a classic table of contents like for a report you did in grade four.

N ◈ Joining these lines vertically at their starts we get a classic view of a directory tree, like Windows Explorer, as shown below. Our folders on our computer are just a way to hold a hierarchy with files being the end nodes.

O ◈ Let’s turn the drawers on their side and this time erase the top and bottom lines and leave the corners. This is the format of nested arrays in computer programming. This is how coders store and work with a hierarchy. Zen would chat in the kitchen at parties saying “who needs XML when we have multidimensional arrays!”.

P ◈ Here is a very important one. Draw a line from the top center of the outer box down and then split in two to go to the top center of the left inside box and the top center of the right inside box. Then draw lines from there to the top center of the next inside boxes. At this point in a presentation, Zen typically draws these lines inside boxes on a whiteboard.

Mapping of nested boxes to hierarchy diagram

Q ◈ You can see that the lines show a direct mapping between nested boxes and a hierarchy diagram. Also, perhaps importantly, is that:

The node is the box and the box is the node.

R ◈ A hierarchy diagram like this is how we can show classification in science. In computing, where we model life with Objects Oriented Programming (OOP), the objects are made from classes. There is inheritance with super classes and sub classes.

S ◈ Let’s add letters to the end nodes and separate them with a different symbol for each level. The symbols are called DELIMITERS. Here, Zen uses ^ and ~. If we then read these in order from left to right we get A^B~C^D^E. These look like they are marching along in formation. They are INFORMATION.

T ◈ This can also be called CODE or LANGUAGE. In language we have delimiters like periods, commas, or punctuation in general. We also have letters, words and paragraphs separated by spaces and lines. Our mind parses these separators and turns them back into organized hierarchical meaning.

U ◈ If we flip the hierarchy upside down and use curves rather than straight lines we get a classic tree diagram. We can keep the same delimiters. Now, imagine looking up the trunk of the tree. You would see a large round circle as the cross section of the trunk. The trunk would split into two branches and you would see two more circles inside the big trunk circle. Going to the left would be two more circles and to the right would be three circles.

V ◈ These circles remind of us nests. We are NESTING. They also may remind of us CELLS and a group of cells is called an ORGAN. And what are we doing? We are ORGANIZING.

W ◈ If we don’t care about what the end nodes are and are only interested in the structure, then we can just list the delimiters: ^~^^. With this code we can figure out the structure of one thing holding two things, the first holding another two things and the second holding another three things.

The code for the structure of cells is called DNA.

X ◈ Despite showing one important revelation after another, there is one last part to the diagram. If we start with our first node in the middle and branch out in two directions. Then one of the branches branches out in two more directions and the other in three directions we get the format of a RADIAL HIERARCHY. This is also known as a MIND MAP.

Radial Hierarchy — Node Globe by Dan Zen

Y ◈ The brain is made up of neurons that connect to dendrite tree structures. (Dendrite is tree in Greek). Now the brain is not a single hierarchy but billions of hierarchies. It is Zen’s proposal that at any one given time, these are connected into a single hierarchy through parsing of data — like how we can split and join XML fragments. There is at any given time, a physical chemical/electric trail leading to one place. This one place is always moving. What is this place called?

Consciousness is a single moving physical hierarchy.

Z ◈ A hierarchy leads to one parent. We feel like we are one entity. As to how this works, it is an ongoing investigation through the Philosophy of Nodism. All the diagrams are from ten years of Dan Zen original first-principle thought experiments. You can have a look through sketches in Your Guide to the Philosophy of Nodism. (article to come).


We have seen the terms and structures needed to use the Creativity Framework including a hierarchy with nodes and their context and content. We have show the mapping of hierarchy across important organizational systems. Another word for mappings is ISOMORPHISMS.

In ◎ Your Guide to Flexibility in Creativity we will explore the two types of hierarchy — composition and classification. We will see the flexibility of hierarchy and compare these findings to the Theory of Relativity. In the final two parts of this guide we will see how to use the Framework for creation.

For now, we leave you with a video of Zen installing the Isomorphisms of Hierarchy artwork made with used Crazy Carpets.

Note: according to Zen, it usually takes about an hour to an hour and a half to present this content.

All the best,

Dr Abstract

Written by

Inventor, Founder of ZIM JavaScript Canvas Framework and Nodism, Professor of Interactive Media at Sheridan, Canadian New Media Awards Programmer and Educator

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