Art without Bias

MOTIVELESS ART

The Boyle family is a famous family of collaborative artists based in London. The family creates paintings by reproducing small patches of the world in meticulous detail. They select their sites at random in the following manner.

  • A blindfolded person throws a dart into a large map of the world.
  • Then they call someone who lives near where the dart pinpointed — perhaps the curator of a nearby gallery — and asks them to throw a dart blindfolded at the local map.
  • Then they travel to the exact spot pinpointed on the local map.
  • Then one of them takes a right angle and hurls it into the air. The place it lands becomes the first corner of the new work.
  • The random selection serves several purposes: nothing is excluded as a potential subject; the particular is chosen as a representative of the whole and it reduces their subjective role as artists and creators to that of “presenters”. The Boyles call this a “motiveless technical” to present a slice of reality as objectively and truthfully as possible.

Their incorporation of randomness into art removes the prejudices that the conditioning of our upbringing and culture impose. It makes it possible for us to look at the world or a small part of it, without being reminded consciously or unconsciously of myths and legends, art out of the past or present, art and myths of other cultures. We see without motive and without reminiscence.

MOTIVELESS POETRY

To get a feel for this philosophy, create a motiveless poem using the following guidelines.

MOTIVELESS POETRY

 

Read THINKERTOYS: A HANDBOOK OF CREATIVE THINKING TECHNIQUES by creativity expert Michael Michalko

http://www.amazon.com/Thinkertoys-Handbook-Creative-Thinking-Techniques-Edition/dp/1580087736/ref=pd_sim_b_1?ie=UTF8&refRID=0T6TTX3RDA7VQ9NEJR5C

 

 

 

 

How Do You Know?

God

A field of grass is given its character, essentially, by those experiences which happen over and over again–millions of times.  The germination of the grass seed, the blowing wind, the flowering of the grass, the hatching of insects, being beaten down by thunderstorms, the paths made by animals and hikers, and so on.  It is a whole system of interdependent events that determine the nature of the field of grass.

It is also roughly true that the nature of our beliefs and perceptions are interpreted from our experiences.  The field of grass cannot change its character.  Grass cannot interpret and shape its experiences to create a different nature.  However, we are not a field of grass.  We can choose to interpret our experiences in any way we wish.  You know as well as I do that few of us are even aware of what this means.

(*-*)     AAA     (00)     I 000000 I     ^–^     I – - _ – - _ I

Look at the six designs above.  Assign a label to each of them by selecting one of the following words: “Indians,” “piggy nose,” “shy kitty,” “woman,” “sleeper,” and “bathroom.”

Now that you’ve assigned labels to the designs, ask yourself: “Why is this so easy to do?”  For example, if you labeled AAA as “Indians,” then how does an Indian village with its ponies, tents, campfires, etc. fit so comfortably into three letters?  The symbols have no meaning.  We give them meaning by how we choose to interpret them.  You have the freedom to select any meaning for any experience instead of being a victim who must assign one and only one meaning to each experience.

We automatically interpret all of our experiences without realizing it.  Are they good experiences, bad ones, what do they mean and so on?  We do this without much thought, if any, to what the interpretations mean.  For instance, if a woman bumps into you, you wonder why.  The event of her bumping into you is neutral in itself.  It has no meaning.  It’s your interpretation of the bumping that gives it meaning, and this meaning shapes your perception of the experience.

You may interpret the “bump” as rude or deliberately aggressive behavior.  Or you may feel you are of such little significance that you are deliberately unnoticed and bumped around by others. You may choose to use the experience as an example of feminist aggression, or you may interpret the bump as her way of flirting with you.  Your interpretation of the experience determines your perception.

Think of roses and thorns.  You can complain because roses have thorns, or you can rejoice because thorns have roses.  You can choose to interpret experiences any way you wish.  It is not the experience that determines who you are; it is your interpretation of the experience.  You do not see things as they are; you see them as you are.

Once upon a time, two explorers came upon a spectacular, perfectly tended garden of vegetables in the middle of jungle.  One explorer says, “What a beautiful garden.  It looks so perfect.  Surely, a gardener must tend this garden.” 

The other explorer disagrees, “There is no way a gardener can tend this garden.  It is in the middle of the jungle, hundreds of miles from civilization.  There is so sign of human life anywhere.  Surely, it is some kind of natural phenomenon.”

After much arguing, they agree to set up camp and watch for someone to show up and tend the garden.  They stay for months but nobody shows up.

“See,” said the Doubter. “There is no gardener, for surely he would have appeared by now to tend the garden, which is still perfect.  It must be a random creation of nature.”

The Believer argued, “No, there must be a gardener.  He may be invisible, intangible, and eternally elusive to our understanding.  But it is not possible for such a beautiful, well tended garden to exist in the middle of the jungle without being tended.  The garden, itself, is proof of the existence of the gardener, and I have faith that the gardener will return to tend his garden.”

Both the Believer and Doubter interpreted the garden differently, and these two different interpretations led to two different beliefs.  When you believe something, you have the feeling that you chose to believe, or to not believe, based on reason and rational thinking.  But this is not so, your beliefs are shaped by the way you interpret your experiences.

How you interpret experiences also helps determine how you feel.  While researching happiness and well-being, Professor Daniel Kahneman of Princeton University discovered that when he asked college students if they were happy, most said yes.  However, if he first asked how many dates they had in the last month and then asked if they were happy, most said no.  Their interpretation of the questions determined how they felt.

Your theory about the world is deduced from your interpretations and beliefs.  That theory then determines what you observe in the world.  At one time, ancient astronomers believed that the heavens were eternal and made of ether.  Their theory made it impossible for them to observe meteors as burning stones from outer space.  Although the ancients witnessed meteor showers and found some on the ground, they couldn’t recognize them as meteors from outer space.  They only sought out and observed only those things that confirmed their theory about the heavens.

We are like the ancient astronomers and actively seek only the information that confirms our beliefs and theories about ourselves and the world.  Religious people see evidence of God’s handiwork everywhere; whereas atheists see evidence that there is no God anywhere.  Conservatives see the evils of liberalism everywhere and liberals see the evils of conservatism everywhere.  Likewise, people who believe they are creative see evidence of their creativity everywhere, and people who do not believe they are creative see evidence everywhere that confirms their negative belief.  That which does not conform to our theories makes us feel uncomfortable and confused.  I’m reminded of a story told to me by “Black Cloud,” my Lakota Sioux good friend, who heard the story from his grandfather.

An old Sioux warrior had eight magnificent horses.  One night, during a great storm, they all escaped.  The other warriors came to comfort him.  They said, “How unlucky you are.  You must be very angry to have lost your horses.”

“Why?” replied the warrior.

“Because you have lost all your wealth.  Now you have nothing,” they responded.

“How do you know?” He said.

The next day the eight horses returned bringing with them twelve new stallions.  The warriors returned and joyously announced that now the old warrior must be very happy.

“Why?”  was his response.

“Because now you are even richer than before,”  They responded.

“How do you know?”  He again responded.

The following morning, the warrior’s young son got up early to break in the new horses.  He was thrown and broke both his legs.  The warriors came once more, and talked with the old warrior about how angry he must be at his misfortune and how terrible it was for his son to break both legs.

“How do you know?”  The warrior said once more.

Two weeks passed.  Then the chief announced that all able-bodied men and boys must join a war party to fight against a neighboring tribe.  The Lakotas won but at great cost as many men and young boys were killed.  When the remaining warriors returned, they told the old warrior that it was lucky his son had two broken legs, otherwise he could have been killed or injured in the great battle.”

“How do you know?” He said.

Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at change.

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Creative thinking expert Michael Michalko’s new book “Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work” is not available from Amazon in paperback and kindle.

http://www.amazon.com/Creative-Thinkering-Putting-Your-Imagination/dp/160868024X/ref=pd_sim_b_3?ie=UTF8&refRID=0AZ4HDTTG40XHBRPX22Q

 

Your Words Become Your Thoughts

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle was responsible for producing some of the greatest advances in human thought.  Modern society and education have tended to focus more on the discoveries resulting from these strategies than on the mental processes through which the discoveries were made. Many of his discoveries were the result of his work with language.

According to Aristotle, words are sounds that become symbols of mental experience through the association with past experiences and the processes of the subconscious mind. As a result, words can both reflect and shape mental thought. By using verbal prompts, he was able to draw out related ideas through the process of association and generate a multiplicity of different perspectives.

Below is an illustration of scattered dots and splashes. Can you spot any specific object in the illustration? Spend a few moments trying before you read further.

dog

The chaotic spread of dots and splashes create a visual noise that monopolizes the brain and leaves so little processing power that it’s difficult for the brain to consciously perceive the object, making it effectively invisible. However, if I asked you to spot the dog, the word “dog” will trigger your subconscious mind. Your subconscious will process thoughts and information about your experiences with dogs and will shape the way you perceive the patterns in the illustration. Eventually, you will spot a dog in the center. One word changed your perception.

Words also shape thought. To start with, it’s helpful to carefully choose words when phrasing a problem. Imagine you are the person in the illustration below. Your challenge is to tie together the ends of the two strings suspended from the ceiling. The strings are located so you cannot reach one string with your outstretched hand while holding the second. The room is bare, and you have only the things with you that you have in your pocket today. How do you solve the problem?

man and string.jpeg

Initially, you might state the problem as: “How can I get to the second string?” Phrasing it this way gives you only one perception of the problem and you would then waste your energy trying to get to the second string, which is not possible.

In order to avoid settling for your first perception of the problem, the phrase “In what ways might I…….?” will invite you to look for alternative perceptions.  For example, if you phrased it (In what ways might I and the string get together?), you will likely come up with the solution—to tie a small object (such as a key, ring, watch, or belt) to the end of one string and set it in motion like a pendulum, then grab it while still holding the second string in your hand.

In each and every experience there is a multitude of other experiences lying in wait. Once you chose one you marginalize the others. To say it very simply, the moment we call something “a” we have marginalized all of its other possible states (b, c, d, e, and so on) into nothingness because we don’t see them. Once the problem was shaped as how to get to the second string all other possible perceptions were marginalized.

When you look at a problem using a multiplicity of perspectives instead of one stabilized view, you bring forth a new understanding of the possibilities. The important thing is not to persist with one way of looking at problems. Try to come up with different ways to look at them. When Richard Feynman, the Nobel Laureate physicist, was “stuck” with a problem, he would look at it in a different way. If one way didn’t work, he would switch to another. Whatever came up, he would always find another way to look at it.

CHANGE THE WORDS. A quick and easy way to generate a multiplicity of perspectives is to simply change the words. For every word a person uses, there is a mediating response which provides the meaning of that concept for that individual.  Many times they may not be responses in the usual sense but all provide meaning of that concept for that individual. When you change the words in your problem statement, you initiate an unobservable process in your mind that may lead to a new perspective.

Toyota asked employees for ideas on how they could become more productive. They received few suggestions. They reworded the question to: “In what ways might I make my job easier?” They were inundated with ideas. Even tiny changes with words can lead to unpredictable, cataclysmic results.

Examine your problem statement, identify the key words, and change them five to ten times to look at your problem through different perspectives. Suppose you want to increase sales. Look at the different perspectives created by just changing the verb: In what ways might I discover sales? In what ways might I adapt selling techniques from others? Provoke sales? Advertise sales? Target sales? Inspire sales? Teach sales? Encourage sales? Grow sales? Evolve sales? Complement sales? Acquire sales? Predict sales? Segregate sales? Motivate sales? Invest in sales? Renew sales? Combine sales? Organize sales? Upgrade sales?

Following is a list of verbs to use as a tool when formulating problem statements. Simply scan the list changing the verb when appropriate and you will find yourself producing several different ways to look at your problem.

 verbs

 

PLAYING WITH VERBS AND NOUNS. Playing with verbs and nouns encourages you to think of perspectives that you would probably not think of spontaneously. Try changing the nouns into verbs and verbs into nouns in your problem statement. For example, a problem might be “How to sell more bottles ?” Changing the verbs into nouns and nouns into verbs makes this into “How to bottle more sales?” Bottling sales now suggests looking for ways to close sales, instead of ways to sell more bottles.

The problem “How to improve customer relations?” becomes “How to customize related improvements?” This new perspective leads one to consider customizing products and services for customers, customizing all relevant aspects of the customer relations department, and so on.

TRANSPOSE THE WORDS. One of Aristotle=s favorite ways to test a premise was what he called Aconvertibility.@ He felt that if a premise were true than the negative premise should be convertible. For example, if every pleasure is good, some good must be pleasure. By simply transposing words, you achieved a different perspective. Sometimes changing the order of words in a problem statement will create a verbal-conceptual chain that may trigger a different perspective.

In the following illustration, words were arranged in two different series, “A” and “B,” and subjects were asked to solve certain situations. When “skyscraper” was listed first, subjects tended to come up architectural concepts, and when “prayer” was transposed with “skyscraper” and listed first, it increased the likelihood of a religious direction.

 

SERIES A                                                                      SERIES B

SKYSCRAPER                                                               PRAYER

PRAYER                                                                       SKYSCRAPER

TEMPLE                                                                       TEMPLE

CATHEDRAL                                                                CATHEDRAL

 

To change the order, transpose the words in your problem. Following are some examples:

In what ways might I get a promotion?

To: In what ways might I promote myself?

 

In what ways might I advertise my T-shirts?

In what ways might I use my T-shirts to advertise?

 

In what ways might I learn how to use the Internet?

In what ways might I use the Internet to learn more?

 

“All words are pegs to hang ideas on.” ― Henry Ward Beecher

 

For more information about how to look at things differently, read Cracking Creativity (Secrets of Creative Genius) by creativity expert Michael Michalko http://www.amazon.com/Cracking-Creativity-Secrets-Creative-Genius/dp/1580083110/ref=pd_sim_b_2?ie=UTF8&refRID=16NCRBEMHRCEQ1RAZG5V

 

 

 

 

 

 

Creative Geniuses Are Geniuses Because They Know How To Form Novel Combinations Between Dissimilar Subjects

woman.flower

Creative geniuses do not get their breakthrough ideas because they are more intelligent, better educated, or more experienced, or because creativity is genetically determined. Psychologist Dr. Dean Keith Simonton of the University of California researches a diversity of topics having to do with genius and creativity. One of his major conclusions is that geniuses are geniuses because they form more novel combinations than the merely talented. Creative thinkers form more novel combinations because they routinely conceptually blend objects, concepts, and ideas from two different contexts or categories that logical thinkers conventionally consider separate.

It is the conceptual blending of dissimilar concepts that leads to original ideas and insights.
In nature, a rich mixture of any two forces will produce patterns. For example, pour water on a flat, polished surface. The water will spread out in a unique pattern of drops. The pattern is created by two forces: gravity and surface tension. Gravity spreads the water, and surface tension causes the water molecules to join together in drops. It is the combination of the two different forces that creates the unique, complex pattern of drops.

Similarly, when two dissimilar or two totally unrelated subjects are conceptually blended together in the imagination, new complex patterns are formed that create new ideas. The two subjects cross-catalyze each other like two chemicals that both must be present in order for a new concept, product, or idea to form. This strongly resembles the creative process of genetic recombination in nature. Chromosomes exchange genes to create emergent new beings. Think of elements and patterns of ideas as genes that combine and recombine to create new patterns that lead to new ideas.

Educators could better help students understand the nature of creative thinking by offering examples of how creative thinkers actually created their ideas. Take, for example, Jake Ritty’s invention of the simple cash register we all take for granted. Jake Ritty’s invention is an example of combining two elements from two totally unrelated fields into an insightful solution. In 1879, Jake, a restaurant owner, was traveling by ship to Europe. During the voyage, the passengers took a tour of the ship. In the engine room, Jake was captivated by the machine that recorded the number of times the ship’s propeller rotated. What he saw in this machine was the idea of “a machine that counts.”

Ritty was thinking inclusively. His goal was to make his work as a restaurant owner easier and more profitable. Looking at his world, he examined it for patterns and for analogies to what he already knew. When he saw in the engine room the machine that counted the number of times a ship’s propeller rotated, he asked, “How would the process of mechanically counting something make my restaurant more profitable?” A mental spark jumped from his thinking about the ship to his thinking about his restaurant business when he conceptually combined a machine that counts propeller rotations with counting money.

He was so excited by his insight that he caught the next ship home to work on his invention. Back in Ohio, using the same principles that went into the design of the ship’s machine, he made a machine that could add items and record the amounts. This hand-operated machine, which he started using in his restaurant, was the first cash register. Understanding how Jake got his idea is understanding the process of creative thinking.

To say that the lawn mower was invented in the cloth-making industry may sound absurd, but that is precisely where it was invented. Edwin Budding worked in a cloth factory in England in the early part of the nineteenth century. During those days, the surface of the cloth produced by the factory was fuzzy and had to be trimmed smooth. This was done by a machine with revolving blades fixed between rollers.

Budding loved the outdoors and maintained a lawn on his property. What he found tiresome was trimming the grass, which had to be done with a long, heavy handheld tool called a scythe. Making a analogical connection between trimming the cloth and trimming the lawn, he built a machine with long blades and two wheels. He also attached a shaft to this machine so that one could push it without bending down. And so, in 1831, the first lawn mower was built.

Mixing ideas from unrelated domains energizes your imagination and lets you think of possibilities you would otherwise ignore. How are industrial management techniques related to heart by-pass surgery? Heart surgeons in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont reduced the death rate among their heart bypass patients by one-fourth by incorporating the business management techniques of W. Edwards Deming, a leading industrial consultant. His techniques emphasized teamwork and cooperation over competition. Doctors usually function as individual craftspeople without sharing information. Following Deming’s industrial model, they began to operate as teams, visiting and observing each other and sharing information about how they practiced.

Combining the patterns of two dissimilar concepts in your imagination transcends logical thinking and makes the creation of novel combinations possible. This is creative thinking.

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Read Michael Michalko’s Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work to learn more about how creative geniuses get their ideas.http://www.amazon.com/Creative-Thinkering-Putting-Your-Imagination/dp/160868024X/ref=pd_sim_b_3?ie=UTF8&refRID=0AZ4HDTTG40XHBRPX22Q

Has America Become an Idiocracy?

Has America Become an Idiocracy?

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT: Solve this problem: Jack is looking at Anne, but Anne is looking at George. Jack is married, but George is not. Is a married person looking at an unmarried person?
A) Yes.
B) No.
C) Cannot be determined.

The problem is taken from the work of Hector Levesque, a computer scientist at the University of Toronto. More than 80 percent of people choose C. But the correct answer is A. Anne is the only person whose marital status is unknown. You need to consider both possibilities, either married and unmarried, to determine whether you have enough information to draw a conclusion. If Anne is married, the answer is A: she would be the married person who is looking at an unmarried person (George). If Anne is not married, the answer is still A: in this case, Jack is the married person, and he is looking at Anne, the unmarried person.

To solve this you have to approach the problem on its own terms and think inclusively which means to consider all possibilities. Most people are educated to think exclusively which means to reduce possibilities. This kind of thinking also requires less effort. The fact that the problem does not reveal whether Anne is or is not married suggests to people that they do not have enough information, and they give the easiest inference (C). This is an example of how easily we robotically default to the mental processes that require the least effort.

We are mentally lazy. Our education has conditioned our brains to circumvent deliberative and creative thinking wherever possible through rote memorization and robotic learning of formulas and principles. We have not been taught how to think for ourselves, we have been taught what to think based on what past thinkers thought. We are taught to think reproductively, not productively. We have been trained to seek out the neural path of least resistance, searching out responses that have worked in the past, rather than approach a problem on its own terms. This kind of thinking is dehumanizing and naturalizes intellectual laziness which promotes an impulse toward doing whatever is easiest or doing nothing at all.

Here is a general law of nature: When organisms no longer use something they have — no matter what it is, eyes, brilliant colors, wings, or even brains — that something rapidly evolves and becomes lost. Consider flight in birds. Birds typically live longer mammals of the same size, in part because they can escape from predators more easily. However, flight can take a lot of energy, and it keeps you small. Thus, if there aren’t any predators — as on remote islands — the birds become lazy and flightlessness quickly evolves.

The soil bacterium Myxococcus xanthus normally has an elaborate social life; bacteria hunt together and cooperate to build spores. But if you keep the bacteria in bottles of liquid, you can put an end to their social lives by continually shaking the bottles and interrupting their social discourse. After generations of such treatment, the bacteria become anti-social. They can’t work together anymore and die off.

Any new set of conditions occurring to an animal which render its food and safety very easily attained, seem to lead as a rule to degeneration. Suppose you have a vial full of fruit flies. You assign a mate to each fly at random — thus rendering irrelevant the ability to seduce — and then choose two offspring from each pair to put into the next generation. This way everyone has the same number of surviving children. Furthermore, you give everybody a life of luxury and ease, so finding food isn’t a problem. After repeating this for a number of generations, you make life difficult again, and see what happens. You’ll discover that now the fruit fly has great difficulty trying to survive.

THE SHRINKING BRAIN

For some two million years of our evolution our brains became larger. John Hawks, anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin, says there has been a dramatic reversal. Over the past 20,000 years, the average volume of the human male brain has decreased from 1,500 cubic centimeters to 1,350 cc, losing a chunk the size of a tennis ball. This is major downsizing in an evolutionary eye blink. Hawks claims that If our brain keeps dwindling at that rate over the next 20,000 years, it will start to approach the size of that found in Homo erectus, a relative that lived half a million years ago and had a brain volume of only 1,100 cc.

John Hawks and a small circle of paleontologists have observed this shrinkage in their research but are unsure what it means. This brings us the “idiocracy theory” of cognitive scientist David Geary of the University of Missouri. Geary is referring to the eponymous 2006 film by Mike Judge about an ordinary guy who becomes involved in a hibernation experiment at the dawn of the 21st century. When he wakes up 500 years later, he is easily the smartest person on the dumbed-down planet. “I think something a little bit like that happened to us,” Geary says. In other words, idiocracy is where we are now.

A study he conducted with a colleague, Drew Bailey, led Geary to this epiphany. The aim of their investigation was to explore how cranial size changed as our species adapted to an increasingly complex social environment between 1.9 million and 10,000 years ago. Since that period predates the first alphabets, the researchers had no written record with which to gauge the social milieu of our predecessors. Consequently, the Missouri team used population density as a proxy for social complexity, reasoning that when more people are concentrated in a geographic region, trade springs up between groups, there is greater division of labor, the gathering of food becomes more efficient, and interactions among individuals become richer and more varied.

Bailey and Geary found population density did indeed track closely with brain size, but in a surprising way, when population numbers were low, as was the case for most of our evolution, the cranium kept getting bigger. But as population went from sparse to dense in a given area, cranial size declined, highlighted by a sudden drop around 15,000 to 10,000 years ago.

The observation led the researchers to a radical conclusion: As complex societies emerged, the brain became smaller because people did not have to be as smart to stay alive. As Geary explains, individuals who would not have been able to survive by their wits alone could scrape by with the help of others—supported, as it were, by the first social safety nets. Consequently, as society became more and more complex so did the social safety nets which proliferated and became more and more sophisticated and comprehensive. Like the birds on remote islands that lost their ability to fly, we are becoming a species that is losing its ability to think because we no longer have to think in order to survive.

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Michael Michalko is a highly-acclaimed creativity expert and author of the best-seller Thinkertoys (A Handbook of Business Creativity), ThinkPak (A Brainstorming Card Deck), Cracking Creativity (The Secrets of Creative Genius), and Creative Thinkering (Putting your Imagination to Work). His website is http://www.creativethinking.net

You Do Not See Things As They Are; You See Them As You Are

You Do Not See Things As They Are; You See Them As You Are

Some scientists visited a New Guinea tribe that believed their world ended at the nearby river. After several months one of the scientists had to cross the river to leave. When the scientist was safely across he waved, but the tribesmen did not respond. They said they didn’t see him as nothing existed beyond the end of the world. Their entrenched patterns of belief about where the world ended distorted their perception of reality.

The New Guinea people disregard things which do not fit into the way they were taught to view reality and make them into something consistent with their beliefs. They see what they expect to see.

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT

Take a look at these two tables. Which one of them do you think is longer, and which one is wider? Image

It might be hard to believe, but the two tables have the exact same dimensions! Measure both table surfaces with a ruler and prove it to yourself. Why, then, does the table on the left look elongated, while the table on the right appears to have a wider width? The illusion of two tables was first discovered by Roger Shepard at Stanford University.

It comes down to how we perceive the scene. Accustomed as we are to photography and Western art, we automatically interpret the scene as three-dimensional. The concept of perspective, first mastered by artists during the Renaissance, is one we encounter in our everyday lives, and our brains automatically assume that the further away an object is from us, the smaller it will be. To compensate, our brain interprets and “lengthens” lines that appear to be pointing away from us into the distance. In this scene, the interpretation made by our brain extends the length of the table on the left by making it appear longer and the shorter side of the right-hand table by making it appear wider. Our brain constructs what we perceive based on our past experiences rather than what is there.

People tend to think of perception as a passive process. We see, hear, smell, taste or feel  stimuli that impinge upon our senses. We think that if we are at all objective, we record what is actually there. Yet perception is demonstrably an active rather than a passive process; it constructs rather than records “reality.” Perception implies understanding as well as awareness. It is a process of inference in which people construct their own version of reality on the basis of information provided through the five senses.

THE CLASSIC TEASER OF THE MIRROR

Noble laureate physicist, Richard Feynman, wrote about the classic teaser of the mirror. Why, Feynman wondered, does a mirror seem to invert left and right but not top and bottom? That is, why are the letters of a book backward but not upside down, and why would Feynman’s double behind the mirror appear to have a mole on the wrong hand?

Imagine yourself standing before the mirror, he suggested, with one hand pointing east and the other west. Wave the east hand. The mirror image waves its east hand. Its head is up. Its west hand lies to the west. Its feet are down. Everything’s really all right.

The problem is on the axis running through the mirror. Your nose and the back of your head are reversed: if your nose points north, your double’s nose points south. The problem now is psychological. We think of our image as another person. We cannot imagine ourselves “squashed” back to front, so our brains imagine ourselves turned left and right, as if we had walked around a pane of glass to face the other way.

It is in this psychological turnabout the brain makes that make us believe that left and right are switched. This is another example that shows the extraordinary extent to which the information obtained by an observer depends upon the observer’s own assumptions and preconceptions. We cannot imagine our image squashed so we construct a reality that assumes an image of ourselves as if we walked around the pane of glass.

THE WAR OF GHOSTS THOUGHT EXPERIMENT

Read the following story. Wait a few minutes. Then write what you remember about the story. You might also want to try it with a friend. Ask a friend to read the story, wait a few moments, and then ask your friend to retell it to you from memory. Compare the stories to see the results.

THE STORY. One night two young men from Egulac went down to the river to hunt seals and while they were there it became foggy and calm. Then they heard war cries, and they thought: “Maybe this is a war party”. They escaped to the shore, and hid behind a log. Now canoes came up, and they heard the noise of paddles, and saw one canoe coming up to them. There were five men in the canoe, and they said: “What do you think? We wish to take you along. We are going up the river to make war on the people.”

 One of the young men said, “I have no arrows.” “Arrows are in the canoe,” they said.  “I will not go along. I might be killed. My relatives do not know where I have gone. But you,” he said, turning to the other, “may go with them.”

 So one of the young men went, but the other returned home. And the warriors went on up the river to a town on the other side of Kalama. The people came down to the water and they began to fight, and many were killed. But presently the young man heard one of the warriors say, “Quick, let us go home: that Indian has been hit.” Now he thought: “Oh, they are ghosts.” He did not feel sick, but they said he had been shot.

 So the canoes went back to Egulac and the young man went ashore to his house and made a fire. And he told everybody and said: “Behold I accompanied the ghosts, and we went to fight. Many of our fellows were killed, and many of those who attacked us were killed. They said I was hit, and I did not feel sick.” He told it all, and then he became quiet. When the sun rose he fell down. Something black came out of his mouth. His face became contorted. The people jumped up and cried.

 He was dead.

Now look away from the story. Wait a few minutes. Now write the story as you remembered it. How did your stories compare? You will amaze yourself at how different your story is from what you have read.

This story was used by British psychologist, Sir Frederic Bartlett, in his experiments in perception. He asked people to read the story which was unfamiliar to them and then later asked them to write what they remembered. He found that when they recalled the story, they had changed it to fit their existing knowledge, and it was this revised story which then became incorporated into their memory. He demonstrated that existing conceptual patterns of knowledge, beliefs, and theories absorb unfamiliar new experiences and re-interpret them to fit with what they know.

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Michael Michalko is a creativity expert and author of several books on creative thinking. www.creativethinking.net

Stop Waiting for the Sun; Learn How to Dance in the Rain

dancing-rain
In the world of humanity, a person who is talking, walking, and working can be alive and self-creating or lifeless and drab. This is something we all know, yet never talk about. What makes some people seem especially alive and others seem lifeless and drab? Look to nature for answers.

One example is the emperor moth, which, with its wide wingspan, is the most grandiose of all the moths. Its wide wings span out majestically when it flies. Before it can become a full-grown moth, it has to be a pupa in a cocoon.

If you find a cocoon of an emperor moth, take it home so that you can watch the moth come out of the cocoon. One day you’ll notice a small opening, and then you’ll see the moth struggle to force its body through that little hole. The struggle will take hours, and the moth will appear at times to be stuck. If you try to help the moth by enlarg¬ing the hole with a knife or scissors, the moth will emerge easily. But it will have a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. In fact, the little moth will spend the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It will never fly.

The restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the moth to get through the tiny opening is the way it forces fluid from its body and into its wings, so that it will be ready for flight once it frees itself from the cocoon. If the moth is deprived of its struggle, it is also deprived of its health. Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in order to become truly alive. When I think of people who are alive and joyful, I think of Richard Cohen.

You may not know Richard Cohen. He is the author of Blindsided: Lifting a Life Above Illness. He lives a life defined by illness. He has multiple sclerosis, is legally blind, has almost no voice, and suffers chronic pain, which makes sleeping difficult and leaves him constantly exhausted. Two bouts of colon cancer in the past five years have left him with impaired intestines. And though he is currently cancer-free, he lives with constant discomfort.

Cohen worked as a producer for CBS until he was physically unable to continue. Because his chronic illness and physical disability precluded him from engaging in many activities, it initially left him feeling worthless. Friends and relatives encouraged him to seek pro¬fessional help from a psychologist, but he refused. He felt psycholo¬gists always focus on what’s wrong with you and explain why you feel worthless. Like the emperor moth, Richard decided to use his strug¬gles to become truly alive.

Cohen recognized the inevitable consequences of his illness, but he also recognized that he and he alone controlled his destiny. Cohen says, “The one thing that’s always in my control is what is going on in my head. The first thing I did was to think about who I am and how I could prevail. By choosing my feelings on a conscious level, I am able to control my mood swings and feel good about myself most of the time.” He cultivates a positive attitude toward life by interpreting all of his experiences in a positive way.

He said his life is like standing on a rolling ship. You’re going to slip. You’re going to grab on to things. You’re going to fall. And it’s a constant challenge to get up and push and push yourself to keep going. But in the end, he says, the most exhilarating feeling in the world is getting up and moving forward with a smile.

Richard Cohen is the subject of his life and controls his own des¬tiny. People who live as subjects are wonderfully alive and creative. Once, on a rainy Sunday afternoon in a crowded café in Old Montreal, I saw a woman rise from her table and, for no reason, start to sing. She had a certain smile, and she was perfectly at home with herself. She was wearing a wide, white hat, and her arms were flung out in an expan¬sive gesture as she sang operatic arias. Oblivious to her environment, she sang like a bird sings after a storm has passed. It was a moment when time stood still. Even as you read this, you may be thinking of people you know who are alive, and people who are lifeless.

This woman was wonderfully alive and self-creating. When you meet people like Richard Cohen or the woman in Montreal, you may get a vague feeling that you “ought to be” something more. You already know this feeling. We get this feeling when we recognize the thing in others that we long to be. We long to become more alive and creative in our personal and business lives. This is the most primitive feeling a person can have.

It is not easy to put this feeling into words. The person who believes she is the subject of her life is frank, open-minded, and sincerely going ahead, facing situations freely and looking forward to each day with a smile. The person who believes she is an object in life is inhibited, pushed, or driven, acting by command or intimidation, and powerless, and she can’t wait for each day to end.

At one time in my life, I felt shackled by my responsibilities, my family obligations, and the expectations of others. I asked a Franciscan monk, Father Tom, for advice. Instead of answering me directly, he jumped to his feet from the park bench and bolted to a nearby tree. He flung his arms around the tree, grasping it, as he screamed, “Save me from this tree! Save me from this tree!” I could not believe what I saw. I thought he had gone mad. The shouting soon attracted other people in the park. “Why are you doing that?” I asked. “I came to you for advice, but obviously you’re crazy. You are holding the tree; the tree is not holding you. You can simply let go.” Father Tom let go of the tree and said, “If you can understand that, you have your answer. Your chains of attachment are not holding you; you are holding them. You can simply let go.”

Life is not about waiting for the sun to shine. Life is about learning how to dance in the rain.

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Michael Michalko’s newest book Creative Thinkering is available at Amazon.

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