Learning creativity from the Beatles
I had a chat on Longnow and long-termism. What the Beatle documentary reveals about creativity. Survivorship bias. Ergodicity. UnConference notes. Podcasts
The list of 43 things to teach at school (link here) really resonated with many of you. Thanks to everyone who wrote in. This week:
I had a chat on Longnow and long-termism thinking
I outline why microgrants and my programme
I thought on what the Beatle documentary reveals about creativity
I’m speaking with Steve Unwin (theatre, disability)
I think on biases and ergodicity
Notes from Sustainability UnConference
Philosophy of games
On survivorship bias. This picture has repeatedly been doing the rounds on Twitter this year (and previous years).
It’s a reference to a bias, we often have: “survivorship bias”. This is where the data or observation you see are not representative because some elements have been eliminated before you see the sample.
This is a problem in looking at the current sample of investors and fund managers. All the bad ones went bankrupt, left investing and so you are only looking at the survivors. Not a representative sample.
The picture which represents a WW2 plane is a better story.
The story: You're Britain. It's WW2. Your planes are getting shot down. You want to reinforce them with armor. But you can't armor the whole plane (for weight among other reasons).
What parts of the plane do you prioritize for armor?
The naive answer is: where the holes were found.
At this point, an astute observer, or one who cross-checks data with intuition, might notice that this does not include the engines or cockpit, which seem like pretty sensitive parts of the plane—more so than, say, the wingtips.
That’s because those planes never made it back home… In this case, not only is the sample not representative, it's *inversely* correlated with what we want to put armour (which a sense of the physics of a plane would also get you).
The diagram doesn't show where planes get shot—it shows where planes get shot and still survive.
While the story has been exaggerated by the internet, this is work that a researcher Wald did do in 1943. During the war, Wald was part of the Statistical Research Group of Columbia University. While there, the military would consult with the group for various questions, and Wald wound up with the question about developing a way to estimate plane vulnerability based on the damage observed on returning planes. Maths article on it here.
I am slowly getting my mind round on ergodic thinking: Ergodicity and non-ergodicity. One important area here, explored by Ole Peters is that “expected value” models do not model very well, many types of human behaviour.
But, this might not be due to “irrationality”. There may be better explanations looking at time-average changes.
Here’s a short YT on it.
The idea is not super well-known but worth considering.
I had a chat with some Long Now folk. Long Now are interested in long-termism across all areas (link here). Around San Francisco this tends to centre around progress studies (and innovation) and effective altruism, also existential risk, but the concept is wider than that.
I was introduced to the idea of archipelagos as conceived by the philosopher Édouard Glissant.
I think the idea of the archipelago - as a place where we can begin to understand and resolve the contradictions of the world - should be propagated. The archipelagos of the Mediterranean must encounter the archipelagos of Asia and the archipelagos of the Antilles. These archipelagos must encounter each other because, across the many islands, interdependence and difference coexist - and, in this way, they carry the energy that is necessary for our whole globe, our whole world. We might currently believe that this energy derived from military or economic force, but that is not so. it lies in the ideas and poetics of how we organise the world.
Continents weigh as down. They are thick and sumptuous. Archipelagos are able to diffract, they create diversity and expansiveness, they are spaces of relation that recognise all the infinite details of the real. Being in harmony with the world through archipelagos means inhabiting this diffraction, while still rallying coastlines and joining horizons. They open us to a sea of wandering…
From Han’s Ulrich Obrist’s introduction also resonates woith me:
[Boetti] told me to make possible those projects that could not be realised in existing art institutions. He asked me to consider instead the actual imagination of artists: the fluid relationships and connections, which open to new modes of perception…
to make possible those projects that could not be realised in existing art institutions.
I think is true for theatre as well, maybe very true at the moment. We need a theatre for projects that can’t be made in existing places. Strangely, we seem to lose those places - for instance, in the UK - the Arches in Glasgow, or the Shunt Arches. Both places you didn’t even need to visit to know they were place were things were made that were not being made anywhere else… (strangely, both arches?! Under-used, between places.)
Perhaps, one day, if I come round to forming an organisation or a thing myself - this will be a guiding idea. A place, where things grow, which wouldn’t grow elsewhere.
Perhaps Long Now is one of the those places, and the lens of long-termism is an archipelago to itself.
For new readers, I thought I would up my micro-grants programme:
What is a ThenDoBetter Grant?
A ThenDoBetter Grant is £1,000 to make a positive impact and change your life trajectory. Details here: https://www.thendobetter.com/grants
What types of proposals do you fund?
ThenDoBetter Grants support people who otherwise can’t easily access funding from mainstream organisations or government.
I’m looking for:
↝Ideas that could make a meaningful impact to you, your community or the world. If it can change the trajectory of your life, then I’m interested.
↝Evidence that £1,000 would make an impact to you, the project, your community or the world.
You might be exploring questions off the mainstream. That’s equally as important as a mainstream path.
Recent grants winners:
Marjorie Morgan documenting marginalised voices in the Liverpool, UK, area
Ioana Mischie to help complete maths books for autistic children.
Greyling Post, eco-greeting cards which also donates cards to care homes
Sponsorship to allow attendance at Pan-African conference on autism
Lorenzo Evans to learn physics and maths in public
David Blanc to write a book on Mexican police
Safiya Kamaria Kinshasa for her choreo-poetry work.
In likely my last podcast recording of the year, I am speaking with Steven Unwin. Steve is a theatre director and writer. Amongst many accomplishments he has been the artistic director of the Rose theatre, founder of ETT, English Touring Theatre. He is also chair of the charity Kids, which provides services to children with disabilities, and writes with insight and grace on these topics. Let me know if you have questions.
From earlier this year:
I chat with C. Thi Nguyen who used to be a food writer and is now a philosophy professor at the University of Utah.
Thi thinks about trust, art, games, and communities. We discuss his first book, Games: Agency as Art. The book is about how games are the art form that work in the medium of agency.
We chat about the difference between play and games and wider games philosophy.
I’ve been watching the documentary cut together by Peter Jackson on the Beatles: Get Back. (On Disney+)
It covers the making of the Beatles' 1970 album Let It Be, which had the working title of Get Back, and draws from material originally captured for Michael Lindsay-Hogg's 1970 documentary of the album, also titled Let It Be. Originally conceived as a feature film, The Beatles: Get Back consists of three episodes with runtimes between two and three hours each, resulting in a total runtime of nearly eight hours of material.
For creatives, the 8 hour run time is great (some general viewers haave suggested it as too long) . For me, it could be even longer. The film shows high-level creativity that most people can never glimpse. These are some ideas, I see in strong creative teams that you can see in action:
The band listen really well to one another, hardly talk over each other, and after listening they get on and play the idea.
Learn and make by doing, and doing, and adding and doing
Someone has an idea (it’s often Paul), they do it and then add and expand and do. This also mixes structure, with improvisation.
In writing, this is mixing freeform, automatic writing but in a particular structure or idea.
They are constantly working, even amongst the tea and toast, they keep working at it. This is partially an under pressure situation, but I think it still holds.
There’s a good amount of repetition. Practising and practising, adjusting something so it’s slightly better. This is rehearsal. And even in improv where the doing is new, there’s lots of rehearsal of the process. In design, you might think of this also as rapid prototyping, testing new ideas out quickly and often.
Use the happy accident.
Some amazing happenings are accidental, but they are not thrown away. They are examined and then added to the core if it looks good. Eg In All Things Must Pass, George wrote the line “A wind can blow those clouds away” but John misreads his handwriting as a “A mind can blow…” which stuck.
There’s no stupid idea.
Try it and see. It might spark something better. Judgement is often deferred until later. In writing or other creative processed, if you judge it too early you kill the idea before allowing it to form. But there is a stage when you do and should edit out / delete the poorer ideas.
Borrow from something you know is good, inspiring, funny or etc.
The band play lots of other songs. This liberates them from their own work and generates ideas and relief.
In theatre and presenting, this can be an “outside-in”model. Dressing up in a certain way, can make you perform or be in a certain way. (I still present on some video calls in a tie! It dresses me up for the role).
If you like the letter - do send it to a friend to subscribe -
Some of the contents of the UnConference:
Is there enough world for all the solutions that need land to happen at the same time?
Is arguing helpful when there isn’t a right answer?
Let’s talk about a sustainable future for the global south
What does an interplanetary future look like and is that sustainable?
How to get the capital markets to acknowledge positive and negative impacts on investments
Why are we going to fail at achieving a sustainable future?
How should we prioritise what we focus on?
Government as CRO (Chief Risk Officer) – Let’s Discuss
If we fail to understand different perspectives on justice, we will fail --
How to pivot to a sustainable economy. Accounting could be a game changer
The Root Cause of Climate & Social Inequality
What have been (un)successful sustainability/social movements and why?
Waste management, circular economy and sustainability in general --What is your definition of sustainability?
How can investors improve their stewardship?
Are we decarbonising the construction quickly enough?
Why doesn’t my mum/friend/colleague understand?
Links this week:
Americans using saved commuting hours….for more work!
Jerwood is one of the most important art funders in the UK (and I suppose, therefore the world?) This is a profile of Alan Grieve who chairs the Jerwood.
The strange myth of “Chinese restaurant syndrome” :
Following on from Get Back - Yoko Ono as performance art:
4 billion people live on less than $6.70
NZ to ban cigarettes…. for future people
I did not know that coffee likely hits the gut-brain axis: