Project Re-Think Thinking:
Serendipity and Sparks of Genius

by Milo Clark

April 30, 2001

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It follows from the aphorism, "The only way not to play a game is not to play," that there are alternative processes other than playing mindlessly the myriad games which constitute "being with it."

Adding a second aphorism, "Attempting to solve problems using the tools, techniques and thoughts which create them is silly," gives dimension to possible alternatives. Namely, use tools, techniques and thoughts which have not created the problems you attempt to work through. Namely, understand, indeed grok, that there are more ways to be and more ways to perceive than commonly supposed and even more commonly ignored in being with it.

Just as equal temperament, the equally spaced intervals which form the basis for most western musics, leaves wide cracks between the notes on a piano and the high probability that today's laws of physics or laws of any science will be superceded by tomorrow's; our task, then, is to adapt ourselves, our processes and our games to more open modes, open to dimension, to breadth and to expansion more than focused on increasingly contractive reductions.

Slack key guitar popular in Hawaiian music as well as most of the traditional musics of non-western cultures exploit the tonal cracks left by equal temperament Their processes are based in just intonation, the sound patterns that are "right" for the sound experiences, the sounders and processes intended. The ragas or raags of India are based within musical systems which depend on thousands of variations, many, if not most, beyond the hearing capacities of westerns limited by equal tonations, myriad as those may be.

The screeches and squawks of bizarre musical instruments available in Chinese, Korean, Japanese and other far eastern musics are paralleled in the ouds and such found in near eastern and African cultures. At some levels, we are aware that these instruments, their players and those who compose for them are as accomplished and professional as any western musician or composer. To feel these sounds as they may, we are impelled to move outside our boxes into theirs which then may become ours.

How to retrain ourselves? Umberto Eco, Italian polymath and semiotician, suggests learning to separate our symbols from our identifications associated with them. His slender volume, Serendipities, the Italian Academy Lectures at Columbia University in 1996, provides many useful examples and related stories. European ideas about China were long and are still distorted by shibboleths imposed on early explorers and reporters whose works were then interpreted according to the personal schema of the intellectuals of the time, primarily monastic Roman Catholics with a territory to protect. To paraphrase Eco, Instead of trying to understand differences they looked for identities with what they already knew. Maybe a unicorn is a rhinoceros or a doe with an ice cream cone on her head as shown in a recent New Yorker cartoon sequence…

Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein, an unusual combination of seekers for connecting patterns among differences, recently published Sparks of Genius, The Thirteen Thinking Tools of the World's Most Creative People. It is a dense book thick with specific examples and intriguing stories to illustrate them.

They speak of transforming; and transforming is the key difference to be understood in relation to developing the perspectives and perceptual tools implied in alternative processes. Many speak of the transitions involved, in one sense, in moving from Piscean to Aquarian ages. The Piscean from which we are emerging is/was an age of transcendence. We do transcendental meditation, for example. We transcend our faults. The Aquarian is to be an age of transformation.

The Catch 22 of transcendence is that it is transient in itself. Today's insight is forgotten if not forsaken tomorrow if not sooner. We backslide and slip on slippery slopes of intent and practice.

Transformation, in contrast, is an epiphany, an Ah Ha! held and maintained in such a way that we are transformed and, having transformed, are quite thoroughly moved into a new field of being, which, incidentally, is not known to us as "new" rather as normal, what is and from which we are now launched. Serendipity and transformation are brothers and sisters and siblings of creative processing. We do not backslide. We do not play those old games. We no longer attempt to solve problems with those silly ways which got us so boloxed up in transcendent days.

I have previously commented on the myriad natures of actuality such as the actuality that time is non-linear, multidimensional and occurring simultaneously in all dimensions at once. Much as our color and hearing perceptions are mere fractions of the spectra of sound and sight. We don't necessarily need to acquire superhuman perceptual acuities and see colors beyond the available spectrum or hear sounds available to deer and dogs. We can, however, be thoroughly aware that such exist and we need not dismiss them as beyond us, rather use the awareness of awareness as a tool, if you will, of our expansiveness -- which is a capability and capacity rather than a limitation.

Back to just intonation. How does one learn to hear such varieties of variations and to be with them? The Root-Bernsteins show one example. In India, a mnenomic has long been taught which encompasses the processes to be grokked. Ready: Yamatarajabjanassalagam - ya MA TA RA ja BHA nasala GAM. Say it out loud a few times until you gather the rhythm - da dah dah. Dah dah dah, dah dah da, dah, da, dah GAM. For binary freaks that becomes 0111010001 or, base ten, 256+128+64+16+1=465 and for those mythologically inclined, the snake that bites its tail seen as memory wheel.

To learn, according the Root-Bernsteins, we need not abandon what we teach, rather change how we teach. They offer eight basic goals: [Chapter 16, pps 316 ff.]

First, we must emphasize the teaching of universal processes of invention in addition to the acquisition of disciplinary products of knowledge.

Second, it follows that we must teach the intuitive and imaginative skills necessary to inventive processes.

Third, we must implement a multidisciplinary education that places the arts on an equal footing with the sciences.

Fourth, we must integrate the curriculum by using a common descriptive language for innovation.

Fifth, we must emphasize the transdisciplinary lessons of disciplinary learning.

Sixth, we must use the experiences of people who have successfully bridged disciplines as exemplars of creative activity within our curricula.

Seventh, to reach the widest range or minds, ideas in every discipline should be presented in many forms.

Finally, we must forge a pioneering education, whose purpose is to produce the imaginative generalists who can take us unto the uncharted future.

Root-Bernstein obviously are not of the schools which advocate avoiding "should" and "must" to influence change. Beyond that, dear Swans scanners, you are on your own.


       Milo Clark, a founding member of Swans, had it all: Harvard MBA, big house, three-car garage, top management... Yet, once he had seemingly achieved the famed American dream he felt something was missing somewhere. As any good executive he decided to investigate. Since then, he has become a curmudgeon and, after living in Berkeley, California, where he was growing bamboos, making water gardens, listening to muses, writing, cogitating and pondering, he has moved on to the Big Island in Hawaii where he creates thought forms about sunshine. Milo can be reached at Swans

       Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Milo G. Clark 2001. All rights reserved.

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Published April 30, 2001
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