Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Thought experiments for creativity and fiction...three techniques

While X, X

I will start with a situation: a police station receives an urgent call and a police officer runs through the station to get to his car.

I set up the use of this tool with the template:

While X,X

For the first 'X' I insert the activity - the running:

While running, X

and then choose - at random - an action for the second 'X':

While running, cleaning.

The aim of this is to suggest that while the policeman is running to his car he is also cleaning. My objective is to find the action of cleaning in the action of running - even it is to the smallest, smallest degree. With a gun-to-head mentality I set out to find the cleaning in the action of running. My first thought is that -- to a very small degree -- some dirt on the floor is picked up by his shoes as he runs. The floor also kind of reciprocates - it 'cleans' the shoes by removing minute amounts of dirt as the shoes make contact with the floor. I can also consider opposites - that the shoes are dirtying the floor and the floor is dirtying his shoes.

If I am working to a quota I can consider other ways in which cleaning occurs. For example, as the policeman runs, he breathes and will inhale minute particles of dust and dirt -- he is cleaning to a small degree.

Increasing the degree
On a scene such as the one on the right I can use the Action-selection tool as described in the Profiling the Zone Of Attention post. This takes the form:

What's X?

and, at random, I choose an action. For example:

What's lapping?

I consider that 'waves' are an answer -- as they are lapping against the metal columns of the pier. Next I use the While X,X tool:

While lapping, X

and choose an action for the second 'X'. In this case 'rising'. Thus:

While lapping, rising.

It's obvious that a wave rises to a degree as it laps against the metal column (see image, right).

Next I start to increase the degree. The degree of rising will increase -- and go in increasing inexorably, up beyond the pier and into the sky.


The 10FALL mnemonic represents:

10 = 10 years
FA = (could) function as
LL = looks like

As the wave continues on its 'journey' - with the rising continuing - I choose a place to stop and freeze the journey. I visualise the scenario and then apply the three sections of the 10FALL tool.


I imagine that the frozen stage of the journey has either been at that stage for ten years or will stay at that stage for the next ten years. So, I'm skipping beyond the headlines stage ('amazing tower of water appears' etc), the initial shock of locals or the immediate ramifications. I consider that the situation is accepted as the status quo.

FA - (Could) function as

I consider what functions the tower of water could have at the chosen, frozen stage. So, in the case of the above image - where the water tower has just climbed above the pier - I could consider that the tower of water could function as an aquarium, a viewing point, a theme park ride (a type of slide?) or maybe just an unusual tourist attraction!

LL - Looks like

At this stage I consider what the water tower looks like - or perhaps merely resembles slightly. The tower of water looks like a constructed appendage of the pier (a viewing point?) a helter skelter, or a water spout.

The degree increases

I can opt to continue increasing the degree -- which results in the tower of water continuing to rise. The tower of water can reach space, moving into the solar system and beyond. Interesting questions and considerations occur as the water's journey continues. Where would the water come from? Maybe the sea level would drop as more water is needed to fuel the rising water. Maybe water would migrate across the globe; I don't worry too much about bad science - what's important is that the water continues to rise inexorably. Maybe chemicals reactions using the elements of earth (and perhaps the sun) would be needed. If I'm writing fiction and in a sci-fi mood then I could decide that the water should be stolen from other lifeforms throughout the universe.

If I'd applied 10FALL at the stage on the right I could've considered that the tower of water could function as, or looks like a space elevator.

Conclusion and thoughts on applications

Thought experiments: I think the above approach has potential when forming thought experiments (such as the 'What if?' questions or lateral thinking provocations). These thought experiments could be used for fiction-writing applications or real-world creativity. At the moment I am working on techniques to explore the ramifications and consequences of the products of the thought experiments. I'll post these soon.

Free association: I think the approach has potential as a free-association tool. As was shown above, the looks like stage can trigger associations - thoughts of space elevators and helter skelters were triggered in the example above.


Anonymous said...

Impressive methods. But why so much effort when u can produce all this with less effort? Just design something that produces randomly variations and use patterns to select from the output.

John said...

Hi W3

Could you give an example please?

Anonymous said...

Suppose u take a simple situation:
- person
- person's name
- occupation
- place
- time
- activity

For each of these items you make a list of possibilties (surfing on the internet will provide u vasts lists (just collect on the right places). Then you feed ur data to a simple program that generates randomly combinations.
Next thing u need to do is to do a search (like u decrease the number of fitting options by using the right combination of search words and commands when searching with google)with a search pattern.
U can use a databaseprogram for al the things i describe here. Even the searchpatterns can be created with easy to learn programming.
In fact, now as i look at the possibilities of a database program, the are other possibilities. What about this: feed the database with stories, caracthers, etc. Then just write a nice query and off you go! Countless possibilities.

John said...

That could be something I'll look into if I can. I wonder if something like that is already commercially available...

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's commercially available yet. But íf i can come up with this others can too. So it will be available in the future.