Gil (not her real name) had mistakenly attached a rubber tube from the nozzle of a gas pipe to the opening of a Liebig condenser, an instrument used to turn vapour into liquid.
Had her error gone unnoticed for a few more minutes, a fireball would have engulfed the lab with its flammable substances. What transpired instead after another student caught sight of the catastrophe ahead was a bench catching fire. It was swiftly doused out with sand. That was 1989. I was in the lab.
I knew a maths and science degree would have some purpose, beyond improbable accidents, but it was also future gazing that would have a draw. What if the fault wasn’t spotted?
Cause-effect in the lab and life seemed evident, albeit avoidable. Causality is how we piece together events in time and space to cohere into conformable narratives. In a line in Christopher Nolan’s film Tenet causality is a myth. The director’s films, and filmmaker Ava DuVernay A Wrinkle in Time invariably question socially engineered norms.
How does time and space shape our understanding of the world? How does historicity impact truth? And what of cultures and memories which don’t conform to dominantly assumed narratives?
100 years on since one of the world’s most brilliant minds uncovered that there are no absolutes in time, straight lines meet, linearity is how we think events unfolds, and that space and time are inextricably linked, 2020 was an equivalent moment. It was unforgiving. It was necessary and urgently is still to join the dots in thinking and disciplines.
These sound like excess talking points for theoretical physicists and philosophers, but they are the fundamentals for a precarious time in social order-disorder and how elite technologies e.g. A.I will govern human will and efforts.
Cleavages are a continuous process in history, observed in Art, Literature, Business, Engineering and the politics of power, but in 2020 in COVID, Black Lives Matter, Trumpism, Brexit, Global climate crisis, mass disinformation as a neutron bomb, the human carnage of mass retrenchment, and news as cultism and ignorance, therein lies a need to think differently and re-assess the education of emerging generations.
I’m currently re-reading author Charles Mackay’s classic novel written in 1852. Mackay’s opening para says:
“In reading The History of Nations, we find that, like individuals, they have their whims and their peculiarities, their seasons of excitement and recklessness, when they care not what they do.
We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first.”
Several fields have crystallised in my work me since those years back in the lab. Each one providing its own algorithm, yet over the years typified in 2020 and reflected in my @medium articles, adjudged as one of the leading 20 in journalism, the need for the convergence of multiple disciplines roars louder.
That collapse of soft and hard knowledge and skills is what’s reflected in the title at the top of the page, governed by: #A Science and Art of Critical Thinking and Creativity in Collaborations #Entrepreneurialism #And Future Storytelling.
And it’s all the more necessary now as a rebuilding process looms and lurking in the shadows is AI. The rational amongst us proclaim AI to be a useful tool. The supplanting of the imperfection of human reasoning by machines programmed to provide absolute solutions, but whose solutions? All algorithms have parents, human ones for the moment. There are many advantages, but as Mackay reminds us, we are an irrational lot.
In a three part post around three separate fields hived into one I frame how the world might look, just as I did featured in an Apple profile on Apple’s website, circa 2008, where I spoke about people streaming from their homes and become the brand.
#A Science and Art of Critical Thinking and Creativity in Collaborations
In the coastal waters off the sea of Jordan, I’ll never forget the fright captured in this picture of a basking shark swimming close by. The patterning I’d been used to was that sharks spelt danger. A couple of months later off Turkish water in the dardanelles we encountered Conger eels. One of the pros divers told his story of a team being attacked in the face on a night dive. I encountered an unfamiliar problem on that dive being slammed on unexploded bombshells from a thermocline and running out of water. I buddy breathed, taking my diving partner’s breathing apparatus to make it up.
The world of work in communications can feel like those moments. How does science get you out of a tough spot? How collaborating with colleagues can yield different solutions? How creativity is about re-arranging patterns of behaviours through either through learned behaviour or calculated hunches.
How can we become creative to solve problems? There are copious books and exercises in creativity. I’ve used a few but over the years working for dot coms and an artist in residence at London’s Southbank Centre, I’ve honed a few favourites.
This is one. How many patterns can you discern from these billiard balls?
Your ability to find new permutations may require new knowledge in maths.
In 2020, we created a digital summit bringing together some of the best thinkers I know around digital and education. One of them was Tiffany Shlain, the founder of the Webby awards, who I became friends with earlier the previous year after I shared her my passion for her father’s writings.
I was delighted when Tiffany asked me whether I wouldn’t mind being one of the reviewers when she was writing her book 24/6: Giving up Screens One Day a Week to Get More Time, Creativity, and Connection .
This year too colleagues pushed our collaborations national and we founded and published a new journal covering race, diversity and culture. For one of the few times I can remember a group of academics from diverse background, many previously in media, linked with professional communicators to create a platform that critiques the dearth of diverse writers by delivering to readers. The fruits of this will I believe play out in 2021.
In the jaws of a pandemic we looked to new ways of delivering knowledge collapsed around the concept of television programming. And as the last lights dim on the awful year, and a new relationship with the EU emerges, whilst the US looks to politically chart its course, the seeds planted in 2020 in #Entrepreneurialism #And Future Storytelling will need to resonate.
That’s what I’ll reflect forward in my next post in 2021 which yielded . Until then Happy New Year