Coming to terms with the constraints that drive creativity. Reduction as a unifying principal in poetry, social media, code and astronomy
And now for something completely different
"An astronomer, a poet and an admin sounds like the beginning of a bad joke. If it was, the punchline today would be stardust", Edward Shenderovich introduces the panel and references yesterday's lecture by Deepak Chopra. He claimed that we are all made of atoms formed in stars: "We are all made of the same stardust as the universe."
Edward explains that Chopra is an excellent reductionist. “He has created an extremely wide protocol”, and that is what reduction is all about. It is about creating constraints that ultimately drive creativity and innovation.
Hemmingway said that you need to boil it down, know what to leave out, tell a story in six words. His famous 6 word story was “For sale: baby shoes, never worn”. That story is the essence of human tragedy.
There is actually a site dedicated to this form of reductionism called six word memoirs.
But how can reduction as a scientific principal be applied to other aspects of human activity?
Writing for children is like proving a math theorem. You need to be fundamentally truthful.
Reduction in Advertising
Simon Bond explains that advertising’s job is to make the complex very simple. “How can we get 4 brands down to something called a reductionist nugget?” Basically something that can be tweeted.
Some examples are: Nike: Just do it GE :Imagination at work Snickers: You’re not you when you’re hungry
The Snickers slogan came to life in a television ad, but also worked in an even more reductionist setting. BBDO connected with personalities that had large twitter followers and started taking over their accounts tweeting things that were not typical from that person.
The results went viral.
They then followed that up with a google campaign, buying up misspelled adwords.
Reduction in Science
Dimitar Sasselov explained that “in science we figured out what Simon was talking about 500 years ago.”
Science is about curious people who are trying to figure out how the world works. When you look at the world around you you see essentially complexity. Life is the ultimate complexity, you see the planets and put them in their orbits. “That was what happened 500 years ago.”
The 20th century has been very successful in reducing complexity. In physics it lead to something very complex being represented in a very simple set of rules. When you hear about systems biology, systems chemistry, or systems anything in science, it is in fact the complexity that we still haven’t figure out yet. “Complexity in science is just a measure of our ignorance”.
Looking at something like the universe at the large scale you see the distribution of dark matter. Something that looks complex but could be explained in simple terms.
When does reduction fail?
What can fail in poetry? According to Edward Shenderovich, metaphors. A metaphor is bad when it doesn’t create new meaning. “Metaphor means transfer, you need to be transferred”. You need to transfer the meaning, and when a metaphor doesn’t do that it fails.
BBDO is looking at other ways of offering ideas in a reductionist form. Vine videos, 6 second clips. They are trying to understand how to use new technologies to best get a message across.
Let’s talk about the Universe.
There is an idea of a fine tuned universe, one that is specifically tuned to allow human life. According to Edward one of the problems with that is that there are a tremendous amount of variables. He asks Dimitar wether that number can be reduced.
“I hope it can” is Dimitar's immediate reply. He goes on to explain that “I would say it is a clear sign that we are ignorant, we haven’t found the one that works and explains everything, the grand unified theory if you will.”