The Power of Redescription
Let's, think a little bit more about some of the strategies that we can use to find analogies. Now, we already talked about one, which is to use punch lines of jokes. Um, there are other things we can do if you want to find the essence of a problem you're trying to solve. Another thing that you can do is to is to give your problem a title imagine that I am I'm working on a problem and and I asked myself, you know, if this if this were a book and that book, we're going to capture the real essence of the of the problem, what would I call it? And in the process of doing that, you may stumble on a description or a word or a phrase that will help you to to really distill the essence of that category sometimes it's even a label that that that refers to broad categories of things. So for example, imagine that you were okay. So imagine that you were you were in the business of creating weed killers. Okay, so what's a. We'd write a weed is a plant that's growing somewhere where it's not suppose...
d to be growing now, um, it's actually not hard to kill weeds, um, the difficult part in weed killing is killing the weed. And on ly the weed right so if you for example you've got weeds in your lawn killing the weed is easy but killing the weed and not the whole rest of the law that's that's fundamentally the problem so imagine that you were trying to find an innovative weed killer and you were you were stuck right? What could you do? Um you might look at that and you might say, well, what what do I call this problem that I'm trying to solve and in the process of doing that you might stumble on a term like collateral damage, right? Which is really the fundamental a thing that goes wrong with weed killing you know, if if I if I kill the grass and the weed, I've had collateral damage and of course that term it initially comes from the military right the military wants to avoid, you know, if they've got insurgents who are living among a civilian population, you want to avoid killing civilians and their building in destroying their buildings and things while you're getting rid of the insurgents. Okay, so you could you could go to the military and you could say, are there solutions that the military uses for solving that problem that might help me to understand the weed killing problem but of course that's not the only domain where that's true so for example, if you look at oncology right I mean cancer treatment again it's not hard to kill cancer cells it's hard to kill on ly cancer cells and so are their strategies that people who are treating cancer used that might help you to understand the weed killing problem better you could even go further afield right? You could imagine that there are people who who make home hair color I don't know I mean I obviously I don't use home hair color but there are people who do and if you use home if you color your hair at home there is another collateral damage problem which is you're trying to color your hair without coloring your neck or the bathroom okay and so again what can you do to you know to I to selectively identify the hair and not color everything else as well okay so these are just a few domains in which in which this issue comes up and by giving the problem a title and by finding a label that refers to that title you khun sometimes identify other areas of your expertise that might help you okay and and there are these relational labels in all sorts of other places as well you know if you think about broad categories of things like the tragedy of the commons so the tragedy of the commons is this recognition that if there's some public good it's never in anybody's individual best interests to keep it up but if uh if if nobody keeps it up it falls into disrepair right so how do you how do you avoid that tragedy of the commons and I was struck by this one because I was walking my dogs um you saw one of my doctors earlier um I was walking my dogs outside and um and there was there was water pouring out of a hole in the street I mean just like flooding down the street and there was a guy on this phone with city calling the city and I so I stopped him afterwards and I said that was really nice of you to call the city he said yeah he said you know he he actually walks around you know he read about the tragedy of the commons and he sort of took it upon himself to find public situations in which nobody might do anything and to do something in those situations you know and so and so he he has he said he's got a big bottle of cleanser in his car and if he sees some graffiti on a public bench hell stop his car and and spread you know spread and wash it off and he called the city about this you know that this thing and he's he's he's been known to go back to fences at public schools and put wire on places that have been cut and what's really interesting about that is you know at the surface none of these things have anything in common they don't look alike but they are all cases of you know, some kind of minor disrepair that if left untreated would get worse and worse and worse in ways that would make everybody's life less pleasant and I just thought that was really cool so and I was grateful that there was somebody like that in my town who was willing to do that so they were sort of too positive messages there um so yeah tragedy of the commons in school um proverbs are fun write proverbs air cool because they are these distillations of cultural wisdoms of sometimes if you if there are proverbs you like um then maybe you can use those proverbs to help you recognize new situations that have that same kind of structure that's one thing you can do but there's actually another thing you could do is well which is I encourage people to begin to look at the entire world as if it's a proverb okay, because if you think about proverbs right the noise of the wheels doesn't measure the load of the wagon well that's ah that that is that has an essence to it there's a meaning underneath it right the surface properties of something are not a good reflect shove it's interesting and chances are almost every problem you're trying to solve also has in essence also has some meaning underneath it that would help you to think about the problem in a new and different way, right? The difference between the bag problem and separating dirt from air. And so what can you do to develop a new habit to develop the habit of seeing everything as if it has an essence? Well, here's, the thing you khun dio and we're going to practice this in a second but here's what here's, what you're gonna do so on page forty three of the pdf that by now every single one of you has, um there is a sheet labeled labeled proverb practice now those of you who don't, who decided that that you don't have that pdf in front of you, um, here's something you can do, I want you to go to google att some point not right now I want you to go to google at some point and type in list of proverbs now for reasons I don't understand. There are people who have put lists of proverbs up on the internet and then helpfully titled them list of proverbs so that they're really easy to find. I want you to take that paige, and I want you to bookmark it okay, now, the next time that you find yourself sitting at your desk when you're supposed to be working, doing what I call fake work right and I will take it from the fact that there are people laughing that they know it fake work is um when you're doing that fake work, I want you to go to that page that you bookmarked and find five or ten of the proverbs and define them right that is look under the surface of the proverb and asked, what do these mean do five or ten at a time? And the next time that you're sit in your desk and you want something different to do, do it again and do it again and do it again and you will find that after a couple of weeks of practicing this with different proverbs, you will start to look at everything in the world as if it's a proverb that is to look at everything in the world as if there's another meaning lurking underneath if the problem the problem and as soon as you find that meaning you will also find that there are other things that come to mind that you are reminded of that our analogies that might help you to look at that problem in a different way. Now I want you to practice this and see the way you're going to practice it is to go to this proverb practice page forty three there are about ten proverbs on here and I want you to go ahead and define those as your first uh your first chance I know you weren't doing fake work now, but I still want you to define some problems to go to it and while you're doing that uh uh yes I'm trying to think of what exactly my question is I think so earlier the in the proverb example you had about the noise doesn't mean the load I think I only went down one level so my sort of answer definition of that wass the person who says a lot doesn't necessarily mean he has the knowledge I didn't I just peeled one layer back and didn't get down to the core of it do you have any um guidance says to I guess I could I guess in my mind I could answer that I think if there's another level but do you have any? Uh yeah, I mean that what I would do is to say is to say two things first of all answer and see if that remind you of anything and if it does great and if it doesn't then ask yourself are there any remaining objects um in my description that I could get rid of that would allow me to think of this even more generally okay, so if you go from noise of the wheels to person you're substituting um the wagon for a person but there's still there's still an object there, so then you could say ok can I get rid of the person? What would it mean what would this proverb mean if it now no longer referred to tow any particular object right and so that would be the way to do it. Thanks cool. So you go do that in the meantime, what you got we got a question here that comes from ren and they say has art ever examined the differences between how these strategies work differently between people who are verbal dominant versus mathematical dominant? Now a lot of these proverbs that we're talking about seem to do well with the verbal people but he's wondering what to do for those who are more spatial relationship oriented right on verbal yeah no that's it that's great. Any kind of re description that you try will be a good kind of re description that is that is the one of the core principles to remember here is that you are just trying to formulate a different way of thinking about the problem and one that still has the same structure to it as the as where you started from now I have given a lot of strategies that air pretty verbal strategies math is interesting because of course math often distills a lot of things to its essence rather than rather than being focused on the details of things and so sometimes actually finding a mathematical description of something can be a really great way of uh of re describing a problem you know, finding spatial diagrams can be helpful. So when we talked about using drawings, one way of distilling an essence using ah visual format is to use a diagram that with with boxes and lines or these mind maps that that uses space rather than using er rather than using a detailed drawing of something. So yeah, I I encourage people to try a variety of different things. The strategy underlying this is that you're trying to find an analogy, which means that you're trying to find a broader description, a description that gets away from the particular objects and focuses on the structure of the problem you're trying to solve and the more different strategies you try, the more different ways you'll be thinking about the problem, the more different things that are going to come to mind. Um, so yeah, I think that that's that's an important piece of it all right, great. Now, this is a question about pattern recognition kind of a two part question this pattern recognition play a role in creating and changing habits, then I guess also, are there ways to train for pattern recognition outside of proverbs? Yeah, so so obviously I'm in a big part of what we're doing here is a pattern recognition issue, right? The human mind, a lot of what, what of what we're doing when we retrieve stuff from memory is recognizing that there is some kind of a pattern that we've encountered and that that pattern reflects something similar to something that I've done in the past and so and so there's a lot of pattern recognition and pattern completion that goes into this kind of thought so so I would I would say that that you know there that a lot of these different techniques are valuable techniques for for training yourself so so a lot of things we've talked about even thinking about the jokes that you know right why is it that a particular joke works jokes tend to work because they set up a pattern and then break that pattern and so as you begin to analyze some of the jokes that you that you found to be funny part of what you're learning from that is hey here's a pattern that I uh that that that I recognize and then a way of breaking that pattern in an interesting way so I think all of these things are tools for doing that I think the other thing is that causal structures when you begin to learn about them those air all those air all patterns right esso and and and so the more different areas where you learn how things work the mohr different patterns that you've exposed yourself to and all of those become pieces of knowledge you can use in two ways, right? So right now, we've been focused on how doe I use that past knowledge that I have in order to be able to retrieve something that might help me to solve a problem, but actually, the things that you've learned in the past also so become strategies that you can use khun b can be patterns that you used to help you, teo, even structure a new problem that you're trying to solve. So I think this can cut both ways, right? Thank you. Great. So how you doing there with those proverbs? How many of you think that was easy? I don't even think I didn't like that so much. Yeah, so there's a new habit to develop. All right? I mean, I really do strongly recommend taking this is an exercise and doing this regularly and beginning tto look att at the rest of the world a ziff it's a proper right look at the rest of the world as if it has something else going on underneath it, and to use these kinds of strategies to help you. There are others, right? We often use the names of famous people and famous events to refer to broader situation. So, for example, watergate has become synonymous with situations in which the cover up is worse than the crime. So you can you can become better able to recognize situations in which you might be getting yourself into trouble, because you're trying to cover up, ah, fairly fairly benign misdeed, and in the process, end up doing something worse. All right, so would that the people who had, you know, we're involved in watergate, had known about watergate, right? Um, so, uh, so these are some of the kinds of things that you, khun dio, and I really strongly recommend developing these kinds of strategies because this is one of the critical elements from or effective problem solving, this is what's going to enable you to draw your knowledge from one area to another, and I really want to reiterate that when I talk about problems that you're solving, um, I really don't mean to constrain this very much, right? This kind of a strategy works, whether you are in business, trying to solve a particular problem with with your product that you developed or your advertising strategy, but this can work in social relationships when you're when you're dealing with with conflicts that have come up, for example, there was, ah, situation at work at one point where I was talking to somebody was talking through a conflict between colleagues and realized that what was happening was, essentially, that there was a tug of war going on, in which there were people people were sort of pulling against each other as if there could be only one victor, right? They had they had framed. The problem is if only one person could win and when they realized that they were having this tug of war with someone, they also realized, you know, maybe they could maybe they could think about this problem in a different way, that there might actually be a solution that would enable both people to get what they wanted, that, in fact, one person didn't have tto lose for the other one to get what they wanted. And and it it changed the way it immediately changed the way that they approached this situation, right? So social problems can work this way, but also, you know, it's possible to think about all sorts of creative acts um, in this same kinds of terms, I mean, if you are, if you are trying to create a beautiful piece of music or a new painting or, you know, doing something in photography, I mean, any one of these creative pursuits is one in which you still are doing a variant of problem solving and and and if you look in the history of the arts, you know, very often analogies have been powerful ways of creating new approaches toe artwork you know when uh when you know, in the impressionist period when there were artists who drew on asian art for example to bring that into the european arts or when picasso brought a lot of techniques and and forms from african art in toe into the work that he was doing you know, that is those air those air essentially analogies because you are drawing from traditions that haven't normally collided and seeing whether there are solutions that can be taken from one of the goes to another or for that matter when the cubist said I wonder if we could put multiple views of something into the same picture, right? I mean these air always of drawing analogies that might allow you to go look at a situation that you encounter in a fundamentally different way. So so when I use the word problem, I really don't mean to constrain that to be something that that is the traditional sort of, you know, problem that we might start with in a classroom setting yes, we go through just a couple of absolute yeah just steal you're on the right place or think of it so what so so picky? Well, I think so this is one that I think I'm pretty that I have a pretty good definition for um a calm sea does not make a skilled sailor okay? I have status quo does not breed knowledge, okay what a what a what if people got for that one uh that you are not learning and easy times okay, yeah um I actually maybe it create another proverb was rough waters creates with haley okay, yeah so so right so in a lot of different ways what you've got is this is this general idea that that if things were easy if you know the status quo I like that that sort of if I if I if I know what to do right now I don't really need to learn anything you know, but if if it's in the difficult times of my life which, by the way, you know which carries along this idea that that I may not like those times right it's often not that much fun to be in rough seas, right? But but when you're in those rough seas you that's when you learn the most those tumultuous times yeah, sure that's cool, I know sure does anyone else have one learned cares about, um so like the next one sweep the snow from your own porch before you brush the frost off mine is don't tend to yourself first um right ten yourself first, but also you know, if you think about this sweet that's none of your own porch before you brush the frost off mine is one way of saying, you know take care of yourself before you start taking care of everybody else, all right, right? You know, deal with your own problems first, you know? And and this this can be read in both way, you know, from both perspectives to right, which is, you know, there are times where we get upset at someone else because we feel like they're trying to solve my problem, when in fact, they seem to have a lot of problems of their own, you know? And that actually is an interesting way of looking at that particular proverb, right? Because it also suggests that there are times when actually someone might have given you really helpful advice, and you're still annoyed them because you recognize that they actually have the same problem themselves. And one of the things that we have to remember in life is that there are times when someone has given us great advice, and the fact that they haven't been able to follow it themselves actually doesn't matter that much, right? So, um, so we shouldn't always feel like you know me good advice, khun b good advice. Almost no matter where the source is. So that's actually interesting proverb, because it has this duality, okay, any others that somebody wants to? More examples we do have a couple more questions coming insure now this one is interesting this is from ivana ask again and they want to know some of these principles with proverbs that you've been talking about do these relate to other stories and folk floor and even things now modern day superheroes and kind of looking at the proverbs in the folklore aspect is that all interrelated here yeah I think absolutely I mean if you look at the people who have studied stories right I mean for example the people who've studied the great plot lines and people who right about storytelling not from a psychology perspective but who just write about storytelling either from an anthropological perspective or from a creative writing standpoint there are these dominant themes that come up repeatedly across literature cross legends across superhero stories and things like that and and as you begin to rio plot lines are just one general a form of of story that can be useful for helping you to understand situations great thank you so we're getting towards the end of this section so it's plugged time um I want to make you aware of something else you might find fun so I do feel like I work about seven jobs in my life and one of them is uh is that starting about a year ago now backing on katie radio in austin, texas we started a show called two guys on your head uh and it turns out that that this show is available not just for those people who are in the austin area where its on its seven fifty one one forty five and four fifty one in the afternoon on fridays. Well, it's a seven minute podcast, but but we also are available as a podcast on itunes and uh and we're on soundcloud and if you go to two guys on your head dot or ge, you can you can find the podcast and if you're if you're if you feel like you haven't followed enough things on twitter's if you're already following me at at a b mark meant on twitter, you can actually follow two guys on your head at to the number two g o y h andi have a twitter feed there so something else it's it's a it's, a very brief podcast but we cover all kinds of topics my partner in crime on that is a guy by the name of bob duke he's, a psychologist who actually teaches in the music department at the university of texas and and the two of us both originally hail from new jersey, which means that we have ah both very similar sense of humor and a somewhat similar speaking style, so actually there are times when I'm listening to the the final edit of the show and thinking to myself I didn't I didn't say that and then about ten seconds and I realized no I didn't say that bob said that but yeah so that's something else to check out all right um somebody summarized here I apologize this one is three ish okay um we talked both about similarity and analogy here similarity is your ability to use is the literal similarities of the world to help you to reuse your past knowledge in new situations when you do that you tend to focus on what the new situation has in common with previous knowledge as well as the differences that relate to what what things have in common but if there's a you know unique property of some new situation that doesn't really match onto something that you've seen before you tend to miss that those unique properties those in nonaligned herbal properties tend notto not to leap to the forefront when you get stuck solving a problem that means that you haven't been able to find anything in your prior knowledge that's really going to help you to solve that new problem in those situations sometimes you have to leap from literal similarity to analogy analogies are those situations those comparisons in which you are finding things that have similar structure from one situation to another so the structure is similar even if the surface details aren't we're very good at making analogy comparisons when they're there in front of us they're very powerful in those situations but we have to work hard when we're trying to retrieve analogies. The way we have to do that is to remember that when you get stuck, it means that nothing is coming to mind if you want new things to come. And not to come to mind which have to do is to re describe the situation. Re described the problem by finding its essence. And when you find that essence, you will discover that other things that you know about that share. That essence will also come to mind.