Tag Archives: opinion

Inspiration to Ramble

Let Your Mind Wander

Or at least pretend you have a choice…

Inspiration is kind of like watching the dust motes in your vision. You know the ones I’m talking about? Those little shadows of nothingness that pass by like ghosts?

They’re a kind of entoptic phenomena called floaters, or muscae volitantes. Wikipedia tells me this, and then I click on another link.

We all know the rabbit holes of the internet, don’t we? There’s Wikipedia, TV Tropes, YouTube, and occasionally Urban Dictionary. These are the places you go for one bit of information, but then you see something else interesting. Then you follow a path that only you can see. It’s a bit like trailblazing through a virgin forest. Every step you take is new and unbroken by previous travelers. No two internet users take the same route.

A digital fingerprint is left by every individual that traverses the web. Large companies use tracking data to determine who you are without getting you to log on. Spend enough time on any machine and you’ll be paired up with an existing data cache that mostly resembles you. I like to imagine that there’s several versions of me out there. Some are small little glimpses of me on my worst days. Others are very-nearly-me, but they haven’t been merged into one thread because of some minor uncertainty.

It’s really difficult not to argue that those kinds of algorithms, the ones that determine who is who and the ones that make stock choices and the ones that figure out which thing you’ll buy on Amazon, aren’t actual intelligence. The field of AI loves to move the goalpost. A hundred years ago, people (probably, I’m making some leaping connections here) thought things that wiggled a little too much were alive. Fifty years ago, anything that could pass a Turing test might’ve been thought as Alive.

Alive?

What are we, us humans, if not a collection of tricks to get by from one situation to the next? There are plenty of things I do that are a required set of operations rather than willful intent. I don’t really want to go to work. I don’t really want to nod and say “Good Morning” to most people. I’m not good at those things because I don’t quite grasp the need behind them. I understand, but I don’t understand. But, it’s the norm. It is what has been demonstrated as expected. Therefore, I do. Inspiration is just a connection formed when I make enough data points in the line. We’re just fancy learning machines, aren’t we?

Processing a hundred different things together and then coming up with some new and valuable outcome is the definition of creativity. Well, the stark, literal, boring definition is: ‘a phenomenon whereby something new and somehow valuable is formed.‘ I just looked it up as I wrote this. By that definition, robots, physical or digital, are some rather creative individuals.

Yet, I feel like that’s a hard thing for most to accept. Conversations in my head go like this, ‘You can’t call that creativity! It’s just programming!’ and ‘There’s something innate about creating! It takes innovation and great leaps of intuition!’ and ‘Inspiration is a byproduct of conscious thought!’

I disagree.

Most of the things that we find clever and interesting are the product of careful self-made algorithms. Humans are great at training themselves into patterns of thought. We go to school to learn new patterns of thought. Really Successful People study several varied patterns of thought and then mash them together into some Frankenstein’s monster of idea and concept.

Learn a bunch of stuff about solar panels. Now, learn a bunch of stuff about knitting. Maybe you’ll come up with a machine that knits together fibers that make better solar panels for cheaper. I don’t know. I had trouble thinking of two ideas far enough apart that they couldn’t be mashed together into some useful mix. Maybe I didn’t look far enough. Maybe all things are inherently useful to the understanding of all other things.

Some say you have to step back from a problem to find an answer. I don’t know who “they” are. I just did some searching to try and figure that out. There are a lot of articles and webpages out there that describe stepping back to figure things out. They’re named stuff like, “Why stepping back is the best way to move forward.”

Wikipedia has eight different problem solving methods included on their page about problem solving. I don’t feel like I’m going out on a limb to say there’s likely hundreds more than those eight. One of them, from a book titled How to Solve It by George PĆ³lya, has four steps: Understand the Problem. Make a plan. Carry out the plan. Look back on your work and consider how it could be better.

I’m frustrated every time I read about varying methods to do the same thing. This is a silly thing for me to do. Everyone understands life in different ways. Everyone has a past that forms and coerces them into who they will become. As Life progresses forward, the plural All-Encompassing version of that noun, the means to understand changes. That fuzzy repository of “global knowledge” gets larger and wiser with each passing day.

And yet, the myth of the singular genius still exists. We grasp the idea of exceptionalism so readily despite moving further from that capability with each breath. The only genius is in the collective mass that is teamwork and cooperation. Too many cooks spoil the broth. Sure. Sure. Whole sci-fi cultures are formed around the idea that committees are a terrible idea. A thousand movies champion the singular as a lone hero rushes into the war room with the Fantastic Idea, Daring Do, and Gumption to redirect a bickering group of stuffy old men. Anyone without a concrete goal will founder.

New Years resolutions are silly.

Getting somewhere is easy though. Like, let’s say I want to drive to Kansas. Why? I don’t know. The why is so rarely important to the future. I’m in Germany right now, so driving poses some difficulties grounded in physics. I could do this Thing that is suddenly so important that it must be Done. First, I’d sell some stuff. Second, I’d buy some tickets. Third, I’d drive to, and then on, a boat. Fourth, I’d drive off that boat and all the way to Kansas. Isn’t that boring?

A direct path from A to B is usually dull. It’s a way to pass time, or to fulfill an obligation, or to get to what you really want. It fulfills the requirement. There’s nothing wrong with that. In most cases, it’s necessary.

But? When you can? When you have the chance? When there isn’t some ticking bomb with red LED numbers counting away your fate? An indirect route allows you to gather a lot more experiences, good and bad, that can be entertaining.

So, maybe it’s not so bad that I can’t stare directly at the little eye floaters. Since I can never see what they really look like, I spend a lot more time imagining what their shapes could be.

-J.A.

Writer Tools: Accents in the Written Form

Accents: How and Where and Why?

Also: What’d they just say?

He growled, “Whar be th’ rules ‘n regulatin’ bawtey ‘at dah-sighds ‘oo wrahts like wut?”

“I’m, sorry. Eh, excuse me even, but what did you just say? You see, your accent is very thick.”

His voice rumbled, “Where be the rules and regulating body that decides who writes like what?” The words tumbled out and melted together, every sound soft and smooth like softened butter. He had an accent like a pirate mixed with a bucket of gravel.

“Oh yes! I see, er, hear what you mean now. Much better.”

So, when writing dialogue there seem to be a couple of schools of thought. There are those that want the words written visually as they sound, and there are those that would rather have things written for clarity. Both schools of thought seem eager to yell at the other that there’s is the One True Way.

Preferences aside, there can be reasons to partake in both of the practices. If you’re writing for a wider readership then it’s best to leave out the weird spellings. The stranger you write a word, the more effort it will take to read. Reading is a process of identifying words as symbols, not individual letters. Mixing up the order of a word will interrupt that natural process. However, sometimes you’re writing for a specific audience or have a very particular speech mannerism that is key to the story or character. That would be the primary case for adding complexity.

Overall you should consider the message you’re trying to convey. Is it really important to emphasize that character’s vocal patterns? If not, it’s probably best to keep away from non-standard spelling. One possible mix I’ve seen is the following:

“Hello my beauty, what ails you?” His words were a high-pitched lilt touched with a lisp. The words came out sounding much more like, “‘Ello mah byooteh, hut aisleth ya’?”

Much like a physical description, an occasional description of the vocal patterns may be enough to set the character. Providing an example of how you imagine the words to sound may help as well.

That said, a larger consensus seems to be that general audiences would prefer clear, well-written sentences over a phonetically spelled verbal mannerism. Write for yourself first, but keep your readers in mind. Understanding your audience preferences is a key part to any decision for creative work.

-J.A.