The-act-of-bisociation

Arthur Koestler, “The Logic of Laughter,” in The Act of Creation

Language allows us to stay on a single world of reference, as fish in the water. It allows us to communicate and collaborate, to learn and develop as we invent new artifacts and processes. But language is also a complex adaptive system, built on shared knowledge and nested self replicating unit of puns, metaphors and words. Metaphors are written in response to new technological capabilities, taught by those who design such tools, and communicated to the intended user. As part of our lived experience we need to unpack such ideas, come up with new words for them, and embed them in our everyday interactions.

Arthur Koestler studied the novel use of language using the idea of bisociation. Illustrated above it is the metaphysical travel of ideas through different matrices, symboled as M1 and M2.

The “distinction between the routine skills of thinking on a single plane […] and the creative act, which […] always operates on more than one plane.[…] The former may be called single-minded, the latter a double-minded, transitory state of unstable equilibrium where the balance of both emotion and thought is disturbed.”

In his analysis of the jester, the sage and the artist Koestler focuses on the inner activities and their mechanics of creativity. We will define the mechanics of creativity as the leaps in rational thinking which are novel, unique and interesting. They are generative, transferable and valuable to those who encounter them, on either the receiving, or submitting of a piece of communication.

These leaps in logic happen between otherwise fixed positions of thinking, what Koestler calls matrix. “any ability, habit, or skill, any pattern of ordered behaviour governed by a ‘code’ of fixed rules.” “We can discuss Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo ‘in terms of (a) historic significance, (b) military strategy, (c) the condition of his liver, (d) the constellation of the planets.”

An object might be accessed through multiple subjective ‘codes’. In other words ‘code’ is a linguistic operator. All of these frames in the Napoleon example above are externalities of the world, none of them are innate. They are situated within history, military strategy, the condition of livers, and the constellation of the planets, and are needed if we want to approach the verbal reasoning of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo.

Once we learn such leaps of thinking–the idea of militaries, and their need for strategy for example–they need to negotiate with other pre-existing knowledge and thinking modalities.

“This is perhaps the place to explain why I have chosen the ambiguous word ‘code’ for a key-concept in the present theory. The reason is precisely its nice ambiguity. It signifies on the one hand a set of rules which must be obeyed—like the Highway Code or Penal Code; and it indicates at the same time that it operates in the nervous system through coded signals’—like the Morse alphabet—which transmit orders in a kind of compressed ‘secret language’.”

Not all ‘codes’ are shared, some might be private, and manifest themselves differently based on different lived experiences. For example when inspired, one might receive and use such inspiration in an internal way. It is useful without the need for articulation. But when we make a novel artifact, say as the artist does, she would need to render this modality into the written form, so to create a contact between the implicit individual model and ‘code’ of the users who encounter it.


The Act of Creation, Arthur Koestler, full PDF on Archive

I was pointed to this book by Alan Kay himself during an interview a couple of months ago