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Monday, 1 July 2013

Industrialised Paradigm Busting

Dear Ciaran

I was fortunate enough to have a music teacher who didn't do the whole 'music grade' thing.

I simply took stuff that I wanted to learn how to play, for the joy of playing, and we'd sit down and look at it, learn it. The note-for-note approach. One note on the page, one key on the Piano.

I stopped lessons when I started college, however the interest in music for the joy of music, was sown and cultivated.

Midway through university, I decided to buy an Electric Guitar, as I'd seen some videos of Joe Satriani and co improvising music, and the prospect was just too tempting.

I immediately realised that there was a core fundamental underlying music which, in my younger years, I had glazed over completely, in favour of the notes on the page. And it was this:-

Every piece of music is built on a scale, which serves as a base upon which the notes must derive. Stepping out of the scale (except under special circumstances) breaks the music.

With the scale in place, you can more or less hit whichever keys you wish in the scale, and it will sound half decent. Combined with musical notation to give a 'rough guide' of the notes that need to be played, it then becomes purely practice-based, building accuracy and speed at which the notes can be played and the scale can be conformed to, without slipping out and hitting a 'bum note'.

With the knowledge above in place, it was possible to play the guitar immediately and consistently without it sounding bad. It was also possible (within a day) to quickly and effectively work out, by ear, other people's songs. Simply work out the key and the mode, and the job's a good-un. Stick to the key and mode and you simply cannot fail.

Where previously I was only seeing the notes on the page, seemingly disconnected from one another, without anything falling previous to or after them, now I was seeing the whole. The scale, the key, the mode. 

There's practice to be done, no doubt. Practice in speed, accuracy, and realising the little secrets that allow you to play outside of the scales.

Masterful musicians take it further. They jump deep into the core of what art is, engaging the emotion, energy, feeling, taste, flavour, passion and zest of the moment and expressing it raw and rich, through the soul, to whatever their medium is.

Scales within music are characteristically emotive - Majors are generally bright, Minors are dark, Sevenths are edgy, whilst Diminished chords build suspense. An excellent starting point, something to spend time looking at.

And then... back to improvisation. Was a piece of engaging music ever written that wasn't improvised in one way or another (excludes Justin Bieber and buddies)?

With a key & mode at hand, go for it. Play. Play for hours. Express that emotion. You want to go up? Go up. Down? Go down. Play like this and you'll never need to play from another's notation ever again.

Well. Maybe there's something bigger to all of this. 

Let's say I'd never found out about modes/scales/chords... and I'd continued learning to play other people's music note for note. Disconnected notes, no connection to the one that came before or the one after.

Well. It'd be a skill in itself, certainly. A skill in perfectly reading and hitting the denoted note. But what about the keys and modes? The framework upon which the notes are based? The ground rules that instantly made it easier in ways that I cannot begin to fathom, and opened up the door to improvisation.

Maybe I recognised the underlying framework 1000 hours into my musical endeavour. But, what if I had continued for 5000 hours until I recognised it? What if I had got it on day 1? What if I never recognised it at all?

What about drawing or painting? Maybe I'm not good at it yet, because I'm seeing disconnected strokes and missing the framework which brings it together.

Whatever talent may be, it seems to me that what I have uncovered paints it in a new light. Recognise the framework in hour 1 and you'll be instantly prodigious, and the following 10000 hours will be spent mastering the way it flows. Spend 10,000 hours reciting disconnected notes and you'll certainly be skilful at something...  but you might be missing the woods for the tree.


This is the way that true excellence in skill plays out, and develops - the exact process you talk about here.

You can't just grind while never stepping back from what you're doing.  If you do that, all that happens is that you get good at grinding, and nothing else - get good, within a musical context, of learning all the notation, 'playing correctly', hitting the right notes in the right order as they are written on the page.  

You'll never play from the soul, and if you do start to compose things, they'll be stilted, and derivative.  Derivative because all you can really do is staple bits that other people have written together.

If you can step back and see the framework in which all music must occur, then all of a sudden you have an overview, and you have a freedom as well - as long as you're not straying from it, you're free to really just kick in with your creativity, and have it flow, have it zing, have it hit. 

But you got that after 1000 hours of learning, of picking at those chords, of just grinding.

Now it's so tempting to just say "well, if I could have got that in hour 1, I'd have saved myself 999 hours."  And it's also a little worrying when you look at people who've been playing their whole lives and have never seen that framework.  10000 hours of grind has just made them world class at grinding - there's no freedom, no creativity.  That's not cool.

But the situation isn't as simple as it looks.  Remember the article Pattern Revelation - when we practice, when we grind, we aren't just learning muscle memory, we're doing something else as well.  When we grind we are doing things, things that we can... get this, this is the key... step back from and see the patterns underneath them.

Yeah?  You could hear about the framework of music, learn about it, agree with it, get a really good conceptual understanding of it - but what allowed you to see it was that you had 1000 hours of experience where you COULD see it, for real, in what you yourself were doing.

Is this making sense?  The grind exposes the underlying pattern.  It has other uses - it teaches you endurance and grit, teaches you basics, gets you hitting the rock-face with that pickaxe, gets you off the armchair as an armchair philosopher, gets you into the field, into the fray.  All this matters.

But where it really kicks up a gear is where you step back from what you yourself are doing, and see the deep simplicities that underlie it all. 

And let me tell you this, my eager chum.  It's not just one simplicity.  That framework that you saw after 1000 hours in music - it creates a new kind of paradigm, a new paradigm of what is possible with music and composition.  And you can live within that paradigm, and do music, and your music will always have significantly more freedom and soul than those who do not see it.

But... each new paradigm opens up new possibilities for even deeper simplicities.  Jimi Hendrix didn't reinvent the use of the guitar by working within a melodic framework, or a harmonic framework.  He had those - but he also used discordance too, just like another variable, and wild and jarring shifts in tone that quite simply should not have worked... but did.

How many paradigms did Hendrix have to punch through before he could see with crystal clarity, a new terrain that underlied them all, from which he could literally reinvent the guitar?

You could say something similar about Muhammad Ali with boxing, or Bruce Lee with martial arts - but you're absolutely right, the process that you're identifying in music is the exact process by which this happens.

But then riddle me this - how much did Bruce Lee practice?  Ali?  Hendrix? 

Lots.  Lots and lots and lots.  But they were adding something to the practice that other people weren't, and this is the core of the method that I developed to open up philosophy.  You do the grind - you do it.  You take the time, you put in the hours. 

And besides - if that's the insight you get after 1000 hours when you're stepping back, what kind of insight are you going to get after 2000 hours?  5000 hours?  10000 hours?

Can you see what I mean - it's not just that great musicians are doing that thing with the emotive nature of the musical scales - they are, and if you don't get that, you can never compose great music, sure - but it's not just that.

That's just one example of a paradigm-buster.  An insight that strikes right through everything you're doing, brings a new unity to the whole endeavour, makes sense of it all in a new way, and opens up new possibilities that were never there before.

But it's not the last one, and it's not the only one. 

Because each new insight, each new paradigm allows you to practice in a way that you haven't before - this changes the nature of your practice - and thus changes the nature of the patterns your practice can reveal to you, when you step back.

What you call the framework and the notes on the page, that's exactly what I'm talking about, and it is one such pattern.  But even in music, it's not the only one.  Moreover - it cannot be exposed through anything other than the dual power of practice, and stepping back from practice - yeah?  Both not just one or the other. 

And while, yes, it puts you into a paradigm of understanding music that some people never get to through all their many years - they never step back and see that patterns - each new paradigm makes new paradigms possible.

Can you understand?  What happens when you push that NEW paradigm to it's limits?  Is there a deeper and clearer simplicity still?  Yes - there always is.

Becoming world-class at something isn't just hitting 'that one shift'.  It's working the process, back and forward, to instigate multiple ones that feed into the next, and make even deeper, even clearer, even bigger ones possible.

And as they get bigger, deeper and clearer, so to do the possibilities of them.  And so philosophy from a paradigm of semantic rules of logic has a hard limit on what's possible, just as playing the notes on the page can only take you so far.  There is a hard limit on what can be done within such an understanding.

Also - ha!  There's another key element to the insight you had about music that's well worth picking up on. 

It might seem - initially - that it's a limiting insight.  You have this framework, and music just doesn't exist outside it.  So in fact, even though the impact of it is intensely liberating - pay attention here - what you're actually doing is finding a hard constraint.

Yeah?  Can you see?  This is important.  Many people will try to liberate themselves from the 'tyranny of truth' - but if you actually look at the real simplicities that actually do constrain the realities of music, all of a sudden you have a set of boundaries outside of which you cannot step....... but....

...and I know I'm building this up, but it's a big one so.... drum roll......

Within which you can basically do anything.

That's the kind of liberation it is.  Not liberation to hit any string in any order and call the mess music.  Some people do that, it sounds appalling.  But that kind of understanding is instrumental to things like the hollowing out of Art in the modern age.  A chainsawed shark in a vat of formaldehyde, for instance, is very similar in essence to a bunch of notes struck at random. 

Sure, it breaks the rules, sure it is liberation of a sort - but it's a hollow kind of liberation that has no soul.  Yeah?  Because it's not humble to the framework - that kind of thinking would see the framework of music, as you put it, as just one more tyranny.

Of course you know it isn't.  It's not more a tyranny than a guard rail along the edge of a bridge - you don't want to step off the bridge - you don't want to step outside the framework of music - you don't want to step outside the real when you're doing philosophy.

And when you see these patterns, and you can throw up the guard rail, than that does mean you don't have to confine yourself to the very centre of the bridge, you can chill out, you can mosey on down it at your leisure, you can do handstands and cartwheels - whatever - and you still won't fall.

But remember - it took you 1000 hours to see that first big pattern running through music.  Had someone described it to you before you'd ever picked up a guitar, you'd have been like "ya brah, framework, brah, awesome". 

Can you see what I'm saying?  Those 1000 hours weren't wasted, because they gave you the data, the actual internal, hands-on data from which that pattern could be derived.  It's powerful because it cuts through that data - but you have to have the data, and that means grind.

Yeah?  Grind and stepping back.  Two elements, the ebb and flow of it.

And mate - whenever you hit these big-hitter insights, there's always that incredible feeling of "Wow!  This is it, this is really it, all that stuff I just did was rubbish, and everything from here on in is going to be amazing!"

And there is some truth to that.  Big paradigm-breaking simplicities that create new grounds for whole new ways of approaching things that make amazing things possible, things that would never have been possible before. 

You can get through so many that you're doing things that have never been done before, because you are (as far as your skill goes) operating in a totally different universe than all the people who never step back... AND all the people who never grind.  Yeah?  A different universe with different laws, different rules, different priorities - and different possibilities.

That's what it means to become really good at something.  It's the core process that, I believe anyway, underlies the work of another great philosopher of science, Thomas Kuhn. 

But can you see that there's a temptation here - to think of any single paradigm as the end point, as the final insight that makes everything fit, and the first insight everyone needs to see before their practice has any value.

It's neither.  Yeah?  Hit the field, hit the coffee shop, work the lock, grind.  And then step back, take the time, take a wide view.  And you may get nothing from stepping back, maybe you haven't got enough data yet that things are going to connect.  So step forward, grind.  Then step back, look.  Then step forward, grind.  Then step back, look.

Yeah?  But really - there's a lot of grinding involved.  A lot of it, a lot.  Look that in the eye.  You go deep into grinding, real deep.  Then you go back out into wide-views, letting things all slide away, chilling out, looking at things in broad strokes, seeing the big picture. 

This is the process.  Not one side or the other, and not any contingent insight that the process throws up - including that one about the emotive framework of music.  This is just the shape the process takes, and it's a hell of a rush when you get the big hitters.  But even the new paradigm they open up can itself be broken by deeper simplicities still - if you get the data from grinding it. 

You never get the big leaps unless you see the big patterns, and for that you need the data, and for that you need the grind.

And I guess as a final note - yeah, I think that the idea that someone has just kind of fluked out and seen a deep simplicity at a young age is a far more coherent account of what child prodigies actually are than just 'duh, talent' - but what do we learn from that? Make the deep simplicities that underlie all this noise and grind the focus of all the grind you do, and all the stepping back as well.

And child prodigies are very good at what they do - as children.  Few, very few, of the people who truly make the difference in art, culture, philosophy, sport, science - any field of endeavour - have this kind of background.  Even with someone like Mozart it doesn't really apply - Malcolm Gladwell makes a brilliant case in Outliers for the 10000 hours applying very clearly to him, before he started producing anything that was world-class.  

And indeed... it cuts both ways.  A child prodigy might see what they do as a 'talent' - because that's how people like to think of such things.  It's not threatening for someone else to be talented, it's just luck, that's why the idea has such grip and traction in a humanity pathologically averse to looking any uncomfortable truth in the eye.  And if a child prodigy does understand what they do as talent, they won't be pushing the envelope of what they do to break it, to find the deeper and deeper simplicities. 

They may be further down the track than most - but the engine of the train has stopped.

The process I'm talking about doesn't just 'replace' the big insights and deep simplicities.  It's a way of industrially generating them.

That's why it's different.  It's not just "here's this insight that makes creative music possible in a way it never was before."

It's "here's this process that makes paradigm-busting insights, including the music thing, but everything in any field of human excellence, sports, writing, music, science, culture, poetry, architecture... whatever, possible to directly generate."

Skill, science - any level of human capability ascribes to this form, because it is hardwired in the nature of human knowledge, and the interface of humanity and reality.  It's just how it works.

The core process of testing and grind, the collision of ideas and the real - this is the core process that underlies the effectiveness of Popper's falsification.  The long periods of grind to push the limits of the paradigm, then the stepping back from the data that can only be gained in this way, to see the deep simplicities that open up a new paradigm - that's the core process that underlies the structure of 'scientific revolutions' that Thomas Kuhn wrote about.  

This one process underlies and unites the work of both men, but with a deep simplicity that means it can be used to open up whole new horizons of possibility across vast streams of human endeavour, and a lot more clarity in the area (science) in which Popper and Kuhn worked.

Can you see what I'm saying?  It's just another paradigm-buster.  And being a philosopher means that those are the things you make.  As a blacksmith makes horseshoes and a plumber does pipes.  

And that itself is a skill.

I hope this brings some clarity to it.  Basically, and for now - get on the case.  Do the grind.  It's not just the places where you learn the little bits and pieces.

It's the place where you learn the terrain and limitations of the paradigm you are inside.

You didn't see that thing about the scales of music until you walked away from that guitar, for years, after many long hours of grind, and then picked it up again, and then saw what you saw.

So you want to be a philosopher?

Practice your chords.


  1. Patterns in music, explained in this point-by-point way. With a little tuning it applies to understanding things too.

    If you read a story for instance, or even watch a film - you can ignore the 'core' completely, sticking to the pretty visual experience. Explosions, gunfire, the works. The first paradigm.

    A step up from that would be following the story. In the case of a movie, relatively easy to follow in a disconnected or connected way, seeing the scene-by-scene dialogue and the bigger picture unfold. The second paradigm.

    Now, this is where transmission can start to get blurry. It gets blurry because personalised versions of concepts override whatever the author's intended concepts were.

    In the case of a lot of films, it's not hard to get lost because it's working with familiar concepts that mean roughly the same thing to many people. The idea of romance, the idea of conflict, everyone gets a grasp of this kind of stuff with relative ease.

    But in some films, what appears to be on the surface, is a far cry from what it really is, what it really means or even where it came from. Executed well, these are some of the most engaging, exciting and excellent films that exist.

    The third paradigm here is peeling back the onion skin and taking a look at what's happening.

    Stepping into this paradigm with a solid conceptual framework to fling it over is possible - Examining a plot whilst retaining personal ideas about what certain concepts mean. If there's an erroneous method to getting deep into something deep, this is where it can be found.

    This isn't always the case, there are of course, movies and readings that have no 'deep insight' to impart. They exist for the emotional flair, for excitement and pleasure, and entertaining they certainly can be!

    For purposely deep things, it's a deal breaker, and it happens simply because some of the concepts involved haven't been questioned yet.

    What I mean is, something is still conceptually unexplored. Take romance for instance. There is a 'hollywood ideal' of what romance is, and there are personal variations on that. Explore the concept and it's simple to see where variations converge, not only that but it paints the whole thing in a new light.

    There exists rare gems also. Rare gems that, when pulled apart, or sometimes are instantly obvious - reveal stunningly beautiful insights into something far larger than their demeanour reveals.

    The forth paradigm as I see it, is this - sidestepping common concepts to chart the lines as the author intended, rather than with personalised versions of that, thrown on it.

    I find frameworking paradigms in this point-by-point manner very potent.


    Don't use the word 'paradigm' to describe this.

    In fact, what you want to do is get a really, really light touch with all these words.

    A light touch with all these little bits and pieces. A light touch with your 'frameworking paradigms'.

    This is actually not a bad little heuristic, not a bad little tool to stick in your toolbox.

    But can you see how when you stick together
    Can you see how when you stick together these big words - FRAMEWORKING PARADIGMS - then all of a sudden it takes on this weird quality.

    It kind of seems real, and official. Like it's this new technique that you've discovered. Very potent.... oooooo.

    Except here's the problem. Every single person who ever tried to be a philosopher, and every single one who succeeded, found things like this. A million of them, all of them. Some really powerful, some less so. Some specialised, some less specialised.

    I've got a toolkit myself, all sorts of weird little spanners and monkey wrenches in there.

    And that's what this is - it's a monkey wrench. Nothing more, nothing less. It won't solve every problem, it won't even solve many of them. Still, it's a good little thing to have on your belt, just in case you come across something that you can grip with it.

    That is all. That is all.

    Being a philosopher doesn't mean developing the use of something like this to a huge degree.

    It means developing precisely one metric shitload of things like this.

    And keeping a LIGHT TOUCH with every single one of them.

    A very light touch.

    And your use of the word 'paradigm' is very dodgy. Really - I know exactly what you're saying, and I understand why you're using that word. But no.

    A paradigm isn't like a perspective, or an angle of attack. It's something else. It's the ground beneath your feet, it's the fundamental model at the centre of a view on the universe.

    Not just "my paradigm #1 of watching films is the action."

    Now look. If we take the word 'paradigm' out of that sentence and replace it with something else, sure, I can see what you're saying. Not a bad little monkey wrench to begin with. I've seen better, I've seen worse.

    But what does worry me is this.

    You just read a 6000 word article on paradigms, and you're throwing that term around like it's a magic incantation that makes your little monkey wrench into a glowing sword of truth.

    It does not.

    You have to start thinking about being much, much more intellectually humble. Start really thinking of ways to push yourself on this.

    To really look for real, effective ways to shut yourself up, and really get much, much deeper inside what is being said than you are getting right now.

    The way I do it is this - I never criticise if I know I'm reading something of real quality. This is how I can absorb the work of other people of genuine quality very quickly.

    I never criticise, I never try and think how I can fit my ideas in. I never do anything like that. I never think 'how does this relate to what I believe, or what I've worked out?'

    Never, never, NEVER.

    Do you understand? Is this making sense?

    I get ON MY KNEES and just get right inside what they are saying. There's no need to find a way to connect my stuff with theirs. No need for any of that crap. Truth is, if my stuff is true, and theirs is, it's already connected somehow.

    So I get on my KNEES when I read the work of people of quality. And what that means is, that I understand what they are saying ON THEIR TERMS. I get it, I see it, I see it really clearly.

    You have not done this with this above article, and your use of the word 'paradigm' betrays that clearly.

    And frankly - that 'getting on your knees' intellectually thing? That's a damn sight more 'potent' than 'frameworking paradigms', as you call it.

    Try harder. Try again.

  3. Ah.

    Paradigms are about seeing the simplicity that underpins stuff, not formulating further complexity as I have been interpreting it... and then it boils down to seeing how they float irrespective.

    Giving value to big ideas without letting go of them is just masturbation.

    It's easy for me to get carried away and immediately jump to writing about big ideas when they come along, as this did yesterday. I'm thankful that you're here to assess what I'm writing and shatter it so accurately.

  4. That's fine, man - and remember, it's a process. You'll probably find yourself slipping back into it - none of us are perfect. It's less about beating yourself up about things, and more about just working it, just keep on keeping on.

    The hours that you put into this - dedicated hours where you're specifically just doing this stuff - that's where your improvement comes.

    At the same time - this isn't about doing things perfectly. I don't mean to belittle what you describe - a set of linked, multiple perspectives from which to engage with a thing.

    That is very strong. Not even kidding - it's a good one. And while yes, you'll need more like it - you will need more LIKE it. As in, this is the kind of thing you are looking for.

    The issue I flag is the names your giving this stuff - which isn't even a problem because it looks bad, that's a secondary issue. It's mainly a problem because you do want to get some clear precision on what ideas mean...

    ...and also, crucially....

    Only talk about things in technical terms if you have a gun to your head. Yeah? Write in plain English... and THINK in plain English. WORK in plain English, describe your deepest insights in plain English, always that first.

    It's partly for accessibility's sake, and a lot of the way in which I can get this stuff across to people just flows out of that...

    ...but far more importantly, you're constantly moving away from the big words, and the big labels, and moving back down to brass tacks.

    Making this a constant, ongoing theme in what you do - making it a fundamental part of the skill itself - that's key.

    Because then not only are you better able to actually get it across to people, you're far better able to actually get stuff worth getting across in the first place.

    This make sense?

  5. It makes sense.

    Using a technical term creates the possibility of misrepresenting whatever you're talking about and the possibility that it can be misunderstood by others.

    It also opens the door to creating a compelling story about what's that's going on, whilst missing what's going on.

  6. Yeah, and the big issue is the second thing you mention. The reason it's such a big thing in philosophy is that sooner or later you are going to come across some pretty seismic stuff, it's just the nature of the area.

    It's a classic issue of philosophers - they hit something big, some real insight of serious depth and power, and then it kind of gets... calcified, if you will, and the rest of their work is that structure playing itself out in different arenas.

    At the same time, you don't want to utterly abandon labels - strangely enough. Even technical ones. This is something I mention in the How To Be A Philosopher piece - there's two sides to it.

    You want to use the labels - get right inside the word paradigm, for instance, read Thomas Kuhn for that - and really get thinking from that point of view. Dive right in.


    Once you've gotten a clear picture of it, and you're getting diminishing returns from your exploration of it?

    Drop it. Just drop it completely and walk away (in your head).

    It's about keeping that light touch that allows you to go right inside ideas, but then leave them behind completely as well.

    The things you've seen, the perspectives you've seen - you'll never unsee them - so you don't need to keep trying to think in certain terms.

    Can you see? It's both - a process with two intermingling parts. The getting inside, and the letting go.

    Getting right inside technical stuff, and letting all of it slide out.

    This way you can plunder these perspectives for insight, but you don't get stuck. Just a light touch, really, is all that's needed. A light touch with ideas, jargon, that sort of thing.

    You can combine the power of both really deep insight into technical stuff with a very broad perspective, and the ability to walk away.

    Again, it's not magic, but what you find is that doing this, over time, means that really intense
    simplicities that unite things - they just become much more obvious. You keep bumping in to similar patterns in apparently disconnected areas, and that gives you leads and clues for where to direct your attention next, what to learn about next, where the gaps are in your understanding, that sort of thing.

    Anyway, you've got more than enough to go on now, so do some more work on your end, read some books, do some stuff on your own, put all this stuff to work as best you can.

    Don't worry too much about understanding all of it perfectly - just any part of it that makes sense to you, take that and run with it. That's how you make progress.