Thursday, October 01, 2015

Day 2 Keynote: Adam Savage from #mythbusters #DevLearn

These are my live blogged notes from the opening session at this year's DevLearn, hosted by the eLearning Guild and happening in Las Vegas. Forgive any typos and incoherencies.

Adam Savage "Curiosity, Discovery, and Learning"

He opens by talking about his dad, who was a painter. "I paint for the same reason I splash in the bathtub."

The uselessness of academic expertise in the face that we're all going to be plant food.

"Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts." Richard Feynman

We might say, I don't really get this piece of art, but I like it anyway. We do the same thing with science. 

We often talk about things that are complicated: It's both an art and a science. And when we do that, we often put are hands far apart to show the distance. 

Adam things they're not that different. We think of art and science as things best handled by "experts." Adam disagrees.

We see think that Art and Science as separate. Art as loosey goosey and science is something we suffer through in high school.

When we believe we can't understand something, we don't even try. 

But ignorance does not equal bliss.

So why DON'T we try to understand things? 

People look at the work of Jackson Pollack and say, "my kid could do that." The history of art -- art trying to break down the forms of substance and objects, while still trying to tell a story. And so Jackson Pollack's work still tells a story. 

We do the same thing with science. We put it off someplace else as separate.

We're all conversant in science. It's not just something that's happening over there.

Think: every day in sports, we talk about science -- trajectories, and air flow etc. 

Why do we art and science as separate from us? We see artists as either geniuses or charlatans. Adam's dad said "art is ONLY what we like." About science we say, "I'm not all that good at math..." 

The art of editing a film is all about rhythm and pace and algorithims. It's about math and not numbers.

We see the scientific method as the opposite of the creative method. 

Scientific Method:

1. Come up with a question (Is it better to walk or run in the rain? is not a good question...forming a question is a complicated act.)
2. Form a hypothesis (So what is happening when you're running or walking in the rain? Forming a hypothesis is a self generating act - the more you generate, the more you can come up with. And forming a hypothesis is non -trivial. The more you come up with more you can come up with).
3. Design an experiment to test that hypothesis (how do you pull away variables to make sure the test you come up with has some validity? 

The scientific method is a deeply creative process. They did an MMR of a mathematician's brain - as he was looking at equations, the same part of his brain lit up as did an artists.

Art and Science are just two methods of storytelling.

Stories are the reason we have language, they are what enabled us to form larger groups and what made us the most successful species on the planet. We evolved language in order to tell each other stories. This is the single most important thing we do. It's culture. And culture is a conversation.

[Adam has a high school diploma and that's it.]

We can be better of stewards of our culture:

1. Pay Attention 
"It's not even wrong." -- when a question is science is so below par that it's not even wrong...

Listen enough until you can form your own opinion. Paying attention is really important.

2. Speak your Mind
Once you've investigated something until you actually have an opinion on something, it's important that you put it out into the world.

3. Stay Curious
Curiosity tends to leave people.  Stay curious is a great moniker for life. If you're curious, then things stay fascinating.

4. Ask Questions
We have all pretended to know sh*t. The smartest people are the ones who ask question -- admit they don't know.

5. Tell your stories.(but listen too)
Are you a listener or a wait-to-talker? Stop waiting to talk. Listen to the person in front of you, they've got something to tell you. That's how we push ourselves forward.

Art and science are the twin engines of how we improve ourselves as a species and a culture. They make us all better. And neither is beyond our understanding.

Adam Savage Q&A with David Kelly

The show Mythbusters -- they've been filming 40 weeks a year for 13.5 years. He came to entertain from behind the scenes - he'd been doing special effects stuff after 5 years as an actor and other stuff.

Adam: "I'm a storyteller. When I was building models for Star Wars and the Matrix, every detail has a story/a meaning."

Mythbusters is about a narrative and a story. 

Stories and science -- we want a linear cohesiveness. All we have to do is hold to the scientific method and we tell an interesting story -- because they're the same thing.

5 week Mythbusters tour November/December around the US this year - like a magic show, but instead of illusions it's science. 

"We don't stand behind our results. But we do stand behind our methodologies." -- They typically have 8 days to complete an episode. They often do something once and that's it.

David asks if they think of the show as learning. Adam says, "Oh no, we don't think of the children." It was only a few years into it that they realized that people were learning from it. He gets emails from people who got into science because of the show.

David asks -- how do you learn and research before a show? 

Adam says, you ask a lot of questions. "What's actually going on?" Jamie and Adam then go off and read and research and then come back and talk about it. "We both build things in our head before we build things with our hands." We use a process that we call arguing. It's a high integrity process, because it means someone is always checking. You go back and forth until you DO understand. And when you get that common understanding, you can smell it. 

"Make it clear to me and then I can make it clear to the audience." Often we talk to experts, and it turns out they're not very good at explaining. And so we talk to another expert.

David asks -- how do you work with those experts? 

Adam will say, "is it accurate if I say it this way?" And then the expert will push back. And so he refines his understanding. A myth isn't about a specific science - it bridges across other branches. So experts will know their area, but not everything that pertains to that bridge. Polymaths -- experts who have an interest in more than one thing. Polymaths make connections across more than one thing. It's only when you look at how things connect to each other that you really understand.

Adam says, "I'm not great at anything I know how to do except maybe storytelling. I'm mediocre at welding, painting, etc. But because I can do all of those things - they're like arrows in my quiver. I can pull those skills into my problem solving and make connections...."

David asks -- a lot of people don't react well to being wrong. Has your experience on myth busters changed how you feel about failure?

Adam: The only experiment that is a failure is the one that yields NO data. Failure is always an option. As long as I'm learning something about the process, I can apply it to the next step in the process.

I try to model my failures for my kids. And I try to model this in the public spheres.

Exposing myself to failure is one of the key stories I have to tell.

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