What would you like to disrupt in order to learn, discover, or create something new? (DYM III: coming November 2013)


By John Allen

"...adept at disrupting the show..."

In Listen to This, Alex Ross explains how the musical dance form "chacona" disrupted traditional rituals and cultural mores in the early 17th century:  
Chacona lyrics often emphasize the dance’s topsy-turvy nature— its knack for disrupting solemn occasions and breaking down inhibitions. Thieves use it to fool their prey. Kings get down with their subjects. When a sexton at a funeral accidentally says “Vida bona” instead of “Requiem,” all begin to bounce to the familiar beat— including, it is said, the corpse. “Un sarao de la chacona,” or “A Chaconne Soiree,” a song published by the Spanish musician Juan Arañés, presents this busy tableau:  
When Almadán was married, / A wild party was arranged, / The daughters of Anao dancing / With the grandsons of Milan. / A father-in-law of Don Beltrán / And a sister-in-law of Orfeo / Started dancing the Guineo, / With the fat one at the end.
And Fame spreads it all around: To the good life, la vida bona, Let’s all go now to Chacona. A surreal parade of wedding guests ensues: a blind man poking girls with a stick, an African heathen singing with a Gypsy, a doctor wearing pans around his neck. Drunks, thieves, cuckolds, brawlers, and men and women of ill repute complete the scene (23).
Listen to this brief excerpt from "El Sarao de la Chacona" by Joan Araniés (c1580-c1650) performed by Nuevo Sarao. You'll hear how the chacona emphasizes the second beat of the 3/4 meter, giving it that "topsy-turvy," disruptive rhythm:



Peter Thiel is a an American entrepreneur best known for co-founding PayPal.  His Thiel Fellowship disrupts traditional education by funding young entrepreneurs who want to forgo college in order to work directly on their projects. 

In The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, George Packer explains the roots of Peter Thiel's principle of disruption as a force for creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship:
Thiel was trying to build a successful business that would make him rich, but he also wanted to disrupt the world— in particular, the ancient technology of paper money and the oppressive system of monetary policy. The ultimate goal was to create an alternate currency online that would circumvent government controls— a libertarian goal. The summer he met Max Levchin, Thiel read a book published the previous year, The Sovereign Individual by Lord William Rees-Mogg and James Dale Davidson. It described a coming world in which the computer revolution would erode the authority of nation-states, the loyalty of their citizens, and the hierarchies of traditional professions, empower individuals through globalized cybercommerce, decentralize finance by moving it online with electronic money, and bury welfare-state democracies, while accelerating inequalities of wealth (which, in the madcap late nineties, seemed almost inconceivable). At the same time, local mafias would have wide latitude to inflict random violence. The book sketched out a libertarian apocalypse, a dream with dark edges, and it was part of the inspiration for PayPal (Kindle Locations 2209-2217).

Ross Anderson, Professor of security engineering at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory, believes that we should disrupt the theatrical illusions created by institutions who want to hide their real motives.  We freely post our personal information to social networks who then sell it to advertisers.  We waste billions of dollars on security measures that do not provide actual protection, only the illusion of it. Science, according to Anderson, needs to disrupt these institutional "shows" and expose them for what they really are:   
Theater thrives on uncertainty. Wherever risks are hard to measure or their consequences hard to predict, appearance can be easier to manage than reality. Reducing uncertainty and exposing gaps between appearance and reality are among the main missions of science. Our traditional approach was the painstaking accumulation of knowledge that enables people to understand risks, options, and consequences. But theater is a deliberate construct rather than an accidental side effect of ignorance, so perhaps we need to become more sophisticated about theatrical mechanisms too. Science communicators need to become adept at disrupting the show, illuminating the dark corners of the stage, and making the masks visible for what they are (262-263, This Will Make You Smarter: 150 New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking).

What are you working on? (DYM I.21)

By John Allen

The version of Mozart popularized by the film Amadeus composed music with unbelievable ease, effortlessly producing masterpieces as if he were merely a scribe for the finished music flowing in his head. If only that were true.

When it comes to working on something, it looks like Mozart was more like us than we thought.

In Listen to This, a cogent collection of essays on music, Alex Ross debunks this popular portrait of Mozart as a musical wizard magically conjuring timeless masterpieces.  He describes a more sophisticated and complex reality of Mozart's creative process: it required long spans of time, exploration, multiple failures, layered thinking, and a non-linear approach to composing. 

In other words, Mozart put in a lot of hard work on his masterpieces:  
Scholars have also demolished the old picture of Mozart as an idiot savant who transcribed the music playing in his brain. Instead, he seems to have refined his ideas to an almost manic degree. Examination of Mozart’s surviving sketches and drafts— Constanze threw many manuscripts away— reveals that the composer sometimes began a piece, set it aside, and resumed it months or years later; rewrote troubling sections several times in a row; started movements from scratch when a first attempt failed to satisfy; and waited to finish an aria until a singer had tried out the opening. Ulrich Konrad calls these stockpiles of material “departure points”—“ a delineation of intellectual places to which Mozart could return as necessary.” In other words, the music in Mozart’s mind may have been like a huge map of half-explored territories; in a way, he was writing all his works all the time. The new image of him as a kind of improvising perfectionist is even more daunting than the previous one of God’s stenographer. Ambitious parents who play the Baby Mozart video for their toddlers may be disappointed to learn that Mozart became Mozart by working furiously hard, and, if Constanze was right, by working himself to death (Kindle Locations 1394-1402).