Update#3-April 2017 In the two-and-a half years since starting this blog, the rate of surprising occurrences and jarring convergences seems to have sped up. The dizzying rates of change affect not only us humans but all species, including plants, when we consider shifts in climate, precipitation, and migration patterns. Adaptation is necessary to survival. Proliferating technologies make driverless cars and new forms of financial and supply chains possible. There is an immense increase in data, which seems to reassure some people, as if the data, especially if “big”, will tell us how to handle all this change. Although we can never have enough data, making sense of it is becoming harder.
Taken together, these shifts–including the evidence that the planet itself is going through some irreversible changes–indicate that we humans will have to do more than to lean on technology to map our way forward to a future that is sustainable. The hands of denial, greed, and ignorance still block our way–as if holding a lid onto the pot in which life resides. Rethinking our futures in a radically changing world requires different approaches to problem-solving and tapping the artists within everyone. It is in the humanities, combined with science, where we can find our way forward; rediscovering humanity, or else all indeed is lost. How we “see” and frame such problems requires understanding first how we got into this present predicament. Artists practice seeing everyday reality in new ways.
Update#2-April 2016: A reader of this blog suggested this spring that this blog is about “art and the art of problem-solving” in her reaction to it shared with me in an email, so I changed the sub-text to the title to this, letting her know. Sometimes it takes others to let you know what you are really “about.” (!) By now, it’s surely time for these seemingly disparate strands to come together here. The focus has been diffuse so as to allow a re-assortment much in the way that this astute reader, who was a fellow student in a portrait painting class, enabled…
Update#1– October 2015: It turns out that this blog, at about a 10-month mark, has been more about a beginner’s impressions gained on a journey through a series of art classes, and only secondarily–if that–about how and why we are surprised. It turns out, however, that seeing and sensing, in the way artists do (as well as dragonflies, and other creatures) has a lot to do with our abilities to be surprising, as well as to be alert to surprises. There is in all this something important about practicing an ability to see beyond the familiar, which will continue to be explored here in an ad hoc sort of way.
Original text: This blog explores how rare events, chance, random happenings,and abrupt changes from the status quo can occur and disrupt what we thought was normal. Such disruptions often have been key to human progress but just as often can, at least temporarily, represent large-scale setbacks. Historically, breakthroughs in one domain have unleashed enormous leaps forward in science or the arts or, on the other side of the coin, wreaked havoc in the form of violence and persecution. In an age of globalization, such progress or setbacks, including calamities like wars and disease, can have ripple effects around the world, with many unintended consequences.
Trying to improve our understanding ahead of time of what lies ahead is something most of us do quite naturally. The Black Elephant Blog explores ways to widen our optic on these issues. Recent writings on “black swans” and “black elephants”–among other species–inspired a metaphorical approach at the outset. How to deal with global challenges (sometimes also known as “black elephants”) for which our institutions and inherited mental models may be poorly suited will thus be a central focus of this exploration.
Illustrations & artwork rights: Author of Black Elephant Blog (unless otherwise indicated).
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