Commentary

You Will Actually Know Less After Reading This, Hopefully


CANNES, FRANCE -- Hey, don’t take my word for it. It was told to me by an expert on what we know -- and more precisely, what we think we know about what we know. His name is Beau Lotto, and he’s the first speaker at SMG’s and TED’s “Beautiful Minds” presentation at the Lions Festival here this morning. He’s also a leading neuroscientist researching communication, media and creativity, and he asserted that the key to that last part -- you know, creating stuff -- only happens when we don’t know something. More precisely, it only happens when we abandon assumptions of what we think we know, because fundamentally, that’s all our brain does: collect assumptions of things we think we know based on our history and past experiences.

“I want you to know less at the end than you think you know now,” Lotto said in introducing his special Cannes edition of a TED Talk.

That’s because “nothing interesting begins without doubt. Doubt is the engine of creativity.” If you doubt that, well, you’re just not thinking creatively enough -- or are you?

It was just those sort of brain teasers that Lotto used to stimulate the Lions crowd. Using visual and audio experiments with his audience, Lotto showed how we “cannot see the world as it really is.” That’s because our brains fill in blanks, and distort or reorient the way we perceive the world based on our assumptions.

He did this with shapes, random collections of letters, and even some random collections of sounds.

In one of those experiments, Lotto played an audio track and asked the crowd to identify what the person on the audio was saying.

“It’s fun to smoke marijuana,” Lotto said, summing up the consensus “meaning” of the audio track, which he said was actually meaningless, because in fact, it was a Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust” played in reverse.

Lotto said our brains gave the sounds meaning by associating the sounds with past experiences, which in the case of this meaning, says volumes about the Cannes crowd, which are normally associated with the intoxicating effects of blush wines, not marijuana.

“We are delusional,” Lotto said, adding: “That is the basis of culture.”

Then he said something that really related to me personally -- albeit based on my personal assumptions of meaning. He said that the most important questions are not the “who, what, when and wheres” that we ask ourselves, but the “whys.” Why -- because that’s where we create new meaning.

Journalists like me are trained to answer those “five Ws,” but I did my job right in this particular story, at least insofar as Lotto sees it, then the best thing I could have done for you is not to have given you any answers -- just raised a bunch of questions.
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1 comment about "You Will Actually Know Less After Reading This, Hopefully".
  1. Robert McEvily from MediaPost , June 17, 2014 at 12:25 p.m.
    Thanks Joe - I know a lot less about everything now!