Editorial – October 2022: Freefall Thinking.

Hello everyone,

Picking subjects to talk about here is often like playing a playlist. There’s always a big chance for repetition and going back over old subjects, if for no other reason than they remain topical or need to be kept alive or having something more to add. Sometimes, it can be a combination of world events that becomes its own stumbling block. When it comes to something like covid or any highly infectious disease I’m not complacent, so just needs a brief mention here. Less people are dying from it purely because of the inoculations although it doesn’t mean you can’t still get it.

I tend to see myself as fortunately free of it but my agoraphobic condition also has been giving me nearly a decade of continuous colds and that might be keeping other covid conditions out…so far. The mask is there to stop me getting covid and probably stops people getting my continuous colds which probably means I’m reinfecting myself. Never let it be said that the common cold can’t be good for you. Funny old world but don’t expect the next variant to be safe.

Looking at the world at a distorted angle is an in-built thing of most writers, especially in our genre. If we took everything totally seriously we wouldn’t be able to see its dark humour or even the odd astute observation. I tend to put it down the geek mindset with a strong awareness more than when I was young that not everyone is built the same way. Originally, I just assumed everyone was like me but just never practiced or developed some of the abilities I had. We measure everyone else by what we have far more than what we think other people have or lack.

It’s a lot easier to measure someone’s artistic talent by the pictures they produce. To some extent, the same can be said for writing although everyone is likely to write at least one good thing in their lives if they chose to. For writers, nominally, they have to keep writing and getting better at the craft. Mind you, it takes longer to read a story than look at a picture. As with any creative endeavour, you’ll only as good as your last piece. If you get published, your publisher is going to expect you to at least equal your last piece of work. Channelling it into a different piece of work and still sell is always considered a lot harder.

With talents like art or writing, we tend not to address any other skills that might contribute to these skills. Certainly with art, an eye for colour and good eye to hand co-ordination is useful and they can be taught. With writing, writing coherently with an understanding of grammar and how people read can make most people capable of writing something or other. But when it comes to ideas, how often should we groan when people ask us where we get our ideas from? Do they think we have them locked in a bottle and we shake a couple out when we want to write a story?

Ideas come from a variety of sources. The world about us. Culture. Inspiration. Reaction to events. It might even be that old-fashioned thing we call imagination. That happens a lot in Science Fiction and its sisters, fantasy and horror. However, how do you teach or cultivate imagination. Those of us who write SF have a natural bent that way and rarely stray from our genre. Imagination is the skill set. Can imagination be taught? After all, for us, its innate.

Although I’ve never been that strong an advocate of write what you know, mostly because with SF so much of it is dependent on what you can’t possibly know but can speculate. Even so, there still needs to be an awareness of how people react under certain conditions and that doesn’t really change much in any genre. It can be divided into an emotional or intellectual response, occasionally both in some measure. With the horror genre, the emotional response has to be played up because you’re literally being put in a scary situation where you’re given little time to think. With the romance genre, as has often been noted, you’re being led by your heart. Not the organic one, but the emotional response inside your head to idolising something, which can be just as scary because you can lack control over it. The fact that it can be manipulated by others can’t make it any better than any horror story except possibly that its more enjoyable. How’s that for any observation while writing.

Making connections is all part of the process of quirky imaginative thinking. If you can do it in real life then you can certainly apply it in fiction or vice versa. Skills can be spread around in all walks of life. It’s how you use them that differentiates us from everyone else. In freefall thinking, I can run connections across all manner of subjects in a whirl. That can get really extreme when we can see order in chaos. Even more so with making odd connections because most people can’t keep up. It’s a unique way of thinking but only really any good if you have viable connections and not just random thoughts or ideas. A person without the innate talent can actually do this.

In many respects its how your brain’s neural paths link on a verbal level. As scientists are discovering, memories aren’t there in a random manner in your head. They can be lost over the years if they aren’t re-enforced from time to time. My own weakness, oddly enough, is forgetting people’s names, although that’s mostly because I’m forever learning new ones so not re-enforcing the old ones who slip by the side. I don’t forget them all but there’s always the odd one where I can’t place for a time before my head finally digs it out. That’s just making a point that I don’t see myself as being perfect. Memory links are always stronger if you keep re-enforcing them so take your advance omega-3 dosage because it strengthens your synapses and spend time going over old memories of anything you’re interested in over your lifetime and see what you can drag up before playing the connection game.

So, with all that in mind, let’s see if I can introduce a couple of my, shall we say, more innate skills and see how teachable they are. A learning experience for all of us.

Freefall thinking is either a natural or a taught skill. If natural, like mine, then you do it all the time. Forever seeing connections in anything. From a research tool, you read something and take an interest in something brought up and see where it leads. The best example this month is my ‘Does Goldilocks Make Better Science Fiction Realities?’ article. I made a connection from a book I was reviewed and suddenly thought we’re just making an assumption that we think our reality is perfect, when SF realities have created things that, as far as we know, haven’t got in our reality, so does that make our reality less perfect? That alone made the start of that article and where it leads. My skill beyond that is making you think about the subject and give examples to support my supposition. My scientific background will also force me to take apart my own theories to see if it can defend itself. With this one, I think I’m in new territory so don’t be too surprised if I don’t have another go at it some day. I mean, I can’t get much further off-kilter than shaking up the thought that our reality isn’t perfect, can I?

As a taught skill, freefall thinking is more a matter and form of free association and not being afraid to explore where it takes you and assessing the information. Its probably a lot easier to learn than being intuitive as you have to wait for a particular trigger to start it going. Most of you reading here have some computer aptitude if not geek level so figuring out how things work also seems natural or is that just me? Here, though, you’re not just dependent on words but ideas.

All it really needs is a starting point and let your head ask questions and see where it leads. Probably the most simplest way is ask how many of you when watching a film on TV use the IMDb to look at cast members, either to find out their names or, as with older films, to see if they are still alive? Do you then look up their film list to see if you’ve seen them do anything else they’ve been in? That’s a low level freefall thinking. Just making connections. The fact that you can watch a film and do that at the same time defeats the argument that you can’t multi-task. Freefall thinking does have some aspects of this simply because you can do it while doing some mundane task, although I wouldn’t try it doing something serious like driving a car which should have your full attention. It’s just building a chain of thoughts. Once you can do it with things you use naturally, you can develop it into the abstract and let the chain go into things that don’t exist in a physical world or at least until you put it down on paper or computer screen.

OK, that’s the general theory. Now apply that to any subject that you want to start with and lead into any associated subjects and see how far you can move into diverging subjects away from the original source subject. Then how much you know on each subject and how much more you need to research so you haven’t missed anything out. There are always bound to be some gaps where you’re not fully conversant. Learning more enforces your knowledge base and reveals things that can also be applied. Back a few decades, there was never an Internet to look things up and more a dependence on books and libraries to get a deeper knowledge than some superficiality from the Net.

Hopefully, you might do this on a low level but the real trick is to do it on a regular basis so it becomes a natural state. If you ever get a touch of writer’s block, this can be a way out of it by looking at the possibilities and deciding which makes a good choice to move on. Of course, there’s still a need to know which is a good or bad idea and that is subjective. Again, hopefully, after a while you can tell the difference. It does let out some crazy unexpected ideas or things you hadn’t considered. This application can then be made to work in articles and fiction.

Don’t expect it to always be spontaneous. I’ve gotten to the stage with my short stories that I can write until nearly the end and then pause to consider all the possibilities to see if I can improve the ending. If I can’t anticipate where its leading then there’s a fair bet that you won’t as well. A lot of the time, it can also mean I can incorporate several endings so none of it is wasted. I don’t like being wasteful.

The technique can be applied beyond writing and comes in useful where you need to express alternative solutions. Always remember most people will take a direct route and ignore other possibilities. Showing you can explore these might put you at loggerheads with some of your bosses but it will equally show you can actually think. Humans can get notoriously single-minded and not do this. Look at how politicians think and their order of priorities does always put the country’s people’s needs first. Some might be better than others, sometimes your alternatives might suggest better ideas, especially if they work which is the important thing.

This might mean that I might be dismissive of single-minded determination. I’m a little more undecided on that. I tend to see it as more a drive to complete something than get distracted. Then again, I also determine which are short and long term projects and the latter always needs time to come to fruition. That’s a sort of contraction of how some of the modern world works but who ever said things have to be done at once. Well, only if there’s a deadline and you have to work harder on ensuring your choices are the best ones to use.

With freefall thinking, don’t forget your parachute and know when to stop. You can always continue again, so don’t forget to note anything important from it. Don’t think you can keep it all in your head. The short-term memory can only keep, at most, 10 ideas in there before being forgotten or put in your long term memory and, even then, can still be forgotten if something else comes up and distracts you. That even applies to people like me with good memories. Note your thoughts and ideas down so you can look at them with a fresh eye another day and see if they still hold up.

Once you get into the practice of doing this, compare how you used to think to applying freefall thinking. Has it thrown up possibilities that you hadn’t considered before, depending on how much time you devote to a problem? If it has, has your thinking benefitted from it so you do it regularly? You’ll have to give a few months before answering that one. Don’t expect to do it all in an hour. I’ve mulled over problems from minutes to weeks, often forced to draw conclusions to meet a deadline, which is a good way to make things a bit more concrete. Oddly, I do it so fast these days, that I have to let myself slow down and think of other things. Being a multi-tasker, it encourages me to have both short and long term projects going all the time. By jumping backwards, forwards and sideways on them means whenever I return to a particular line of thought, I can look at it with a fresh eye and look for flaws.

Hopefully, you might see it as a skill that might be useful to cultivate. As a geek, you might already be using it, just not aware of how to develop it further than just a few links. I just see it as a useful talent that I use. If I have shared this way of thinking with you now and you start employing it, then I’ve done something even useful this month.

Thank you, take care, good night and the world is becoming a dry joke. Funny that.

Geoff Willmetts

editor: www.SFCrowsnest.info

A Zen thought: Breath and the world breaths.

What Qualities Does A Geek Have: Take freefall thinking and apply it in a way that works for you.

The Reveal: Ethics does not require religion.

Observation: Why do all the most powerful alien beings in the Marvel Universe wear robes instead of trousers and why doesn’t it get drafty for them?

Observation: Has anyone ever wondered how KITT from ‘Knight Rider’ always evaded driving fines for exceeding 55mph?

Observation: I’ve been wondering why the androids…sorry, synthetic persons are put into hibernation in the ‘Alien’ franchise. I mean, how would the people back on Earth know that they would get independence if left alone for so long unless it happened again after the David prototype. Of course, later models like Ash, were a little jumpy with their order protocols but, considering by Bishop’s time, they have enforced inhibitors does suggest that these problems were known. Even so, keeping them hibernated with the rest of the crew is as much to reassure their own safety and reduce the possibility of independence when they are giving excess thinking time.

 Observation: I saw ‘The Grapes Of Wrath’ recently and there was no one called ‘Ralph’ in the film. Freefall thinking can be funny, too, even if it is a phonetic gag.

 Feeling Stressed: Always remember, there might be another year.

 

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