A creative adult is a child who survived, or how we’re all experiencing childhood again.


MB&F, Max Busser’s self-contained playground for wild and wacky horology, is as good a place as any to start today’s discussion of time,i so here’s a picture from one of his tradeshow booths. The headline “A CREATIVE ADULT IS A CHILD WHO SURVIVED,” is, how to say, on point. Indeed, Pablo Picasso,ii Yves Klein,iii and others have made essentially the same observation in different words, but what’s clear to see is just how correct the insight is – how few surviving children exist today – rampant outbreaks of coronavirus neoteny notwithstanding.iv For all the paper profits sloshing to and fro, can we please get a little more creativity than stock buybacks and messaging apps ?

Ironically, while “creativity” has left the chat everywhere that “money” is concerned, and vice versa, we’re all in Child Mode now whether we like it or not. Part of this has to do with schools, lessons, daycares, nannies, babysitters, and grandparent time being verbotten or at least discouraged, but part of it is the previously discussed “what a year this month has beenv phenomenon. If you’re an adult of any means whatsoever, when’s the last time you didn’t hop on a plane, train, or in an automobile for two months straight ? And you think it’s a coincidence that time feels like it’s in slow motion, like we’re all wading through pools of molasses, or watching grass grow ? It turns out that there’s a very good biological explanation for this!

What most of us are experiencing currently is the same time dilation that children experience in elementary school classrooms, on extended road trips, and while waiting for everyone else at the dinner table to finish eating before the kids can go play games. I’ve always accounted for this phenomenon as a proportional function of lived experience. A day seems like an eternity for someone who’s only lived a thousand days, but much less so for one who’s lived twenty thousand (0.1% >>>> 0.005%!!!), and according to the very reasonable research of one Adrian Bejan, the J.A. Jones Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Duke University, this intuition is broadly correct, but additionally, “this apparent temporal discrepancy can be blamed on the ever-slowing speed at which images are obtained and processed by the human brain as the body ages.”vi To quote from his recent papervii :

Time represents perceived changes in stimuli (observed facts), such as visual images. The human mind perceives reality (nature, physics) through images that occur as visual inputs reach the cortex. The mind senses ‘time change’ when the perceived image changes. The time arrow in physics is the goal-oriented sequence of changes in flow configuration, the direction dictated by the constructal law. The present is different from the past because the mental viewing has changed, not because somebody’s clock rings. The ‘clock time’ that unites all the live flow systems, animate and inanimate, is measurable. The day–night period lasts 24 hours on all watches, wall clocks and bell towers. Yet, physical time is not mind time. The time that you perceive is not the same as the time perceived by another. Why? Because the young mind receives more images during one day than the same mind in old age. Said another way, if the lifespan is measured in terms of the number of images perceived during life, then the frequency of mental images at young age is greater than in old age.

The length traveled by inputs from external sensors to the cortex is actually greater than L, and it increases with age. The reason is that the complexity of the flow path needed by one signal to reach one point on the cortex increases as the brain grows and the complexity of the tree-shaped flow paths increase, cf. Figure 3.13 The broad trend then is that L increases with age. At the same time, V decreases because of the ageing (degradation) of the flow paths. The key feature is that the physical time (the combined effect of t1 and t2) required by the occurrence of one mental image increases monotonically during the life of the individual. The frequency of mental images decreases monotonically, and non-uniformly (i.e. not at constant rate).

Bejan Figure 1

Bejan Figure 3

So while you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, you can make him experience the world through a pup’s eyes again. All you need is a little ping and pang of plague.

Now to rediscover that child-like creativity… Just like Max.viii
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  1. What makes les montres so fascinating, incidentally, at least to those of us so mechanically inclined, is that there’s no distinction in watchmaking between hardware and software.* The two are inextricably intertwined with no nebulous abstractions to corrupt the interaction between the two layers, nor between machine and user. And if you think that mechanical watches can’t compute, think again.
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    *If all machines were so of-a-piece, we could truly begin to talk about “reliable computer software,” but it seems that we’re a few hundred years from that objective and we shan’t be too distracted by such dreams today.
  2. “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” ~Pablo Picasso
  3. “I had proof that I had five senses, that I knew how to get myself to function! And then I lost my childhood…” ~Yves Klein
  4. Indeed, with money and imagination, anything is possible. So Bjarke only has $40 million to build a new public arts building in Bordeaux ? And that’s only half what City of Edmonton had to build our lukewarm new downtown library ? Well, that’s the compensatory power of imagination for you! Relatedly, Bjarke’s recent lecture at Columbia GSAPP is a must-watch :

  5. We previously reviewed the perception of time as it relates to, and is expressed by, another formidable independent watch brand, Urwerk, which you’re encouraged to review before continuing.
  6. Via Duke
  7. Full paper here.
  8. Others are also clearly seizing the day! “Meet The Man Who Turned Group B Quattro Photos Into LEGO“… and more!

One thought on “A creative adult is a child who survived, or how we’re all experiencing childhood again.

  1. […] decade mark feels like it a long time ago now… but maybe it’s just the time dilation of COVID playing tricks on my mid-memory! […]

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