programming

Rapping in the Shower

rappin in the shower keeps you clean/
you do it a capella, no drum machine/
the words are not written they are unseen/
just go with the flow let it mean what it means

Sometimes you don’t have other people to freestyle with—maybe you’re taking a shower, or maybe you’re in some situation where you expected a full circle, but it ends up being just you. Since a lot of freestyling is about the social context of the activity, responding to others and handing it off to them, is there any point to freestyling by yourself?

I say yes, and not just because it could be a type of training and make you better at freestyling when you do get into a group.

My much-missed colleague Prof. Patrick Winston, a computer scientist who died last year, worked to advance artificial intelligence and was also devoted to improving himself and others as public speakers. It was particularly special to me to hear his final public talk, and to let him know by email how much I enjoyed it in my last message to him. The insight I’m going to relate isn’t about public speaking, though, or about presenting results. It’s about speaking as you try to work something out.

Patrick said that the best way to solve problems was by talking to other people. If there aren’t any around, though, it’s a good idea to talk to yourself.

In programming, there’s even a name for talking to yourself about the code you’re writing: rubber duck debugging, where instead of going and asking a senior programmer about a problem, you carefully describe the problem to a rubber duck, perhaps one that you keep on your desk for this purpose. During the process of describing the problem carefully, you often are able to solve it, all by yourself.

Of course, I’m not claiming that LIFE IS COMPUTER PROGRAMMING. I would be interested to learn what exactly that metaphor is, but if the mappings are what I imagine, I think it has more than a few problems! Still, the basic insight is that you do learn from talking (or writing) to yourself. People who keep an entirely private diary demonstrate this all the time.

To put it in terms of the LIFE IS A FREESTYLE metaphor:

The freestyler who engages socially is able to learn from others and up their game. This maps to a person, living life, who collaborates, listening and responding to others, and as a result learns and improves.

Ideally, the social freestyler helps others up their game as well. This maps to a person, living life, who collaborates and helps others improve.

The freestyler who doesn’t have a social opportunity is still better freestyling than doing nothing. They can come up with rhymes and twists to metaphors that give them insights and provide beauty, even if they don’t take those directly, or even indirectly, to a stage or a cypher. This maps to a person, living life, who speaks out loud (alone) or writes (privately), using this external language to improve their lives.

I see this as consistent with the mappings I presented in the last post, including the ones related to cycles. But you tell me!

[will.i.am & Prof. Patrick Henry Winston in MIT’s Lobby 7, 2010.]