Insights and Healing with Patrick Moore

Improv Play Provides Natural Catharsis
June 9, 2016, 12:42 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I am preparing to teach a new kind of improv play group. The details are near the end of this post so scroll down if that interests you. Before that I will describe what’s been happening with comedy improv and psychodrama these days, and what leads me to create a new kind of improv group.

My History with Psychodrama and Improv

In the 90’s I participated in group therapy and a personal discovery group, both run by Stephen Bruno. He offered them weekly, and occasional weekend workshops. And a weekly writers’ workshop. Many of the same people attended all three which means the group was interacting from 6 to 12 hours per week. I attended them all. This went on for several years so I got, say, a thousand hours of experience in group and workshop dynamics.

Stephen sometimes used psychodrama and sociodrama (along with his unique offering of what he calls “the 7 things”: unconditional compassion, non-self-importance, non-judgment, patience, presence, vulnerability and curiosity). My group experience with Stephen was all about 20 years ago.

Psychodrama and sociodrama are play-acting improvised scenes, that reveal subconscious patterns and offer direct means to resolve issues and create new patterns. Psychodrama re-enacts scenes from an individual’s actual life events, and sociodrama enacts scenes from current events.

In 2012 I volunteered to help with “Odyssey of the Mind” at my stepson’s middle school. Part of Odyssey of the Mind includes an improvised solution to a problem. So an email was sent around to parent volunteers to go see a comedy improv show. I took my wife and her son to see this show at a coffee shop slash church, and we loved it. After the show I talked with the leader, Mike, and he told me they had just begun to teach improv workshops. All three of us began taking improv workshops in 2013. Traci and I attended all three levels Mike offered. Each was 8 weeks of 2 ½ hour workshops (totaling 60 hours) plus student performances after each level, in front of an audience.

TIM red barn patrick blur

Here I was either rushing into a scene enthusiastically, or playing the character of “blur.”

Unexpected Benefits of Improv Workshops

Once we began practicing in workshops, I noticed right away similar group dynamics from my experiences twenty years earlier in the therapy group, psychodrama and sociodrama.

One Saturday afternoon, my wife and I were attending an improv workshop in a basement, with no audience. There were probably eight of us students and the teacher. I was playing a 2-person scene with a woman. She and I began the scene simply being two characters on a bus. We got to talking about socks and as we improvised, we named each other, and it became clear we were husband and wife. The wife was irritated about the husband’s stinky socks. I imagine the teacher paused the scene to suggest she, “Heighten the intensity of emotion.” She did. She spoke louder. She expressed her character’s anger about the socks, toward her husband character, who I played. I reacted in the way I thought her husband would have in that situation, which escalated her emotion even more. I was glad to let her shout at me because it wasn’t really me she was shouting at, but the character I played. When the scene was done, the rest of the students probably applauded, and the woman felt empowered, relieved and validated. She presented herself with far more confidence. She walked lightly on her toes for the remainder of that day and still had some of that benefit the next week when we saw her again.

Traci and I also attended a number of improv practice groups at people’s houses, that were run without instructors. I noticed again how people were doing cathartic things with their play. Not anything inappropriate, but playfully dramatic and potentially healing.

I believe something is lost when you play for audience approval. Traci agrees and this is why we’ve never auditioned to be part of a troupe, even after numerous invitations. But we still go to workshops.

Remembering my previous experiences with psychodrama, sociodrama and group therapy, I began to realize comedy improv provided some of the same benefits. The difference was, in psychodrama you play your self and your known issues. In comedy improv, you play fictitious characters, and nobody came there to “work on their issues.” We are just there to play. I realized that play can be cathartic, releasing, re-energizing and empowering, even without a therapist or any guidance.

I wouldn’t say improv workshops are “therapeutic,” or even “healing,” because by definition, therapy and healing work on a particular issue from the past. Therapy requires a therapist. I would say the improv workshops have “therapeuti-ness” and “heali-ness.” It is like therapy and healing, but without consciously tracking any cause-and-effect.

Roots of Comedy Improv are in Vienna, 1920

So I did a little research. It turns out that comedy based improv developed in the 1960s has roots in Psychodrama, which I have recently learned, began in the 1920s in Vienna. Dr. Moreno, it’s inventor, would have actors on a stage with an audience. The actors would read the day’s newspaper aloud (this was during the first world war), and then the actors would play scenes based on the day’s news. This would have a cathartic effect for the players and the audience. This is sociodrama, which later became impro or improv. Psychodrama is when, without an audience, a single person’s issues are played on a stage so that person can gain insight and healing. Here in Tucson you can go see an offshoot of Psychodrama / Sociodrama called Playback Theater.

Play Therapy is Natural and Inherent in the Species

Still I believe psychodrama, sociodrama, and comedy improv are not “new discoveries of the 20th Century,” but simply reconfigurations of things humans have always done. It only seems “new” and “trendy” because our culture has suppressed it and we forgot we knew how to do it. Sort of like how the Greeks already knew the earth and planets orbit the sun, but later the church punished all beliefs but their own, so for a while humanity forgot the earth orbits the sun. Then when Copernicus came up with the equations, it seemed like a new discovery. Psychodrama and Improv are nothing new. Watch dogs play, or videos of animals playing, and you’ll see that improvised healing dramas have been happening on earth from the beginning.

Why should we be surprised at this? Kids improvise scenes. Kids naturally “play out” their issues, conflicts and troubles, deriving healing and relief from these plays. I believe this is a natural part of the immune system; when we are troubled, we use imagination to play it out in a socially acceptable way. When play is socially acceptable, that is the way we do it.

Like comedy improvisers, Children and dogs have no conscious awareness of what motivates or directs the play. They are just playing, and feel better after. Unfortunately improvised play is discouraged in adolescents and adults in our culture. Even dogs in our culture are inhibited from natural play. So things get bottled up and have to “play out” in other ways, with consequences that are never “fun.” Adults still play, but their games are competitive, where only the victors feel good afterward, and the losers feel bad. The victory does not seem to give them the same benefits of child’s play or improv comedy.

When is Play Better than Therapy?

In some ways comedy improv has a lead over psychodrama, in my opinion, for average people. Who wants to deliberately play scenes about one’s issues? Who wants to play one’s father, mother, brother or sister? Where’s the fun? And what if we are held accountable or responsible for poor choices? Children and dogs, when they want to heal from irritations within them, do not control the play by saying, “Okay, I am going to play my father when he spanked me last week, and you play me.” Instead they may play a King and the Jester, or the Alpha dog and the Omega, which is fun at the same time that it is cathartic. In this sense, comedy improv is closer to what children do naturally than psychodrama is.

Still, I have noticed the teachers of improv are sadly unprepared to assist, and often give poor guidance, even counterproductive guidance, for players whose imaginations are attempting to naturally heal. More often comedy improv instructors will stop the healing process in order to steer the person toward doing something the audience will approve of, at the future performance. In this regard, professionals certified in psychodrama are far superior, if less playful and overly serious.

Still, children and dogs seem to be able to get some healing without an expert watching and coaching them. And yet, adults are so far removed from what was once natural to them, they probably do need a highly-trained side-coach to make sure they don’t make themselves worse instead of better, while they play.

A New Kind of Improv Group – Natural Healing Play

I have been preparing for two years to start an improv natural-play group. Stay tuned, I hope to get up the courage to begin this year.

In addition to my past experience, to prepare to coach such a group I have been reading both of Keith Johnstone’s books. He is against actors attempting to act out their real issues. He feels this controlling attitude blocks the person’s natural flow of creativity. If I may interpret Johnstone, he would prefer to train adults to play like children, where nobody cares what “issues” are being played out, if any, as long as the person is expressing their authentic source of creativity. The authentic source will take care of the person, so there is no need to control it, I think Johnstone is saying. If that is what he is saying, I agree with this approach.

I am also reading Adam Blatner’s books. In his “Foundations of Psychodrama,” Blatner makes the case that psychodrama serves two distinct functions. One is to “correct” the patient’s pathogenic patterns regarding previous traumatic relationships. Clearly that is outside my scope of practice.

The second function of psychodrama, Blatner says, is education. He devotes a whole chapter to this. Education would include things like reality testing, empowerment, responding not reacting, nonjudgmental interpreting, compassionate feedback, and so forth. These are things I have been providing in my workshops for massage therapists since 2001.

I have also attended Playback Theater, and I continue to get feedback from Stephen and another therapist trained in psychodrama.

Proposed Improv-Play Group

Here are some elements I would like to present in a non-therapeutic, cathartic improv play group:

Possible Titles:

  • Expressive Improv for Vitality
  • Direct Your Own Life Through Improv

Short Description:

Improvised stories are naturally used by children to play out their hurts and heal themselves. Play is a natural process that was disciplined out of us until we forgot it, and so it was never fully developed into its adult form. This ongoing workshop does not teach you something new but reconnects you to an activity that was always potential. Canines also play out their concerns. Play is inherent within us, part of the immune system of each species.

What Happens in each workshop:

An ongoing workshop. Part of the time is spent playing fictitious characters in improvised scenes and then having group discussion after the scenes, to really understand the dynamics between the characters, relationships, partnerships, antagonists, conflicts and resolutions. Could be a closed group of a certain number of weeks, or an open group, possibly a drop-in, pay as you go.

The Purpose of the Group: We are not learning to play for an audience. This is just for us, for fun, the catharsis of natural play, and the relaxation and revitalization that comes from natural relief.


  • Gain enlightenment how relationships work, how humanity works, how the world works, how the spiritual universe works, by playing.
  • A fun form of “reality testing,” by experimenting in scenes as a fictitious character. So there is no penalty for experiments that go sour, but there is learning from the results. Without fear of social penalties, we can accelerate our learning dramatically.
  • Universality: we begin to learn that others have the same fears and troubles, that appear in many different guises. As we learn this we feel more a sense of belonging and relief from isolation.
  • Play (and write) more realistic characters.
  • Feel better about yourself.
  • Express a wider range of feelings in a way that is safe and beneficial for other group members and yourself.
  • Healthy expression is cathartic.
  • Relief.
  • Relaxes you.
  • Burns off stress.
  • Stretches your limits.
  • Freedom.
  • Natural play.
  • Increase your sense of being deeply alive.
  • Experience exciting fresh stories from the inside.
  • Feel a deeper fulfillment, richer perception, vaster vision, greater beauty, fuller love.
  • Be more than you were being before.

Group Structure:

  • The group maintains compassionate support, nonjudgmental feedback and confidentiality.
  • The right balance of challenge in an environment safe to experiment with personal discovery.
  • Receive validation from others, and support others in the group and outside.
  • Equality with others, including ….

Develop processes and qualities:

  • Spontaneity.
  • Passion.
  • Find and express your unique individual qualities.
  • Resiliency.
  • Flexibility.
  • Range.
  • Imagination.
  • Intuition.
  • Vision.
  • Non-self-importance.
  • Influence instead of control.
  • Experimentation.
  • Vulnerability as a strength.
  • Empowerment.
  • Self-Direction.
  • Imagination.
  • Awareness of the group mind, its suggestions and offers.

Develop skills:

  • Rediscover natural healthy play
  • “Plays Well With Others”
  • Storytelling skills / writing / directing, from a group mind overview.
  • Equality with others in the story, even those with different “status.”
  • The ability to suspend your inhibitions.
  • Tune in to the group mind
  • Spirituality of group mind:
  • Connect with a process greater than one’s individual personality.
  • Experience yourself and your played relationships “from above.”

I am interested in your comments about this proposed group so please post them below or on Facebook, thanks.







Dark or Light? What Kind of World do we Live In?
June 7, 2016, 10:58 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

This morning I began reading a new essay about Melville. Why am I reading essays about Melville? Traci (my wife) and I have been reading Moby Dick to each other in the evenings. We had such a good experience last year reading Great Expectations to each other that we immediately started another classic. We are also reading Anglela’s Ashes aloud, with me imitating how Frank McCourt read it in his brilliant reading of the audiobook. As an interlude Traci read to me Ron Koertge’s Coaltown Jesus, day before yesterday. We are both writers and we find reading aloud more enlightening and entertaining than watching the tube. Our TV has a dust covering over it.


After we started reading Moby-Dick, I sensed the author was trying to teach us something about religion. I wanted to find out what critics said about this so I went to Pima Community College and found Cricical Insights – Herman Melville by Salem Press.

[A tangent: The book had never been opened. In fact most of the books I get from the Pima CC library have never been opened. I am overjoyed to find 400-level books in this library system, even though the classes only go to 200 level. I am glad they allow me to borrow books even though I am not a student there. I wonder if all community colleges have this caliber of library?]

I loved the first essay on Melville’s America by John David Miles. I may write about that essay later. What a great overview of 19th Century America, from a literary perspective!

But what really jolted me to begin writing this morning was the third essay, Melville and the Transcendentalists by Clark Davis. Wow!

Why does this topic grab me so tightly–Dark Romantics vs Light Transcendentalists?

  • it mentions Poe as being in the same camp as Melville. I love Poe!
  • It deals with the question of, Is this a Benevolent World, a Murphy’s Law World, or Random?
  • I have struggled with the dark view of life..
  • My wife says I tend to be suspicious and doubtful..

For most of my life I have struggled with a Murphy’s Law view of the world, that anything that can go wrong, will. It is interesting I’ve never believed this law would apply to others, just me, as if I am cursed, as if a cloud constantly follows over my head, making my world dark, but not the Whole World, not for Others.

Now that I am beginning to embrace light, I find it is wise for me not to wholeheartedly leap into a Pollyanna optimism where everything happens for the best. I think that view would lead me to relapse. I want to really understand life, Nature, at least in relation to whether The World wants my life to be a happy one or a sad one, or neither if The World is not even a Being. Doesn’t this seem like an important thing to know?

We Learn about Life, the Universe and Everything from Literature

I think Douglas Adams also struggled with this question. What is the meaning of life? At first he asked the question ironically as if everyone knew this was a random universe. Or was it a negative universe, with a morbid sense of humor, dooming humans to gloom? But as he went along in his novels, especially after hearing the criticisms of the pessimism in his last hitchhiker book, more and more he showed he really began to hope he could “solve” the question through his novels. Switching to Dirk Gently gave him an avenue to explore this. Before he died he was hoping to write a final novel that tied the Dirk Gently universe to the Hitchhiker universe and resolve all the loose ends. But this added pressure was too much for him and I think he just sort of exploded, unable to contain all those pressures.

It’s funny that we should rely on literature to teach us these things, isn’t it? You’d think it would be religion, science, or even anthropology, sociology or psychology, wouldn’t you? But to me it seems none of those sciences or theologies has even caught up with the 19th Century conflict between Transcendentalism vs. Dark Romanticism. It appears to me that storytelling is the leader in teaching us how this universe works. How ironic that you would tell fictitious stories in order to teach about nature.

There is a good reason that fiction writers might be the best option for enlightening understanding of Man’s Relationship with Nature. Good writers step aside from their premeditated biases, and allow the story to tell itself. Good writers develop interesting characters and then step aside, to let them speak for themselves. Nature is actually allowed to step in and tell the story. The muse is actually invited to move the pen. The writer is simply supplies the arms and fingers to type with, as the writer’s brain has humbly offered his body in the service of a higher Being.

The other sciences, theology and philosophy have no such method (unless you include Inspired Prophets, but in time it’s the uninspired Theologians who wreck even that). This is why, in my view, literature leads, when it comes to understanding Nature’s Relationship to Man.

Melville’s Doubt of Transcendentalist Optimism

Melville wrote in a letter, paraphrasing the Pollyanna-Optimistic philosophy of Goethe:

That is to say, your separate identity is but a wretched one,–good; but get out of yourself, spread and expand yourself, and bring to yourself the tinglings of life that are felt in the flowers and the wood, that are felt in the planets Saturn and Venus, and the Fixed Stars.

Melville’s letter immediately rejects this view of life:

What nonsense! Here is a fellow with a raging toothache. “My dear boy,” Goethe says to him, “you are sorely afflicted with that tooth; but you must live in the all, and then you will be happy!”

A person with a toothache, Melville feels certain, will gain no relief from communing with Nature. I am not so certain he is correct about this but let’s let him have it for the moment.

Another example of Melville’s Doubt is how Melville treats The Sea in Moby-Dick. The main character is standing on the ship deck on a lovely day, watching for whales, and feels a sense of oneness with the all, as many have felt looking at the sea. (I just read a science report in “The Week” that says having a view of the sea reduces stress.) At first the oneness-with-sea scene looks like transcendentalist writing. But shortly after, Melville shows how voracious the sharks are, so greedy they begin to bite each other. Melville seems to agree with the transcendentalists up to a point. Nature can be a source of wonderful commune, but it can also be a source of terrible horror, suffering and death. It appears as if he is saying, you can never know which way Nature will be toward you at any moment, so best be on your guard. Can you never know? This is an important question to me. Is it to you?


the “Dark Romantics,” Melville, Hawthorne and Poe, are “dark” because they are skeptical of the “light-infused” thinking of Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman. Poe and Melville do not disagree with the transcendentalists, but only disagree that nature is only pure, innocent and loving. The Darks doubt that Nature can be trusted, because you never know what hand it will deal you.

Is Nature is fickle and random? Must we be on guard against Nature that will eat us up in a second?

I personally need to know the answer to this question, to make my life have some meaning, to feel I have some influence in my own life. I don’t want to live at the mercy of random suffering, even if I randomly get happiness too. I want some understanding, even weak understanding, of a process I can trust.

Poe’s life and Melville’s did not show them success as writers. The New York publishers were rude and excluded both. Life seemed to demonstrate to them the dark pessimism, or doubt of Life’s intentions for Man, they became known for as writers. Still their pioneering paved the way for more great American writers to prosper, like Twain. It is sad that Poe and Melville did not receive the acclaim that we now see they deserved. But this is the way with pioneers. It takes time (and other factors) for the many to see the value of the innovations. Unfortunately they could not know they were paving the way for other great writers. They saw only the results from their single lifetime and from that position, life looked as if it offered no support for what they were doing. Their existences appeared to them to be proofs of Murphy’s Law—anything that can go wrong (to you) will go wrong (upon you).

How benevolent is Nature? Must we be on guard, or should we be more trusting of Nature?

Several transcendentalist notions, I think, are true. In the 1980’s a psychotherapist pen-named A. H. Almaas confirmed these points in his book, Essence:

  • Nature will demonstrate the glorious connection, “all in all,” communing with each creature as one large organism whose mind is far superior in understanding and fulfillment than any individual could be.
  • Babies do arrive already perceiving this merged state, though they do not yet perceive “normal” things.
  • it is through punishment and reward that children are trained out of this merged state, into a state of self-importance, “every man an island,” over ten or more years.

I believe the dark romantics are also correct:

  • Nature does not always reflect to man the “pure community of all in all,” but as often reflects to him competition, suffering and death, “red in tooth and claw.”

What neither group (Transcendentalists / Dark Romanticists) showed us in their literature was:

  • The way Nature interacts with Man is Lawful (Spinoza)
  • One of the “laws” must deal with how nature “reflects” experiences to man, and the law must state that the reflected experience has some dependence on what the man is bringing to the “mirror” at that moment.
  • For example, a person who has adopted a “dark romantic” view of life, seeing bright nature as fickle or random, will see dark random suffering and random communal bliss, in the mirror. A person who has an ideology of Murphyism will see that life is against me.
  • This is not the only law of nature, there must be dozens more (or is it even a finite number?)

That is not to say, a person who has adopted a bright, transcendentalist view of life, will always have positive things reflected to him or her. Bad things happen to optimistic people. Is this because Nature is random? Not necessarily. It could be because often optimism is only a smiling mask, covering deeper doubt. Nature is not fooled by the mask but resonates with all the levels and layers of the human being. Nature provides experiences that reflect layers of ourselves that we do not consciously perceive. This is often puzzling and appears random, or worse, malevolent. When bad things happen to optimistic people, this can quickly convert an optimist into a pessimist.

I think the truth is neither Transcendentalist Optimism and Dark Romantic Pessimism. I agree with Spinoza that Nature behaves according to Nature’s Laws. We simply don’t yet understand the laws of nature, when it comes to sublime experiences of all-in-all, and horrible experiences of red-in-tooth-and-claw. Our culture currently thinks what we’re given in life is random (if we are scientific) or life’s events are punishments and rewards (if we are theistic or believe in karma).

Why don’t we perceive these laws of nature?

We simply don’t perceive ANY laws of nature, at least not in the normal way of perception. The laws of motion were only codified a few hundred years ago, even though humans have perceived falling bodies for millions of years. This shows that laws of nature are not apprehended by the five senses, but by a different capacity. For two million years before Newton, humans had seen, felt, and heard the motion of objects, but had not apprehended the laws of conservation of motion. The apprehending of laws requires many steps beyond the five senses:

  • First, a willingness to seek the laws!
  • Looking in the right places for the laws.
  • Looking with the correct perspective. Or with any perspective that does not automatically slant our objectivity (like bias or wishful thinking).
  • Sharing with other observers.
  • Really listening to their different perspectives of our findings.
  • Willingness to be wrong.
  • Correlating many perspectives, etc.

When it comes to the laws of nature that govern whether Life treats us Generously, Stingily or randomly, this science has not even really begun yet. Who is studying this? Are they beginning with open minds or do they seek only what they already believe? Socrates asked the right questions, Epictetus proposed a few axioms, Spinoza more, but these approaches are still far from mainstream. We simply do not yet have a science of human depths. Maybe we are too close to it. Maybe it won’t be until we meet people from other planets, who study us, that we will gain the objectivity to really look at this.

In fact, we are currently trying to bypass this science by studying brain synapses, mapping the brain by slicing it ever thinner and stacking the images, as if this would tell us all we need to know about the human being. Brain science is good science and I endorse it (except the billions pledged could be put to better use), but it won’t help us with our current question.

Here is an example of how one’s perception of the laws of nature is bent: You can perceive a denial your friend is doing. She can perceive a denial you are doing. But no person can perceive his own denial directly, at least not using normal perception. Spinoza mentions a “type three” perception that might do the trick. but even Spinoza struggled with jealousy over a woman he loved who went with another man. My guess is that no human is beyond the blinders caused by one’s denials, avoidances and ideologies, or at least not continuously. Even Jesus had his moments of outrage, kicking over tables, yelling and namecalling. I believe we simply don’t have anything like a science of the human depths. Yet.

I believe there are laws of nature that describe what is happening in the conflict between transcendentalism and dark romanticism. We just have not yet codified these laws. Our culture is not even interested in codifying these laws, or acknowledging that our interactions with nature, whether we experience life as positive or negative, follow laws of nature. Is this a positive world or a negative world? There is no common knowledge on this point. Even religion is divided on this, with some doctrines saying nature(including human nature) is inherently evil, some saying nature is inherently good. Current science might say: neither, the world is random and this explains why some outcomes are positive and some are negative. Nature doesn’t care. Nature doesn’t have any capacity to care. Nature is not a being. We are isolated beings within a non-alive nature.

Oops, I made a mistake. I said our culture is not interested in these questions. On further thought, I think our culture is very interested in these questions. Its interest is to steer us away from these questions. Our culture is to our society like our subconscious is to our self. We told it a long time ago to deny, evade, avoid and hide certain uncomfortable truths, and since that time it has been doing a very good job keeping up those original instructions. We can recover the things we have hidden, personally and as a society, when we show our subconscious and our culture that it is really in our benefit to have more knowledge. At first we have to be tested to see if this is true and after passing a handful of tests, the subconscious, and the culture, will be totally supportive of insights, enlightenments and understanding the laws of how life works. But currently, there is a lot of resistance to understanding these laws.

Conclusion or.. Invitation

Transcendentalism says nature is inherently good. Dark romanticism questions this by asking, if nature is inherently good, why do we so often experience horrible suffering and death at the hands of nature? There is an answer to this question, it’s just that our society’s literature has not shown it to us. Yet. Or has it?

Keep reading!








The Harold, Sci-Fi and Piaget’s Circle
June 2, 2016, 10:31 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Humans, like all animals, are hard-wired to learn. Piaget watched his son, at one month old, struggle to get his hand to his mouth. The infant had learned the benefits of sucking (you get milk) and now was experimenting to see if there would be similar benefit from sucking on this new thing, his hand. As piaget sat there he noted thirteen attempts to get the hand into the mouth. Most or all of these attempts were unsuccessful. The infant persevered, while the adult Piaget grew tired of watching. The infant likely performed thousands more experiments that day, most of them failures.

As an adult, I find my tolerance for failure is nearly gone. If I dont get success on the first try, I will probably feel sorry for myself and quit trying. Or, I may simply imagine that I won’t succeed, and I won’t even try the first time. I must have been an infant once, tirelessly experimenting, undaunted by 99% failures, excitedly trying another thousand times to see if there would be an interesting result. What happened to this quality? I think other adults are more like me, than they are like infants. Maybe Henry Ford, who spoke of tirelessly experimenting, of failures simply being the steps toward success, was one of those rare people who arrives at adulthood with the willingness to experiment intact.

Piaget described two concepts, General Assimilation and Primary Circular Reaction as


…when a structure is available, he tends to generalize it to new objects (generalizing assimilation).

… the notion of primary circular reaction. The infant’s behavior by chance leads to an advantageous or interesting result; he immediately attempts to reinstate or rediscover the effective behavior and, after a process of trial and error, is successful in doing so. Thereafter, the behavior and the result may be repeated; the sequence has become a ‘habit.”

p. 34 Piaget’s Theory of Intellectual Development by Herbert P. Ginsburg and Sylvia Opper, 1969 (1st Edition) – 1988 (3rd Edition)

This circular pattern reminds me of many things we learn to do in improv workshops. In particular, the Harold. The Harold is a 20-minute skit with three scenes. First there is a right-brain, playful introduction in which ideas are generated. In scene one, a pair of performers play out something that comes to mind from the first ideas. A second pair and a third pair of performers play scenes. There is a short intermission when the whole team is simply goofy, right-brained, doing nonlinear play. In scene two the same pairs come onto the stage, this time playing the same structure, but as different characters, or in a different situation. Another playful intermission. In scene three the same pairs play the same structure a third time, in a 3rd situation. You can see an excellent example of this on YouTube The Reckoning Performs a Perfect Harold. In the second and third scene, you see the process of Piaget’s General Assimilation, as things we knew about one subject or situation are now applied to other situations we had never applied them to before. This leads to “aha” insights, to truly creative innovations that humans have never done before.

The irony is, babies were doing this all along! It’s only adults who stopped experimenting tirelessly, learning in circular patterns. That’s why it seems funny, why we’ll pay to go out and see an improv show. It is sadly ironic to watch adults applying infant instincts (that we have lost) to adult situations, and that makes us laugh to burn off the emotion. What if we, as adults, regained this ability we once lived our lives by? Imagine the benefits! Learning to perform a Harold is one way to regain this innate human skill.

Again in Science Fiction we see Piaget’s theories of General Assimilation, Accommodation and Primary Circular Reaction. For example, a lot of science fiction has the setting of space exploration, humans living on new planets or exploring the boundaries of safe known territories and beyond, into the unsafe, unknown. These situations are general assimilations of what we know of history, how the Romans conquered and assimilated or accommodated other cultures, how the cowboys populated the American Frontier and the interplay of law and greed out among the potential riches during the Gold Rush. The same themes we learned (late) about the past, science fiction authors project into the future. And what a benefit for us readers. We can see in fiction entertainment those ethical dilemmas we are likely to face. And then when our history finally catches up with that situation, we will have already thought it through and prevented some of the worst things from happening.

Here is another example of Piaget’s General Assimilation. I shot this photo at an Improv performance (which is already an example of General Assimilation). With the actors’ permission I used it for a science fiction story I am writing.


I digitally added the “window” behind them so you could see they are in a building on the moon, with a window looking at the Earth. The story setting is the First Writers’ Workshop on the Moon. The plot follows an interview of Douglas Adams (the actor on the right, Daniel Kirby) by interviewer Bob Claster (the actor on the left Michael Dean (Mikey)). So again I am taking known patterns from this interview and extrapolating the same patterns into the future situation on the moon. Here Adams has writers’ block, unable to finish the final book that ties in all the Hitchhikers and Dirk Gentlys. His publisher has said he could get out of the contract by teaching a writers’ workshop on the moon and he agrees. One of his students, a fan of his fiction, is begging Adams to see the value to humanity in some of his themes, while Adams is doubting those values because of the responsibility that would come with agreeing.

And this blog post is another example of Piaget’s General Assimilation. I love to find things generally known in one field, (in this case Developmental Psychology) and apply it to other fields (in this case Improv Workshops and Sci-Fi Writing). I would say this has always been one of my strengths– to the frustration of most of my teachers who felt I always went off on tangents! But I do bring the tangents back.

What Piaget did not tell us is that while infants already do this tirelessly, enthusiastically, as we “progress” through childhood and adolescence, we do less and less experimenting. By the time we are adults, we have completely inhibited our experimentation. Try something thirteen times, failing each time? No way! Many times we won’t even try something once–we imagine it will fail and so we don’t even try.

These blog posts are part of my preparation to teach my own personal-discovery workshops that include improv, psychodrama and other exercises, with the right balance of nonjudgmental group feedback and discussion to assimilate the innovations into one’s life. Stay tuned! If you subscribe to my Natural Healer Newsletter you will be informed by email when I begin offering these workshops.

Warmly, Patrick