Insights and Healing with Patrick Moore

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





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