Part 3Our Thesis
Explanation using Systems Theory
All Darwinian processes need:
has acquired a knowledge of a pattern called ‘Clowning’. This
particular form of clowning can involve a considerable range of
behaviours. The common characteristic is that they invoke or maintain
a clowning relationship with the audience.
- Vivian has
acquired his knowledge of clowning by long experience of observing what
he and others do and by noticing what works, i.e. by seeing enough
examples of the effects of clowning that he can now detect a behaviour
that is likely to promote the clowning relationship. This acquisition
must have been a reflective process as the effects can only be known
after the behaviour. In the case of clowning the effects happen within
seconds in the audience reaction, or minutes in a potential situation
- As a clown coach, Vivian makes ‘offers’ to the clown
on stage with the aim of encouraging those behaviours that match the
pattern (“Make it bigger”) or that have the potential for matching the
pattern (“Become what you see”).
- A TOTE (Ref. Dilts) is a kind
of "difference engine" (Ref. Minsky) that relies on noticing a gap or
incongruity between the goal and the present state. Whereas Vivian
appears to use a matching process that notices the goal existing in a
small way in the present state, or the potential for the goal in the
- A ‘difference engine’ involves a
sustaining (negative) feedback loop which reduces a gap by either
returning things to a norm or achieving a new desired outcome. For
instance, “We’re moving away from where we need to be so let’s go back”
and “We’re not where we need to be, so let’s go forward” are both
examples of a negative feedback loop in operation. Using negative
feedback is a top-down approach because although you may not know what
you need to do to get somewhere, the desired result is known in advance.
the other hand a ‘matching engine’ involves an escalating (positive)
feedback loop which results in more (or less) of something, hence
widening the gap with the original state. For example, ”I’m enjoying
this walk so let’s keep going”. Using positive feedback is a more
bottom-up approach because although you know you’re going to keep doing
a class of behaviour, you don’t know where it will take you. (And, if
you do it enough, you will eventually cross a threshold into a qualitatively different world.)
way to conceive of what is happening in the clowning acquisition
process facilitated by Vivian is to consider it as a Darwinian
selection process (Ref. Dennett).
- A reproductive/copying mechanism
- Some variability in that process (this creates novelty)
- More offspring than are necessary (this provides a selectional
pressure: those with the ‘best fit’ survive to reproduce the most
The above can be translated into a clown acquisition process:
- The clown’s conscious and unconscious memory is the copying mechanism which reproduces clowning behaviour.
- Memory is not perfect and the environment will be different, both of which provide an element of chance and hence newness.
- Clowns have access to many more behaviours than the few that actually
get selected. Vivian’s offers determine ‘best fit’ and so these
behaviours get copied most often. This means more of them survive
during the performance and via the clown’s memory, more survive in
future performances. When the clown utilises these offers, they
eliminate other behaviours or options.
Vivian’s offers provide a selectional pressure in a number of ways:
- He’s the expert
- Clowns soon get the message that accepting his offers helps. [And believe us, when you’re on stage they are a Godsend.]
- The clown and other participants see that his offers work.
Other selection pressures come from the desire of the clown to do well and the reaction of the audience.
determines best-fit is the model in Vivian’s neurology of ‘What
clowning is’. Remember, this is not a model of behaviour but of the
of behaviours which establish and maintain the clowning
relationship with the audience. And, as the clown selects more
behaviours that match the model, so they themselves develop a model of
‘How to clown’. Then they can apply their own selection process and
establish their own self-sustaining (positive) feedback loop with the
In summary, trainee clowns learn to internalise Vivian’s decision-making model.
approach will not be suitable for learning all activities, but it
should be suitable for those skills that require continually choosing
from lots of options while responding to feedback in the moment.
Daniel Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life (1996)
Robert Dilts and Judith DeLozier, Encyclopedia of Systemic NLP and NLP New Coding, nlpuniversitypress.com (2000)
Marvin Minsky, The Emotion Machine: Commonsense Thinking, Artificial Intelligence, and the Future of the Human Mind (2006)