WOOL at In Canberra Tonight

November 2013

Amelia and I jumped at the opportunity to be involved in the In Canberra Tonight’s show based on The Future.

We did a short performance called WOOL. We ended by tossing balls of wool into the audience to simulate the sorts of messy tangles of thought that we can find ourselves in when we attempt to think about a realistic future, for ourselves or on a larger scale like for Australia. For me this performance was part of the development of Will and Charlotte, which will be a longer exploration into perceptions of the future.

Photo by Adam Thomas
Photo by Adam Thomas

In WOOL we gave a quick overview of systems thinking and modelling, and I’ve put an excerpt of the script below.

“Our memories and our imagination give us our history of the future. When scientists think about the future, they do the same thing.

Modelling a given system, like a city or a food producing area, is a way that groups of scientists explore what may change in the future.

A model is a mental or formal representation of reality that we use to generate possible scenarios about the future. Whenever we consider the past to anticipate behaviours in the future, we are modeling to make the predictions necessary for decision making.

Modelling has helped us to understand the connection between rising CO2 levels and global temperatures, global yields and biodiversity loss.

Or when Miley’s writing team gets together, they have a system to write a pop song that sells.

Modelling is a way to make a reliable scenario of future behaviour, in order to help us make better decisions about our behaivour into the future.”

* I took my definition of modelling from a great paper by Fabio Boschetti and others.

I learnt that I perform better when I have the main points firmly in my mind and then ad-lib the precise sentences. I’ve got a lot of practice speaking this way from running tutorials at the uni. I tried writing down the precise sentences, but I found that I can forget them easily, get confused and loose my place. It’s better for me to just be clear about what I want to say and then go for it.

I want my next piece Will an Charlotte to look at similar themes of The Future – how we think about it and what is most likely – but I particularly want W&Ch to be more interactive for audience members, something closer to a discussion where ideas are explicitly coming from the audience.

We also heard from Dr. John Finnigan who is the head of Complex Systems Science at CSIRO. He was talking about one of my favourite research projects at the moment, Australia 2050. The idea of this project, among other things, is to start a series of public conversations about Australia’s future. I’ve got a lot of respect for projects that aim to support scientifically grounded conversations such as this. I didn’t make it to their workshop late last year, but you can read David Finnigan’s musings on it here.

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