Murray Gell Man and the Humour of Change …

Sometimes things change. They say the only thing that doesn’t change is change itself. Change can be sudden and cataclysmic, like the Kobe earthquake, or slow and unnoticeable like a friend’s weight loss program. But change is change and sometimes things may never be the same again.

When I think of change in this way, I’m often reminded of the TWTTIN phrase — That Was Then … This Is Now! — and of the humour that often accompanies this kind of change in circumstances.

About thirty years ago in Pasadena, California, Edward de Bono I were having lunch with a couple of Caltech scientists. Lunch was at the home of Paul MacCready. Paul invented the Gossamer Albatross which won the prize for man-powered flight across the English Channel. Paul also invited his friend Murray Gell-Mann who won a Nobel Prize for his discovery of the quark.

We came to discuss the role that creativity plays in scientific discovery. This led to a discussion about sudden insights like the Aha! phenomenon and then, inevitably, to the subject of humour.

Murray Gell-Mann began to laugh and then he told us his dog story …

At that time, Murray explained that he had two Doberman dogs and a fruit-laden avocado pear tree.

One of the dobermans liked to eat the avocados when they fell from the tree, the other doberman didn’t care for the avocados at all. Murray’s problem was to stop the first dog from eating his avocados. He tried a number of things but to no avail. But being the scientist that he is, he didn’t give up. Then he had an idea … Aha!

dober man pupMurray sprinkled cayenne pepper on an avocado to see if the dog would still eat it, the dog wouldn’t touch it. So, triumphantly, he then sprinkled cayenne pepper on all the avocados that had fallen on the ground to teach the dog a lesson that avocados are for humans who are smarter than dogs, anyway.

The change in circumstances worked, more or less. The avocado-eating dog never ate another avocado. However, the other dog now began to eat all the avocados. He liked them now that they were laced with cayenne pepper! … TWTTIN.

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