Variation and selection
This page is a rough draft!
Often, it’s that your teddy bear setup helped you to tweak things a bit (where the tweaking is the source of variation), and then things jump out at you (get selected) and voila the different pieces of the puzzle come together in new ways.
Now, let's look at what's happening with selection. In this case, it's the selection of what's getting said, paid attention to, fleshed out more, explored more, etc.
One simple example of a different source of selection that's often at work with Teddy Bear Talk Support involves the process of talking out loud. If you shift from working quietly at your computer where you can think of five things at once, then you're now having to do the selection process of filtering out what you’re saying to just one thing at a time.
Let’s say that you need to write something (like for an email or a class assignment) and you’re wanting to get clearer on what the most important points are that you need to make.
There are lots of different ways to have the space held differently with different teddy bear setups. With using a recording device, who is it that you're talking to? Notice how different it would be to have some different people in mind as the teddy bear where their personality or what they already know about you and the situation can come into play. Or what is it like if you are talking to your teddy bear as if they were just anyone.
What if you talk as if you don’t have any intention of sharing the recording? Or as if you will probably share the recording?
These are choices that you get to make when you are using a recording device, so one point I'm making is that they are sources of variation that you can intentionally play with. But, with asking you to notice how different each case would be, I was also trying to show you that lots of little things will be different (from working by yourself) in any teddy bear situation you're in. So, the other point I was trying to make with these examples was that there are lots of little sources of variation that teddy bears bring.
Another simple example involves a silent human teddy bear that raises an eyebrow as you're talking. With just a raise of the eyebrow, the teddy bear can weigh in on how fruitful they think it might be to continue with the way they think you are proceeding, and can cause you to select to abandon that path or to see what they would've needed you to explained to them so that they wouldn't have raised an eyebrow.
That’s one reason why it feels remarkably different for me to talk out loud with a recording device versus without a recording device. With the recording device running, I feel the pressure to avoid recording long stretches of silence. Because this keeps me talking in a steady stream, I get to find out what happens when I maintain constantly doing the selection process of filtering my thoughts down to just one thing at a time. Not only that, it can help me with committing to going down just one path with what I’m saying and continuing to build on it rather than saying, for example, “No, I don’t like that” and doing a lot of starting over. It’s just a whole different ballgame from me just trying to work on things where it’s just me thinking by myself. It’s like the difference between thinking about writing and actually writing. Sitting around thinking about writing (especially if you’re like me and want things to spring perfectly from your head) doesn’t get you to the same places (to say the least) as actually getting things out onto paper does. And sitting around thinking is what happens for me when I try to talk out loud without the recording device, I tend to trail off and shift back into just doing a lot of thinking without talking. The key is to have it feel like someone or something is paying attention. Because of that, the space has been held for me to do a different process of variation and selection than without the recording device.
Human teddy bears
Among many other advantages, human teddy bears add in their own sources of variation and selection to your process. For example, let’s look at human teddy bears that are constrained to only mirror back parts of what you’ve said at times they think it’d be helpful. One way they can add variation is by using their own words when mirroring what you said back to you. By selecting when and what to mirror back to you, they can highlight different things for different reasons. It might be that they are mirroring back a part that you seem particularly excited about, or one that you seem to be trying to talk yourself into but aren’t really that excited about. Or, it could be a mirroring back of a part they found confusing or didn’t make as much sense to them.
Misunderstanding as a source of helpful variation
One source of helpful variation is one that you might find surprising. Not surprisingly, group problem solving typically yields better outcomes than having people work on solving a problem by themselves. What you might find surprising is that research has shown that one reason for this is that people often misunderstand each other when solving problems in groups. Misunderstandings are a rich source of helpful variation! Everyone’s mind is engaged in coming up with possible solutions. What’s going on in your mind is different from other people’s. Instead of hearing what someone means, you hear what you are expecting to hear. Because of what was going on in your brain, you weren’t able to take in the intended meaning and so you misunderstand what you're hearing, but it fits as a piece of the puzzle you needed with the solution you were working with. This often leads to a good solution, and voila a misunderstanding helps to lead to a good solution.
Let me make the connection between the previous two paragraphs clearer. Misunderstanding what you’ve said is a source of variation. That can be a way that teddy bears contribute to your process. Now that I’ve made the connection clearer, let me now add something else to that. Instead of a misunderstanding, it could be that they left out an important point (while mirroring back what you said) and leaving it out helps to highlight it for you. This might cause you to then say it again or rephrase it for your teddy bear or flesh out more of why it’s important to you, and you might find doing one of these things to be particularly helpful.
We’ve looked at the idea of the teddy bear getting to be in the driver’s seat as to when it initiates mirroring things back to you and thus what you get to be listening to them say. Alternatively, you can have it so that the teddy bear gets to do a wider range of things than only mirroring things back, but you get to be in the driver’s seat with telling the teddy bear what you want it to do and when. For example, you might be writing something up, and you could ask the teddy bear to be the one to flesh out one of the ideas, to think of an example or to provide an explanation, or to spell something out in greater detail. You get another mind to help you explore the space of possibilities, and you get to see how that helps you to bring yourself to the ideas in a different way as you have different reactions and thoughts about what you’re listening to the teddy bear say. You might even only be half listening to what they are saying while you’re busy having your own thoughts. You get to do that. You get to have them provide that kind of environment for you with all its different sources of variation, and you get to see where that can lead you.
A helpful framing may be to imagine yourself not as a controlling dictator of your mental processes but instead as a playful participant.