Hacking the Cortex: Imagination is more important than knowledge

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Tempo is really hard to write about.

Instead of sharing something half baked, I’m going to talk about something I’ve just started lecturing on – Creativity. As I was researching the lectures, my mind started its inevitable wander into “I wonder how this might apply to Warmachine.”

I’ve been doing a lot of testing of outside-the-Cryx box lists in recent months. My Terminus list is but one of many that have gone through the paces, and there are many more lined up now that Vengeance models are starting to exist. As has been noted often recently, basically everyone worth worrying about at a tournament has a plan for “standard Cryx”, and I’m not entirely convinced that “Cryx Harder” is enough any more. It can work, but that only means the anti Cryx meta has to anti-Cryx harder. And so, I’m looking elsewhere, and thinking a lot about Creativity itself and how I can harness my own.

Let’s start at the beginning – the whys and wherefores.

All of human behaviour results from the interaction between Evolution (selection by reproduction) and Learning (selection by consequences).* Evolution sets up our behavioural tendencies while Learning is responsible for if and how those tendencies manifest, develop, and grow. Two of these tendencies are particularly important (in my opinion) – the conservative tendency and the expansive tendency.

The conservative tendency is the part of us that responds away from danger and risk (better to be afraid of nothing than calm in the face of actual danger! Hence all those bad news biases) It’s the part that says it’s better to be right most of the time and use less brain energy, than to be right all of the time and have to eat ALL THE TIME to fuel that work. (Hence cognitive bias, stereotyping, prejudice, etc.). It’s also the part that makes control over the results of our actions highly reinforcing.

It’s also the tendency that makes us want to stick to lists we already know work. (See, this is Warmachine relevant!)

The other side of the coin is the Expansive Tendency. Our brains are amazing at learning and adapting to new environments. But in order to do that, you need to experience novelty. As a result, novelty is highly reinforcing – even simpler animals will do complex work to gain access to novelty. These two tendencies exist in equilibrium in happy, effective people – you have a strong, stable centre to which you can return, so you are freer to take risks and explore.

As I think it’s probably also true in Warmachine – I don’t think out of the box listbuilding experiments are the best for new players. First, you need to build that stable core. You need to know what works in your faction, and how to play it, before you can really throw out the rulebook. Get your first principles down. While great writers ignore grammar all the time, you can be damn sure they’ve got a considered opinion on the oxford comma and know when and how to deploy a semicolon. My first piece of advice is just that  – before you go a wandering in the wildlands outside the box, make sure you’re fluent in the fundamentals of the game and your faction.

Here’s some other quick hints to enhance your Warmachine Creativity in listbuilding (I think I’ll come back and talk about creative play later)

Moving from conscious focus, to distraction, and back again is highly conducive to idea-generation. Basically, your unconscious mind will be working away on the problem while you’re distracted. The distance can be either physical or psychological, it doesn’t much matter. Though nature helps. This is probably how most of us are about Warmachine list building anyway, insofar as it’s not our job, so we think about it for a bit, go do something else, and come back to it. But if those last 5 points are giving you grief, go do something else for a while and see what happens.

Move from working alone, to working in a group, to isolation again. Generating ideas in a group is actually damaging to the number of ideas generated. However, sharing your ideas after you’ve generated them alone is really useful, selecting out the workable ideas from the dross. Noticing a pattern yet? Shifting from “ideal creativity” situations to something else and back seems to be the heart of it.

Which gets me to my main Warmachine related point.

Embrace the absurd and contradictory.

Exposure to absurdist art enhances idea generation (Proulx, 2009). Being able to hold contradictory ideas in your mind simultaeneously is also great for creativity. Because our minds strive for coherence, exposing them to meaninglessness and absurdity forces the meaning-making parts of our mind to work harder, resulting in more ideas, and more original ideas.

What does this mean for Warmachine?

It means Terrible Tuesday is a great exercise for listbuilding creativity. Here in Maynooth, we’ve started building lists using much maligned models as a starting point. These lists force strange builds to work around the janky core, and force different kinds of gameplay to get the most out of it. It forces you to believe that bad models are good, while not forgetting why they’re bad. And this exercise will make your listbuilding more creative.

Terrible Tuesday. Scientifically proven to make you a better player and listbuilder.

I know it’s working for me, I’m thinking about putting Revenants in a list. A real one, I mean.

Know Yourself, and Go In Swinging


*And culture. Which I think is selected for by coherence and power, and is a weird feedback loop part of the whole picture since it’s technically just emergent from Selection by Consequences. Selection by Consequences is emergent from Evolution but doesn’t have the backward-learning element. Bridging that gap is really hard, but I’m certain it can be done. Get back to me in 20 years. I need to read all of the sociology and anthropology first to get the lay of the land.


6 thoughts on “Hacking the Cortex: Imagination is more important than knowledge

  1. Some seriously interesting ideas in there. I’m going to have to consider some implementations of those creativity sparking methods.

    I always find your articles interesting, since they often highlight things I already do in some manner, but provide a framework to codify them into a consistent and useful set of behaviors.

    Look at you, always teaching. 🙂

  2. I can back the resentment towards creating ideas in a group and the number created. Because the brain doesn’t want to (have to) think, you’ll easily go with what the others say.

    I.e. Groupthink has it’s downsides. 😉

  3. As we discussed privately I put Revenant Crew in my Goreshade3 list, and you know what… that might actually work. I think you’re really on to something here, and most of my ‘discoveries’ have come from forcing myself to use the perceived ‘poor’ options, just like Terrible Tuesday.

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