Writers are Clever Hans

Do you know the story of Clever Hans?  Clever Hans was a horse who could multiply numbers by knocking on the floor with his hoof.  But that is not really what he did.  He simply responded to the mood of the room.  When somebody asked Clever Hans “What is three times seven, Hans?” he would knock the floor with his hoof and then when he had done it twenty-one times everybody in the room would relax (they had been counting) and he would stop hitting the ground with his hoof.

Writers are like Clever Hans.  Writers write things that are much smarter than they are.  They write things that click in a certain way with their understanding of how an audience will respond and they channel the audience’s wisdom back at the audience.

Even if the audience is not there.

Maybe the human race as a whole is Clever Hans, making patterns in space-time with our collective hoof that are smarter than we can ever understand.


3 thoughts on “Writers are Clever Hans

  1. Or symbol manipulators in Chinese Rooms… But think what it would be like if writers could actually understand what it is they were doing; how evil or boring they would become. Think of all the apples!

  2. To the people in the rooms. We play each other like fiddles better in the absence of explicit understanding, where there’s no metacognitive hesitation, just execution. Look at Trump. You could say he’s giving the world an object lesson in how far a ‘Clever Hans strategy’ can take you in politics.

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