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rt, Fiction & Imaginary Friends- Nancy Hillis, MD & Bruce Sawhill, PhD

Art, Fiction & Imaginary Friends- Nancy Hillis, MD & Bruce Sawhill, PhD

Nancy (with some contribution from Bruce) is embarking on a new adventure, or rather a new wrinkle in an old adventure, namely writing books.

This time it is a work of fiction, unlike The Artist’s Journey and The Adjacent Possible works.

While driving around the dun landscape of northern Arkansas where we are visiting family, a thought came up about fiction, which is strangely connected to the mathematics of networks.

We have often claimed that “there are only 400 people in the world.” Of course there are more, but one can’t know them all. This is one of those factoids that someone mentioned decades ago and just gets unquestioningly passed on.

This comes up when seemingly startling connections are made. “You know X , how can that be!?”

It turns out we are connected by our values, desires, histories, with the result that we form clans of highly connected individuals, the so called Kevin Bacon phenomenon. We move through life in tribal blobs.

The fact that one might run into half of one’s Michigan high school class in front of Notre Dame in Paris isn’t that surprising if you think about the ties that bind.



Partial Kevin Bacon graph By Userr999 – https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=124350933



The Wall Street Journal published an article recently with an updated number, and that number is 611. So there are 8 billion minus 611 people that the average person doesn’t know.

Since humans are inferential creatures, we tend to give properties to all of these unknown people, informed by stereotypes, media, and history.



Crowd with superimposed emoticons



The question came up on our drive:


Are people we will never know fundamentally different than fictional people we create, at least as regards relationships?


Both of those classes of people involve endowing people we will never interact with in the real world with characteristics and stories. We’re all writing fiction, all the time.



Proust, In Search of Lost Time (in Russian)



Art is informed by life like fiction writing or imagining strangers we will never meet, and is colored by our values and experiences.

We create what isn’t “out there” and incorporate it into our lives.

We all have “imaginary friends,” which perhaps isn’t a mental illness but a necessity for sanity. May they crowd into your studio.


With gratitude from our studio to yours,

Nancy & Bruce


Take Your Art Somewhere New- Nab your copy of our newest book: The Adjacent Possible: Guidebook & Stories Of Artistic Transformation. 

There are lots of concepts from exclusive exercises Nancy developed for the Artist’s Journey Masterclass in the book, including: Combinatorics, Zero To One, Six Maquettes, and more.

Get your copy HERE.

Click on the arrow above to watch the video.

Get your copy of the book HERE.


Or, get the suite of books in The Art of the Possible Book Series



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