Spread the love

Barbenheimer & Art Mashups- Nancy Hillis MD & Bruce Sawhill PhD

Barbenheimer & Art Mashups- Nancy Hillis MD & Bruce Sawhill PhD

Barbenheimer & Art Mashups


In the last week, two new movies have been released, “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie.”

On face value, they are as different as movies could possibly be. One is about a theoretical physicist (Bruce’s professional training) building a weapon of mass destruction, the other is about a doll obsessed with pink.



Test of thermonuclear bomb



But people cannot resist the temptation to juxtapose these two creative efforts, with results as odd as pink mushroom clouds and visions of Barbie’s boyfriend as a nerdy nuclear scientist, tweedy and chain-smoking on the beach among scantily clad babes. For some people, it became a challenge to see the two movies together in one theatre visit, an escapade called “Barbenheimer.” (We haven’t seen either yet)

This is a superb example of a “mashup,” combining two otherwise incompatible ingredients as a recipe for creativity. The “mash” part comes from the amount of effort required to override the surface incompatibility. As recipes, the results are usually inedible, but once in a while you get something that works, like olive oil in ice cream.





I submit that mashups occur in many creative arenas. As an example, an artist may combine elements of representational figurative painting with influences from abstract, unstructured, or random modes of artistic expression.

And artists are just copying nature. Nature is like an existential particle accelerator, smashing things together to “see” what happens. Most of the time nothing special happens, but once in a while a great deal does.

This is nothing less than one way of accessing the exploration of the adjacent possible. It’s a kind of “Pascalian wager,” where a small bet on an improbable event can win big and can turn out to be a good strategy in general.



dice rolling



Blaise Pascal invented this idea in the17th century when he considered a probabilistic approach to the question of whether one should believe in God or not. He introduced the statistical idea of “expectation value,” which has to do with how a strategy performs when repeated many times.



Blaise Pascal, (1623-1662) Lithograph after G. Edelinck after F. Quesnel
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.



An example of“expectation value” thinking would be the following: If I have a choice of two strategies, one that wins $1 with a 50% chance or one that wins $10 with a 10% chance, which one should I choose?” If you only get to play this game once, you might choose the first option because it has a higher probability of giving you something whereas the second is very likely to give you nothing.

If you play it many times, you would find that after a large number of times, the second strategy would be the better choice. On average, you’d get $10 after ten tries for the second choice but only $5 for the first one. And even though you might be confronted with this exact choice only once, Pascal thought that a life presents one with many such choices, so that the higher expectation value choice is the one to play at every opportunity because eventually statistics will be on your side.

As for the original question, he figured that it did not take much effort to believe in God, but if you did and you were right, you won big, namely eternal life.

So mash away, you might surprise yourself!


With gratitude from our studio to yours,

Nancy & Bruce


P.S. If you enjoyed this excerpt from our newest book which won the Book Excellence Award: The Adjacent Possible: Guidebook & Stories Of Artistic Transformation, you’ll love the other stories and artwork by 25 amazing artists who are employing concepts from The Adjacent Possible in their art.

Book Unboxing: Here’s Betty’s video of receiving the book! Lots of fun.

Now, what are you waiting for? Grab your copy and go check out Chapters 4 and more.

Get your copy now: The Adjacent Possible: Guidebook * Stories Of Artistic Transformation




Click HERE to order your book. 







Nancy Hillis & Bruce Sawhill, Authors of The Adjacent Possible books and blog

Nancy Hillis, MD & Bruce Sawhill, PhD, Authors of The Adjacent Possible books and blog



Spread the love