Getting to Yes, And

Ainissa Ramirez: The Alchemy of Us


Ainissa Ramirez

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Kelly sits down with academic and author Ainissa Ramirez, Ph.D. to talk about her new book "The Alchemy of Us: How Humans and Matter Transformed One Another."

In reading this book, I was seeing all sorts of connections between improvisation and science - both areas are focused on experimentation and learning from failures as opposed to being beaten by failures.

“Improvisation and science are very much linked. Let's say you don't have a very well-funded lab and you want to do something. You have to scrounge around and make the best of it. That's a lot of improvisation. And also discoveries. Maybe you were going for one thing, and you see another thing. You could have the judgment, ‘Oh, I'm a failure, my experiment didn't work out.’ Or, you can see what this experiment is actually telling you. It might be a breakthrough - so improvisation and science are very much linked.”

You have a whole chapter on Time and the many ways where our fundamental experience of time changes due to everything from the railroads changing time zones or even the way Louis Armstrong played jazz.

“Music is a way to kind of explore this very nebulous topic and it ends up that Louis Armstrong when he played his music, he played it differently. If you look at sheet music, an eighth note should be at one place and then the next the next place, and then the next place.  But he wouldn't play it exactly like that, because that was what jazz was all about. It was improvisation. And in the process of not playing the notes exactly how they look on the sheet of paper, he was actually shifting our understanding and our experience with time - because our brains note time by physical cues. Because he was shifting the position of the notes, our brains were losing their sense of time. So I show that in “The Alchemy of Us” about how jazz was very much in tune with how we actually appreciate and experience time.”

It’s interesting to note that in theatrical improvisation we talk about the need to be fiercely in the moment, which is not how people in our country often think or behave.

“That's exactly right. Western culture is really focused on the future: what I'm doing today is going to prepare me for something down the road. But there's other cultures that really focus on the present, and that's what I talk about. Jazz, for example, Is a blending of different cultures, many of them being African American, Afro Cuban and also Western cultures all mixed together. And in those cultures, the focus is on the present.”

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