six things: Patrick Andrews

Patrick Andrews

About Patrick

Patrick is a compulsive inventor, science fiction writer, garage entrepreneur and parent. With a background in engineering and neurophysiology research, he has worked in management consultancy, academe and in high-tech startups. He also co-founded the graduate training business ScotSkills.

Patrick’s website:

• One thing that’s always worth getting out of bed for

Emergence. I realised only a couple of years ago that everything that makes life worth living contains some aspect of emergence: that more-than-the-sum-of-the-parts thing. It takes many forms and the world certainly doesn’t come with labels saying “Press this button for a surprising something-for-nothing experience”. You have to develop a nose for emergence. It can happen when ideas pollinate in conversation with a like mind, or when you realise that better pictures can emerge if all the cameras at an event combine their flash outputs intelligently, or during the Prince’s speech at the end of Romeo and Juliet when the audience feels it more because they react together or by the addition of fresh black pepper to toasted cheese… or when a swarm of bees somehow manages to coordinate the building of a complex, honey-filled, 3-d hive.

• One thing about myself that often obstructs me

I don’t understand other people. I really have little idea why many members of the same species act as they do (beach holidays? facebook? golf? Meet the Fockers?… what is that all about, exactly?)

It’s almost impossible for me to occupy someone else’s shoes. Partly that’s because I don’t much want to. I’m pretty happy being me. Partly it’s due to the fact that I see the attempt as inherently futile. How can I ever get any validation that what I think you’re feeling is what you’re feeling? So, it’s not surprising that people in general don’t do what I want them to do. The inability to play nicely with others, and generate the emergent benefits which teams offer, certainly obstructs me at every turn (I’m sure it may sometimes impede them too). Odd that I believe I can do sympathy, but of course that’s all from outside. Empathy, to me, is illusory. Very few people have ever come close to seeing things from my standpoint (very few have bothered to try). It can be an odd place – but you’ll have to take my word for that 😉

• One thing I’ve learned the hard way

Some skills can only be be mastered very gradually. As a hyper-impatient person, I’ve often started things and then aborted them almost at once. No recognisable melody? Dump that instrument. Sound stupid with a foreign accent? Ditch the second language. It took me four attempts to pass my driving test -due in part to my failure to understand the indispensibility of practice. Malcolm Gladwell talks about 10,000 hours to achieve proficiency. I believe it’s often true but it’s never easy to accept. Some things, like running, have taken years of teeth-gritting for me to enjoy. For example, I eventually stopped making excuses to myself and decided that I would lose weight by envisaging a bacon slicer whilst using my indoor rowing machine. Each stroke was a microgramme of flab removed. Not being a good advice taker, lots of things have had to be learned the hard way.

• One thing that gets under my skin

I find it hard to tolerate being patronised, especially by people who have no particularly special gifts or skills. Working with some mediocre academics has sharpened this particular sensitivity. Anyone who assumes that I need their leadership, before I ask for it, will cause a significant negative reaction. I think I’ve become better at dealing with this particular hair trigger – I tend now to respond with a dead bat, rather than the knee-jerk scorn my earlier self specialised in. I’m very much more willing now to acknowledge when someone is actually smarter than me – but those folk never need to rub my face in it.

• One thing I’d love to change

The class system. It provided a framework which held Britain together when we’d set ourselves up as an Imperial power. Now that that is recognised as being just sad, we should take a long look at all the upperclass freeloaders, the unambitious proles and the complacent bourgeois and shake them up. Education would do it, but that would mean paying teachers as much as medics – unthinkable. I was surprised to find that many other countries don’t really have a class system… I had lunch with the Icelandic Foreign Minister once… he was 20-something, wearing a hoodie and one vodka short of Valhalla. Small countries seem to see the stupidity of societal stratification. Forelock clutching makes no sense when it’s your cousin saying hi.

• One thing I hope for

I hope to discover something genuinely novel. I think I may have managed this in a very small way when working as a research student but I guess my sights are set on building a machine one day which can be demonstrated to be conscious in the same way as people who aren’t me are conscious (but see above).

About six things

‘six things’ is a series of micro-interviews with interesting and creative people, in which they’re asked to respond to a standard set of six prompts. A new ‘six things’ is published on the site each Saturday.

Next in ‘six things’: John Wetherell