无语的大牙

Paul Graham谈模仿

美国著名程序员、博客作者和技术作家保罗·格雷厄姆(Paul Graham)在其个人网站上的长文《How to do great work》给仍然雄心勃勃的年轻人提了一些建议,适合每位对自己仍有期望的朋友反复阅读。下面是本文的第十九部分摘录:


People new to a field will often copy existing work. There’s nothing inherently bad about that. There’s no better way to learn how something works than by trying to reproduce it. Nor does copying necessarily make your work unoriginal. Originality is the presence of new ideas, not the absence of old ones.

There’s a good way to copy and a bad way. If you’re going to copy something, do it openly instead of furtively, or worse still, unconsciously. This is what’s meant by the famously misattributed phrase “Great artists steal.” The really dangerous kind of copying, the kind that gives copying a bad name, is the kind that’s done without realizing it, because you’re nothing more than a train running on tracks laid down by someone else. But at the other extreme, copying can be a sign of superiority rather than subordination.

In many fields it’s almost inevitable that your early work will be in some sense based on other people’s. Projects rarely arise in a vacuum. They’re usually a reaction to previous work. When you’re first starting out, you don’t have any previous work; if you’re going to react to something, it has to be someone else’s. Once you’re established, you can react to your own. But while the former gets called derivative and the latter doesn’t, structurally the two cases are more similar than they seem.

Oddly enough, the very novelty of the most novel ideas sometimes makes them seem at first to be more derivative than they are. New discoveries often have to be conceived initially as variations of existing things, even by their discoverers, because there isn’t yet the conceptual vocabulary to express them.

There are definitely some dangers to copying, though. One is that you’ll tend to copy old things — things that were in their day at the frontier of knowledge, but no longer are.

And when you do copy something, don’t copy every feature of it. Some will make you ridiculous if you do. Don’t copy the manner of an eminent 50 year old professor if you’re 18, for example, or the idiom of a Renaissance poem hundreds of years later.

Some of the features of things you admire are flaws they succeeded despite. Indeed, the features that are easiest to imitate are the most likely to be the flaws.

This is particularly true for behavior. Some talented people are jerks, and this sometimes makes it seem to the inexperienced that being a jerk is part of being talented. It isn’t; being talented is merely how they get away with it.

One of the most powerful kinds of copying is to copy something from one field into another. History is so full of chance discoveries of this type that it’s probably worth giving chance a hand by deliberately learning about other kinds of work. You can take ideas from quite distant fields if you let them be metaphors.

Negative examples can be as inspiring as positive ones. In fact you can sometimes learn more from things done badly than from things done well; sometimes it only becomes clear what’s needed when it’s missing.

对于一个领域的新手来说,经常会通过模仿现有作品来学习。这本身并没有什么不好。尝试复制一件事物是了解其运作方式的最佳途径。而且,模仿并不一定使你的作品缺乏原创性。原创性在于新思想的存在,而不是旧思想的缺失。

模仿有好的方式和坏的方式。如果你要复制某些东西,那么公开地复制,而不是秘密地或者更糟糕地无意识地复制。这就是那句被错误引用的著名短语“伟大的艺术家偷窃”的意思。真正危险的复制是那种无意识地进行的复制,因为你只是在别人铺设的轨道上奔驰。但在另一方面,模仿也可以是卓越而不是屈服的表现。

在许多领域,你的早期工作往往在某种程度上基于他人的工作。项目很少是孤立产生的,它们通常是对先前工作的反应。当你刚开始时,你没有任何先前工作可供参考;如果你要进行反应,那就只能是对他人的工作进行反应。一旦你确立了自己的地位,你就可以对自己的工作进行反应。然而,尽管前者被称为衍生作品而后者不被如此称呼,但从结构上看,这两种情况更相似。

有趣的是,一些最新奇的想法之所以在一开始看起来比它们实际上更具衍生性,是因为它们常常被看作是现有事物的变体,甚至是由它们的发现者自己这样看待,因为当时还没有概念性的词汇来表达它们。

当然,模仿也存在一些危险。其中之一是你可能倾向于复制旧事物,即那些在它们的时代处于知识前沿的事物,但现在已经过时了。

而当你复制某样东西时,不要复制其中的每个特征。有些特征如果你一模一样地复制,可能会让你看起来可笑。例如,如果你只有18岁,不要模仿一位享有声望的50岁教授的举止方式,也不要在数百年后模仿文艺复兴时期的诗歌风格。

你所欣赏的事物中的一些特征可能是它们成功的缺陷。事实上,最容易模仿的特征往往是最有可能是缺陷的特征。

这一点在行为方面尤为真实。一些有才华的人可能很讨厌,这有时会让经验不足的人认为成为讨厌的一部分是有才华的一部分。然而,事实并非如此;有才华只是他们逃脱惩罚的方式。

最强大的模仿方式之一是将一个领域中的东西复制到另一个领域中。历史上有很多这种偶然发现,所以通过有意识地学习其他种类的工作,也许可以增加偶然的机会性。如果把它们作为隐喻,你可以从非常不同的领域中借鉴思想。

负面的例子可以激发灵感,就像正面的例子一样。实际上,有时候从失败的事情中学到的比从成功的事情中学到的更多;有时候只有在某些东西缺失时才会变得清楚需要什么。


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