Designing Miracles

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What are miracles?

  • We can define a miracle in pragmatic terms as an auspicious exception.
  • How can we apply serendipity within the metadesign process?
  • This tool challenges the rationalist tendency to overlook intangibles.
  • Modern cynicism has encouraged the common confusion between the ‘unthinkable’ and the ‘impossible’.
  • But if we believe the unthinkable is synonymous with the impossible, we reduce our option range.
  • This means encouraging everyone to think beyond what they believe to be possible.
  • Logically speaking - miracles are just highly improbable (i.e. possible) incidents
  • We will only create a paradigm shift if we design a belief-system that is aggressively open to opportunity
  • This has proved effective in post-graduate design education

The Tool's Context


  • In the 21st century miracles are usually associated with an irrational belief in religious faith, or superstition
  • As such, they are regarded as ‘impossible’, or are the outcome of fraudulent illusion
  • Few therefore believe that luck can be designed (design is usually seen as a rational process of management).
  • If we believe we can manipulate 'luck' this may be dismissed as 'mere' superstition
  • Modern cynicism has encouraged the common confusion between the ‘unthinkable’ and the ‘impossible’.
  • If we tend only embark upon what we believe to be feasible, our optimism/pessimism balance is important.
  • If we believe that the unthinkable is synonymous with the impossible, we reduce the feasibilities.


  • We can make miracles thinkable by regarding them as incidents of low probability
  • In other words, we simply define a miracle as an exceptional event, irrespective of its semantic significance
  • Mathematically speaking, a big enough sample size would always include 'extraordinary' parameters
  • But the Universe is BIG - actually, it's 78 billion light-years across (light travels at 186,000 miles per second)
  • Miracles can thereby be identified within a minimum inclusive set of all probabilities
  • In order to sustain auspicious conditions a probabilistic approach is inadequate
  • Orthodox mathematics represents an unsituated observer standpoint that is either prescriptive, or post-hoc
  • What is needed is a self-reflexive 'situationist' method that encourages ad hoc insights in the immediate temporal present

Tool Process


'The Black Swan Syndrome (Taleb, 2007)

  • 1) Using the following argument - persuade yourself that miracles are not impossible
    • Once something is thinkable we can map it into a larger picture of possibilities
    • The more the 'thinkable' is declared to be feasible the more attainable it becomes
    • Once the ‘impossible’ is described clearly it becomes ‘shareable’
    • If the 'impossible' is described affirmatively, the ‘unthinkable’ becomes (more) ‘thinkable’
    • By combining several positive minds (using what we call sympoiesis (download a paper on this) we can discover new possibilities
    • In the 21st century, we often assume that miracles are ‘impossible’?
    • This may be because we are too risk-averse, or busy, to deviate from convention.
    • Also, the modern belief system became increasingly sceptical and rationalistic
    • Max Weber's (1946) term 'disenchantment' can be interpreted as a habitual, cynical retreat from the inexplicable
    • Nassim Nicholas Taleb (2007) confirmed the black swan syndrome (i.e. that highly unlikely, but critical and formative events can be expected)
    • Littlewood (1953) considered an event which occurs one in a million times to be 'surprising'
    • We might therefore expect at least 100,000 surprising events each year in a large country
    • According to Diaconis and Mosteller (1989), at the global level we can expect to see 'incredibly remarkable events'
    • Richard Wiseman's research showed that people can become luckier
    • He found that the main principle is to acquire a more 'positive' attitude.
    • James Surowiecki (2004) claimed that decisions/choices by crowds are smarter than those by individual experts.
    • Rupert Sheldrake (1981) controversiallydeveloped a particular theory of Morphogenetic_fields
      This includes the idea that unprecedented incidents may act as 'feedback' to encourage a change in the prevailing ecological conditions
    • If so, we may become more likely to live in a world of serendipity
    • We know that some things, once thought to be impracticable, or unthinkable are now seen as unremarkable
    • In some cases this is the result of technological innovation and widening access to them
  • This probably happens most effectively when excitement surrounding an idea makes it memorable and shareable
  • 2) Put several positive minds together in collaborative synergy to find something 'impossible'.
  • Ask whether the 'impossible' still has remained 'impossible' within the minds of team members.
  • Develop a strategy for making what was 'impossible' even more 'possible' than it seemed to be.

An Example

bumble-bee.jpg "he/she didn’t know it was impossible, so went ahead and did it" (French saying).

.....THINKABLE.....I will become Louis IVth........I will make a flying machine
.....UNTHINKABLE.....I see as God does..........aren't bumble bees too heavy to fly?.....


  • Mike Davies coined the term contagious optimism (...I think?)
  • the idea that, if miracles are thinkable they may become possible was introduced before the m21 project began (Wood, 2005)


  • Diaconis, P. and Mosteller, F., (1989). 'Methods of Studying Coincidences', J. Amer. Statist. Assoc. 84, 853-861
  • Littlewood, J. E. (1953). 'Littlewood's Miscellany', Cambridge University Press, 1986
  • Sheldrake, R. (1981), 'A New Science of Life',
  • Sloterdijk, P., (1983), 'A Critique of Cynical Reason',
  • Use standard deviation as possible measurement
  • Surowiecki, J., (2004), 'The Wisdom of Crowds',
  • Taleb, N. N. 'The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable' 2007. New York: Random House
  • Weber, M, (1946). 'Essays in Sociology', trans. and ed. by H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, New York: Oxford University Press
  • Wikipedia entry for Edward Lorenz
  • Wiseman, R. (2003). 'The Luck Factor', London, UK: Random House
  • Wiseman, R. (2004). 'Did you spot the gorilla? How to recognise hidden opportunities in your life'. London, UK: Random House
  • Wood, J., (2005), “How Can We Design Miracles?”, introduction to “Agents of Change: A Decade of MA Design Futures”, pages 10-14, (June 1, 2005), Goldsmiths College, (Hardback), ISBN 1904158617
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See Auspicious Reasoning article
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