Let There Be Sound: a Fristonian Meditation on Creativity

In an older post, I talked a bit about my model of brains and music: what makes music beautiful, what makes it interesting.

This time, I’m interested in how making music works. How is it that we can make music that can consistently surprise and please ourselves? After all, we can’t tickle ourselves, nor will rubbing our bellies cure our hunger.

To summarise the previous post, you have to picture a listener as someone who’s trying to figure out what notes or sounds will come next, given all they’ve heard of the song so far. You could picture it as someone who’s trying to figure out the rules that are generating the sounds, or just as a probability distribution over all possible future sounds telling you which ones are the most likely. As you receive more notes, you gradually prune the possible rules, or you gradually get a narrower distribution, reducing prediction error.

This is entropy. When many different rules are possible, when the distribution is wide, the entropy is high. When few rules are possible, when the distribution is narrow, the entropy is low.

Remember, as I pointed out last time, that entropy here is a very subjective phenomenon. What is objectively easiest to compress might not be what is easiest to compress for humans. We are designed to be very good at modeling other people, at doing language, and at motor skills, which can all be mathematically very subtle; and yet we have no trouble interpreting musical parts as different “characters”, and at feeling the movement inherent in a percussive hit or in the gush of wind of a string section crescendo. Somewhat more personally, I’ve always interpreted melodies as abstractly discursive, as if it were speech.

The fundamental thing here that distinguishes the music situation from general machine learning and pattern recognition is that the rules might very well change over time! The process generating the music is itself dynamic. Maybe each section has a different groove, or maybe you’ve got different parts coming in, or perhaps everything is in flux. In any case, going “haha you think you figured out how this worked? psych!” is, I think, pretty fundamental in how we appreciate music; although you could definitely formulate the resulting song as one meta-rule.

There are, of course, plenty of other psychological and sociological reasons for which we enjoy music, such as how musical aesthetics help reinforce a sense of tribalism, or how music allows you to express yourself without getting into arguments, and of course all the emotional stuff, but we’re going to focus on the information-theoretic parts.

According to Karl Friston’s free energy principle (FEP), the whole point of life itself is to minimize prediction error. It’s a cute theory. I think it’s clear that humans are constantly learning, and that we take pleasure in learning. Who doesn’t love it when you finally understand how a bunch of different things fit together? When what seemed to be different rules suddenly reveal themselves to be facets of the same master pattern?

Rule #1: Aesthetic pleasure is proportional to the decrease in subjective entropy.

And yet, simply knowing the high level rules governing a piece of music is not enough. Take, for example, Steve Reich’s Piano Phase.

In Piano Phase, Reich uses a very simple rule to produce a whole 6 minute piece of music which, in my opinion, stays interesting throughout (and real performances last up to 20 minutes!). How can this be?

Friston’s theory doesn’t only apply to learning. In line with predictive processing ideas, it could also explain how and why we even do anything.

Suppose that I expect there to be an apple in my hand. Suppose also that there is not in fact an apple in my hand.

We’ve got some prediction error going on!

Call it entropy, call it cognitive dissonance, or free energy, whatever: it’s not a nice state to be in.

Now, there are two ways to rectify the situation. I could simply update in favor of not expecting there to be an apple in my hand. But I might be hungry, in which case getting hold of that damn apple might be a good thing, and besides the hunger itself might be an expectation of eating something, which is not rectified. The other way is to change the world to fit my beliefs: I can just pick up the apple that was lying there, and that would resolve this brain-world dissonance.

The mental model I have of this whole scenario is that of the brain as a sort of thermodynamical system, in which energy/heat represents beliefs. The system reaches equilibrium when your beliefs perfectly match the world, or rather, your perceptions thereof. But hey, heat exchange goes both ways! Which represents the two possibilities above.

The general strategy, then, in order to make yourself do something, is to expect really really hard that it will happen. This creates a large heat differential, a bunch of potential energy, and you can then just let thermodynamics do its heat exchange and reach equilibrium, and voilà! You’ve done the thing. Or you’ve stopped believing in it.

Rule #2: Expectation spurs action, it is self-fulfilling.

You see this pretty clearly in near-autonomous actions, like, you know, grabbing an apple, or walking. You don’t really consciously control your limbs, you just sort of expect yourself to move to some place, and your body executes it. You also see this in action, though at a higher level, when you sleep on a problem and wake up with the solution magically in mind. My guess is that considering a problem is creating cognitive dissonance, which might be prediction differentials between different parts of your brain. These conflicts might require some pretty traumatic neural restructuring, during which you’d experience nonsensical thoughts, hence why you need to either focus your attention elsewhere, or go to sleep, during which the nonsense sometimes rises up in the form of dreams…

Friston holds that FEP is true not only of brains, but of life at all levels, from individual cells to societies; so long as they are sensibly causally distinct. So I feel no remorse in considering the prediction errors of different brain parts, maybe even of different limbs (the classical framework we have for this is the system 1-system 2 thing).

I have been pondering, lately, how it is that we can even write any new music at all. Or do anything creative.

Think about it. How is it that I can write a piece of music that I myself can enjoy listening to? If I’ve made it, then shouldn’t I know it well enough that everything will be predictable? I ask this with a very practical goal in mind, which is that of getting off my ass and writing music, and doing so efficiently to boot.

The fundamental observation here is that we can listen to a piece of music many times, and still find it satisfying, even if we know its global structure. I know very well how Piano Phase works, but I still find it interesting.

I have two non-mutually exclusive hypotheses for why that is. The first, and the more boring one, is that although the large scale structure is simple, the combinations it generates are very chaotic, unpredictable. This is true, but unsatisfying. If I know how the song is made, then I should be able to generate it, and there should not be any surprises. But wait, there’s no reason to think brains have that much deliberate processing power, and they certainly don’t; it is therefore our duty as artists to exploit people’s cognitive limitations.

The other hypothesis is that

Rule #3: there is a part of us which never learns, or barely, or forgets really quickly, and that is the part which music speaks to.

What does it mean for a living part to never learn, if we follow FEP? It means that it’s the action-oriented part, since the only way it has to minimize free energy is to change the world to fit its predictions. It becomes no surprise that music often spurs us to action, literally in the form of dancing, but also when we listen to music while working on stuff.

It’s still weird though. A piece of music is a playground, designed to bring you the pleasure of learning, albeit mostly for your system 1. So when you are writing music, you might a priori expect that applying the FEP principle would end up in you producing what would be the most predictable sensory inputs for yourself, and the piece of music would be boring. Therefore there has to be some mechanism which prevents us from always going with the most obvious choice.

This makes complete sense as an evolutionary strategy. You want to be able to consider unlikely cases! Otherwise you will eventually fall prey to a tiger hiding in the bushes, even though that barely ever happens, or, well, only happens once and then you die.

That’s where aesthetic pleasure comes in. You’ll notice that we don’t feel pleasure when something is predictable, no; we feel pleasure when something that was first unpredictable becomes predictable. We are thus incentivized for exploration: we seek out what we don’t understand in order to understand it.

I believe the right framework is to view the whole thing as your system 1 and system 2 playing games on each other, which would mean that creating music exploits the inferential gaps between the two.

And here’s the thing: that means you can expect to be surprised. That it’s possible to have beliefs about beliefs. I’m not sure if it’s just about things like system-2 expecting system-1 to act a certain way, or if it’s true self-reference, but yeah, it seems like a fundamental creative mechanism.

The metaphor I have is that of designing a maze for yourself. You might know it very well from above, but not from inside it, and so navigating it will still prove to be a challenge.

And yet, as I mentioned in my other post, it is a challenge to write something which has just the right amount of entropy for a new listener, not just for yourself as you write the song and listen to it over and over again. Perhaps the answer is to not listen to it too much as you work on it? Being more improvisational. I know that I haven’t reread this post all that many times!

The first thought is to use the technique of “believing really hard in something and letting thermodynamics solve it,” which might translate to the obvious:

Advice 1: To make music, put yourself in a particular mood and just start writing or playing.

If we were talking about writing text, I would instead advise you to hold the ideas in your mind, and simply let yourself try to explain them. The distinction here is that music seems to speak to the unconscious, the system 1, which is why it must first come from moods and emotions and such.

(Konstantin Stanislavski seems to have had similar ideas, but for theatre)

Yet the pathways that your brain will take to fix the world might not be optimal. If you’ve never written music before, you just won’t know how to start at all, and it will likely make you feel rather discouraged and confused.

That is the role of training. You must work on meaningless sketches, all the time, without the pressure of finalizing them (although finishing something might be good training in itself).

But also, that is where deliberate practice comes in. You must force your brain to look at itself, in order to change itself. You must hold the contradictory phenomena tightly in your attention, you must not let your brain treat them separately. This is essentially the therapy method described in Unlocking the Emotional Brain, and it seems to work, but I think it works much more generally than just for therapy; in anything where you need to fix internal alignment problems between subconscious parts, this method should work.

(I should look into how athletes practice, since they are explicitly training the parts of their nervous systems that, apparently, should not be able to learn. Something something muscle memory?)

When performing, that means focusing on a very short passage, and thinking both of how you expect the passage to sound like, and what it actually sounds like when you play it.

When composing, that means explicitly figuring out why something works, holding your attention on a minute detail, and trying out that pattern in different situations. I think of this as the “hit the TV” method. Disturb your equilibrium in the hopes it will settle on a better one.

It’s also how I study math: most of it consists in recalibrating your intuitions, which is a very meditative endeavor. In my experience, one requires very little intense self-focusing of this sort to see major improvements, but one does require a lot of sleep — although it’s true that I’m a particularly abstract thinker.

The human brain has very little working memory. That is why we must always think of things in chunks: by dividing large things into smaller pieces, or by abstracting smaller pieces into larger things.

This is “compositionality”. It’s the insight behind logic, especially since Euclid (chaining together obvious things to arrive at surprising things), and it’s the core of category theory.

Again, it might seem like very obvious advice, but

Advice #2: focus on parts separately, and at different levels; and the larger the object, the vaguer your view of it.

I realize this is not very actionable advice, but we already see this: from voice leading to chords, to phrases, to sections, to movements… In a way I feel like music of the classical era was when this idea went too far: extremely clear cut sections, separated by mind-numbingly obvious cadences (like that pernicious cadential trill). The urge to remove chaos from the world is strong.

(There’s this interesting FEP-related phenomenon where, yes, the categories were made for man, but by constructing theories, we also tend to conform to them, and so artistic theories can often be self-justifying)

By developing this compositional view of composing, you might be able to effectively focus on all parts of song sufficiently well enough to form it to your liking, while avoiding listening to it in its entirety so often that it becomes boring to you.

Perhaps the gist of what I mean to say is that the actual production of a creative work happens very quickly, although there might be some roadblocks, and the polishing process can also take a while. But the actual work resides in the deliberate practice and sketching done prior to and alongside the true creation. Creating, putting ink to paper, should not feel like all that much work.


A Mathematical Fable

There was once a man who built a tower.

He didn’t have any particular reason. “I figure,” he thought, “I like towers, and building them sounds fun, so I’ll just go ahead and build one.”

And so he began. Stone by stone, floor by floor, up and up he went. But he forgot to tell anybody about it, and the surrounding folk only realized about the erection once the still unfinished building poked its head through the treetops.

“What are you doing?” asked one of the peasants.

“Building a tower,” replied the builder.

The tower was narrow and damp, and its height was still rather unremarkable. You see, the builder was inexperienced. This was his first tower.

“But why? Isn’t it high enough now?”

“Is it? I have been building ever higher, and yet I am still standing on a floor — I don’t feel very elevated at all!”

Some time passed. The tower now rivaled the surrounding hills in height. The villagers came back to inquire about his progress.

The builder now had to shout to be heard. “I have made marvelous discoveries about stonelaying! While the lower levels of this tower are inhospitable, I have begun to perfect my craft, and the higher levels are rather beautiful if I may say so myself!”

“Pray, tell us about the techniques!” said the villagers.

“I’m afraid I can’t explain them like this, you’ll have to come see for yourselves.”

This intrigued the villagers, and some of them set out to climb the tower.

As the few explorers climbed up, the builder kept adding more floors — by now, it reached so high into the sky that on cloudy days its crest was hidden from view. He was building so quickly that the rest of the villagers thought no one could ever reach the top.

It had been so long, now, that the explorers were presumed dead, perhaps from exhaustion, or perhaps from falling down the endless stairs.

But one of them came back.

“I didn’t get that far up, but it was already getting quite nice,” he said.

One could only imagine how beautiful the top levels must be, now. As the villagers pondered this, to everyone’s surprise, they saw another of the explorers emerge from the very crown of the tower. The explorer waved, and appeared to shout something, but nothing was heard. A while later, he dropped a roll of parchment to the onlookers below.

I will be staying here to help the Master, he’d written. I have seen Beauty and I cannot forsake it.

It has been generations since the Builder started building.

Legend has it the gods had asked Him to build the tower so that he may reach the heavens.

Another legend says He built it because He wished to fly, but no matter how high He got, He was still stuck on His two feet; and so He’d kept building.

Climbing up the tower must take a lifetime now. In fact, there are now entire families living atop the tower, studying the methods, and laying more and more stones, building ever higher. We know this, because every now and then the builders throw down a scroll of parchment, giving news about births and marriages and trying to explain some of their discoveries. Unfortunately, without practical examples, the texts are gibberish, and the tower is now so high that stones dropped down disintegrate as they hit the ground.

A rare few pieces survived the impact. They are barely recognizable as stone, more like an abstraction of the idea of a stone, carved in stone itself; doubtless they must be beautiful once one figures out how to even gaze at them.

The tower rises so high that it seems endless.

Beautiful, but boring

Jürgen Schmidhuber distinguishes two fundamental aspects of aesthetic enjoyment: beauty, and interestingness.

In essence, he describes beauty as a subjective property of things that you can describe with very little information. But as we are not infinitely intelligent agents, it might take time for us to unravel the simple algorithm behind a piece of art, and we are in this case constantly refining our mental model of it. Schmidhuber thus describes interestingness as the first derivative of beauty with respect to time; or a measure of how much our representation of the thing at hand is getting more and more simple.

There are a few nuances that I would like to point out in this theory. I’m not sure if Schmidhuber is aware of them, and I would certainly not want to strawman his ideas, but they are usually not pointed out in the summaries I have read.

First, that complexity is subjective. It’s easy for humans to model other humans, and it’s therefore easy for humans to compress information about how other humans are acting. This would explain why plots, which would incredibly complicated to explain in mathematical detail, and the result of which would certainly not be simple, feel very straightforward to us. Indeed, in a children’s tale with a small number of characters, you would have to explain how human perception works, how emotions work and evolve over time, how humans relate to other humans, etc. (assuming that you’re not just modeling the characters’ whole brains!) Other things that are easy to model for humans include the physical motions of objects, and an approximate euclidean algorithm on the frequency of sine tones (more on that later!).

Subtle considerations of human perception and human-compressibility will be necessary for a good aesthetic theory. While a grand abstract theory of beauty that might apply to any intelligent agent is certainly interesting, my goal is to develop something that would be artistically useful. I will expand on this in a subsequent post.

Secondly, some art mediums are not static. Art that is sequential or time-dependent, such as movies, music and literature, reveal their information in a steady stream, and may even have varying objective complexity. The definition of interestingness as the derivative of beauty falls apart here, as you might have a piece of music that has a roughly constant beauty yet also has a roughly constant interestingness. I would rather define interestingness as the amont of cognitive work one has to do to minimize our representation’s complexity.

As an example, you might consider a plot to be interesting if it is surprising, as in it constantly defies what your model of it expects, but it all makes sense in the end”. This seems somewhat more difficult to achieve: you want to control the flow of information so that the information given thus far always fits in some simple pattern, but each time new information is acquired, the pattern is shown to be wrong. But wait! It was actually part of another beautifully simple pattern! And so on.

Fortunately, this might be easier to achieve than it seems, as there are maybe three bottlenecks to consider: the information output of the artwork, the perceptual input of the audience, and the cognitive treatment of the information. Thus you might give out the information in chunks (such as song sections), and let the chunk stay for a while (make the song section loop a couple times), until the humans have extracted all the information they can.

Thirdly, that there is a difference your system-1 and your system-2’s idea of complexity. One might work cognitively hard to unravel the structure of a serialist piece, and see that there is indeed great beauty in the construction… while still finding it intuitively unappealing, because your brain is simply not good at discerning absolute vs relative pitch, and it’s also bad at recognizing common serialist techniques such as retrograde transformations (playing a sequence of notes backwards). On the other hand, you might feel goosebumps at the climax of a Romantic symphony, without exactly knowing why, except that the whole thing felt like an epic story of some kind.

And now, let’s talk about the title of this post. The following are personal realizations, and I will be muddying the distinction between the beauty exposed above, and beauty as in the general feeling of “wow, this is beautiful!”.

It has come to my attention that, specifically in music, beauty and interestingness do not and should not always go hand in hand!

There is such a thing as being too interesting. Most people listen to music while doing other things, and the last thing they want in this case is to be distracted by it. This is perhaps the great insight of minimalist and ambient composers. Brian Eno is credited as the inventor of modern ambient music, with his album Ambient 1: Music for Airports, and wrote in its liner notes:

Ambient Music must be able to accomodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.

And thus I realize that I have dedicated far too little attention to making beautiful things, as opposed to interesting things. Yes, I might have often grumbled about how academic composers focus too much on complexity as a generator of interestingness, but what have I done about it myself?

For one, I don’t think my idea of beauty was much more valid. I have made music that was easy to perceive: contrapuntally clear music, clear sections, clear melodies, etc; while I still placed the beauty of the music in its structure. In other words, I did not try to make the music easy to make sense of, or easily human-compressible.

What I did think about was system-2 interestingness. I expect this to be a common failure mode in composers, as this is what is most easily consciously recognizable. What makes Bach’s music awesome? Why, it’s the amazing complexity of his counterpoint, of course! And not the way he manages to keep our emotional attention… One wonders if the thing that actually made counterpoint so pleasing was that each voice is cognitively interpreted as a different person, who is expressing their personal feelings, with the brain taking great delight in this multitude of interlocking emotions.

Yea, the fact that it’s so easy and natural to model other humans, despite how complicated a task this is, makes a formalization of true aesthetic principles almost impossible. But this in itself is a very useful realization: knowing that empathy is a primary factor in aesthetic pleasure, we can keep this in mind and… well, trust our intuitions.

From here on out, I want to focus on my system-1’s appreciation of beauty. This will take the form of long, boring, but beautiful, loop-based music, where the focus will be on making it immediately pleasing. Making boring music is more difficult than it seems: as the composer, I will be listening to it countless times, and I have to not get bored by it!

footnote: I will be using this blog both as a personal journal to keep my thoughts in a crystallized form, and as a way to let other people into my brain, as I believe my ideas on the specific subject of musical aesthetics might become unique and interesting enough.

The Problem with Art Academia, or Why I Dropped Out

“I can’t possibly think that people should pay for my art even if they don’t want it. And it turns out that there is a specific kind of person who does think that, and they become university professors.”

Disclaimer: I need to get this off my chest. I promise my next posts won’t be as rambley or as personal.

Music is what I do. It’s what I do best. I have an immense interest in music, which makes me motivated enough to study it, which creates a feedback loop of enjoyment and skill. Maybe that’s what is meant by “natural talent”.

And thus, when I finished my CÉGEP in music (which is something like an under-undergrad, a post-secondary education to prepare for an undergraduate degree), there was no doubt in my mind. I was going to study music, specifically in a program where I would be doing both instrumental and digital composition.

This seemed ideal to my needs. I would be able to nurture my composing skills while still being able to do a bunch of stuff: programming, writing, meeting people, some acoustic science, etc. I was planning to get a music Ph. D. and do music cognition research. The life of a professor seemed idyllic: you were around other passionate people, you taught aspiring composers, and you had the time and funding to compose weird but objectively valuable stuff.

But then, over the summer, I came across  the whole rationality movement, and I started asking myself some dangerous questions.

Why was I doing this?

By saying that going into composition would be a nice way to study a bunch of unrelated things, I effectively went into my degree not because I wanted to actually study composition, but to satisfy hobbies. I had it all backwards.

I want to make interesting, pretty sounds, and, along the way, make enough money to survive (and sign up for cryonics, heheheheh). But I also wanted to do research! What better way is there than by having a graduate degree?

Oh boy. Let me tell you about contemporary music theory.

You know, in science, when you have a theory, you have to test it against the world to see if it works. A good theory of the world must be able to make predictions. There are many things that feel like they explain things, but they really just exploit your reward system. Your brain isn’t naturally calibrated to enjoy real things, and often, reality seems bleak. Mere reality. How boring. So, you need empirical evidence.

What kind of empirical evidence could music theory have? What kind of predictions can it make? Does it explain what people like? Surely we can’t base our theories on the average Joe’s music tastes! (beacuse then, how do you explain twelve-tone serialism?) The only way music theory can do anything is by trying to analyse the great composers’ style so much that you can emulate them. And that’s awesome!… except, who are the recent great composers? Schoenberg, Varèse, Boulez, Xenakis… all widely unpopular with the public, all requiring much exposure and repeted listens in order to be appreciated. But repeated exposure will make us like anything.

Elizabeth Margulis, music cognition researcher, puts it like this:

In a recent study at the Music Cognition lab, we played people samples of this sort of music, written by such renowned 20th-century composers as Luciano Berio and Elliott Carter. Unbeknownst to the participants, some of these samples had been digitally altered. Segments of these excerpts, chosen only for convenience and not for aesthetic effect, had been extracted and reinserted. These altered excerpts differed from the original excerpts only in that they featured repetition.

The altered excerpts should have been fairly cringeworthy; after all, the originals were written by some of the most celebrated composers of recent times, and the altered versions were spliced together without regard to aesthetic effect. But listeners in the study consistently rated the altered excerpts as more enjoyable, more interesting, and – most tellingly – more likely to have been composed by a human artist rather than randomly generated by a computer. The listeners in the study were college undergraduates with no special training or experience in contemporary art music.


And so, the only way to have a reliable aesthetic theory of music is by examining popular music, and academics won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. It’s all about status, man.

Besides, in order to do research on music cognition, you don’t necessarily need compositional skills. You also don’t need to know much about counterpoint, or modern classical music, or modern music theory, because these things have strayed far from the search for what humans like into how to perpetuate specific styles. You need to know about neurology, cognitive science, and acoustics. And maybe computer science and machine learning if you want to actually make automated compositions and models of the human brain.

What is the value of music? or of art in general?

Now this is the real kicker. Suggesting that I live off government funding for my compositional adventures means that believe there is an objective value to the music I might make, since having need of funding means that there isn’t enough economic demand for it.

But then, what is value? What is it, if not what people want? And if people don’t want my music, how can I say it has value? Clearly, there is no such thing as objective value. And, really, since people pay for what they want, and the price of something is literally the value of something, economic viability is a good indicator of something having value. It isn’t a perfect indicator, since there could be things the poor want a lot that they can’t buy, or that the rich want a bit that they can very easily buy, but it’s good enough, considering the majority of people are middle-class.

Milton Babbitt, a modernist composer, said in 1958: “Why should the layman be other than bored and puzzled by what he is unable to understand, music or anything else?” Indeed, people are baffled by experts in mathematics, in economics, and in any kind of science, really. Modern composition would be the product of specialists’ work. For a while, that argument had stuck with me, and it provided me some relief.

But it doesn’t work. The product of scientific specialists is a better comprehension of the world, for everyone. You can argue that knowledge has an intrinsic value, since there is and objective world which “continues to exist whether or not you believe in it”, but one could also argue that would only mean it has value to you (and most likely to a good proportion of people). People still want theoretical scientific research, even if they can’t understand it. And besides, a better understanding of the world improves technology, which can improve our lives in concrete ways, which ultimately satisfies people’s values, and as such people would be justified in supporting theoretical scientific research even if it is beyond their comprehension. The thing people are not comprehending are not ultimately what they should value. It trickles down.

If we make the comparison with modern artists being specialists, we immediately see the problem: the very thing that people do not understand is what the artists are offering them. Is there any trickling down?   The problem is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and so beauty directly depends on the understanding of your beholder — er, your audience. Therefore, if people do not understand modern music, that means this kind of music has less value. I don’t think anything can have some sort of intrinsic value that people don’t know about.

Nevertheless, I can’t possibly think that people should pay for my art even if they don’t want it. And it turns out that there is a specific kind of person who does think that, and they become university professors.

What should I be doing?

Now then, perhaps an undergraduate degree can be useful economically. But in the artistic industries, degrees don’t have the signaling value they have in other milieus. It’s what you make that matters. It’s your portfolio. Therefore, if you get your music degree for the paper at the end, you’re going to have a bad time.

And… I did. Having no social support from lack of friends in the program, no intrinsic motivation, no respect for the teachers, how can you expect someone like me to be motivated enough to even go to class?

Could I self-teach everything?

I’ve been composing for about 7 years, now. They say mastery of a skill requires 10 years. Looking back, I can definitely see a gradual amelioration of my writing, and this was all without being in college or having specific classes on compositional aspects. I did have a composition class in my under-undergrad program, but there was no specific exercises given and was pretty much only a motivator for projects (needless to say, I loved it).

Meaning that I only need motivation, whether social or intrinsic (or just to have fun), to make things and therefore get better at making things.

Besides, if I were going to college for money, I would study computer science.

Maybe I should.