Thinking Out of the Box: The
By Larry Kilham
more important than knowledge,” Albert Einstein
An apple falls from the tree above you. The bath water
increases in depth when you step in. Eureka! You have begun the
discovery of the law of gravity or the law of buoyancy. Such
discoveries may not have been that simple, but if they add some
glamour to the occupation of scientific discovery it’s probably not
a bad thing.
To make new
theories, new inventions, and other great creations, you have to do
better than adjusting existing theories and designs. You must move
your mind beyond the existing thinking about the subject. You must
move out of your conscious world and focus your mind in a new place
occupied only by the new creation.
Thinking and Refocusing the Mind:
When an inventor comes up with a
truly novel idea or insight, he or she has been exploring
relationships, patterns, and associations until a productive
interplay of ideas, images, and data of all kinds is found. That
encouragement signals the brain the chase is on. The mind is to be
projected to a special little world encompassed by this project.
himself in speeding trains, moving clocks and elevators in space.
This was more than metaphorical thinking; it was a mind transforming
itself to another place. Einstein’s strength came from his
imagination and creativity. For the most part his mathematics is a
precise description of the relationships he discovered rather than
the way he arrived at those relationships.
invented a phenomenally successful bird feeder that is the very
familiar plastic tube with metal perches. He started by imagining
himself to be a bird on a perch. Then he envisioned a geometry that
would be most accommodating to the bird. Only after the bird was
satisfied did he select the materials and manufacturing processes to
make an attractive and economical product.
Language, and Imagination:
How the projection of the
mind to a uniquely productive imagination space happens is a subject
of a lot of current conjecture. One school of thought says much more
information is stored in our unconscious mind than our conscious
mind. In the intensive imagination and invention process, the
unconscious memory is searched for clues and ideas and promising
ones are resurrected from time to time. One such time everyone can
relate to is thinking about an unsolved problem just before going to
sleep and awaking with the idea in full sound and color. The mind
had been rummaging around its archival memories overnight, probably
Experts say that human
intelligence is much superior to animals because of language. While
it is generally accepted that many animals recognize dozens of
words, there is no evidence that they can learn expansive
vocabularies or use grammars. In other words, animals cannot think
in or communicate with language.
While dialoging with themselves is a
common way for creative people to force their minds into creative
spaces that normal thinking wouldn’t bring them to, and language
becomes even more important as more research is done using the
Internet, there are other ways to guide the mind. Thinking in
pictures and images is another approach.
us beyond the here and now. It gives us the ability to ask questions
in a new spirit of discovery. It facilitates
seeing ahead and exploring the best way to go. This is an
essential step to go from innovation to creation to invention. This
puts us in a class distinct from very smart animals and super
The Emotion Factor:
Emotion is very important
in high level thinking, but its exact relationship to the thinking
process has not been precisely defined. A heightened emotional
environment may cause the thinking person to switch into a higher or
lower level of mental activity. This may be particularly true for
the creative thinker.
One emotional influence
is the socioeconomic pressures of a given era. Times of tension and
danger often seem to foster creative and inventive efforts. The
great artists of the warring states of the Renaissance and the
incredible scientific developments made during WW II are classic
examples. Was the creativity enhanced because there was a top-down
pressure on creative thinkers to work even more diligently on their
Was it because the
pressure of the times somehow modified the brain chemistry of the
creative people forcing them into an extraordinarily productive mode
much of the time? The influence of chemicals ranging from alcohol to
narcotics to imbalances of neurochemicals such as serotonin to
dopamine has been noted and discussed from ancient Greek times to
the present. Many creative people such as writers feel that
immensely creative states of mind are reached when the mind is not
in a normal equilibrium state.
Despite the many
problems that hems in almost every child, children still have the
almost naïve capability of unfettered imagination. Some people, very
few, keep this imaginative ability through adulthood. Their
imaginings leads to inventions, art, designs and explorations of
many frontiers never seen before. Emotion is part of this creative
formula, and perhaps the emotional element is what is hardest to
reconcile in equating the human mind to an advanced computer or an
artificial intelligence machine. Did you ever see a computer cry?
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