The most powerful force in nature is A New Idea.
Look through the history of man and science and medicine and, well, anywhere and you’ll see the power of a new idea and its ability to change the world.
One of the most exciting things in life is discovering something that you didn’t already know. If nobody else already knew it, that makes it even better.
Some Old New Ideas
Some examples of new ideas that changed the world include:
- The idea that Fire could be used to make life better and warmer and safer, as opposed to being scary things the angry gods throw down at us.
- The idea that if we bang these rocks together we can make a sharp rock and kill things with it to eat.
- The fact that if we use our fire on the thing we killed it will be safer to eat.
Moving forward a bit, germ theory was the radical (which translates as “crazy in its own time”) idea that disease might be caused by tiny little things in our body, and that if we could kill the little things, we’d get better. This simple idea is now one of the foundations of modern western medicine.
- A painter creates a work with a completely new look and composition and it spawns an entire new genre of art exploring new facets of the world around and within us.
- The integration of the concepts of democracy (self-governance) and capitalism (self-interest) combined to lay the foundation of a society that became the world’s most powerful and influential nation.
So, having discovered the most powerful force in nature, how to we put it to use in our own lives?
There are two ways, depending largely on how your mind typically works.
The first, and by far most common way, is to simply use the ideas that others have done to improve your daily life. We all do this all the time, whenever we buy something. We are benefiting from the creative work that someone else has done.
The second way is to use each block of knowledge as a stepping stone to more of it. Each new idea leads directly to the creation of even more new ideas when it is expanded on, reduced to core principles or combined with other ideas in new and interesting ways.
Since we already know how to do the first method, I’ll talk more about the second method, how to be creative.
Inspiration and Evolution
There are two forms of creativity: Inspirational and Evolutionary. Inspirational creativity is a radical new idea that is largely unrelated and unprecedented based on the existing body of knowledge, or represents a large jump in insight or applicability of knowledge, as opposed to the more common progression of small steps. It is with “the radical new idea” that everybody goes through the cycle of “Deny it, Ridicule it, Ignore it, Accept it” that is typical as people try to wrap their brains around something completely new and different.
Far more common is the Evolutionary new idea, which is an expansion of existing knowledge based on new insights or in combination with other knowledge from related or unrelated areas of knowledge. These usually happen in fairly small and often predictable ways, such as the steady progression of automobile technology, computing power, fashion and literature.
For example, to jump from automobiles directly to teleportation as a means of travel would be an example of an Inspired change, while going from automobiles to personal aircraft would be an Evolutionary change, as it is a predictable evolution of travel technology.
The creative process requires 4 things to flourish:
1) A change-friendly environment
2) An understanding of fundamentals
3) The ability to find and extend patterns
4) Identifying existing and possible connections
The creative process functions best in an environment where change is tolerated at worst and welcomed at best. For all creativity is an expression of Change. If you are someone who is uncomfortable with change, any truly creative thing will probably scare the bejeebus out of you, as it is by definition a departure from the norm.
To change something it works best to have a sense of it. Generally, this sense comes from an understanding of the nature of a thing. How it works, how it flows, changes, expresses, mutates, evolves or devolves. There is a need “to know” it, to “get it”. To know of things similar to it and how these similars differ.
To understand, at a fundamental level, how it works. Once you know how an engine operates, you can work on any engine with little effort to learn the subtle differences between them. After you understand the basic concepts of programming, you can pick up any language and use it effectively in short order. If you know how tastes and textures and flavors and ingredients interact you can prepare a wide variety of dishes without having to be formally trained in them all.
Everything is controlled by Patterns of one kind of another. The ability to identify and recognize these patterns is the prerequisite to being able to extend them. When you can identify what a pattern is, you can then figure out how to extend the pattern to the next evolutionary stage.
One of the tricks of this is to remain flexible and open-minded in your perception of patterns and don’t worry if yours doesn’t match “the official version” others have taught you. There are many ways to look at things, many patterns may appear to be there but don’t hold up if extended. Allow yourself the mental freedom to find patterns that others have missed, or to include elements within your pattern that others overlooked.
Connections are the links that do or can exist between different sets of patterns. This is where different sciences or disciplines cross paths and new and interesting things result if you know how to integrate the two different things at the right point. One of the most interesting intersections I see in the world now is the intersection of Quantum Physics and Metaphysics and Spirituality. These two bodies of knowledge are radically different in pretty much all facets of research and membership, but their similar movements towards the belief that Probability and Consciousness underlies all of our perceived physical reality may lead to an intersection of tremendous importance if they meet. However, without making the connection between these two widely disparate systems, a tremendous new class of techniques, knowledge and experience might otherwise be lost.
While most Pattern extensions create Evolutionary change, many discoveries of previously undiscovered Connections fosters Inspirational changes.
To foster this ability study, at least cursorily, a wide variety of arts and sciences and disciplines and philosophies. The most areas of knowledge you are familiar with, the broader your collection of possible connection points to work with will be. This is the power of the “Jack of all Trades”, the ability to use things outside of their normal scope of utility in new and interesting ways. This is the ability that lets MacGyver save the heart attack victim with two paperclips and a kite in a situation where a skilled cardiologist would be useless without their usual set of equipment.
Learn or Be Taught
There is a vast amount of knowledge waiting to be tapped in the world around you. You can gain this knowledge in one of two ways:
- You can be taught
- You can learn
Being taught is useful only as far as the subject matter you are taught by someone else. It is the “give a man a fish” method, meaning that he will have only that which you give him, and no more.
Being able to learn is far more powerful, in that it can be applied to any body of knowledge without further assistance. It is the “teach a man to fish” method that will feed him for a lifetime.
Being taught is a passive activity where you take what you are given and that’s pretty much it.
Learning is an active activity that allows you to tangent off and discover new patterns and connections and use these to further refine your knowledge of whatever you are seeking to know.
Teaching has its place, however, and its best place (and sadly, least used place) is Teaching How To Learn.
This is the first thing that should be taught in schools, but is rarely if ever actually taught there. The closest thing I can remember to this in my schooling experiences is a “Research Skills” class. While this should have been the place to teach people how to learn, it was in fact simply an exercise in how to have a book teach you the things the teacher didn’t have time to. There were no actual focused exercises in the creative application of the things you were taught, no explanations of how to find patterns, extend them (except in upper math classes) and to find the connections between different areas of knowledge. Unfortunately, these are the very skills needed to foster creativity. And creative expression is one of the defining characteristics of human experience. In other words, school teaches you how to do a select number of things required by society, and little else.
Teaching How To Learn
Since you probably didn’t get it in school, I’ll teach you how to learn right now. Fortunately, it’s a rather simple formula:
1) Know the language.
You must be able to understand the medium through which information is communicated. This might mean being competent in English, Latin, Hebrew, Music, Mathematics, Art or whatever medium is used as a conveyer of information.
2) Develop Research Skills
You need to be able to find sources of information about what you want to learn. This will provide you with the benefits of what people before you have learned, so you don’t have to start from scratch yourself.
3) Learn Critical Analysis
Keep in mind that anything and everything you learn MAY BE WRONG. This is the critical step that many people miss, and as a result they fail to consider something as a possibility because someone else said “it’s this way” and they were wrong. There have been many widely accepted, time-tested and flat out wrong ideas in science throughout its history. The earth is flat, the sun revolves around the earth, demons in your head cause headaches, leeching blood will remove diseases and so on in a list that continues to this very day and certainly the days to come. Don’t be afraid to consider that the established beliefs may be wrong and your observations may be right. There is plenty of precedent for this in history.
4) Practice Identifying and Extending Patterns and Connections
The first three steps are simply the tools needed to get you here. With the ability to recognize and extend patterns and connections, you can go forward from the starting point that your research skills provided you with into new, unexplored territory and start figuring things out for yourself.
By identifying patterns and learning to extend them, you can see if new ideas fit the pattern or not. If a new hypothesis doesn’t fit into an existing pattern then either (1) the pattern is not completely defined or (2) the hypothesis is incorrect. The challenge then is to figure out which it is. By identifying connections, you find the interrelationship of apparently different patterns.
By identifying new connections you can gain radical new insights compared to the evolutionary insights that come through pattern work. Additionally, both patterns and connections tend to cascade. In other words, the discovery of a new pattern often has a large ripple effect on all the things that are connected with it. Likewise, the discovery of a new connection often helps to clarify patterns within each connected body of knowledge.
Well, that’s all there is to it.
You now know how to learn anything you want with these four simple tools.