Have you ever wondered what the full moon would look like if you did a handstand and looked at it upside down? Have you ever wondered what an ant's view of the world is, so have got down onto your belly in the pouring rain? Have you ever taken pots of black, blue & red ink, and sniffed each one in turn, just to see if they smell different? Have you ever spent 30 minutes winking at your dog, just to see if you could trick him into winking back?
Well, dear reader, I can tell you now ... that I've not done any of those things.
I have, though, given some serious thought to each one. I have mused. I have thought about. I have wondered.
I am one of those thinkers. A professional thinker-of-things. I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about random junk.
Why do we try to make butter spread like margarine and try to make margarine taste more like butter?
So why? Why do I waste important brain-cycles on this kind of junk?
Quite simply, I do it because I can. Specifically, I see such tremendous value in thinking. I'm not talking about thinking about something, I am talking about thinking about anything.
There is a complete separation, at least in my mind, between thinking about something and doing something. With that firmly in place, my mind is free to wonder about ... what would happen if you took some play dough and mixed it with fire?
I know there are fine folk out there who are experimentalists, who would gladly amble into a craft store, purchase some play dough. Followed by some lighter-fluid. Followed by setting up a high-speed camera rig to record the event (for YouTube consumption).
I used to think that I was one of those folks. Time has changed that view. Well, actually, a basic lack of skill has changed that view.
Because of a random set of events, I recently gained access to CERN. It was all legal and above board, but it was a little unexpected. For those in the dark about CERN, it's the place with the large whizzy circular thing where they smash small things into other small things very fast, to see if they can recreate the Sun or the Universe. (Permit me some artistic license here).
Whilst logging into their fantastic systems, it presented me with a view of all the departments at the location. It was mind blowing, with all the obscure and obvious departments listed. In summary, again allow me some license here, it grouped them into; (a) Thinkers, (b) Doers, (c) Collectors.
Thinkers - Theoretical Physics. Doers - Experimental Physics. Collectors - Data Analysis.
So, that clearly puts me into the same category as Theoretical Physicists. Sure, we have unique skills, but we are both thinking in the abstract. Sure, the output of their thoughts has a marginally wider consequence than mine. But I ask you, how many of them have seriously thought about play dough and fire!?
I'm sure there was a point I was trying to make here. Oh yes, and I guess that is the point.
I've written before about how "Finishers & Completionists will kill us all"; this is in the same vein. There I was talking about the pursuit of, and potential completion of, tasks. Or rather, the value of not doing that.
Here I'm applying the same idea, to one's thoughts.
I described myself as a "Startist" regarding tasks. I'm not sure what the mental, thought-based sister of that is, but I'm that too.
What does this mean, and why does it even matter?
I'm not for one second going to suggest that my musing about play-dough-fire will produce anything remotely earth-changing. No, this one is more personal.
I was rubbish at maths. I'm still rubbish at maths. I just can't do it in my head. I can make machines do it for me, but I just don't have the plumbing in my head to do it all in there. As soon as I embark on a thought process that requires that particular skill, I have that knowing feeling of dread; I will fail.
There are other things that fall into that category too; lists. I know how to make them, just not in my head. I'm not talking about failing to hold 27 items on a virtual list in one's head. No, my item limit is 2 or 3. In fact, whenever I have to remember 2 things, I find myself worrying that I've forgotten the third item. I've certainly spent many a time walking up and down the aisles in a supermarket, trying desperately to recall what the third item was. Later to discover that there were only ever two items on the damn list! I now write every list down; even a list of one.
In both cases, the known possible failure causes stress.
With musing, there is none of that; there is no required outcome. No worrying problem, no need to get to a solution.
This kind of free-wheeling-thinking is just like taking a skinny dip into a fresh springtime stream. Chilly at first, but a delightful sense of pure relaxation and calm.
I like that.
It turns out that I also need that. I need that kind of thought-oil, in my mind. It not only lubricates the more complex parts, it also seems to allow access to other creative parts. Problem-solving-results-driven tasks previously obscured those creative parts.
I know we can't spend all of our waking moments thinking about play dough and fire. I do, though, think that allowing yourself to meander along a thought-path with no intention of arriving anywhere is remarkably valuable.
In a world that seems to get evermore complex, and rammed full of critically important problems, we should grab onto anything that frees up minds. Grabbing hold of anything that lubricates our minds. Grabbing onto those chinks of magic that make us so very human, in thought.
It will help.
I'm a carbon-unit who writes; a Carbon Writer. Life & culture are my default topics, mixed with a little English wit & sarcasm. Full of mostly true stories, I occasionally remember to write them down. Found in a crowd, or contemplating in a corner. Habit of talking to anyone. Author.
- Nigel Derbyshire