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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Excerpts from "Lively Mind" by Jules Willing

Excerpts from "Lively Mind" by Jules Willing

Chapter IV – Mental Liveliness – What Holds it Back?

If you listen carefully to what people say about their own mental ability, you will observe that most of it is disparaging….I had long thought that this self-disparagement was a form of modesty, a kind of social convention, but I have concluded that it is not; in most cases it is a genuine appraisal. Many people really do deplore their minds, and the adjectives they use are the same they employ in referring to irresponsible children: lazy, undisciplined, wandering, idle.

The consequences are far more serious than one might suppose, for the mind reflects and responds to our own evaluation of it, and this opinion draws the boundaries of our mental universe; our mind will tend to be only as “good” as we think it is.

The only person making the judgements about the value of what is going through your mind is you. This is an enormous responsibility that most of us take very lightly; most of us don’t think of it at all.

Consider this example. An obscure employee in the Swiss patent office – a young man in his twenties named Albert Einstein – had some thoughts about the nature of the universe. Fortunately, he considered them to be significant. Although he had never written a scientific paper, was not associated with any academic institution, did not move in scientific circles, and was ignorant of much of what had been published on the subjects, he wrote not one but five papers, which he mailed to the editor of Annals of Physics. They lacked the usual references and citations, nor were they based on his own laboratory research or experiments. Unlike traditional scientific documents, they were simple statements about what he thought. They were ideas that eventually earned Einstein the Nobel prize and permanently changed our conceptions of time, space, gravity, electromagnetism, and the nature and shape of the universe.

We know this now, but Einstein could not have known that his ideas would have these tremendous consequences. The difference was that the young patent clerk decided his ideas had value. So he wrote them down and sent them in.

Consider what would have happened if, when these ideas passed through his mind, Einstein had considered them to be of interest to no one other than himself, or if he had thought that these ideas were interesting but not important. He would probably have thought about them a while and then gone on to other things. Like so many of the thoughts and ideas all of us have, they would have died in the silence of his mind.

Theoretically, at least, any one of us is capable at any time of generating an idea that might shake the world. It can never cause the slightest tremor, however, until we first:

  • pay attention to it, and then
  • decide it is worth expressing to someone else.

Every thought and idea that fails this two-part test passes into mental oblivion. It astonishes me that we take this responsibility so lightly.

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