Category: Thought Experiments

Traditionally, thought experiments are highly-structured hypothetical questions that employ “What if?” in some fashion in the fields of philosophy, physics and other sciences. I use the term “Thought Experiment” in the broadest and loosest sense of the term.
Thought Experiments Archives – http://creativethinking.net/thought-experiments/

Logic Can Get You From A to B; Imagination Can Get You Anywhere

Einstein often said that imagination is more important than knowledge. Here is how he explained time as the fourth dimension in his unified theory: “Imagine a scene in two-dimensional space, for instance, the painting of a man reclining upon a bench. A tree stands behind the bench. Then imagine the man walks from the bench to a rock on the other side of the tree. He cannot reach the rock except by walking in back of the tree. This is impossible to do in two-dimensional space. He can reach the rock only by an excursion into the third dimension. Now imagine another man sitting on the bench. How did the other man get there? Since the two bodies cannot occupy the same place at the same time, he can have reached there only before or after the first man moved. In other words, he must have moved in time. Time is the fourth dimension.

Think of how Einstein changed our understanding of time and space by imagining people going to the center of time in order to freeze their lovers or their children in century-long embraces. This space he imagined is clearly reminiscent of a black hole, where, theoretically, gravity would stop time. Einstein also imagined a woman’s heart leaping and falling in love two weeks before she has met the man she loves, which lead him to the understanding of acausality, a feature of quantum mechanics. And still another time he imagined a blind beetle crawling around a sphere thinking it was crawling in a straight line.
Try to solve the following thought experiment before you read the paragraph that follows it.

Thought Experiment. One morning, exactly at sunrise, a Buddhist monk began to climb a tall mountain. The narrow path, no more than a foot or two wide, spiraled around the mountain to a glittering temple at the summit. The monk ascended the path at a varying rate of speed, stopping many times along the way to rest and to eat the dried fruit he carried with him. He reached the temple shortly before sunset. After several days of fasting and meditation, he began his journey back along the same path, starting at sunrise and again walking at a varying speed with many stops along the way. His average speed descending was, of course, greater than his average climbing speed. Is there a spot along the path that the monk will occupy on both trips at precisely the same time of day?

If you try to logically reason this out or use a mathematical approach, you will conclude that it is unlikely for the monk to find himself on the same spot at the same time of day on two different occasions. Instead, visualize the monk walking up the hill, and at the same time imagine the same monk walking down the hill. The two figures must meet at some point in time regardless of their walking speed or how often they stop. Whether the monk descends in two days or three days makes no difference; it all comes out to the same thing.

Now it is, of course, impossible for the monk to duplicate himself and walk up the mountain and down the mountain at the same time. But in the visual image he does; and it is precisely this indifference to logic, this superimposition of one image over the other, that leads to the solution. Imagination gives us the impertinence to imagine making the impossible possible.

The imaginative conception of the monk meeting himself blends the journeys up and down the mountain and superimposes one monk on the other at the meeting place. The ancient Greeks called this kind of thinking homoios which means “same.” They sensed that this was really a kind of mirror image of the dream process, and it led to art and scientific revelations.

EVERYTHING YOU CAN IMAGINE IS REAL….Pablo Picasso

Since ancient Greece, cognitive scientists have discovered that the brain is a dynamical system—an organ that evolves its patterns of activity rather than computes them like a computer. It thrives on the creative energy of feedback from experiences either real or fictional. An important point to remember is that you can synthesize experience, literally create it in your imagination. The human brain cannot tell the difference between an “actual” experience and an experience imagined vividly and in detail.

The real key to turning imagination into reality is acting as if the imagined scene were real. Instead of pretending it is a scene from the future, Einstein imagined it as though he was truly experiencing it in the present. He imagined it as a real event in the now. The great masters of antiquity have told us through the ages that whatever you believe you become. If you believe and imagine in the now that you are whatever you wish to be, then reality must conform.

Thought Experiment. Think of something in your business that is impossible to do, but that would, if it were possible to do, change the nature of your business forever.

Think of an impossibility, then try to come up with ideas that take you as close as possible to that impossibility. For example, imagine an automobile that is a live, breathing creature, List attributes of living creatures. They are, for example, breathing, growing older, reproducing, feeling emotions, and so on. Then use as many of those attributes as you can while designing your automobile. For instance, can you work emotions into something that a car displays?

Japanese engineers for Toyota are working on a car that they say can express moods ranging from angry to happy to sad. The car can raise or lower its body height and ‘‘wag’’ its antenna, and it comes equipped with illuminated hood designs, capable of changing colors, that are meant to look like eyebrows, eyes, and even tears. The car will try to approximate the feelings of its driver by drawing on data stored in an onboard computer. So, for example, if another car swerves into an expressive car’s lane, the right combination of deceleration, brake pressure, and defensive steering, when matched with previous input from the driver, will trigger an ‘‘angry’’ look.

The angry look is created as the front-end lights up with glowing red U-shaped lights, the headlights become hooded at a forty-five-degree angle, and downward-sloping “eyebrow” lights glow crimson. A good-feeling look is expressed by the front-end lights glowing orange, and one headlight winks at the courteous driver and wags its antennae. A sad-feeling look is blue with “tears” dripping from the headlights.

Stretching your imagination by trying to make impossible things possible with concrete thoughts and actions is a mirror reversal of dreaming. Whereas a dream represents abstract ideas as concrete actions and images, this creative process works in the opposite direction, using concrete ideas (a car that is alive) to gain insight on a conscious level to reveal disguised thoughts (about cars showing emotion) as creative imagery.

Michael Michalko is a highly-acclaimed creativity expert and author of THINKERTOYS, CRACKING CREATIVITY, CREATIVE THINKERING, AND THINKPAK (A brainstorming card deck).

Creative Thinking Habit: Always Look at Problems with Multiple Perspectives

Leonardo da Vinci always assumed that his first way of looking at a problem was too biased toward his usual way of thinking. He would always look at a problem from at least three different perspectives to get a better understanding. It has been my observation that people who pride themselves on their ability to think logically and analytically ignore his advice and trust their usual way of thinking

Peter Cathcart Wason was a cognitive psychologist at University College, London who pioneered the Psychology of Reasoning. He progressed explanations as to why people make certain consistent mistakes in logical reasoning. The problem described below is a variation on the Wason selection task that was devised by Peter Wason. The Wason selection task was originally developed as a test of logical reasoning, but it has increasingly been used by psychologists to analyze the structure of human reasoning mechanisms.

Consider the following problem. Four cards are laid out with their faces displaying respectively, an E, a K, a 4 and a 7.

You are told that each card has a letter on one side and a number on the other. You are then given a rule, whose truth you are expected to evaluate. The rule is: “If a card has a vowel on one side, then it has an even number on the other.” You are then allowed to turn over two, but only two, cards in order to determine whether the rule is correct as stated.

Which two cards do you turn over?

If you worked this problem silently, you will almost certainly miss it, as have the large percentage of subjects to whom it has been presented. Most subjects realize that there is no need to select the card bearing the consonant, since it is irrelevant to the rule; they also appreciate that it is essential to turn over the card with the vowel, for an odd number opposite would prove the rule incorrect.

The wording of the problem determines the perspective most people mentally default to almost immediately. Most people assume that the object is to examine the cards to ascertain that if a card has a vowel on one side, then it has an even number on the other; and if a card has an even number on one side, then it has a vowel on the other side. This assumption leads them to make the fatal error of picking the card with the even number, because the even number is mentioned in the rule. But, in fact, it is irrelevant whether there is a vowel or a consonant on the other side, since the rule does not take a stand on what must be opposite to even numbers.

On the other hand, it is essential to pick the card with the odd number on it. If that card has a consonant on it, the result is irrelevant. If, however, the card has a vowel on it, the rule in question has been proved incorrect, for the card must (according to the rule) have an even (and not an odd) number on it.

The content of this specific problem influenced the way we constructed our perception of the problem. This perception created the assumption that leads to error. This should give one pause about mentally defaulting to first impressions.

“If a card has a vowel on one side, then it has an even number on the other.” Here we are working with letters and numbers. Transposing the words to read “If a card has an even number on one side, then……….” Clarifies the problem and gives us a different perspective on even numbered cards. It becomes apparent that what even numbered cards have on the other side has no significance. The rule is only concerned with cards that have vowels on one side.

Sigmund Freud would “reframe” something to transform its meaning by putting it into a different framework or context than it has previously been perceived. For example, by reframing the “unconscious” as a part of him that was “infantile,” Freud began to help his patients change the way they thought and reacted to their own behavior.

The important thing is not to persist with one way of looking at the problem. Consider the following interesting twist, again using four cards. This time, however, we reframe the problem by substituting journeys and modes of transportation for letters and numbers. Each card has a city on one side and a mode of transportation on the other.

LOS ANGELES    NEW YORK    AIRPLANE    CAR

This time, the cards have printed on them the legends, respectively, Los Angeles, New York, airplane, and car; and the rule is reframed to read: “Every time I go to Los Angeles, I travel by airplane. While this rule is identical to the number-letter version, it poses little difficulty for individuals. In fact, now 80 percent of subjects immediately realize the need to turn over the card with “car” on it.

Apparently, one realizes that if the card with “car” on it has the name “Los Angeles” on the back, the rule has been proved incorrect; whereas it is immaterial what it says on the back of the airplane since, as far as the rule is concerned, one can go to New York any way one wants.

Why is it that 80 percent of subjects get this problem right, whereas only 10 percent know which cards to turn over in the vowel-number version? By changing the content (cities and modes of transportation substituted for letters and numbers), we restructured the problem, which dramatically changed our reasoning. The structure of a problem colors our perspective and the way we think.

The significant point about this test is that we are incredibly bad at it. And it doesn’t make much difference what the level of education is of the person taking the test. Moreover, even training in formal logic seems to make little difference to a person’s performance. The mistake that we tend to make is fairly standard. People almost always recognize that they have to pick up the card with the vowel, but they fail to see that they also have to pick up the card with the odd number. They think instead that they have to pick up the card with the even number.

One of the most interesting things about this phenomenon is that even when the correct answer is pointed out, people feel resistance to it. It apparently feels “right” that the card with the even number should be picked up. It feels right because your initial perspective is biased toward the usual way of thinking. It is only when you look at it from different perspectives that you get a deeper understanding of the problem.

………………………………………..

Learn the creative thinking habits from history’s greatest creative geniuses.  Read https://www.amazon.com/Cracking-Creativity-Secrets-Creative-Genius/dp/1580083110/ref=pd_sim_14_2?ie=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=CAJTPVGTFC7R940PAQSN

What Are Your Favorite 10 Top Words

 A person’s favorite words may go a long way in revealing his or her changing lifestyle, values, beliefs and changing needs. The words may also suggest how people are reacting to the challenges of the present and the future.

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT

Before you read further, try the following thought experiment. Relax and breathe deeply, Think about your life and what is important to you. What are your values? What is your lifestyle? What are your beliefs? What are the most important things in life to you? Close your eyes and reflect on your life as you are living it at this moment.

Then as a personal exercise, freely list 10 words that best represent your values, lifestyle, beliefs, desires and needs. Prioritize the list with #1 being the most significant, #2 the next most significant, and so on. Read the list and write down your reactions. Look for particular themes or issues. Did any particular word evoke a strong emotional response? What does your list tell you about your life? How does your list compare with a list you would have written five years ago? Ten years ago? Can you identify a changing trend that’s either positive or negative?

JAPAN’S TOP TEN WORDS

A survey in Japan conducted by professor Takeshi Sato of Hitotsubashi University, which was financed by Japan’s Information and Cultural Research Society, surveyed a cross-section of Japanese society and revealed that Japan’s current top-10 words are:

(1) Effort

(2) Sincerity

(3) Freedom

(4) Peace

(5) Love

(6) Thoughtfulness

(7) Trust

(8) Thanks

(9) Health

(10) Dreams

The words, according to Sato, seem to reflect a changing national work-ethic. Words like freedom appeared for the first time, which may indicate that workers are starting to chafe at the structure of Japan’s corporate society. Also, differences in answers between young people and older people show a distinctive shift in values and beliefs. People in their twenties ranked “freedom” as the top word, while those who were forty or older ranked “effort” on top with “freedom” far behind. The word “health” also appeared for the first time in Sato’s research and reflects a growing concern held by the aging portion of the population.

As an experiment, I decided to mimic the Japanese survey. Over the past two years, I’ve asked friends, family, acquaintances, business associates and participants in my seminars and think tanks to freely list, in order of importance, their top 10 favorite words that in some way represented their life. All in all, 150 people participated. Here is the result which represents the average of their responses:

1. Peace

2. Equality

3. Security

4. Prosperity

5. Love

6. Fun

7. Compensation

8. Acknowledgement

9. Freedom

10. Health

The surveyed people ranked security and prosperity high on the list. These most probably are primary factors because of our weakened national economic situation. Ten years ago, Americans took security and prosperity for granted and I doubt would have listed them at all. The words “peace” and “equality” in my opinion are universal values that most of us around the world would rank high. I was surprised by how low “freedom” ranked in comparison to the other words. Could this mean that “freedom” is not as highly valued as it once was in our country? Is security now more important than freedom? The Japanese, especially the young, listed it much higher than the surveyed Americans.

Interestingly, participants used words such as “compensation,” “acknowledgement,” and not words such as “effort,” “skills,” and “work.” Could this represent a disappearing work ethic in America? Or could it mean the desire to honor the individual as opposed to a group for accomplishments? Or does it mean the individual is entitled by society to compensation and acknowledgement. I was surprised at the absence of words that I had expected to be included such as honor, pride, honesty, integrity, kindness, responsible and patriotism.

Compare your list with my survey. Any commonalities? Differences? Give your list to a friend. Tell your friend that the 10 words reflect the most important 10 things in another (unnamed) friend’s life. Then ask your friend to interpret the list. Describe the person who would list these ten words as descriptive of what is important in their life. I did this with my personal list and found my friend’s interpretation of my list as most enlightening.

NURSING HOME RESPONSES

An administrator of a nursing home conducted a similar survey of 50 patients at my urging and the following list reflects the average of their top 10 word responses.

1. God

2. Faith

3. Family

4. Health

5. Friends

6. Thanks

7. Giving

8. Honesty

9. Independence

10. Sharing

Admittedly, my survey and the one conducted in the nursing home were not scientific or rigorous as compared to the one conducted by Hitotsubashi University in Japan , but I found it fun and somewhat enlightening to compile and compare favorite words from different people. Consider what we could learn by studying the favorite words for the following groups:

Republicans and Democrats

Obama and Romney

Police and criminals

Politicians and soldiers

Scientists and artists

Professional athletes and teachers

Priests and atheists

Doctors and lawyers

Senior citizens and teenagers

Therapists and patients

Straight people and gay people

Home schooled children and publically educated children

Hospice patients and high school seniors

………… Michael Michalko is the author of Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking  Creativity: The Thinking Strategies of Creative Geniuses; Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work, and ThinkPak: A Brainstorming Card Deck. Visit Michael at www.creativethinking.net

Imagineering New Ideas

 

imagine2

Try to solve the following thought experiment before you read the paragraph that follows it.

One morning, exactly at sunrise, a Buddhist monk began to climb a tall mountain. The narrow path, no more than a foot or two wide, spiraled around the mountain to a glittering temple at the summit. The monk ascended the path at a varying rate of speed, stopping many times along the way to rest and to eat the dried fruit he carried with him. He reached the temple shortly before sunset. After several days of fasting and medi¬tation, he began his journey back along the same path, starting at sunrise and again walking at a varying speed with many stops along the way. His average speed descending was, of course, greater than his average climbing speed. Is there a spot along the path that the monk will occupy on both trips at precisely the same time of day?

…….

If you try to logically reason this out or use a mathematical approach, you will conclude that it is unlikely for the monk to find himself on the same spot at the same time of day on two different occasions. Instead, visualize the monk walking up the hill, and at the same time imagine the same monk walking down the hill. The two figures must meet at some point in time regardless of their walking speed or how often they stop. Whether the monk descends in two days or three days makes no difference; it all comes out to the same thing.

Now it is, of course, impossible for the monk to duplicate himself and walk up the mountain and down the mountain at the same time. But in the visual image he does; and it is precisely this indifference to logic, this superimposition of one image over the other, that leads to the solution.

The imaginative conception of the monk meeting himself blends the journeys up and down the mountain and superimposes one monk on the other at the meeting place. The ancient Greeks called this kind of thinking homoios, which means “same.” They sensed that this was really a kind of mirror image of the dream process, and it led to art and scientific revelations.

Imagination gives us the impertinence to imagine making the impossible possible. Einstein, for example, was able to imagine alternatives to the sacred Newtonian notion of absolute time, and discovered that time is relative to your state of motion. Think of the thousands of scientists who must have come close to Einstein’s insight but lacked the imagination to see it because of the accepted dogma that time is absolute, and who must have considered it impossible to contemplate any theory.

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT

Think of something that is impossible to do, but if it were possible to do, would change the nature of your business forever? Then try to come up with ideas that take you as close as possible to make that impossibility a reality.

EXAMPLE: A non-profit in Russia was concerned that over 30 percent of Russian drivers failed to comply with parking regulations concerning disabled spaces. The impossibility they imagined was to hire disabled people to park in wheelchairs in the parking spaces to ward off people trying to take the disabled places.

IMAGINEERING. Then they brainstormed for ideas to come as close to this impossibility as possible. How can we imagineer this into a realistic and practical idea?

IDEA: The idea they settled on was to use projections of real disabled people to ward off people who try to take disabled spaces. The system uses a camera which can detect whether or not a driver has a disabled sticker in their windshield — a hologram appears to confront them if they don’t. The image is projected onto a thin, water mist screen, which is initially invisible to the public eye. When the system detects an offender, a projection appears in the form of a disabled individual and says, ‘Stop. What are you doing? I’m not just a sign on the ground. Don’t pretend that I don’t exist.’

Another impossible idea they imagined was to deputize every resident and give them the authority to ticket and fine offending parkers. They imagineered this by introducing warning tickets designed to look like parking tickets. The tickets can be printed and issued by anyone and placed on any car wrongly parked in a disabled space. This campaign enables all residents to lend a helping hand.

Participants are encouraged to place them on cars which they find wrongly parked in disabled bays. The tickets look like parking fines and feature text reminding the recipient of the importance of refraining from using the spaces.

When the non-profit participants imagineered the impossibilities, their minds decomposed them into several parts and then focused on the interesting parts to build ideas. This focus on the interesting parts is what inspired the new insights and ideas.

If You Do Nothing, You Are Nothing

ACTION

All art is a reaction to the first line drawn. Unless the artist sits in front of the canvas and paints, there can be no art. Unless the writer sits down and starts to type, there can be no book. Unless the musician plays their instrument, there can be no music. Unless the sculptor begins to chip away at the marble, there can be no sculpture. Unless the explorer begins the journey, there can be no discovery. It is the same with everything in life, even civilizations; unless one acts, nothing is created or discovered.

In the classical world of Greece and Rome and in all earlier times, civilization could exist only in warm climates where horses could stay alive through the winter by grazing. Without grass in winter you could not have horses, and without horses, you could not have urban civilization. Most people accepted this as a law of nature, which to them meant humans were destined to live in warm climates.

Sometime during the so-called dark ages, some unknown person took action. He invented hay which was a way to bring food to the horses instead of bringing horses to the food. Forests were turned into meadows, hay was reaped and stored, and civilization moved north over the Alps. So hay gave birth to Vienna and Paris and London and Berlin, and later to Moscow and New York. Unless this unknown genius had acted and invented hay, civilization would not have prospered.

What you think or believe is of no consequence, the only consequence is what you do. If you are hungry, to satisfy your hunger you must take some kind of action. You have to make something to eat or go to a restaurant. You cannot just sit there and expect your hunger to disappear. In order to have a chair, you have to go to the furniture store and buy one or go down to your workshop and make one. You cannot simply wish to have a chair. You have to take some kind of action. Similarly, you cannot wish to be creative. You have to act.

Vincent van Gogh is considered to be one of history’s greatest artists and his art had a far-reaching influence on 20th-century art. His artistic accomplishments are not an accident, not a result of some easy magic trick or secret, but a consequence of his nature to work persistently on his art every day. He revered “the doing” in art. He wrote about his hard work many times to his brother Theo. In a letter he sent Theo in 1885, he stated that one can only improve by working on your art, and many people are more remarkably clever and talented than him, but what use is it if they do not work at it.

He did not begin painting until his late twenties, completing many of his best-known works during the last two years of his life. In the first years of his career, van Gogh displayed no natural talent. David Sweetman’s biography “Van Gogh: His Life and His Art” gives a detailed description of his intention to be an artist and his insatiable capacity for hard work to become one. He turned himself into an artist by acting like an artist and going through the motions by turning out mostly bad innumerable rough sketches, day and night. In Van Gogh’s own words he said, “In spite of everything I shall rise again and take up my pencil and draw and draw.”

His advice was if you do nothing, you are nothing. You must keep working and keep working come what may. Even when your final goal is not clear, the goal will become clearer and will emerge slowly but surely, much as the rough drawing turns into a sketch, and the sketch into a painting through the serious work done on it and through the elaboration of the original vague idea and through the consolidation of your fleeting and passing thoughts on it as you work. In the end, Van Gogh produced 2000 works of art between 1880 and 1890 (1100 paintings and 900 sketches). That’s 4 works of art a week for a decade.

                                                                           THOUGHT EXPERIMENT

Take out a sheet of paper and at least ten items, money, business cards, pens, photos, credit cards, keys, coins, etc. Create an assemblage by using the following guidelines:

In your mind, imagine an assemblage that metaphorically represents you. Do not think about the materials you have in hand. Instead think about the shape you would like your assemblage to have. What are the rhythms you want? The texture? Where would you want it to be active? Passive? Where do things overlap and where are they isolated? Think in general and overall pictures, and leave out the details. Do not think about great art; just think about who you are and how you can represent yourself metaphorically.

Now form a more specific idea of the final assemblage. As you look at the paper, imagine the specific assemblage you want to create. Make sure you’ve formed this image before you move to the next step. Place the items on the paper. Since the composing stage is already done, it’s time to bring your creation into physical existence. How closely did it come to your conception? Become a critic for the assemblage. Look at it for its own sake, independent of the fact that you have created it. Take the items off and go through the same procedures. Make the assemblage again.

                                                                                           …………

By conceptualizing and using materials you had on hand, you created an artistic assemblage from nothing.

If you performed this exercise every day with different objects, you will become an artist who specializes in rearranging different objects into art. It is the activity that turns on the synaptic transmissions in your brain that turn on the genes that are linked to what you are doing, which is responding to an environmental challenge (i.e., the making of an assemblage).

I like to metaphorically compare this to weight lifting. If you want to build muscles, you lift weights. If the weight is heavy enough, it’s going to damage the muscles. That damage creates a chemical cascade and reaches into the nuclei of your muscle cells, and turns on genes that make proteins and builds up muscle fibers. Those genes are only turned on in response to some environmental challenge. That’s why you’ve got to keep lifting heavier and heavier weights. The phrase, “No pain no gain,” is literally true in this case. Interaction with the environment turns on certain genes which otherwise wouldn’t be turned on; in fact, they will be turned off if certain challenges aren’t being faced.

The same is true in the brain. When you are producing creative ideas and products, you are replenishing neurotransmitters which are linked to genes that are being turned on and turned off in response to what the brain is doing, which in turn is responding to challenges. When you go through the motions of being creative, you are energizing your brain by increasing the number of contacts between neurons. The more times you act, the more active your brain becomes and the more creative you become.