Nothing New Under the Sun
As I get older and older I notice that the same old ideas keep on circulating round the world as though they were brand new—never been thought before… A good friend of mine says that the old books contain everything you need. I agree and I have even seriously contemplated not buying any more books till I am certain that I’ve got everything I really need from those I already have. Then I can start on Quantum Physics or something.
One of the books I have in my library is sixty-years-old—a book about thinking—Wake up Your Mind by Alex Osborn (1952) It is worth mining.
Not long after its publication Edward de Bono started on his series of practical investigative books which when I started teaching I found really useful as ways of getting kids thinking but then I found Alex Osborn’s book and got a strong whiff of an idea that it had already been mined by de Bono without acknowledgement. Paying homage to the originators of thinking seems very important to me; it adds value to the long Conversation of [Hu]mankind.
‘The Conversation of Mankind’ is Michael Oakeshott’s phrase (1962): ‘As civilized human beings, we are the inheritors, neither of an inquiry about ourselves and the world, nor of an accumulating body of information, but of a conversation, begun in the primeval forests and extended and made more articulate in the course of centuries. It is a conversation which goes on both in public and within each of ourselves…’ In the Emotional part of Thinking Centre, I love this idea.
I make a contribution to the long conversation of humanunkind…
The conversation is an emergent property of endless chinwagging. Emergent properties are kept alive by ensuring that a system keeps on going round and round; the codifiers and abstractionists, the rule-makers and ritual followers, those who have forgotten their self by burying it in political or religious systems and formatory thinking have put paid to the productive Conversation of Humankind. They are not even conscious of doing so and therefore can neither be stopped nor reasoned with.
Anyway, to resume, Alex Osborn usefully catalogues a number of very simple things about mind which seem to me to be worth setting down in order. For example:-
By and large, our mental powers are fourfold:-
1. Absorptive power: the ability to observe, and to apply attention.
2. Retentive power: the ability to memorize and to recall.
3. Reasoning power: the ability to analyze and to judge.
4. Creative power: the ability to visualize, to foresee, and to generate ideas.
Do we always make these distinctions? What difference does it make when we do?
As an abstract concept, ‘mental powers’ is perhaps just a muddle, a linguistic container with a lot of formless goo in it. Separate out the bits and things become a bit less goo-like:-
This system can be elaborated by asserting that different parts of our mental apparatus are responsible for different approaches to what we like to think of as ‘reality’. Mental powers are not just the possession of one single ‘I’—many ‘I’s are involved in thinking things out: the ‘I’ that absorbs is not the same ‘I’ that retains which is not the same ‘I’ that reasons or the one that creates.
Different parts of our ratiocinative system are responsible for different way-stations in the system. Keep the ‘I’s separate and there’s not so much chance of confusing Absorbing-I with Reasoning-I—when Reasoning-I is not separated out Absorbing-I may find itself constrained into accepting only what can seem to be ‘reasonable’. Jump ahead too quickly into Creating-I and Retaining-I may not have done sufficient work to give Creating-I a fighting chance.
The work of mere Intellect, of Intellect on its own, has a bad press in Fourth Way studies as does Imagination.
Imagination and the Blue Guitar
Maurice Nicoll at Birdlip, September 21 1941 quotes Ouspensky: ‘A person is usually out. [She] is rarely at home…’ and he goes on:-
If a person is in the imagination and its meanings, he is then always out. He is not at home. Such a person does not see you. He sees his dream of you, his imagination of you, his illusion of you. This is not a very satisfactory basis for any real relationship. A tremendous shock has to be undergone for a person to pass from the meanings derived from imagination to the meanings that reality offers. Reality in this respect is at first sight a poor small thing compared with all the wealth of meanings that the imagination supplies a person with, day and night.
You know that in the Work it is taught that you have to try to see yourselves apart from your imagination of yourselves. This is a long task and very difficult and painful. You may think you are charming but not notice you are usually rather rude and always lazy. And just in the same way, you have to try to see others without imagination. And this is also very difficult. It is imagination that blinds everyone in every direction. It blinds all mankind. You have heard one of the sayings of the Work about imagination in regard to mankind in general. It compares mankind with people in a hall of turning mirrors. These mirrors are so arranged that everyone thinks he is going forward toward some goal. But actually the mirrors are turning and people are going round and round in an ever-repeating circle. It is imagination that makes people believe in progress. Look only at this century! And this imagination has its roots in individual people’s imagination of themselves and the entirely false meanings they derive from their imagination. Imaginary people meet imaginary people. Imaginary people dress up to meet other imaginary people dressed up. Imaginary people converse politely with imaginary people. Imaginary people marry imaginary people. Imaginary people kill imaginary people—and so on. And since people are based on false personality, which is entirely composed of imagination, it is not so surprising that this is the case. All their meanings, in fact, most of the meanings people live by, are derived from false personality and therefore from imagination. Real meanings exist apart from the meanings derived from imagination. But it is difficult to find them without the help of something that is not based on
And this is a very special and worthwhile meaning of ‘imagination’ but it would not be quite accurate to assume that all ‘imagination’ is in the same boat. Like Intellect, it is a polymorphous concept.
Just as the endless mazes of the Intellect on its own are to be avoided or at least followed with an extremely reliable, maybe interactive, map, with a clear idea of where you’re starting from, so the insidious traps of Imagination are to be approached with circumspection. Above all it’s the Food of Pure Impressions that is to be prized by a Seeker of the Truth— things as they are (played on a blue guitar…)
They said, “You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are.”
The man replied, “Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar.”
And they said then, “But play you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,
A tune upon the blue guitar
Of things exactly as they are.
On the other hand, when it comes to creative activities, Alex Osborn provides a neat catalogue of the possible use of imaginative processes, which is perhaps always a matter of putting two and two together.
As a term, imagination covers a field so wide and so hazy that a leading educator has called it [in 1952, remember]‘an area which psychologists fear to tread’. For imagination takes many forms—some of them wild, some of them futile, some of them creative. The berserk varieties include hallucinations, obsessions and other abnormalities…
The futile forms are fairly normal. [Gurdjieff’s concept of ‘imagination’…] They include such meanderings as sleep-dreams and day-dreams, and some harmful phases such as complexes, worry, and the blues. In these latter forms our emotions tend to make imagination work against us. However, to a worthwhile degree, we can conquer such imaginings by means of creative thinking…
The photographic forms of imagination give us our power of visual imagery by which our mind’s eye can see even those things which we have never seen.
Through speculative imagination we can even picture a nonexistent mountain in Florida—and can even cap it with snow!
Through reproductive imagination we can bring back many a scene from the distant past Look! I can now focus my imagination on my boyhood and see a little girl peering at me over our back-yard fence. Listen! I can even hear the words she actually said to me on that faraway day: “If you’ll give me a bite of that apple, I’ll give you a kiss.” Thus imagination can add audio as well as video to memory.
The third photographic form is structural visualization. My friend Larry Bell of Bell Aircraft can look at a flat blue-print and see a new type of jet fighter streaking through the sky. My daughter Kay can [look over] a dress pattern and see her self standing before her mirror in a brand-new costume of her own making.
Now we come to the vicarious, anticipative, and creative forms of imagination. Although the first two of these types are not strictly creative, they can be used creatively.
Vicarious imagination serves as a bridge—enables us to be someone else. When a soap-opera listener pictures herself as the glamorous girl friend of her radio Valentino, she thus uses vicarious imagination—but not creatively. However, by putting herself in the shoes of a sick neighbor and thinking up how to help her, she can make a creative use of vicarious imagination.
When we let anticipative imagination poison our minds with dire pictures of what may happen, we are far from being creative. But when we make ourselves foresee the best, while preparing for the worst, we make a creative use of anticipative imagination.
The highest form of imagination is the truly creative. Through this we seek new slants on old facts. We reach beyond the facts at hand in search of facts not yet known. Thus, in this phase of creativity, we use imagination as a search light. We beam it hither and thither, into the known and the unknown. Thus we ‘discover’…
Then, too, creative imagination can serve us as a mixer. Thus we use it to combine known elements in order to produce the unknown. By changing combinations, we turn out still more ideas—ideas which otherwise would not come to us. Thus we ‘invent’—whether it be a new plot, a new mousetrap, or a better way of living our lives.
And what is the best way to go about the process of producing results? Osborn states it like this and I am very conscious of going through this process while writing this Glob—it’s part of my habit-system; it has become part of me over the years:-
1. Orientation: getting an angle; picking out and pointing up a problem
2. Preparation: gathering material
3. Analysis: breaking material down
4. Hypothesis: piling up alternatives by way of tentative ideas
5. Incubation: letting up in order to gain illumination
6. Synthesis: putting the pieces together
7. Verification: judging the resulting ideas
Being a natural systems-maker—it’s the way I think I think best—I re-write it thus:-
And then, of course, because I eschew abstractions, I convert this into Multiple-I’s:-
Something strangely exciting happens in my brain when I convert a prose list into a diagram like this; my thinking becomes clearer, more dynamic; the bits of the list begin to fizz in the way that I imagine neuronic activity to work.
Going the Whole Hog
Alex Osborn again:-
When piling up hypotheses, we should go the limit. Obviously, the more ideas we accumulate, the better our chance of hitting upon the right ones. Quantity may thus ensure quality, as was brought out by JPGuilford, President of the American Psychological Association: ‘The person who is capable of producing a large number of ideas per unit of time, other things being equal, has a greater chance of having significant ideas…’
By asking ourselves ‘else’ questions we can pile up quantities of ore by way of hypotheses, out of which we can refine gold in the form of solutions. ‘What-else?’ ‘Where-else?’ ‘When-else? ’ ‘How-else?’ ‘Who-else?’ ‘Why-else?’—all these ‘elses’ are helpful. And so are the ‘What-ifs?’
Here are a few guides to the kinds of self-interrogation which can lead to ideas:-
• Put to other uses? New ways to use as is? Other uses if modified?
• Adapt? What else is like this? What other idea does this suggest? Does the past offer parallels? What could I copy? Whom could I emulate?
• Modify? New twist? Change meaning, colour, motion, sound, odour, form, shape? Other changes?
• Magnify? How to make it bigger? What to add? More time? Greater frequency? Stronger? Higher? Longer? Thicker? Extra value? Plus ingredient? Duplicate? Multiply? Exaggerate?
• Minify? How to make it smaller? What to subtract? Smaller? Condensed? Miniature? Lower? Shorter? Lighter? Omit? Streamline? Split up? Understate?
• Substitute? Who else instead? What else instead? Other ingredient? Other material? Other process? Other power? Other place? Other approach? Other tone of voice?
• Re-arrange? Interchange components? Other pattern? Other layout? Other sequence? Transpose cause and effect? Change pace? Change schedule?
• Reverse? Transpose positive and negative? How about opposites? Turn it backward? Turn it upside down? Reverse roles? Change shoes? Turn tables? Turn other cheek?
• Combine? How about a blend, an alloy, an assortment, an ensemble? Combine units? Combine purposes? Combine appeals? Combine ideas?
When I taught creative problem-solving and general ways of getting ideas going, I found the following way of working very useful; it combined Alex Osborn’s ‘elses’ with his guides to self-interrogation: I called it a SCAMPER Grid. The grid was laid out on the floor of the workroom with masking tape, each square measuring symmetrically about 3 feet so that individuals in the group I was working with could activate their brain by scampering from square to square with a problem in mind that they wished to address and talking about it to a partner who wrote things down for them. Twenty-one squares and 5 W’s (What? Where? When? Why? Who?) and a How? to apply to a problem in each square offered at least 126 different ways of looking at it. A single left click will get this more legible!
The whole thing could of course now be converted into a Multiple-I framework.
Preparing for a TED Talk
In idle moments, I have thought of offering to do one of these TED talks. Were I to be accepted, I would start off cringing slightly off-stage to the left saying how terrified I was of doing it with all these eyes looking at me; then I’d move a little to my left, fling my arms in the air and describe how excited I was at the prospect. I’d then at the centre of the stage challenge the audience to think about the common factor in the two statements ‘I am terrified’ and ‘I am excited’— ‘I’ of course. So what is this ‘I’ thing? And how can what sounds like the same entity be terrified and excited at the same time? Terrified over there and excited just here now. Then I’d stand back from where I wound up. “I’m thinking about these two feelings I’ve been describing… so now ‘I’—which sounds like the same entity yet again—is thinking…”
“Let’s redefine what’s been going on…”
Terrified-I and Excited-I are both what you could call Feeling-I’s; in Thinking-I this In-control-I (shoulders raised high!) is in a quite different place. Then it could go up the Logical Levels into Knowing-that-it’s-really-capable-of-delivering-a-TED-talk-I, Having-a-belief-in-what-it’s-talking-about-I and then Being-sure-of-itself-I before stepping forward into the front of the stage to inhabit Just-get-on-with-it-I.
At some stage I’d demonstrate how ‘I’ which is an abstraction can be made into a behaviour or set of behaviours which would further elaborate the concept of Mutiple-I’s
All concepts are built this way: here from the experience of countless experiential examples of applying ‘I’ to a verb (‘I sink’, ‘I swim’ and so on) we arrive at the concept of ‘I’ or ‘I-ness’. ‘I’ could be said to be an emergent property from our general awareness of life. A diagram representing the emergence of the concept ‘I-ness’ would require the arrows to go in one direction; to arrive at the concept of Multiple-I’s the arrows would need to go in the opposite direction.
It’s just the same principle for any abstraction. Take the concept of ‘Wisdom’, for example. The question might be ‘What would you notice in the behaviour of a person that would lead you to stick the label POSSESSED OF WISDOM on them. It might go like this:-
Exploding ideas has for a long time provided the same kind of excitement in my brain as thinking systemically. And then there’s the Figure of Eight… There’s no such entities as what are referred to as the ‘unconscious’ or ‘subconcious’; ‘consciousness’ itself is a meaningless abstraction.
Updating the Figure of Eight
How do we think about the things that are by conventional wisdom supposed to exist somewhere beneath the surface of our thinking?
There are two abstractions that have never made much sense to me: the Unconscious and the Subconscious; if there’s a ‘consciousness’ that is not conscious or below what is ‘conscious’ how can we possibly know about it sufficiently to be able to give it a name and run the risk of reifying something that is a no-thing?
Certainly there are things of which we are not aware; you only have to think of the noise inside your body to bring it to mind or the increasing pain in your neck if you’ve held it in one position for too long. The things of which we are not aware are simply not in awareness; but when we focus on them they bounce into ‘consciousness’; it’s not that they were somewhere with a name (in what we seem driven to call the ‘unconscious’ or the ‘subconscious’) but that they were perhaps, if you like, in the Other-than-conscious. Were I President of the universe, I would ban the use of the words ‘unconscious’ and ‘subconscious’ utterly and completely and simply use the concept of whatever it is that’s Other-than-conscious!
I have referred to the concept of the Figure of Eight on a number of occasions in these Globs. The way I have described them is simply as a sort of intellectual model. I recently had an opportunity to make it come alive by going through it accompanied by the spiel depicted here. Should you decide to follow the process begin confidently in the NOW (a single left click will get this more legible!) :-
The idea is that there are two kinds of modes of being: the Proto-self or Core Self without which nothing could happen—it bubbles & gurgles in the background all the time; and then there’s the Extended Self intimately connected with the Core Self at the crossover point of the Figure of Eight. Whatever is in the Core Self becomes manifested in a different kind of way in the contemplations of the Extended Self. This is just a way of talking; there is absolutely no intention to suggest that Core Self and Extended Self are real entities; once you’re into the experience you can forget about the words.
Patterns of thinking, curious imagery, things which in the Extended Self seem to be inexplicable have their beginnings down there in the bottom of the Figure of Eight—also just words…
A simple example which can be followed round the Figure of Eight: I have long had a strange desire for a perfectly smooth and well-manicured lawn; there seems to be something really spooky about my desire; somewhere down there there’s a story I tell myself about how it’s a necessity of life to have a clear area in the garden, to repel the rampant vegetation all round it—that’s just as necessary… This gives me a drive to push the mower round and round which provides a feeling of accomplishment. At this level the feelings are barely capturable and certainly not possible to put into words; these words describe the desire itself—they get nowhere near the feelings. I would not have it any other way.
Taking all this back up through the centre of the Figure of Eight, holding on to whatever it is that I’m working with, I focus my attention and ask what on earth it’s all about… ‘Earth’ may have something to do with it!—the profound consciousness of trimming a bit of the surface of the planet… But it’s not that alone. However, the words I’m using give me other ideas: a clear space in the middle of a complex of growth—that’s the way I conceive of the nature of my thinking life: clearing a space in the pell-mell of the conversation of humankind for me to be relatively clear about a thought process—that’s one of my ‘I’s; it’s an important one. I can then go back to all the lawns of my experience, starting with my father’s lawn; he was a stickler for a lawn that had stripes in it and a very neat edge. Part of me is tagged to that lawn—there’s an I-tag connected with my father’s lawn; it’s part of my autobiographical self.
When I’m in thinking/feeling mode I’m clearing a space in which I can assemble an order out of chaos.
In self-remembering I can detach myself from all this and stand in the middle of the current lawn and rise above the Figure of Eight to re-construct the whole process from a distance. Divided attention gets me this lawn and the whole concept of LAWN (as against rampant shrubbery) and I’m back in the NOW ready for another dive down into OTCM.
Those who have tried this exercise have walked the Figure of Eight thus activating every part of their Being—Moving Centre, Thinking Centre and Feeling Centre in turn and coming to tentative conclusions for themselves.
Those who went on this journey with me invented another exercise.
The idea they had was that thinking something out produces one kind of feeling which might result in ‘doing’ which in itself would lead to yet another kind of feeling & back into a different thinking. Scrambling thinking, feeling & doing in one undifferentiated scrum is not a productive mode of thinking.
It’s obvious when you think about it that feeling can interfere with thinking. Say there’s a project you’re working on, trying to think it out, but you know you should be doing something else; then your thinking is contaminated by feelings of guilt or hassle or just the felt need to be elsewhere. Trying to get on with doing something (anything) just worsens the feeling. Thinking disintegrates. Some way of breaking the vicious circle is needed which might simply be to drop everything & do something completely different.
And so the exercise they invented was based on this initial simple system:-
I apply this to the process of writing this Glob. It works like this:-
Working with this model, the group realised that this was not a 2-D event but a spiral rising upwards from the start-point. To run the exercise properly would require a cherry-picker. My diagram needs to come off the screen: each circuit entails a heightened sense of purpose in thinking-feeling-doing.
One of the great tools for thinking!