“The funny thing is that stories of such brilliant insights spurring out of deep thought aren’t unique. Throughout history, luminaries ranging from Charles Darwin to Friedrich Nietzsche have attributed much of their genius to the many hours they spent lost in their mind.

Darwin had a “thinking path” that he would walk down to ruminate, and Nietzsche is said to have strolled around in nature for hours and hours on end to make sense of his ideas.

Behaviors that have been chastised today as being unproductive by a culture that mostly fetishizes measurable outputs like hours worked and reports produced seem to actually be some of the most productive…”

Cool little article here in Business Insider (surprisingly!) encouraging at least a couple hours of imaginative, day-dream-like rumination. I’m all for it!

I’ve been told I was a slacker/daydreamer my entire life, beginning in early childhood. I remember a few years ago finding one of my report cards from elementary school (first or second grade, I think) that my mother had saved and recall reading a note that the teacher had written on it; her concern was that I  appeared very “aloof” in class…. To most people in the public school district I attended, my “aloofness” was probably judged as a learning disability of some sort (I was placed in remedial classes at an early age), but it couldn’t possibly be that I was just an imaginative young lad, perhaps bored with compulsory education, who preferred to make stories up in my mind. No, of course not. That’s completely unproductive and weird.

Tangentially related here, this notion of thought experimentation that the BI article talks about reminds me of Harvard philosopher Catherine Elgin’s work on exemplification and understanding. Her insight that scientific experiments are “fictions,” just like imaginative/literary ruminations are “fictions” but also legitimate thought experiments, is simply wonderful! As Elgin writes, “Scientific experiments are vehicles of exemplification. They do not purport to replicate what happens in the wild. Instead, they select, highlight, control and manipulate things so that features of interest are brought to the fore and their relevant characteristics and interactions made manifest.”

Painting above by Augusto Volpini

 

2 comments

  1. Mike Schellman September 5, 2017 at 3:37 pm

    Reply

    I can relate. Childhood was a soul crushing experience for me. My report cards from throughout elementary school all said things like “Michael daydreams, and has trouble focusing on the task at hand.” prompting my parents to respond in kind. When my dad would come home from work and see me playing – he’d say “Don’t you have any homework to do? It’s a dog eat dog world out there.” my mom would see me drawing and say “there are a lot of starving artists out there.” In the fourth grade my teacher would stop kids from doing anything imaginitive at recess and try to involve them in sports activities. None of my natural interests in art or acting were encouraged – so they died. sometime in highschool that changed – something clicked. I began to see that things I learned in one class could help me do well in other classes. I also started bringing in things I’d learned from outside reading. I began to do really well in school. I thought I might become a teacher. Then came the next soul crushing realization that our culuture doesn’t value academics for its own sake either. Like a lot of imaginitive people I found a decent job doing menial work for more important people. They leave me alone to think my thoughts – and I think about how the world could be a better place.

    • jturri September 5, 2017 at 4:36 pm

      Reply

      Oh wow, thank you so much for the comment, Michael! Our stories have very close parallels. I can totally identify with how your parents treated your imaginative play, mine were the same way; neither of them viewed art as a legitimate activity to pursue in life :-/. I’m glad things clicked in high school for you, for me it took a while longer. I was a poor student all through high school and just barely graduated. It wasn’t until my second college undergrad program, studying design, where things began began to click for me. But yeah, one of my dreams is that we can work together to again establish the notion that play and education are not means to ends but are indeed ends in and of them-self.

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