I recently re-named my blog – ‘Six impossible things before breakfast”. This is from a quote in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, where Alice exasperatedly states that “one can’t believe impossible things”, to which the Queen replies “I dare say you haven’t had much practice” (see full quote below). It is a quote that has followed me around for quite a few years now and sums up my practice of innovation and the process of developing that initial vision, these “impossible things”.
Lewis Carroll’s stories played a big role in my life, not only due to my namesake, but his playfulness and skill in manipulating language, logic and challenging the constructs of what ought to be. Later I connected Carroll’s suspense of ‘reality’ with Richard Feynman’s famous quote, “… I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics”. I couldn’t help but think that perhaps this was another example of the constraints of our language and thought limiting our ability to describe these phenomena*. As Shimon Malin describes in his book Nature Loves to Hide: Quantum Physics and Reality, a Western Perspective, “language pulls us toward the current paradigm by forces that are as strong as they are unconscious”.
*my sister had a ongoing argument with one of her Physics lecturers, as I recall she described to me that she understood quantum mechanics in a fuzzy/out-of-focus way. Which now I would describe as haptic knowledge.
Quantum physics has been one of the most compelling developments over the last hundred years, not only in the experimental accuracy achieved but also the philosophical implications of the results. But to ‘understand’ this quantum ‘reality’ we need to reconstruct our perception of the universe and our ideas on how things ought to be.
When people claim to not know anything about Physics I point out to them that the forces of physics enact upon us in every moment (so we all know about Physics). But it is our perception of how these work, whether conscious or unconscious, that creates our world view. Furthering this discussion I find it kind of incredible that the popular understanding of how the world works is still based on a Newtonian paradigm (Newton’s laws of motion were published in 1687).
I am not going to re-explain the ins and outs of the major experiments of quantum physics see below:
Paradox of quantum entanglement: Schrodinger’s Cat
In this quantum context, the old paradigm of realism, without the presence of consciousness becomes an abstraction. The only concrete truth is now our perception, the self can no longer be objectified as the observer, instead there is a ceaseless tension between the field of possibilities and collapse of the wave function into a fixed reality.
Our perception of our physical reality as opposed to what has been scientifically proven to exist, is just one example of a construct that is so deeply embedded in our sense of ‘reality’ that “no one understands [quantum mechanics]”. We encounter constructs all the time, truths accepted by “everyone”, historically I can list plenty that make us feel smugly superior to our ancestors, like the belief that the world was flat or that the earth was in the centre of the universe. But how many of us are comfortable with really thinking about the fact the money we all work for and save is not actually worth anything? It seems the deeper the construct is embedded in us, such as language, our place in the world or the systems we have invested in, the harder it is to deconstruct and untangle.
On my road to understand my innovation practice beyond my studio, I found this Manifesto by Scott Belsky (of Making Ideas Happen fame). He has named the people who are driving this innovation forward in as the “Free Radicals”. He describes a new type of professional, who are “crafting the future”, “questioning the norms” and who “don’t surrender to the friction of the status quo”. Well, nice that we have a name now… ;) Whether you identify with Scott’s vision of a new professional class or not, all innovation still starts with this impossible thing, a vision. Sometimes we just need a dose of creative imagination to jump-start to even dare to imagine a different reality. But to get started I dare say we all need a bit more practice.
What constructs have you unmasked in your own life? What constructs are ready to be exposed? How many impossible things did you think about today?