The major obstacle to discovery is neither stupidity nor ignorance; it is the belief that we have the best knowledge. My friend Arnie, a retired high school art teacher, said something to that effect. Indeed, know-it-alls have a certain mindset that creates a mental curtain–closing them off from learning or considering new data and other points of view. The mental drapery obscures their vision and imagination. Our pathway to discovery consists of opening the curtains to allow our inner vision to see.
People who wear eyeglasses or contact lenses understand how this works in the physical sense. For instance, I’ve worn glasses ever since fourth grade. Prior to being fitted with glasses, my school grades were very low and disappointing. The teacher told my parents that I was unable to see the blackboard clearly. She recommended an eye examination.
Although the first day of eyeglass wearing was decades ago, I still remember my astonishment about the details of the world around me. I had never known that my vision was fuzzy before I obtained the glasses. I had no objective point of reference to compare my vision with 20/20 vision. The glasses enabled me to see clearly. Not only could I see numbers and words on the blackboard better, the pages of the textbooks were easier to read, as well.
The thrill of seeing everything more clearly has reverberated throughout my life. It carries through to the motto of this blog, “Here are my observations as I reach for understanding.” Whenever I stumble across something noteworthy or fascinating, I feel compelled to share my discovery with others. What better way than to use a blog to relay my impressions to other Internet users? It doesn’t matter if I found a common insect to be interesting or news about a space probe cruising through the Solar System to be amazing, it’s good to share my personal viewpoint about such things. I always hope that at least a few ingeniously-minded people might benefit.
“The folly of mistaking a paradox for a discovery, a metaphor for a proof, a torrent of verbiage for a spring of capital truths, and oneself for an oracle, is inborn in us.”–essayist, philosopher, and poet, Paul Valéry.
Valéry’s statement reminds me of confirmation bias. Our minds automatically seek out validation to confirm our beliefs and opinions. Confirmation bias is a major obstacle on the path of discovery. It is particularly the case on the path of self-discovery. Confirmation bias is subjectivity writ large in the mind.
Part of the beauty of balancing objectivity with subjectivity is that we are able to observe what many others have seen before us yet analyzing and thinking about things in ways that nobody else has analyzed and thought about. This could be thought of as trailblazing along a freeway. Although thousands of people have traveled the road, certain passengers in vehicles will notice features or views about the landscape nobody else has pointed out before them.
“There are two possible outcomes: if the result confirms the hypothesis, then you’ve made a measurement. If the result is contrary to the hypothesis, then you’ve made a discovery.”–Italian physicist and creator of the first nuclear reactor, Enrico Fermi
One does not need to be a nuclear physicist to realize amazing discoveries. Anyone can live life mindfully and notice the world around us. By simply living life with our mental eyes open to new ways of seeing and thinking, we are all on thresholds of discovery. Who knows what we might encounter? It will undoubtedly be quite surprising.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes author, interior designer, and TV personality, Nate Berkus. “You will enrich your life immeasurably if you approach it with a sense of wonder and discovery, and always challenge yourself to try new things.”