If a person was born deaf what language will he hear? If the person was born blind what will he see? Oliver Sacks wrote a piece titled Thinking in Sign which addresses this and other related topics.
They compared the performance of deaf, natively signing children with that of hearing, nonsigning children on a battery of visual-spatial tests. In tests of spatial construction, the deaf children did much better than the hearing ones, and indeed, much better than “normal.” There were similar findings with tests of spatial organization — the ability to perceive a whole from disorganized parts, the ability to perceive (or conceive) an object.
This finding should be no surprise for you since most of you practiced visual markers can already think without vocalization. Various centers of the brain can change their functions based on our sensor orientation. It is well known that blind people have stronger touch and hearing senses etc. There is also a leakage of sensory information between various senses that is called synaesthesia, and we address various ways to develop it in this blog.
The same ideas that apply for senses arguably apply to the whole way we perceive the world. We tend to develop strong intuition and learn quite well the aspects we feel skilled at, and we tend to ignore valuable cues in areas we are less prepared to handle. We are not “free thinkers”, at least not in the way we would like to perceive ourselves. The filters of our education and upbringing, our social environment and hobbies affect our web search results and social media we are exposed to. Current global and local trends affect the mass media which we consume. We live in the era of information abundance, so to find something specific we should be actively looking for it. Which specific issues will we be searching for? The issues that are withing our comfort zone are most likely to be the issues we will want more information about. If the subject is outside of our comfort zone, it is very hard to even to formulate correct questions about it. As information becomes richer and more accessible we dig in our professional and social silos stubbornly avoiding everything else.
The things we do not know about are scary for a reason. Quite often we make huge mistakes and suffer severe consequences. Quite often the root cause of these consequences is the scary unknown: we ignored some things which could have easily warn us. It feels even worse when we understand the magnitude of our ignorance. Nobody wants to feel this. Quite often it is easier to suffer stoically than to admit the level of our inadequacy in the areas that affect our lives. I think this effect is quite universal, and once we know how to handle it, we will think and live more effectively.
Stereotypes also prevent us from seeing things clearly. There is no such thing as “scientific” or “artistic” mind. To some extent, we can do anything if we decide to do it, simply some things will be significantly easier than others. Our main limitation is the effort involved since our lives are not infinite and our time could find a better use is some other areas. If some subject seams too complex for our grasp, this is a clear indicator that we missed some stepping stone that could lead us to the understandings we need.
The best preemptive measure I have found so far is the “library of the books not yet read”. Instead of ignoring or fearing the unknown, we mark some light sources that will guide us if we decide to venture there. We create a list of books we want to read, knowing that reading these books will allow us to venture into the areas we could not access before. There is no need to read each book on the list right away, simply the next time you will have a reading opportunity feel free to choose one from the list. The way I create this list is quite simple:
- If I have a truly profound question. I do not have many of those…
- Every time my friends discuss in-depth something I do not know, I try to ask for a book describing it.
- When I see someone performing acts I could never perform, I try to see which reading could make me more prepared to do such acts.
- If someone claims something based on principles I do not understand I want to learn these principles and find a book about them.
- Something that can help me progress as a professional or as a human being.
- Something that causes strong emotional responses, including fear, could be something worth exploring.
- If in order to understand a book on my list I need to read 5 other books, I will write those books too.
When I was a child, my parents and educators made many mistakes. One of these mistakes was a very strong emphasis on grades especially in physics and mathematics, virtually ignoring everything else. I was very good in math and physics, but not a true genius. On the other hand, my social skills were quite poor. By the time I started advanced degrees, I understood that something went terribly wrong in my development and I need to fix it myself cause people I trust only make the problem works. Fortunately for me, that was still in the age of paper books. The bookstores in Israel were not very big, and I systematically read all books I found interesting under “psychology”, “philosophy”, “history” and “self-help” sections as well as some classical literature. I did not read fast then, so it took me ~3 years to balance by education. A few years have passed. I felt good about myself and my education. My social status improved, I had many friends who loved and respected me, I got married. Then came the 2008 crisis, I lost my job and my money. So I read everything I good find under “economics”, “finances”, “entrepreneurship” and “management” sections . After a year I felt that I need hands-on experience… The next failure was not a failure of knowledge, but a failure of character: I simply had too many self-doubts to function effectively in highly demanding situations. I do try to open up to new knowledge and new sorts of experience, to become a more balanced and open person. What I understand now is that “the library of books not yet read” is not just a library of texts, but a collection of universal experiences which we can understand and embrace on our way to becoming better selves….
“The library of books not yet read” is a method of listing down books we want to read and activities we want to take. Having such library available each time we have an opportunity strongly increases both quantity and quality of our reading and diversifies our experience.