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Silent reading, silent thinking, bifocal glasses

[ by Charles Cameron -- two forms of creativity: far out and close in ]
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Some of the most obvious things aren’t obvious at all, until you think of them. The things my friend Derek Robinson talks about as being in the beforeground. Too close to notice / right under our noses all along.
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And I think that’s one of the principles of creative thinking — a lot of creative detailing takes place out on the bleeding edge, where someone pushes the limits of existing knowledge that little bit farther, and sometimes those insights can be revolutionary. But profound revelations also come from questioning the most basic assumptions — as Cambridge University Press blogged last year, celebrating the centenary of the Russell-Whitehead Principia Mathematica, vol II:

Principia attempted to ground mathematics in logic and the authors left no stone unturned in their attempt to create the ultimate definition of mathematics. For example, they were well into volume two before they had proved that one plus one equals two! They concluded their proofs with the laconic statement: “The above proposition is occasionally useful.”

BTW, that’s a point I also addressed in the context of my work on social entrepreneurship for the Skoll Foundation:

IMO, we need some funding sources that understand that the next significant breakthrough, too, will be all but invisible — and who therefore look specifically for projects that are categorized by their radical rethinking of the seemingly known and obvious.

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For anyone who’s curious, the bifocals pictured in the tiny “specs” section of my graphic above come from Ben Franklin‘s original letter proposing the idea of bifocal glasses, courtesy of the Library of Congress (link is to complete image).

The Odel Na’aman story, The Checkpoint: Terror, Power, and Cruelty is up at the Boston Review site. I haven’t read it yet, just tasted the first paragraph.

There are times when it helps to have bifocal (contrapuntal) vision…

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