I have had lots of time to ponder the meaning of life in the last couple of weeks, sitting on aeroplanes and in airport lounges. Sadly '42' is still the best I can come up with! I was however, reading and cogitating upon Taoist philosophy in the context of photography and the visual arts. That got me thinking.
Taoist philosophy focuses on two states of knowledge. The "Lesser Knowledge" is the knowledge of what is likely to happen, what might not happen, what might succeed and what might fail. The "Greater Knowledge" resides in NOT focusing on these matters, but having an empty mind. This doesn't mean a vacant and passive mind but rather an uncluttered and receptive mind which allows ideas to form freely without constraints. This is a view that is worth exploring.
I do not mean to imply that I am advocating we function with vacant minds - though I have been wondering about the vacancy rate in my own neurons of late - but that we need to ensure we keep open and receptive minds at all times. Even when doing lung function tests, we need to be open to suggestions raised by the data we are obtaining, particularly when the results perhaps are not classical for the offered diagnosis. How often do we see a diagnosis of severe COPD base don little more than a smoking history? Prior probability can have a profound effect on decision making.
I think this idea of an uncluttered mind is particularly important when considering research work whether it be basic or applied as well as with the hunt for a solution to a problem wether process or equipment. I have often been led up the wrong path by prejudging the answer to a question rather than considering all the options. I suspect this concept of the uncluttered mind is the basis of the "Eureka Moment!" Certainly, I have come up with solutions to problems when dealing with something totally unrelated. Good ideas start as a seed and have a way of growing themselves to the point where they burst into your consciousness as a solution.
When developing a research idea or a process model, I think it is important to first develop a model without allowing the "practicalities" or limitations to constrain your thinking. Once formulated, your model can then be evaluated by the "Lesser Knowledge" and modified accordingly. If the "Lesser Knowledge" defines the process from the start, more often than not, the solution will be more of the same, perhaps with a band-aid added in for good measure.
The next time you sit down to brainstorm, try emptying the mind before you start so you can start with the "Greater Knowledge" and build on a truly blank sheet of paper. It is very refreshing and very empowering.
'til next month,