Don’t isolate your thinking

We all have exactly one brain. We extend it with technologies like smartphones and computers, but in the end, we have only one brain.

It’s is a giant connection making machine. As we go through our day, we forge new neural pathways, creating and extending vast networks of neurons. Everything is connected in the brain.

But it doesn’t end with the brain.The whole universe is connected, intertwined. Isolation only exists in theoretical models. The real world is an endless interaction of forces and particles, pushing and pulling in different directions. Nothing is isolated.

That’s hard to grasp. If we thought about how particles in our phone, table, or coffee constantly whiz around and influence each others electric fields, we would go mad.

So to avoid this, we abstract. Instead of looking at objects as unique groups of oscillating particles, we give them names. That’s a mug, that’s a table. And voilà, all the complexity is gone!

This ability to abstract and discard useless details serves us well in physical environment. But what about the labyrinth of the mind?

This tendency to isolate and categorize can work against us.

We’ve divided nature categories and we like to think they are discrete, not influencing one another. That’s how it’s taught.

Most schools have separate subjects. Physics, Math, Chemistry, Biology… One teacher, one subject.

Yet, you need math in physics, physics in chemistry, chemistry in biology, and then some biology, like neuroscience, in psychology, and psychology, well you really need that in economics, and in economics, you need statistics, which is an area of math…. On and on it goes… Nothing is isolated.

Then a problem arises.

Unless you choose to study psychology, you will learn very little about it. A few names perhaps. Freud? Jung? Who else?

But psychology is fundamental. It’s how we think. What do we do more of than thinking?

It should follow that you learn about thinking better in school. Yet, that’s often not the case.

You have to study psychology for that. If you don’t, you probably never find out about priming, or biases of our mind that profoundly influence every decision we make. That knowledge is locked away behind the door of Psychology with capital P and it stops you from understanding better yourself and others.

It’s up to us to unlock the doors of Psychology, or Neuroscience, or any other Subject.

We need to see beyond the arbitrary boundaries.

We should be taught to seek connections between different ideas, not sort them into labeled boxes that don’t allow for it. Connecting different ideas is a significant part of creativity.

Instead of subjects, we should look for themes and patterns across fields and categories.

One person who emphasizes this idea is Josh Waitzkin, chess master, author, 2004 Taiji Quan champion, and the basis for the movie Searching for Bobby Fisher.

He believes that the ability to think laterally, connecting distant ideas, is one of the most important things in life. His JW Foundation has a program that links different school subjects together with one theme at a time. In this way, the children can recognize the a single important principle throughout many different subject matters.

Everything is connected. It’s up to us to find how. We should always look for more connections.

Don’t view what you learn as an isolated piece of information. Look for connections. Wonder.

Could this work in different contexts?

How does this piece of information fit into the broader picture?

What is the connection between these areas?

Connections lead to understanding and understanding to control. Connections create meaning and meaning satisfies our curiosity.

Don’t isolate your thinking. Look for connections.