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Making Sense out of Nonsense

How Regenerative Thinking can Improve Outcomes

Change the way you look at things and the things you look at will change

There is one square labeled with an A and another labeled B. Are the squares the same shade of grey? Most people asked would say that the square labeled A is a darker shade of grey than B. That’s not actually true. They are both the same shade of grey. Crazy, right? I can’t see it even if I try.

If we take a solid grey line and connect the two squares together, we can clearly see the two squares are the same shade. You can also take a dark colored piece of paper and cover the area around the letters on the first image and you’ll get the same effect. This is a classical optical illusion.

Most would say that not being able to tell apart square A and B is a failure of their visual system. It’s actually the opposite, it’s a sign that your visual system is functioning properly. Our visual system isn’t good at telling the difference between shades of grey but it’s very good at identifying corners and edges. These elements are meaningful components that help us navigate. Imagine all the things in your life right now that have two straight lines that meet at a corner. Yeah, almost everything.

There is an important point to be made here. Illusions aren’t just visual. An illusion is anything that is wrongly perceived. Similar to a fallacy. We can think or feel that things happen for a reason but are we certain or is it a mistaken belief?

A regenerative mindset can help us find clarity in understanding what we know, and gives us a framework to find clarity in understanding what we don’t know.

Facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education. That is the definition of knowledge. It is our understanding of the world around us and how we interact with that world, yet it is based on our interpretation of outside stimuli (a thing that causes us to react). Our brain is in our skull where it is completely dark. One of the ways it knows to interact with the outside world is through sensory inputs like interpreting what we see, feel, smell, and hear. If we take all of these inputs and how we react to them, and then tie them together, now we have a basic model of how we acquire knowledge. Our Knowledge is the combination of things we know to be true. There are a lot of different types of knowledge, I like to group them into 4 simple categories.

Things we don’t know that we don’t know


If I were to walk down the street of any random city and ask the first person I met the single question. What is Computational Linguistics? They would think I was a bit crazy. Most wouldn’t know Computational Linguistics existed until I asked about it and they might not even care that it exists. I wouldn’t blame them. Most people don’t need to understand how language is modeled any more than they need to know how the circuit board on their television works. It just does. If we haven’t asked the question, or haven’t had the experience in our lifetime, then those aspects of our life are things we don’t know that we don’t know. There is nothing wrong with Unknown-Unknowns. It is perfectly fine that there are questions we haven’t asked or things we haven’t experienced. That’s what is fascinating about the world we live in. As you read these words, there are almost certainly things that you know that I have never encountered and to me they are unknown-unknowns. I don’t even know they exist. How humbling is that?

Things we Know that we Don’t Know


If I were to ask that same person to explain how gravity works, they would probably say something along the lines of, it’s the force that makes things fall to the ground. That would be a true statement and is an accurate description of how gravity works. I would say that this person doesn’t truly understand how gravity works and probably isn’t a physics teacher. Again, there is nothing wrong with not knowing, in this particular case the understanding of gravity requires a basic understanding of larger concepts. We know there is a larger concept out there, we just can’t describe it. So, there are these things that we see and feel every day. We know gravity exists because our house hasn’t floated off into space, it’s still there when we get home every day. So, every day our brain tells us that this gravity thing, even though I can’t see it and don’t really understand it, it must be real and it works pretty well. Even though we may not understand the larger concepts behind gravity, we know that there is something more to it, and whatever that something is, we don’t know it.

Things we know for certain


Let’s ask this person another random question. This time let’s ask them what is 5+15? A simple addition. The person will probably say 20, and if I said show me they could probably grab a pencil and a paper and show me how 5 + 5 is 10 then you carry the 1 and you get 20, great. No matter how hard we try, we will never change the fact that 5 + 15 will always equal 20. Just like this mathematical equation, there are things in our world that we know for certain. For instance, the key to our house. We know for certain that the key will unlock the door every single time. The moment that key doesn’t work we’re instantly alarmed that something is wrong because there was something we knew for certain that just isn’t so. That brings us to the next category.

Things we know for certain that aren’t so


There are plenty of good examples of falsehoods. The classic example of the world being flat and that you would fall off the edge if were to so dare sail the sea that far. I prefer the example of the 4-minute mile. If I were to jump back in past to 1930, and I were to ask a random person, do you think I can run a mile in under 4 minutes? They would probably laugh at me and say no. Hasn’t been done before. There was a time not too long ago when “experts” would say that it was physically impossible for the human body to run a mile in under 4-minutes. Year after year runners would try and try until sometime in the 1940’s when the record was pushed to 4:01. Even more evidence that it just wasn’t possible. On May 6th, 1954, an Englishman named Roger Bannister ran a mile in 3 minutes, 59 seconds and 4 milliseconds at oxford’s Iffley road track. How can that be? Experts said that it was physically impossible and that you would fall off the edge of the earth… jokes aside the experts were wrong. Today there are high school students that can run a sub 4-minute mile, and the record is held almost a whole 17 seconds below 4 minutes.

What is the one thing that ties all these different categories of knowledge together?

The curiosity of a single question and the drive to follow it.

The curiosity to learn and to grow. The curiosity to challenge all that we know to be true, in fear that it may be something we know for certain that just isn’t so, and the curiosity to seek challenge in things we may have never known, for knowledge through curiosity is where we might find that which is to be true.

Cover photo credit: Riccardo Annandale

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