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Question your truth

How realising what you 'know' might not be what you thought it was, is the key to finding something new.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash


Last year I had the pleasure of interviewing Tea Uglow, creative director of Google Creative Lab Sydney, on the Outvertising Podcast. It's here if you fancy a listen.


Tea has a fascinating creative mind and is super interested in many things - including the work of the late physicist Richard Feynman.


While science is based on fact - or at least the pursuit of provable truth - Tea pointed to Richard Feynman's take on the universe, which is that it's far too vast and complex for us to really know anything with 100% certainty. As Tea said: "No piece of science remains true forever."


Feynman also understood that each of our brains process things in completely different ways.


When he was conducting experiments at university, he created a trick for counting up to a minute without a clock - by reading a certain number of lines from a newspaper. Working with a fellow student, Feynman discovered they could only perform the same minute count by visualising a ticker in their head showing the number of each passing second. Reading newspaper lines just didn't work for them:


"So it struck me...if that's already true at the most elementary level - that when we learn the mathematics...and the exponentials and the electric fields and all these things - that the imageries and method by which we're storing it all, and the way we think about it, could be...entirely different. And, in fact, why somebody sometimes has a great deal of difficulty understanding a point - which you see is obvious, and vice versa - it may be because it's a little hard to translate what you just said into his particular framework" - Richard Feynman, Ways of Thinking, BBC2, 1983

So your truth - or your experience of the truth - is not the same as someone else's truth.


This also reminds me of a parable I came across from a 2020 Tim Ferriss blog. Tim spoke of the tale of The Blind Men and the Elephant, a fable that has crossed cultures as far back as the first millennium BC.


A group of blind men come across an elephant for the first time. Each man feels a different part of the elephant’s body - like the tusk, the ear, or the leg. Yet having only felt one part of the animal, they each think they can fully describe the whole elephant. Of course, their individual descriptions are all different, and they each come to suspect the other ones are lying. The moral of the story as Tim frames it is that: "Humans have a tendency to claim absolute truth based on their limited, subjective experience as they ignore other people’s limited, subjective experiences which may be equally true."


Okay. So how does understanding that we each, er, understand the same things differently help with creativity?


Well, if you can doubt, you can question. And if you can question, you can find answers. New answers to old questions. Different answers to new ones. You can free yourself up from well-worn patterns of thinking.


You can also see things through other people's eyes - something we've discussed on the blog before here and here. This opens you up to new inspiration and creative stimulation.


If you're familiar with the work of Adam Curtis, then wherever you sit on the political spectrum, it's hard to disagree that his documentaries go the extra mile to point out how the 'world' we're shown isn't always what we think it is (or as others see it).


Whether you accept Curtis' take on things or not, his documentaries are pretty fascinating, even as pieces of visual art. And if parody can be considered some kind of compliment, I'll leave you with this satirical spoof (below) of Adam's documentary style, which wryly questions his truth.


The truth is out there. But it may not true. Although it might be. So question it anyway. And maybe you'll come up with another idea.

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