Sunday, August 20, 2006

Take time to think

Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!
- Lewis Carroll, mathematician and writer (1832-1898)

Charles Dodgson (Carroll's real name) was a master of social commentary. Following the pattern of great writers of the past, who wrote nursery rhymes and children's tales with meanings that would come through to the adults who would read them to their children but which could not get them convicted of treason, Dodgson kept his position at Oxford while pointing out the duplicity, the hypocrisy, even the insanity of the English nobility of his time.

In this quotation he felt what many of us have felt about "the rat race," that you have to keep moving or you will get run over by the hoard following you. If you want to get somewhere in such a society, you must run faster than the rest.

Yet deep thinking, of the kind that may develop a new social order, new social paradigms, new philosophy or new theory requires the thinkers to do little but think. Thinking requires what we now call "down time," time in which we apparently accomplish nothing.

Most of the great physicists of the past, for example, produced their seminal work in their younger years, only expanding on it as they aged. Einstein was barely out of university when he developed his theories of relativity and special relativity. Labouring in a patent office in Switzerland, he had time on his hands, time to think, time he didn't have later when he had a family and a university career and theories to support within his discipline.

Thinking takes time. Great thinking takes longer. That's not to say that great ideas don't crop up quickly, but rather what is done with them takes time to develop.

Adolescents tend to have more free time than older adults, thus they find more problems with the society their parents operate in than the parents do themselves. They have the time to see the gaps between what could be and what is, while their parents are too busy trying to keep up with what is.

A person who is "doing nothing" may be pondering great thoughts or he/she might just be vegetating. The only way you can be sure which is to ask. Even vegetating may not be bad if it's a proper rest time before another round of mental exertion.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to encourage everyone to take time off to think.
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