By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Break It Down and then the Flash of Insight

John Dalton's A New System of Chemical Philosophy (1808).
I do not understand the physics, but I have known the method used by a recently deceased Nobel laureate physicist:

"He was a master of boiling things down to the simplest possible form and then extracting the most important consequences that follow from that . . . . That's how he gained penetrating insights into very complicated problems where other people didn't see what was going on, because they were too confused by the complications."

Link source: .

As a young attorney, I could be immersed in very detailed and complex research seeking some light at the end of the tunnel--then a senior attorney would come out of the blue with a very simple and valuable insight even though he had no deep familiarity with the research. That is a lesson for specialists in all fields: do not dismiss the observations of outsiders but always consider them as favors that can lead us to think out of our self-imposed and conventional boxes of thought.

This method of "boiling things down" is also very useful in personal relations. You try to understand and get along with certain people, and then you realize that they are just plain obnoxious and need to change, a change you cannot make for them. Other people are hard to reach for a variety of complicated (and sometimes unfathomable) reasons having to do with family background, past experiences, and personality issues. Just recognize that simple fact and move on. You can do no more.

To boil things down is to focus like a laser on what is the fundamental reality of this problem or that person. Then draw out the consequences. Your focus will certainly not be infallible, but in life you have to make a decision and act (or not act, which is itself often a very valuable action).