The nuts and bolts of our mind and brain are Ideas

I had submitted an idea for an Applied Behavior Science summit. They liked the idea and selected it for further screening. I was invited on a one to one conversation with the jury to decide on further steps. If I am selected, I would have to work further on presentation. I will finally get a 12 minute slot in the summit to give a speech on this idea.

The feedback I got in this one to one conversation was that “I need to develop my idea”, “My idea needs to be sharp. The message is not getting across”.

While I understood all these statements and also relate to them completely viz a viz my presentation. However while reflecting and working, I got to the very basic of the word ‘Idea’. What does it really mean? What does it mean to develop it? Yes, I have read numerous articles on ‘how to be more creative’, ‘Generate more ideas’ and ‘Where good ideas come from’ and all. This is not about that! It is about the fundamental philosophical question. What is an Idea? My subsequent research and synthesis blew my mind. Also, what are the practical use and application of understanding ‘Idea’? This is a first principles article. Read on to discover.

There is an entire branch in philosophy that is dedicated to this. Even just reading the Wikipedia on the word ‘Idea’ was enough to burn my mental fuses. For the purpose of sanity, I will refer to Merriam Webster.

Some of the meanings of Idea are : a suggestion, a belief, an image, a formulated thought or opinion, whatever is know or supposed about something, a plan of action, the central meaning or chief end of an action or situation, Patterns of a transcendent entity of which existing things are imperfect representations, an entity (such as a thought, concept, sensation, or image) actually or potentially present to consciousness etc..

In short it is a lot to do with the mind, imagination, thinking etc. It has to do with brain. However I strongly believe that it can also be felt in our body. Not sure how, just a hunch! I say this basis my experience with insights, eureka moments. We all have those. Times when suddenly something comes together. That moment. That idea is not something new, it might be very abstract and not fully formed as well. We may not be able to articulate that and yet, there is a felt bodily sense. It gives a strong sense of direction, meaning and fulfilment.

Imagine Archimedes who has just sat in his bathtub and he notices that the water comes out. Something immediately shifts in him. This shift was so significant that he runs naked on the streets of Greece. He is rushing to his king shouting Eureka, Eureka! He hasn't yet discovered the formula for Buoyance. He doesn't have the answer for the proportion of gold vs. silver in the crown and yet, he is confident and a lot of things fall in place for him. A mental activity but strong bodily reactions!

Another example, doctor House from the series House M.D. In every episode he would have an ‘epiphany’ a moment of insight and his face would become still. He would abandon his current conversations and get lost in his thought process. He would rush out and give new orders to his team. A very strong and consistent body reactions. So I don't agree that thoughts, ideas are just about mind and brain. They have a lot to do with body. May be some hormones would be secreted, some heart rate of bodily fluids rushing to and from mind. Something.

Yet, another example. I observe my three year old nephew and how he is learning new things. His eyes widen and goes deep when something ‘clicks’ for him. He compares and contrasts existing ideas and thus form new ones.

Rather than ‘thinking’ and abstractly reflecting on the concept of ‘Idea’, I am more interested in these ‘moments’. These moments of insightful experience explains a lot to us about ideas.

For all of the above examples, this new ‘shift’ in understanding is now permanent. We can’t give that away. An idea once implanted in mind is permanent. We can either choose to look in that direction and grow it further or if we don’t look, we can let it wither away. No guarantee that it will completely be gone. Thus an idea is a direction! A neural pathway in my mind and body. An addition to my mental images and bodily sensations. What is a purpose of this? It is an attempt for me to make sense of my environment and navigate it.

It has both the hardware and software component to it. The hardware is the biological part of body and brain. The software is the part of mind and imagination. Both combine together to form an Idea.

Sometimes these Ideas are about solving a problem, resolving a gap or a solution. At other times they are just abstract and making new connections with existing ideas.

Do let me know what you think about this article. The next article is practical. It build on this ‘ideas as a direction’ metaphor and thus explores how can we develop our ideas? How can we make more neural connections and mental images around an idea. Having this first principles approach will help us take better decisions and improve our well-being. That is the purpose of philosophy!

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