Continuing from last Monday, from my book Hoover’s Vision:
Once our mind is open and ready to receive, we can begin to use that sponge to absorb information.
But sometimes the world seems a hard place to figure out. Now and then we hear a simple explanation for everything, but when we examine the ideas, we can think of many circumstances where the explanation doesn’t work. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., said, “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Simple explanations arrived at without study, without a deep understanding of the underlying complexity of an issue, are meaningless.
The first task of the thinking person is to separate out what is meaningful from what is meaningless.
Virtually everyone has the capacity to better understand the world about them, even to be visionary with respect to one or more aspects of the world, if they learn the basic techniques presented in this book. The first step is to sort out all the information, to be comfortable with the intensity of the flow.
Every person, no matter how “smart” on any standardized test, remembers millions of pieces of data. We remember the tunes of songs and the names of movies and actors. We know recipes and sports scores. What we remember depends on what we find interesting. And a corollary is that we remember things when they are connected in our heads. Most everything in our head, at least everything that stays there very long, is related to one or more other pieces of data. One of the great ways in which our minds really outpower even the biggest and fastest computers is the way in which we can rapidly link data, including linking it through different dimensions. In other words, in a single instant, your head can do a dance that goes something like “Magic Johnson – Lakers – LA – Hollywood – John Travolta – Liberal Politics – Conservative Politics – Charlton Heston – Moses – Church – the Bake Sale Saturday.”
In short, we all have tremendous power to see and to remember. But we can only achieve understanding if we are interested in what is important, if we link it together with other information in our heads, and if we keep our eyes open for it.
One of the things that scares a lot of people is information overload. The rise of the Internet has even increased the flow of information and placed it at our fingertips. How do we keep this avalanche of knowledge from crashing our brain?
First, relax and take pleasure in not knowing everything. A wine lover would be depressed if she felt she had tried every wine and there was nothing new to experience. No great athlete looks forward to the day when all the races have been run. When asked their favorite place, true travel-lovers say, “The place I have not been to yet.” If you love learning, then you have no problem with not knowing everything. You look forward to your future education.
Knowing everything is not the key. The key is to know five things:
1. Know what matters; rise above the clutter.
2. Know how it ties together; create a structure on which you can hang new information and link it to information you already have.
3. Know where to look for information, how to research and learn more.
4. Know how to analyze information, how to think about it.
5. Know how this information relates to your job, project, or personal goals — for example, how the information you gather might help you do your job well, understand how your car works, learn how to invest, or develop your life philosophy.
The first step in gaining wisdom is to sort out the meaningful from the meaningless. There are plenty of people trying to “edit” our information for us – newspapers, TV networks, cable news, magazines, radio, our friends, our family, our bosses, our employees. Having the Wall Street Journal or The New York Times show up on our doorstep each morning for mere pennies (or quarters) has spoiled us. Watching CNN and network anchors has spoiled us. We forget the huge effort behind these results. The critical process of editing, screening, sorting, and analyzing the flood of information is labor intensive and time consuming. But in fact we must ultimately take responsibility for editing our own information. And this often means undoing the editing done by others.