For centuries, we have valued when someone neatly assign labels to new discoveries. We focus on searching for differences and then we may use a new word to describe the function. How is this part of the brain different from this part? How is a new diet different from a previous diet? How are female artists different? How is this new gadget different?
Yet many things overlap and exploring the ways they overlap may be a great starting point for understanding how things compete. David Eagleman describes how neuroscientists have focused on finding areas in the brain that takes care of various activities such as colour detection and face recognition. Yet this idea is based upon the assumption that the brain divides things up. But the brain does not work in this simple and elegant way. Instead, there are overlapping functions and different parts of our brain are competing against each other. We can observe this competition in various situations. We can argue against our own ideas and we may want to go at different directions at the same time.
Our memories of daily activities are stored in an area called the hippocampus. If you experience something traumatic and frightening, a second memory track is stored in the amygdala. This is different memories of the same event in two different places in the brain. Memories in the amygdala are different and yet they are memories of the same event.
We often hold something as a standard or model for what “the world should be like”. Humans are held as a standard when we examine animal behavior, adults are held as the standard when we talk about child development, and a rectangular screen is the standard when talk about computers. Yet treating animals’ behaviour as good or bad compared to human behavior means that we may miss overlapping ways of acting and being in the world. A political party may think that their view should be in opposition to another party, yet there may be overlapping ways that are missed due to a focus on the differences.
When solving problems it may be fruitful to use a thinking tool where you search for multiple overlapping ways – MOW. Thus, there might not be one complete solution, instead there could be many overlapping ways to solve the problem. Often we tend to solve part of problem and then another part of the problem. We divide things up and we believe that the best solution is achieved when we put all the little bits together. Yet valuable insights may be lost by this search for the cleverest way to solve the problem.
Multiple Overlapping Ways – MOW
In some situations, it is appropriate to search for multiple ways to solve a problem. Or multiple ways that the system you are studying may solve the problem. Being able to define overlapping points helps the thinking in such areas as decision-making, programming, planning for ways to improve upon an existing invention.
- How many ways can you solve the problem?
- Imagine news ways that you can solve the problem that achieve the same result
- What parts of the solution is the same?
- What similarities can you find between different suggestions?
- How and why is something held together?
- How do things compete?
- What happens when things fall apart?
Photo: “Solution” by Salvatore Vuono