Serious Thinking Outside the Box | Wunsch Law Chicago
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Seeking Out the Absurd

The notion that “serious” results can only originate from “serious” thinking needs to be revised. Many breakthrough ideas, providing workable solutions to intractable problems, can be arrived at via distinctly unorthodox means.

The Absurd. Problems that admit of no simple solution––too often they’re examined rationally, logically. But what if these problems were seen as an aspect of the absurd? The available range of potential solutions (most unworkable) would be expanded, significantly.

For example, theoretical problems exist in law. Case law exists that’s against your position––how to convince the Court to follow another line of cases, one more favorable to your side of the case? An absurd take on matters would explore areas beyond the range of rationality. A rule that establishes an inflexible requirement warps into a lumbering giant swallowing everything in its path. That may lead to the question––“how does one peacefully coexist with a giant?” Use of force will probably not work, but giants can be distracted, can be fed to satiety, can be put to sleep. These may provide some insight into exploring other alternatives: argue the rule does not apply in this context (distracted), argue the rule has been satisfied (fed to satiety), argue the rule has been modified, limited, or overruled by other cases (put to sleep).

The Outrageous. Practical problems exist in law as well. You have the burden of proof, say, in establishing the nature and extent of damages. Pain and suffering warps into a poisonous snake. That may lead to the question––“how does a snake behave?” Snakes are erratic, uncontrollable, they can strike at any time, they’re easily provoked––these may provide some insight into the way you frame your questions: How would you describe the way pain has affected your life? Would you say its onset is something you can predict? Have there been instances where it strikes suddenly? Can you give us an example? Etc. Loss of a normal life warps into the tentacles of an octopus. That may lead to the question––“how does an octopus trap its prey?” It envelops, it attaches, it weighs down. Thus: Have there been times when your injuries have prevented you from doing things you believed you could do? What, if any, activities of daily living have been affected? Have there been times when you’ve felt trapped? Have you made efforts to break free of this? Etc.

The fantastic, the outermost, the outrageous––these are often good places to start. Pick an ultra-extreme position and explore it. Use bizarre visuals. Employ personification, anthropomorphism, animism, to make problems and concepts capable of being conceptualized in a different way. From time to time, use “synecdoche” ––according to Webster “a figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole (such as fifty sail for fifty ships)”––to encapsulate ideas. Use “metonymy”–– according to Webster “a figure of speech consisting of the use of the name of one thing for that of another of which it is an attribute or with which it is associated (such as “crown” in “lands belonging to the crown”)”––to abbreviate description.

Academics, artists, and inventors pay serious attention to the bizarre and peculiar. “What if we were to imagine….” “What would occur if we were to….”  The idea is what matters, not how you arrived at your idea. The inside of your mental space is entirely your own. No one will ever know that part of your thought process was childish, imaginary. “Almost all really new ideas have a certain aspect of foolishness when they are just produced.” ––Alfred North Whitehead. It’s very liberating to break free of arbitrarily imposed mental restraints. Some degree of patience is required because many of the ideas generated will not be a perfect fit.

We need to be more productive, to increase our efficiency, to achieve better results”––the mantra of just about any service-based organization. Process warps into an old piano that’s slightly out of tune. That may lead to the question––“how can we achieve better tonality?” Strings can be tightened or replaced, each key can be played with a more precise phrasing, the piano itself can be made electronic, etc. These may provide some insight into making process changes with the goal in mind as simply being “staying in tune” or “maintaining perfect pitch” and seeking out practical ways to achieve those goals. “Maintaining perfect pitch”––in the context of such a goal, the value of any change made becomes easier to assess and evaluate.

“If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it”––Albert Einstein. Cast aside the false notion that “serious” results can only originate from “serious” thinking. There’s no serious thinking, there’s only thinking. Once you’ve exhausted the reasonable, the logical––it’s time to start seeking out the absurd.