The Gallery of the Mind
Where do your ideas come from? How do you share them with others? Do you ever think about how they think? You are part of endless network of thinkers, so how can the way you think about information transform how you listen, learn, think and share ideas.
I’d like to create a picture for you in your mind. It’s based on one that’s in my head, and I’d like to share it so that we might start to think in roughly similar terms about the way we all think about information together.
I’m imagining that I’m in a large, high-ceilinged hexagonal room, the sort of space that you might find in a large, modern, spacious art gallery, though there’s nothing on the walls.
Like many galleries, there are large open doorways in each of the six sides of the room, and I’m vaguely aware that there are other rooms through these doors. I’m unsure of what might lie in them, and they seem darker to me than this one. I’ll look again at them later, because my attention is being drawn upwards.
The room is many times taller than I am, and it’d take me a good ten seconds to run from one side to the opposite. I’m particularly aware of how large the room is because I appear to be the only person in here.
As I lift up my gaze I start to see a beautiful, crystalline structure of interconnected strands, stretched across the ceiling, as if woven and sculpted by a million glass spiders over many years. As I crane my neck and rotate my gaze, I see it covers the whole ceiling right up to top of each wall.
The strands themselves are of various thicknesses, from sheer silken filaments barely thicker than spun sugar to strong, solid pipes of the same material. All of it is an opaque, translucent white.
Some of the strands are short, connecting across only a few metres of space. Others are long, winding sinuously through various points from one side of the room to the other. When they meet, they come together in smooth curvatures, as if they’re sweeping motorway junctions built to minimise friction.
Through them all, no matter how long or short, thick or thin, pulse tiny particles of light, of every imaginable colour, travelling at different speeds, flashing with different intensity. The whole ceiling is alive with this light show.
As I start thinking about particular things, light seems to rush to different areas of the network, so that the rhythm of my own thoughts seems in tune to what I’m seeing up there. In fact, if I think of a particular thing again, and then again, it will elicit similar responses in similar areas.
It dawns on me that I’m looking up at the map of my own mind, the network that connects the ideas, information and knowledge that resides inside my head. Except now, I’m free to walk under it, and I can start to think about the information that goes in there, and how to walk around under my own mind to find different perspectives.
The nature of the light moving through the structure, the variety of colours, the changing intensity and speeds, means that every time I walk to a different part of the gallery, things look different.
Then I notice something else.
Slowly floating up towards the ceiling, like week-old helium balloons, there are small orbs made from a similar material to the strands above, thin threads forming a lightly-woven gauze around a few small particles of light which zip around inside.
As they reach the latticework above, the orbs bounce off various strands, as if seeking a home to settle into. Some are quickly absorbed into specific places, thickening the connections between points as they do, the light they contained part of the greater whole. Others don’t seem to settle as easily; still part of the construct, yet not as attached to the whole as others are.
Suddenly, down here on the gallery floor, I feel something floating in the back of my head. It’s something new, a bolt from the blue, and it’s right in here inside my head, moving forwards now towards the space just above my eyes. Holding my cupped hands up, I carefully exhale, and out in my breath come a few zipping, dancing particles of light.
Surprisingly, I find I can hold them between my hands, open about an inch or so, as if inspecting a butterfly caught in a meadow. I can turn the light particles, examine what they are, and think about what they might mean.
If I were to separate my hands, I know the particles would just float off, never to be seen again. But if I concentrate, and start to sculpt from the tips of my fingers, tiny strands will start to form around the particles. So I craft an orb around the idea, shaping the spherical container that will lift it up to the ceiling above.
If I work it too much, I’ll over do it. Too much material will weigh down the information inside, and it’ll never float up. On the other hand, too little material, and the information will escape, and disappear off, scattering as it goes.
I pull the last thread around, and inspect the finished orb. Having worked on it just enough, I start to sense where it might find a home in the latticework above. I take a few steps in the general direction of where it might sit, and shift the orb around so I have one hand on top, and one below.
I feel a slight pressure on my upper hand, as the orb wants to start its upward journey. I pull back my top hand, and give it a little directional lift with the other, and watch it slowly float up to the ceiling.
Finally, I look around the room, back to those large doorways I saw before. Through each door, I can see someone else, in a room of their own, doing exactly what I’m doing. We all have our own rooms. Beyond each doorway connecting their rooms to mine, I can see doorways beyond, and the hints of more beyond that.
The more I can see the ideas others are capturing, as their orbs slowly rise and I focus in on them, the more I feel filled with new ones of my own. These ideas we shape are generous acts, illuminating the rooms of others around us, an endless communal creative endeavour to fill our rooms with light.
I shared this story with a few friends when I’d first written it; floated it through the doors in to their rooms, if you will. One of the common reactions was along the lines of “well, I don’t think like that, but now I’m thinking about how I do think…”
You might well now be thinking something similar.
I realised I have no idea if, in the story, I see the others doing the same as me because that’s how I see myself doing it. What might they see when they look through their doors? How do they tell themselves the story of thinking about thinking?
You may be starting to reflect on how you work with information and ideas as they float through you in everyday life. If we were sitting together, we would perhaps begin to share different visions of how we think we think, from which we could start to agree some basic principles that are true to all of our stories. For instance…
- Information comes in from outside
- Some sits inside already
- It is structured in a way we don’t quite understand
- As people share their information with us, we process it in a particular way
It’s about a set of four considerations, a reflection on the process of capturing ideas, and connections to others.
The first is about the capturing of a new idea. How do I shape an idea, a cluster of information? What does the shaping process entail? How do I decide which ideas need capturing, and which can float off? How do I practice that craft, so that it becomes effortless?
The second is about my familiarity with the network of ideas in my head. How well do I know it? Could I sketch out the major parts, knowing how things connect? How can I capture new ideas in ways that connect to other things in there already? How do I make sure the network is loose enough to find productive new connections as things evolve?
The third is about when I want to use the information and ideas. How can I pull things down just as easily as I float them up? How do I walk around in my own head, and see things from different perspectives? How do I make sure the process of retrieval is as easy as the process of storage?
The fourth is about the people around us. What do we appreciate in the well-crafted ideas of others? What do we do with them when we see them? How can we see further , so that we are not simply seeing the ideas of those closest to us, reinforcing our own ideas in their similarity?
You might have a story like this for yourself, how you think about ideas and how they connect. You might not, and this could serve as a starting point for how you develop one.
I’m going to use this, initially, as the first part of a series of essays on the ideas of how we capture, craft and share information in different forms as part of every task we undertake.
What’s I believe is important is how we consistently think of the information as material to work with; not as liquid, but as light.