How To Develop Your Understanding Of A Field


Thursday, 8.28pm

Sheffield, U.K.

All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason. – Immanuel Kant

In Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance the lead character, Phaedrus, recalls coming across the writing of Kant. He writes about studying it like a chess player, looking for openings. He writes about Kant’s “formidable logical fortification” of his position. But eventually he finds that Kant is lacking something – that the ideas about beauty seem ugly and somehow there’s something not quite right with reason itself.

We’re moving away from this idea that there we can reason our way to a better way to be, that logic is perhaps not all there is. The thing about reason is that it works within a frame. You define what your boundaries are, what your axioms and beliefs are, and then you can construct logical arguments. The thing is that those argument work only within the context of a frame. What if the frame is wrong – instead of being a rectangle, it’s actually a circle? That’s going to affect how you think and feel about what’s happening inside the frame.

We also have a habit of denying anything outside the frame. If it falls inside our belief system then it’s fine. If it’s outside, then it’s wrong.

I think we are moving to a system of understanding that is starting to look at the connections between frames rather than the frames themselves. It’s the interaction of belief systems that creates much of what we see in the world around us, whether it’s conflict based on age-old religious differences or modern differences of opinion on forms of government or the rights of people.

We spend too much of our time looking inside a frame – looking to do the best job we can do, or be a particular kind of person. If you want to make life easier and create more value – it’s worth understanding what’s going on more broadly. And the easiest way to do that is to start recognising the frames around you and seeing what kinds of connections link them.


Karthik Suresh

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