...thinking about a whole bunch of things, for that matter.
Let me start here: I've begun (just begun, truth be told) reading "Myths, Dreams, and Religion", which is a collection of 11 essays, edited by Joseph Campbell.
In the preface, he quotes Carl Jung, who said (or wrote): "Special knowledge is a terrible disadvantage. It leads you in a way too far, so that you cannot explain any more." I thought that was an interesting quote, and an interesting concept, and while it's often true, it's not entirely true.
The reason specialized knowledge presents the conundrum it does, in expressing concepts to people with less knowledge, is simply because those concepts often are rather difficult to understand without that specialized knowledge. If it took you 4 years of study to understand a concept, how can someone expect you to summarize your knowledge in a few sentences in a way they can fully understand? They can't, is the short answer. That's what sets some people apart, because some people have a gift for bridging that gap - using their knowledge and setting aside the details and finding the cord of truth that extends through the center of that, and extracting that and presenting that in a palatable form - and it's a rare talent. I've been able to do it from time to time, explaining computer concepts to people without the slightest idea about computers, and I've always had to do it through metaphor. I think my perspective as a wannabe artist who got into computers later, as a side note almost, helps - I don't think about computers like a computer science student, and in fact I think I'd probably make a terrible computer science student - but it gives me a perspective I can use to present it to other people that often makes sense to them.
I find it interesting that many of the most creative people, or at least those most renowned for their creativity, have been on drugs, alcoholics, insane... they've almost always had a perspective and view of the world not quite the same as the rest of the mundane mortals around them, and I suppose that's what gives them access to that creativity. Who knows? Maybe it's less creativity, and more of a case of being able to present their skewed view to those with a less skewed (or at least different world-view). After all, if you don't see things in quite the same way as others, merely presenting what you see will appear to be radical and creative.
I think that's part of why I tend to be a night person. It's true that I do loathe waking up in the morning, with a passion, but it's more than that. I enjoy staying up at night. I often feel this great regret, going to sleep, as if I'm leaving things undone. "What more could I have done had I stayed awake a little longer?"
I feel that way because I often have some of my most productive, and creative, times after the sun has set. I always attributed it to being a night person, and simply more attuned to the night. It occurred to me at some point that maybe it was simply the time that I could have sans-distractions, and that the uninterrupted time gave me more of a chance to focus on the act of creation. I've since begun to wonder - maybe it's because, as someone who doesn't take drugs, and doesn't get drunk all that often... maybe it's because when I stay up this late, my mind begins to wander, my subconscious begins to speak more loudly, and my view starts to shift. I can be pretty silly and pretty off-center at 2 or 3 in the morning, and maybe that's a crucial part of the creative process for me (and apparently for many others). It's those moments when you aren't focused on the here and now, but on the somewhere and sometime.
I've had moments of inspiration in the line for the bus, in the shower, on the way to sleep, while dawdling over a meal... much more often, actually, in those little bits of time "lost", than in times I sat down and actively tried to create. I know a lot of other people have found the same thing as well.
I guess in part, it's because at those times, logic doesn't dominate quite as much, and intuition starts to take over. I suppose in some ways I've always been lucky, and marked as "more creative" than most, because I always have had a closer connection to - and trust in - intuition than most. Part of what makes me a successful sys admin, I think, is not some great store of knowledge, or dozens of years of experience, but simply the ability to make leaps past the step by step and directly to the solution, or at least considerably closer to it. I think that most people that tend to excel in a subject find themselves making those leaps as well. Anyone (well, at least in theory) can learn about a subject, but if you can't apply what you've learned, and more importantly if you can't take what you've learned and move past it, you will never be able to get any further than your level of knowledge. I've hands-down been able to outperform admins with much more experience and knowledge than I've had, simply because while they had to go step by step from point a to point b, I was able to hop and skip merrily past them, leaping right over many of the intermediate steps. There've been many a time when I've sat down to troubleshoot a problem, and just intuitively grasped what the cause of the problem was, and then gone and fixed it. It's sometimes left the people working with me on it somewhat flabbergasted, especially when they ask me how I figured out what the problem was, and I can't even explain it. I can retrace my steps, but when my steps don't include all of the supposedly necessary steps, they get lost.
There've been many times I've tried to explain how something worked to someone, and lost them completely, simply because I assumed they could make leaps over some mundane points that I regularly made, and have been criticized for skipping steps and necessary information in my instructions from time to time. I don't mean to, certainly, and part of the problem is that they may not have been necessary for me.
While one of my greatest strengths, it's often tripped me up as well, because it often hides a lack of knowledge that I may have, or even worse an actual problem with the subject. In high school, while studying calculus, I went to one of my teachers for some after-hours tutoring, because I was having problems. We began working on the material, and he asked me some questions, some of which absolutely stumped me. He looked at me in disbelief and asked how I could have possibly gotten as far as I did - and done as well as I had - if I couldn't even answer those questions. The reason why, of course, was because I had been able to simply understand the concepts, sometimes without knowing why, or being able to explain it, or in some cases understand the details themselves that made up the explanation for the concept. I've often been talking about technical matters and had the other person express some surprise at my lack of knowledge of details, for the same reasons. Even worse, there's another reason - I've used that intuition as a crutch, over the years. I don't have a very good memory, I don't have a very good head for details, and it's because I never bothered with the details. I'm sure with enough practice I could become good with the details and improve my memory, but I've had to use them so rarely that I've learned to get by without the details - and at this point find I often have a hard time with the details. It's why I can discuss concepts, design, and architecture with people who have years and years of development experience, even though I might have less actual knowledge than they had after a year of coding. I don't need to have written the code to understand why something should be a certain way, I just "get" it. It leaves me in terrible straits, though, when trying to actually implement that design. It gets me into trouble (as in, getting in over my head sort of trouble, not getting disciplined trouble).
To shift gears a bit... in the first essay in the book, "Western Mythology: Its Dissolution and Transformation", Alan Watts writes "Thus it's quite natural for a child brought up in Western culture to say to its mother, 'How was I made?' We think that's a very logical thing to ask, 'How was I made?" But actually this is a question that I don't think would be asked by a Chinese child. It wouldn't occur. The Chinese child might say, 'How did I grow?' But certainly not, "How was I made?' In the sense of being constructed, being put together, being formed out of some basic, inert, and therefore essentially stupid substance."
Actually, I disagree, fairly strongly. There are common themes throughout almost all cultures, and why, I'm not sure, but they exist. The word "ma" or "mama" or something similar means mother in almost every language known to mankind. Sure, it's partially because babies tend to make noises like that first, or at least very early on, but the point is not why it's that way, but simply that it is. It's natural to associate that sound with the concept of 'mother'.
There seems to be something akin to a racial memory and consciousness in the world; whether it's from shared experiences or some mark left indelibly on our genetic makeup by our experiences and passed down, or some spiritual link between people, I don't know. I do know that many, if not all, cultures do tend to actually have myths related to the creation of mankind - not just the birth, but the actual formation of humans as an object, often out of dust, or clay, or mud. The concept of humanity being formed by some higher power is prevalent all across the world, China included. There are many other common themes that run through literature, myth, etc. as well, and I think it's fascinating. The concept of something being reborn, stronger than before, of the health of a culture or group or area depending on and being tied to the health of a single person, or the personification of the forces that surround and shape our lives - these, and many other concepts, run throughout the myths and legends and consciousness of all of humanity, and not simply because they were carried over by missionaries or whatever else. There seem to be universal truths and ideas out there, shared by all people.
Perhaps if we could find that vein of truth running through things more often in our lives, we'd really understand what the world means, and why things happen. I wonder, would that make us more happy, or less? Is understanding and knowledge enough? And could we use that knowledge, or would we lack that ability to make that leap of intuition and to take that knowledge somewhere useful, or would it simply be another bit of intellectual but ultimately useless knowledge stored in our squishy gray databanks?
Damned if I know.