By Roy H. Williams
Glance at the headline above and you think, “Imaginary characters.”
Add angels to that list and the category will blur to “Characters who do good” if you’re a believer in angels, but will remain unchanged if you consider them to be imaginary.
Change it to read “Peter Pan, Superman, Angels and Airplanes” and a new category will emerge, “Things that can fly.”
Pattern recognition is an important function of the right hemisphere of your brain. Grouping is a form of pattern recognition.
The Atomists of the late 1800’s believed the nature of things to be absolute and not dependent on context. Gestalt theorists disagreed. They believed the human mind instinctively creates wholes out of incomplete elements and that the nature of a thing is greatly altered by its context.
You’ve likely never heard of the Atomists. This is because they were wrong.
The Gestalt Theorists, however, were right. They said that humanity’s instinctive grouping of characteristics causes us to interpret things in predictable ways.
The laws of organization that determine grouping are: (1) proximity – items will be grouped according to their nearness. (2) similarity – items similar in some respect will be grouped together. (3) closure – items will be grouped to complete a larger entity. (4) simplicity – items will be organized into simple figures according to symmetry, regularity, and smoothness.
Understand these laws of organization and you will: (A) enlarge your power to transfer perception, communicate. (B) accelerate your ability to solve problems.
New subject: Can you fly?
Now let me ask differently: In your mind, can you?
You probably weren’t sure how to answer the first question, “Can you fly?” because you didn’t know if I was being literal or figurative. When I asked the follow-up “Can you?” it triggered some doubt and caused you to think that perhaps I was asking if you could actually fly.
Context matters. Claude Monet knew the color of an object would change according to the reflections of objects near it. This understanding of context allowed him to unleash a visual phenomenon known as French Impressionism.
And great writers know the same thing; the meaning of a word is altered by the reflections of the words near it.
John Steinbeck, in a note to his friend, Pascal Covici, said, “It is as though the words spread out like dye in water and color everything around them. A strange and mystic business, writing.”
Choose your words according to the baggage they carry. And then pair those words with others that carry similar bags and watch for the reflected colors.
Superman + Peter Pan = Imaginary Characters.
Superman + Airplanes = Things That Can Fly.
Teacher, are you ready to fly? Before you stretch your wings, let your face feel the glow from the words of the Great Ones. John Steinbeck, Tom Robbins, Neal Stephenson…
You know your way to the bookstore, right?