Who advised people to simply hold important questions in their minds?
June 4, 2005 2:08 AM   Subscribe

I was talking with a friend who informed me that he had read advice from an important person (as distinct from celebrity) to simply hold a pressing question in your mind and go about your life (though the answer might be years in coming, depending on its depth). Who was this? My friend thought it might be Isaac Newton. Can anyone provide me with a URL to a source? BTW, googling "hold a question in your mind" returns tons of hits on bibliomancy, etc., which is not what I'm after, however mystical the advice I'm describing sounds.
posted by rwhe to Religion & Philosophy (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Sounds like Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet:
You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
posted by sudama at 3:11 AM on June 4, 2005 [1 favorite]

Earl Nightingale's The Strangest Secret basically says that you become what you think about. I'm not sure that's exactly what you're thinking about, but it's certainly in the same area, and you may find it interesting.
posted by willnot at 6:25 AM on June 4, 2005

Some one once told me that was an Amish or Quaker thing, to formulate the question, release it, and wait for the answer. No idea if this is true or not, but might be a place to start googling.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 7:24 AM on June 4, 2005

Walter Benjamin also said something similar about not writing thoughts down immediately as they occur, but struggling with them and working them out in your head. I can't remember where he said this. I should have written it down.
posted by mokujin at 9:50 AM on June 4, 2005

I've heard several of varients on this, so I think the idea is widespread, making finding the source hard. You might even have to pick some likely candidates (einstein, etc) and check out pages that list their famous and not-so-famous quotes.

The explanation of the idea that I most connect with is more of a description of the mechanism, something along the lines of "ideas don't just happen - the problem is not solved by the famous flash of insight that comes out of the blue, the eureka moment, that moment is the culmination of a lengthy process of the brain working on that idea, percolating it, trying to interface it with everything else you are thinking of, always in the back of your mind, discarding things, looking for new connections, always probing it. The eureka moment is when you find the connection. It will never happen if you do not have the problem in mind at some level".
posted by -harlequin- at 5:26 PM on June 4, 2005

This is a staple of self-help personal improvement books. Everyone since Napoleon Hill seems to have been recommending this course of action, though usually in terms of "repeatedly write out the things you want as if you already have them." The idea is that your subconscious gets hold of it, and directs your conscious to head that way.
posted by lowlife at 6:28 PM on June 4, 2005

Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) has written stuff in this vein in some of his books.
posted by kindall at 11:09 PM on June 4, 2005

If you keep a question focused in your mind, the answer seems to elude you. If you let the question percolate for awhile, then the answer often pops up later. Nothing mystical, just a peculiarity of how our minds work.
posted by phewbertie at 1:42 AM on June 5, 2005

I believe it was G. Spencer Brown in his The Laws of Form where he mentioned Newton in passing:

Discoveries of any great moment in mathematics and other disciplines, once they are discovered, are seen to be extremely simple and obvious, and make everybody, including their discoverer, appear foolish for not having discovered them before. It is all too often forgotten that the ancient word for the prenascence of the world is a fool, and that foolishness, being a divine state, is a condition to be either proud or ashamed of.

Unfortunately we find systems of education today which have departed so far from the plain truth, that they now teach us to be proud of what we know and ashamed of ignorance. This is doubly corrupt. It is corrupt not only because pride is a mortal sin, but also because to teach pride in knowledge is to put up an effective barrier against any advance upon what is already known, since it makes one ashamed to look beyond the bonds imposed by one’s ignorance.

To any person prepared to enter with respect into the realm of his great and universal ignorance, the secrets of being will eventually unfold, and they will do so in a measure according to his freedom from natural and indoctrinated shame in his respect of their revelation.

In the face of the strong, and indeed violent, social pressures against, few people have been prepared to take this simple and satisfactory course toward sanity. And in a society where a prominent psychiatrist can advertise that, given the chance, he would have treated Newton to electric shock therapy, who can blame a person for being afraid to do so?

To arrive at the simplest truth, as Newton knew and practiced, requires years of contemplation. Not activity. Not reasoning. Not calculating. Not busy behaviour of any kind. Not reading. Not talking. Not making an effort. Not thinking. Simply bearing in mind what it is one needs to know. And yet those with the courage to tread this path to real discovery are not only offered practically no guidance on how to do so, they are actively discouraged and have to set about it in secret, pretending meanwhile to be diligently engaged in the frantic diversions and to conform with the deadening personal opinions which are continually being thrust upon them.

In these circumstance, the discoveries that any person is able to undertake represent the places where, in the face of induced psychosis, he has, by his own faltering and unaided efforts, returned to sanity. Painfully, and even dangerously, maybe. But nonetheless returned, however furtively...

posted by y2karl at 6:57 AM on June 5, 2005

Upon Googling, I see a lot more has come online about Brown and the Laws of Form since I made that post. While a lot of it is on the woo woo end of the spectrum, Dr. Randall Whitaker's G. Spencer Brown and His Laws Of Form looks interesting.
posted by y2karl at 4:00 PM on June 5, 2005

Here are some relevant quotations regarding Newton:

"I keep the subject constantly before me", [Newton] said, "and wait 'till the first dawnings open slowly, by little and little, into a full and clear light." ( source )

When Isaac Newton was asked how he had managed to discover the physical laws of the universe, he answered, “By thinking about it day and night” (Online source--Back when I was in high school, I kept a list of favorite quotes, and "By thinking about it day and night" was on it. Alas, I can't find a better online source for it. I think Newton originally said it in Latin, but I can't remember the Latin phrase, so I can't google for it.)

"If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been due more to patient attention, than to any other talent --Isaac Newton" (Source)
posted by yankeefog at 7:17 AM on June 6, 2005

« Older I'm looking for the children's book with a cookie...   |   dvd problem Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.