Monthly Archives: November 2015

Where do ideas come from?

nose downTrouble, her nose on a scent, is literally down-to-earth when it comes to new ideas. She skims the ground or pushes her nose right into things, seeking and discovering – a peanut hidden by a jay in a drift of yellow leaves, a bit of dead crab inside a fractured shell, a biscuit in a closed hand. What she makes of these discoveries I cannot tell, though I’m pretty sure that she connects them. Like a researcher examining her findings, she formulates a hypothesis and tests it on every excursion, until her conclusions are clear. The neighbourhood is a good place to turn over leaves: if the jays haven’t left peanuts, the cats have often left something else. Beaches are dead-crab buffets. And the nursing home is a good place to snuffle fists.(Old hands hungry for touch often conceal a treat, and the soft thrusting of a nose provides it. Win-win.)

snuffling cropSo often has the hypothesis been tested and proven that Trouble’s discoveries are fast becoming canine laws, and she is disappointed if her neighbourhood experiments yield nothing but an empty coffee cup under the leaves. Generally they confirm an even larger theory – that the world is full of good things.

Human’s ideas come from her own version of sniffing around, and then the application of questions that were instinctive in childhood but became systematic later.

When and where?
And always, insistently, like any two-year-old, why?

The questions launch speculation. What place has this phenomenon in a larger pattern? That’s the intellectual work of the academy, in its simplest terms. What every undergraduate essay is doing. Asking – and answering – so what?

Once in a while, however, an observation, a fact, a detail resists a pattern.

shoe cropThe same questions come into play: Who lost this shoe? And who placed it here to be found? Whatever was the wearer doing to lose one shoe, and not search until it was found again?

An empty shoe on a bleached stump on a sunny autumn day. Innocent, surely. Or is there another shoe somewhere in the undergrowth? And something more sinister?

Speculation begins: is this a murder mystery unsolved? A love story gone wrong? A scavenger hunt abandoned?
Where do ideas come from?

From something familiar uncovered or something odd in plain sight.

So what?

The same question yields both science and story.