Sometimes I’ll come across something that I read, or hear, or see, that causes a permanent shift in my thinking. I was reminded of this the today when I was idly browsing my copy of Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein. The plot of this excellent piece of science fiction revolves around the reintroduction to Earth of a man raised by Martians. When I first read the book, in high school, I can clearly remember how shocking it was to put myself in the mind of someone experiencing money, religion, and other very common human concepts for the first time. While I certainly haven’t adopted all of the philosophies espoused in the book, these ideas definitely altered my thinking, I’d like to believe for the better. In college, it was breakthroughs in understanding of induction, recursion, and functional programming all radically altered the way I approach problem solving in ways that reach beyond my programming skill. I remember a similar effect the first time I really wrapped the concept of “focus” in the martial arts.

the common thread between all these personal mental shifts was a pile of hard work.  There’s currently no easy way to shortcut the learning process, and I can’t see any way to do so in the near future. This presents a real problem, considering that the amount of knowledge available to the average person is increasing exponentially. Most of us don’t have the luxury of having unlimited time for study and exploration. Technology might be make this information more accessible, but it isn’t making it any easier for our brains to process, collate, and learn from the increasing river of useful knowledge, nor does it make it easier to find which nuggets in the sea of content will actually spark a new idea.

I wonder if it would be possible to somehow speed up this process by collecting a list of books, activities, and conceptual “big ideas” that other people have found to create a paradigm shift in their own thinking. It seems to me that this would be a great way to continue working out my mental muscles without having to try to find  good ideas by luck or coincidence. I’d be much more motivated to study a subject outside my expertise  on my own if I knew what the “big idea” was that I was trying to wrap my head around.  Admittedly, this would come with the downside of knowledge “a mile wide, and an inch deep” but I think that’s a worthy sacrifice to prevent the motivation killing problem of drowning in the details of a new area of study.  The goal wouldn’t be to become a master of every domain, but rather, to force the mind to expand and grow by mastering new core ideas that change how one views the universe.

Does anyone have any suggestions for content that meets the standard of “paradigm shifting” ?  Or is it possible that this kind of thing is too personal to generalize well?

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