Einstein was a theoretical physicist, not an experimentalist or a developmental physicist. Rather than collecting data which could test a hypothesis or working to master physical ideas in a practical way, the theoretician experiments in the mind, looking for conceptual answers.
Theoreticians are the visionaries of physics.
I couldn’t have survived my life without thought experiments. By changing my viewpoint and asking new questions, have always worked to find what is going on under the surface, away from my instant assumptions.
You are not upset about what you think you are upset about, says one of the core principles of ACIM. It’s easy to think the situation we are facing is making us feel angry, but our feelings are always about what the moment brings up in us, not about the moment.
Questioning everything is the at the core of the theoretician’s approach.
We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.
— Albert Einstein
Humans have a very, very strong tendency towards observer bias. If, in our experience, something “feels” real, we assume that it is real unless we do the hard work to move beyond our limited point of observation.
The limits of “common sense” as codified by Newton just didn’t work to explain the world that Einstein saw. Finding a way to make sense of that world, a world where gravity had to be explained and connected with other forces, took much work to look in new ways, even down to finding new geometries that allowed for a curved universe.
Einstein may have started the field of quantum mechanics, but by his death it had progressed even more than he wanted to grasp. “God does not play dice with the universe,” he asserted, but now we understand how many events do not have any outcome until they are observed, how entangled quanta can continue to interact even separated by a huge distance. We now know that even Einstein came up against limits in his personal observer bias, preferring the comfort of assertion rather than the queerness of the questions.
If we take what we see as real, thinking our recording of the data is the data, we will never see the realities that exist beyond the limits of our own observations. We will continue to be vector thinkers rather than network thinkers (2006), assuming the lines we take through the universe are the real pathways and not just the connections that happened in our experience, one path among an uncountable multitude.
Humans like a nice, concrete world, with a known up and down, with walls that comfort and contain. Reality, though, is never that simple, The connections are enormous, thrilling and challenging (1997)
Thought experiments are the only way we can look at pathways, processes and energies outside of our line of sight, beyond our observer bias. They are the only way to create new thinking which creates new understanding which offers the possibility of new solutions.
Observer bias is rarely obvious to us. It is only work that reveals it, only thought experiments which force new ways of seeing. Getting good at those experiments takes long development of skill and discipline, letting go of the comforting sense that we are at the centre of a world we can comprehend and control, engaging the notion that questions are the only way forward.
The believer is happy, the doubter is wise, as the old Hungarian proverb goes. Wisdom is not in comfort, convenience and convention, it is in the quantum queries which move us past observer bias to a new way of seeing.
Transvestism is about changing your clothes, transsexualism is about changing your body, transgender is about changing your mind, doing the thought experiments that move you beyond observer bias to see the world beyond your immersion in one viewpoint and become new.
I am the shadows my words cast.
— Octavio Paz
Humans can’t see truth, we can only see the effects of truth. We are making shadows to try and represent what know to be true, within the limits of our own observer bias.
The notion that, no matter what our senses tell us, there is no objective truth is the most powerful idea that humans have ever come up with. By creating symbolic language, we humans extended the power of our minds beyond the boundaries of our physical experience.
For those who use these symbolic tools to manipulate people by pushing their emotional buttons, the notion that personal experience is reality holds power. Create a feeling in someone, get a response.
Asking people to use their human brains to look at the way their own senses are confounding them is a challenge to convention. They like the limits of their vision, they think those limits are real.
At the nexus of physics, shamanism, philosophy, marketing and art is the role of the visionary, the one who sees the forces at play and asks “What if?” An awareness beyond is required, one only possible through thought experiments that go beyond the boundaries of the expected.
The difference between these approaches isn’t the seeing, it is the end goal. What do you want from the process? How much are your goals down, dirty, and direct or how much are you standing for conceptual lifting and openness? Are you manipulating with clarity, your objectives exposed, or doing so covertly, lying about your end game, even to yourself?
Being a dedicated visionary isn’t for everyone, but everyone needs to have some vision about the things that are important to them. The experience of having vision, of holding a model of something in your mind that you can do thought experiments with is the beginning of valuing the visionaries around you, those who bring insight to you by challenging your internalized observer bias.
It may be easy to be anti-intellectual, to claim that your “common sense,” your personal experience and understanding of the world is much more valid than anything anyone else can possibly offer you.
When you do that, though, you get stuck relative to where you are. Problems cannot be solved with the same level of thinking that created them. Moving forward is required, creating the vision of new possibilities.
Go as far as you can see, and when you get there, you’ll see farther. If you do not raise your eyes, you will think you are the highest point, as Antonio Porcha said.
You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?’
— George Bernard Shaw
What if things were different? How would that change our understanding of reality? Where are the limits of your vision the limits of your life?
Listen to a visionary and you many end up with a new vision for yourself.