Commonplace Blog

I'm currently reading "Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation" by Steven Johnson. The topic is interesting to me, but even if it wasn't I would have bought the book after seeing the publisher's viral marketing campaign video on YouTube. That video is must-see. I'll write a review of the book another day.

Essentially, Johnson's thesis seems to be that good ideas are almost never the result of an "aha" moment, but the slow combination of many seemingly unrelated pieces of information and ideas that combine in the right environment to evolve into a good idea. In fact, much of Johnson's book uses the illustration of Darwin's theory of natural selection to show how Darwin's idea evolved in a way similar to the way he believed mankind had evolved.

Now obviously, I reject many of the implications Darwin came up with. Yet, the process he went through in reaching his theory is fascinating.

Johnson takes quite a bit of time to describe what Darwin called his "commonplace book." Commonplace books were like scrapbooks for ideas, quotes, recipes, and information that became popular in the 17th century. Great thinkers like John Locke, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Milton, and Mark Twain were all well-known keepers of Commonplace Books.

Commonplace Books became a place where thinkers would collect information that had virtually nothing in common. They would hand copy entire sections from books that they found interesting, recipes they might try, mathematical equations and virtually anything else they were thinking about. The Commonplace Book became a repository to store unrelated ideas and information  "just in case" the thinker needed the information in the future.

According to Johnson, these Commonplace Books provided the "Primordial Soup" that combined ideas and thoughts so that when the conditions were just right, unrelated ideas became related in what only appeared to be an "Aha" moment for thinkers.

It's a fascinating topic.

Ultimately, for me I guess, the purpose of this blog is to serve as my own version of a Commonplace Book. I don't do any of the things people say you should do in order to attract readers, mostly because I don't really care if anyone reads this blog or not. My post count binges and purges, I don't stick to a single topic, and I don't have a specific audience in mind. I'm just hoping to collect enough of my thoughts and ideas that some day I will say something really smart.

Until then, I hope you enjoy the hot, steamy bowl of primordial nothingness.


Understanding Alice said...

actually, I find your blog both interesting and thought provoking - plainly soup is good :)