While glancing through VS Naipaul’s An Area of Darkness, I came across an interesting observation. Naipaul described the first reactions of a visitor exposed to India’s poverty. He described the thoughts and feeling going through the person’s mind and remarked that the visitor would be angry if he realized that his thoughts were the same thoughts that had occurred to everyone else who had experienced the same situation.
Why angry? I wondered. Thoughts and feelings are extremely personal. They are the root of our self-image and what most of us like to believe make us special. But new thoughts are rare. I find it almost impossible to have one. Even seemingly new ideas turn out to be rehashing of older ones I had come across elsewhere. When was the last time you felt in the presence of a radically original and interesting thinker?
Nobel prize winning physicist Richard Feynman ascribed much of his success to the fact that he used a “different set of tools”. As a child, he learnt calculus from a book aimed at a general reader before approaching the formal academic texts. As a result, he knew several techniques that did not receive enough attention in the conventional treatment of the subject. This allowed him to approach problems where his conventionally trained peers had failed.
If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking