Missing the Obvious

In a chapter (in “Expect the Unexpected (Or You Won’t Find It)”) devoted to how we miss what is obvious, Roger von Oech narrates a story about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson going on a camping trip 

“They pitched their tent under the stars and went to sleep. In the middle of the night, Holmes awakened and exclaimed,”Watson, look up and tell me what you deduce.” Watson opened his eyes, and said, “I see billions and billions of stars. It is likely that some of these stars have planetary systems. Furthermore, I deduce that there is probably oxygen on some of these planets, and it is possible that life has developed on a few of them. Is that what you see?” Holmes replied, “No, you idiot. Somebody stole our tent.””

There are cognitive reasons why we sometimes miss the obvious — the way our brains are wired. There are also other reasons why we choose to miss, or ignore, the obvious — reasons having to do with  power — “priestly, oligarchical, dictatorial, and so forth”, as George Orwell puts it.  Reviewing Bertrand Russell’s “Power: A New Social Analysis” in 1939, George Orwell begins: “If there are certain pages of Mr. Bertrand Russell’s book, Power, which seem rather empty, that is merely to say that we have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”

George ends his review pointing out that they live in a “time of universal panic and lying” — we must remember that World War II began that year. He goes on: “Mr. Russell is one of the most readable of living writers, and it is very reassuring to know that he exists. So long as he and a few others like him are alive and out of jail, we know that the world is still sane in in parts.”

Peace 🙂

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