Diogenes Of Oinoanda: The Ancient Secret To Happiness Discovered On A Philosopher’s Stone – Find Out What It Is

If you walk around the upper valley of the River Xanthus in what is now southern Turkey, you might come across a large hilltop which is littered with ancient ruins. The area seems deserted and there are few signs to point to the fact that millennia ago, this site was home to a large city.

Unlike many of the commercial centers of the Mediterranean, the ancient city of Oinoanda was not situated on the crossroads of any major trade routes. Its economy relied on growing wine and olives, and tight relationships with its surrounding areas. This did not make it a fabulously wealthy city, but did ensure a certain level of prosperity.

Unfortunately, not much is known about the history of the city, but archaeologists have uncovered one very interesting find.

They discovered the remains of a wall which was originally over 80 meters long and covered with old Epicurean writings. It had been erected by Diogenes of Oinoanda in order to:

To help those who come after us.

Epicurean teachings had helped him a lot in his own life and he wanted to give back to his wider community. Another part of the inscription describes the purpose:

The majority of people suffer from a common disease, as in a plague, with their false notions about things, and their number is increasing. I wished to use this stoa to advertise publicly the medicines that bring salvation.

Unfortunately only a part of the inscription remains and even that is broken up into pieces of various sizes, but those parts that have been uncovered so far give us a glimpse into life in those ancient days.

However, more importantly, the writings also preserve ancient wisdom, much of which is still pertinent even today. This wisdom dealt with the eternal question of almost every person: How should you live your life? It gave advice on how to lead a good life and how to achieve something that almost everyone strives for: happiness.

The rise and influence of Epicureanism

In the times of the late Roman Republic and the early Empire, Epicureanism (together with Stoicism) was one of the most important philosophical schools that many Romans adhered to.

Cicero, while arguing against the Epicureans, still corresponded with and counted among his friends many Epicureans, including Atticus, a wealthy Roman who retired to Athens. Many famous Roman poets such as Horace or Lucretius were Epicureans, and even the great Gaius Julius Caesar was a fan.

While Epicureanism was pretty popular in Ancient Rome, it had actually started in Ancient Greece and its founder was Epicurus.

Epicurus was born on the island of Samos in 341 BC, but spent most of his life living in Athens, his father being a citizen of that city. There he founded his own school of philosophy, called the Garden, where he taught until his death in 270 BC.

Once he died, his school was taken over by one of his disciples, Hermarchus, and continued to grow. Its influence grew far and wide and by late Roman Republic times, it was one of the major philosophical schools in the Mediterranean region.

However, it began to decline in the 3rd century AD and died out completely when Christianity took over the Roman Empire. Many of the Christian writers penned extensive treatises against Epicureanism, in the process grossly misinterpreting its message. Epicureanism became a synonym of hedonism, when in fact it preached something totally different.

Epicurean ideals weren’t revived until the Renaissance, and later the Age of Enlightenment. Many famous figures of that era were influenced by them, and their thoughts in turn shaped the way society looks today.

If you are an American, you have “the pursuit of happiness” enshrined in your founding documents as an inalienable right. Have you ever wondered why that is?

The reason is that Thomas Jefferson was a big fan of Epicurus and Epicureanism. In one of his letters he wrote:

I too am an Epicurean.

Since he was one of the principal drafters of the American Declaration of Independence, some of these ancient ideas found their way into it. That pursuit of happiness comes from this.

Thomas Jefferson was greatly influenced by the works of Epicurus and they formed a foundation for his worldview and the way he lived. In fact, Epicurus had such a huge impact on his life that he sometimes called him his Master.

While the traditional teachings of Epicurus taught to “live unknown”, that is to try to steer away from politics, public life and all the chaos associated with them, Thomas Jefferson (just like many other famous people influenced by this philosophy) put his own distinct spin on Epicureanism and combined it with a life in the public spotlight.

Many hardcore Epicureans preach dettachment from society and tending your own little garden somewhere in the corner as the epitomy of life. However, you can get the benefits of these teachings even without withdrawing from public life completely.

How to do this? Thomas Jefferson is a good example. He was an Epicurean at heart, yet he still managed to become one of the principal figures of the American Revolution and the 3rd US President.

So Epicureanism has many paths which you can take. You can either take the road of Epicurus himself and some of his followers and withdraw from the hustle and bustle of society to tend your own Garden, or take the example of people influenced by Epicureanism like Thomas Jefferson, and tend your own Garden, while still trying to influence the society you live in.

The main tenets of Epicureanism
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Post #200: My 4 Year Blogging Anniversary And What I Learned On The Way

My 200th post is symbolically the post where I celebrate my 4th year as a blogger on this blog. What a ride it has been.

If you want to know more on the changes that I have made, you can read the post I wrote on my 3 year blogging anniversary, as well as the one I wrote on my 2 year blogging anniversary.

What have been the results of my blogging so far?

Amount of money made: 0 (in fact I had spent thousands of dollars/euros for running my blog and getting all the books that I use as sources for my posts, not to mention all the countless hours).

Knowledge gained: Priceless

This proves the power of intrinsic motivation. Had I been driven only by money, I would have ended the blog a long time ago. Instead, what has driven me is my quest for knowledge and self-improvement.

The blog not only helps me to summarize all the stuff I have learned along the way for myself, but also to share it with the world. I thank the few regular readers and supporters that this blog has and I hope the thoughts posted here have been helpful to you in your daily lives as well.

In my 2-year anniversary post, I mentioned how I am building up the Renaissance Man Framework. Whereas, I started off by exploring some of the key basic building blocks for this, things like knowing yourself, having a vision, and all the key traits like willpower and motivation, in the past year or two I have jumped around a bit and started writing about the more complex and higher-level issues like how to think, acquire knowledge and make decisions.

I have explored cognitive biases (if you don’t know these, then you are likely to make the wrong decisions), first principles thinking (a very unique way of coming up with creative solutions), as well as ways to be successful and happy.

One key aspect of the original Renaissance Men was that they went back to Antiquity and used ancient sources to inspire them. There is a lot of wisdom in these sources and that is why I have written about them extensively. Much of this wisdom can guide you even today. The world has changed, but many of the basic problems remain the same.

Boethius – The Consolation of Philosophy and how a man about to die found happiness.

Epictetus – The wisdom of a Stoic master and the secrets to living a good life revealed.

Some of my articles have been read by a lot of people, while some others are almost never visited. Two of these less visited articles however contain some of the key messages of this blog and are quite profound for anyone trying to improve themselves and understand how the world works.

In the article on James Hutton and his discovery of deep time, I explore what makes an idea succeed above other ideas. The answer might surprise you (or not). Have a look:

How a contrarian idea gains traction: the incredible story of James Hutton.

People often want to take lessons from others, but even after taking these lessons to heart, they end up failing. Why is that so? There are reasons for this and I explore them in my article on survivorship bias. Have a look:

Beware of advice: What can we really learn from successful people.

These two articles summarize some very important lessons, and even though they are quite long and heavy reading, if you read something, it should be this.
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How To Think About Cognitive Biases: A Short Summary Of My Cognitive Biases Framework

You have probably argued with someone whose position did not make sense. Instead of backing it up with facts, this person ended up just spouting the same slogans over and over again in a never ending circle.

We were always at war with Eurasia.

It’s a matter of facts, you would say to yourself. Maybe if they knew the facts, they wouldn’t be saying what they are saying.

After this quiet self-talk, you would then go back, research the shit out of the subject and send a summary of this research to them.

However, contrary to what you expected, they would not buckle down under a barrage of facts. Being exposed to facts just made their weakly argued conviction even stronger. Your strategy backfired.

A few days later they would come back and start saying the same thing you told them, albeit with their own spin, without even acknowledging that it was you who told them this in the first place.

We were always at war with Eastasia.

Or they might come back and start shouting their original slogans even louder, thinking it is how loud you shout and not the strength of your arguments that determines who is right.

On the other hand, it is not always others who are the problem. Sometimes you just have to look in the mirror. Maybe it is you who behaves this way. 🙂

What is at work here are cognitive biases. We all fall for them, but some people fall for them in a stronger way than others.

The first step of a recovering addict is to acknowledge that you have a problem. 🙂

Only after you are honest with yourself and face your weaknesses, can the journey towards recovery begin. Without this step, any attempt at a cure will be met with failure.

Once you have faced up to your problem, the next step is to start learning about what it actually is.

What are cognitive biases and why do humans fall for them?

There are different challenges that humans have to get through daily. So different mechanisms evolved in order to make this easier.

One of the ways to solve many of these problems is using heuristics. These are mental shortcuts that humans take in order to solve problems and then take action based on these solutions.

Most of the time, the solutions that these heuristics come up with are correct and you can rely on them.

However, there are times when these heuristics fail and come up with a bad answer, a cognitive bias.

My Framework for Cognitive Biases

I have been reading about cognitive biases for a while now. Ever since Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking Fast and Slow” came out, this concept seems to be popping up everywhere and many more popular works have appeared discussing it.

However, being a perfectionist and a guy who likes to put things in boxes, I was missing a more systematic categorization of the different types of biases out there. For me, this type of categorization would help in keeping the discussion relevant for the common folk and extremely helpful if you want to apply lessons in real life.

Not finding anything to satisfy me, I decided to come up with my own framework for cognitive biases. I thought back and tried to reduce all the different biases to their first principles and work up from there.

I looked at some of the basic similarities and differences between the different types of biases and came up with some initial categories.

Why and how did these biases evolve in the first place? Here, evolutionary psychology can shed a light.

Evolution does not come up with perfect solutions, only with solutions that are viable enough to survive.

The drivers for every living thing are survival and reproduction. This happens in a very complex outside world where many dangers (but also opportunities) are present.

So heuristics (and cognitive biases) evolved in order to promote survival. Due to the fact that your environment is so complex, you need to have the ability to analyze it and then make a decision on what to do next.

The two basic principles behind the way your brain works are speed and efficiency:

1) You need to make quick decisions based on outside stimuli. So speed is important.

2) You should not expend too many resources, and so you need to do things in the most efficient manner possible. You never know when and from where your next dinner will come from, so saving energy is a priority.

In order to make decisions quickly and efficiently, your brain developed mental shortcuts. That’s where heuristics come from.

However, if your brain developed to make decisions to ensure your survival, why does it fall for cognitive biases? The answer here is costs.

By saying costs, I mean the potential pay-out of making the right and wrong decision.

Imagine yourself walking along a path with bushes all around you. You hear a sound. It could be anything really.

However you search back and it reminds you of the sound a lion makes. You decide to start running away from the place as fast as possible.

Turns out it was a false alarm. Your brain connected the dots, but in fact it was a false pattern.

No harm done. You are a bit sweaty and tired, but you are still alive.

Now imagine yourself walking again along the same path. You hear a sound.

This time you decide not to run and just stay there. Then suddenly a lion jumps out of the bushes and kills you. You are dead meat!

You failed to connect the dots and ended up as lunch.
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The Vision Of Genius: Nikola Tesla’s Guide To Coming Up With Truly Innovative Ideas

For many people, if you are told to think of a wacky scientist, the name of Nikola Tesla usually comes up at the top of the list.

Anyone remember his Tesla coil in “Command and Conquer: Red Alert”? I always loved that thing when playing the game on my computer. Unfortunately this was one of his ideas that did not see mass production.

He was a veritable genius who came up with very creative ideas, and his propensity for first principles thinking can serve as an inspiration for any budding inventor in training.

Tesla was a very original thinker and one technique that he used to come up with ideas is visualization. He would literally picture his inventions in his head.

This is something that he learned to do through experience and it can be learned by you as well.

As a boy, his head was full of things that annoyed him and so he started using the visualization technique to get rid of these thoughts:

By that faculty of visualizing, which I learned in my boyish efforts to rid myself of annoying images, I have evolved what is, I believe, a new method of materializing inventive ideas and conceptions. It is a method which may be of great usefulness to any imaginative man, whether he is an inventor, businessman or artist.

The first step of the visualization method is the incubation period. You gather building blocks of knowledge and let your mind ruminate on them in the background:

Here in brief, is my own method: after experiencing a desire to invent a particular thing, I may go on for months or years with the idea in the back of my head. Whenever I feel like it, I roam around in my imagination and think about the problem without any deliberate concentration. This is a period of incubation.

In the second step, there is a period of direct effort, or thinking of the specifics:

Then follows a period of direct effort. I choose carefully the possible solutions of the problem I am considering, and gradually center my mind on a narrowed field of investigation. Now, when I am deliberately thinking of the problem in its specific features, I may begin to feel that I am going to get the solution. And the wonderful thing is, that if I do feel this way, then I know I have really solved the problem and shall get what I am after.

The mind starts playing around with all the different building blocks and then connects them subconsciously.

The feeling is as convincing to me as though I already had solved it. I have come to the conclusion that at this stage the actual solution is in my mind subconsciously though it may be a long time before I am aware of it consciously.

The key is to think of everything in your mind first, to examine different features and make improvements to this mental model before you put anything on paper:

Before I put a sketch on paper, the whole idea is worked out mentally. In my mind I change the construction, make improvements, and even operate the device. Without ever having drawn a sketch I can give the measurements of all parts to workmen, and when completed all these parts will fit, just as certainly as though I had made the actual drawings. It is immaterial to me whether I run my machine in my mind or test it in my shop.

An important thing to remember is to always keep the big picture in mind and start with a holistic view before you start working on the details:

Some people, the moment they have a device to construct or any piece of work to perform, rush at it without adequate preparation, and immediately become engrossed in details, instead of the central idea. They may get results, but they sacrifice quality.

Tesla came up with many great inventions using this method:

The inventions I have conceived in this way have always worked. In thirty years there has not been a single exception. My first electric motor, the vacuum tube wireless light, my turbine engine and many other devices have all been developed in exactly this way.

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Doing Hard Things Is The Cure For What Ails You

I have recently started climbing mountains and through this came to a few life-changing realizations. My successful summit of Mt. Blanc gave me a new perspective on things, which really improved my mindset.

It was a long and dangerous climb, and the hardest thing I have ever done physically. However, after two days of pushing myself, for a brief moment I was the highest located man for thousands of kilometers around me.

I had accomplished something that I had thought was impossible and beyond my limits just a few years ago.

Doing something like this really gives you a great feeling and a boost to your self-confidence. A sense of accomplishment that results from this is priceless and can really help you in other areas of your life.

Cure for what ails you

Unfortunately, in our lives we are often confronted with stupid shit, which we have no control over. Stupid people, stupid rules, and other retarded stuff that just don’t make sense.

You can’t really control it, but it ends up bothering you. You stress over it and it makes you miserable. You need to realize that this stuff doesn’t matter. It is just stupid shit done by stupid people, people who have lost touch with reality.

If you really want to find meaning, happiness and balance in your life, you need to concentrate on doing things that you have control over.

You are the judge of the worth of all things. Only you can determine that you are the man.

And no, you won’t do it by standing in front of the mirror all day and chanting affirmations, but by going out, working hard and challenging yourself.

Mt. Blanc is the perfect test of that. And even if you fail to reach the top the first time, you will feel good about giving it your best. You will then know what to work on and come a second time better prepared.

When you do reach the top, you will have achieved something that the vast majority of people will never achieve in their life. Best of all, you will have done it through your own willpower and perseverance.

You will have tested yourself and you will have succeeded. This will be an enormous boost to your self-esteem.

You can take that back to your little office life and use it to get through all those confrontations that often happen in the modern workplace. When an overweight, sweaty slob starts shouting at you over some minor BS, you can just sit back and smile at him.

He will never accomplish what you have done. This is just his way of compensating for his own failures. Keep that in mind, and you will be able to rise above the BS. You don’t even know what an amazing feeling that is.
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Crazy Shit To Do: Climb Mt. Blanc

Your legs are hurting, you are breathing hard, and your chest feels like it is going to burst out of your body. Yet, you continue putting one foot in front of the other and struggle on.

That’s the basic description of what you will feel like when you go up Mt. Blanc. As one of the characters in the movie “Everest” said, climbing is just pain.

It is the ultimate test of your willpower. It takes an enormous amount of mental strength and perseverance to be able to finally reach the top.

This especially applies for people who spend most of their year sitting in their office being desk jockeys. For them, this can be quite challenging.

It is not an insurmountable task though. Every year, thousands of people manage to climb it. The pain lasts only a short time, but the memories last a lifetime.

Struggle on for a few days, but from then on, you will be a man who climbed the mountain. That is something no one can take away from you.

Contrary to what some people think, Mt. Blanc is not the highest mountain in Europe. That honor belongs to Mt. Elbrus in the Russian Caucasian Mountains. However, it is the highest mountain in Western Europe and stands at 4808 meters high.

The climb is not technically challenging, meaning that you won’t have to do any specialist mountaineering techniques. All you require is a good stamina, and good acclimatization.

You will also need equipment for mountaineering in snowy conditions, such as ropes and crampons. If you are a beginner, don’t go alone, but instead with a guide or at least an experienced mountaineer.

Don’t underestimate the dangers, as every year, a few people die on the mountain and many more need to be rescued.

The hardest thing I have ever done physically

I stood on top of Mt. Blanc last week. For me, it was probably the hardest thing that I have done physically, ever. It really pushed me to what I thought were my limits, but I discovered that my real limits are still way beyond that.

So in that way, it was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but also one of the most rewarding ones as well. Paradoxically, this pain is the reward of the journey.

By conquering this pain you prove to yourself that you have what it takes and can succeed at even the hardest things. You can succeed at things that the majority of people are too scared to even attempt.

What does a typical desk jockey need in order to be able to climb Mt. Blanc?

Well, besides the equipment and a strong mountaineer with him, the most important thing is a good preparation.

The first part of the preparation involves having good stamina. I really concentrated on getting my cardio up. The journey is long and hard, and you need to be physically prepared for it.

The best way to prepare is to do a lot of progressively longer (and more challenging) hikes in the mountains, but for many city folks, this is something they can’t do too often.

Most of my time training for this was spent in the gym, going up on these stepper machines. I started off going for less time and easier modes, but as I was getting more fit, I kept increasing the times and the challenge.

You can also go on daily runs or maybe even join some of those group fitness classes, if you think that you will get more motivated that way. Anything that improves your stamina is good.

This is the basic prerequisite, however no matter how hard you work in the gym, it does not ensure that you will be prepared to summit.

The key here is a good acclimatization. The most challenging part of hiking in mountains is that the higher you go up, the more challenging it gets. The reason for this is the lower amount of oxygen in higher altitudes.

This means that all the stuff that is easy at sea level, becomes quite hard in the mountains. You need to get your body ready for this, and this means that you need to spend a lot of time at higher altitudes as close as possible to the time before your ascent of Mt. Blanc.

The best way to do this is by scheduling a few hikes in the mountains a few days or the weekend before you go to Mt. Blanc. This way your body gets used to the altitude and you lower your chances of getting headaches or worse when you are there.

A bonus with this is the fact that you will also train some of the muscles that you don’t use in your desk jockey life, but which are crucial for mountaineering.

Doing these mountain hikes, really exposed how far we are removed from nature and “real life” in our modern lives. I discovered muscles I never knew I had and they all hurt! 🙂
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Every Hero Overcomes Things That Seem Impossible – What Is Your Impossible Challenge?

Every Hero overcomes things that seem impossible – What is your impossible challenge?

Ever since the beginning of history, the story of the hero has played an important part in society. Back thousands of years ago, people would sit around a campfire and listen to the tales of ancient heroes, whether real or imagined, and how they overcame impossible challenges to do incredible things.

Hero stories have always served an important role in the development of young guys growing up. They would set the examples to be emulated. They were meant to inspire so that these youngsters could aspire to something greater.

Every hero has an origin story

Some of the most popular stories proved to be the stories we now call origin stories. Heroes were known to possess incredible powers, do impossible things and overcome powerful forces. To most listeners, they seemed out of this world.

Yet, all these heroes had to start somewhere. Most of them started off as ordinary men, living in an ordinary world, doing ordinary things. This is what made them relevant to all the people sitting around the campfire and gasping at every feat of strength, every logical problem solved with brain power and every enemy defeated. The heroes were all once like them.

Whatever your endeavor, it all starts with a first step

The origin story covers the first few steps in a hero’s journey, the parts where they go from the ordinary world and cross over the threshold into a world of adventures, and also the first few challenges that they need to overcome.

Successfully completing these first few steps sets them on a path dependency towards their superhero status.

The good news is that you can use the same type of framework to guide you on your path to greatness. You too can create your origin story. However, you need to take action. It all starts with a first step.

That first step and the successful completion of your first challenge is what defines your origin story and sets you on your hero’s journey. At this point you will know that things that seemed impossible just a short while before, are in fact quite possible and achievable.

You can create your origin story for any type of goal that you want, whether it is an adventure you want to undertake, a mental challenge that you want to tackle or a physical challenge that you want to overcome.

Create your own adventure
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Find Out How To Combine Building Blocks Of Knowledge And Come Up With Great Ideas

A great idea or invention is usually a combination of other different ideas or inventions. Things don’t happen in a vacuum and as the old saying goes, you stand upon the shoulders of giants.

One of the greatest skills that you can have is to be able to combine ideas from different sources. And this is something that expert-generalists, or Renaissance Men, excel at. Their greatest assets are their combinatorial and associative skills.

However, how do you develop and cultivate these types of skills?

Step 1: Collect pieces of information

The first thing you need to do is to know the information and have it available. So the first step is the collection phase.

This has been described in different ways, as collecting pieces of a puzzle or different building blocks. If you want to glue together a picture out of a puzzle or build a house, you need to have the pieces ready in order to do that.

Each piece of knowledge is a like a building block, you can use it in different ways and combine it with other building blocks. The combinations are endless and every resulting structure can look different, even if you use the same building blocks (or it can look the same, up to you really).

How do you go about collecting these building blocks? One thing is by reading a lot. That’s why I wrote a short article on the reading habits of guys like Warren Buffett or Charlie Munger. It is kind of obvious, but a lot of people don’t do it.

Another way is to collect different experiences, like Steve Jobs says. Go to different places, expose yourself to different ideas, try different things. All of this will enrich you, and give you some building blocks which you can use later.

Once you have a good selection of building blocks (information) ready, you can go on to creating a few useful mental models to guide you. These are basically representations of real, or imaginary situations or things that you create in your head.

Scottish psychologist Kenneth Craik proposed the idea (although similar ideas were proposed earlier by others as well) that the mind works by constructing small-scale models of reality in order to reason and to offer explanations for events. Modern research so far seems to prove this assertion.

You can actively use these workings of your brain by building a latticework of mental models, something that comes from Charlie Munger, one of the greatest financial investors of all time.

From all the studying he does, Munger selects a handful of big ideas and stores them for later. These can come from things like physics, chemistry, economics, humanities, or any other type of discipline. As long as you think it will be useful later.

To quote Charlie Munger:

You have to learn all the big ideas in the key disciplines in a way that they’re in a mental latticework in your head and you automatically use them for the rest of your life. If you do that, I solemnly promise you that one day you’ll be walking down the street and you’ll look to your right and left and you’ll think “my heavenly days, I’m now one of the few competent people in my whole age cohort.” If you don’t do it, many of the brightest of you will live in the middle ranks or in the shallows.

The sources of mental models can come from anywhere. When you are reading books or collecting experiences, try to summarize some of the big lessons that you get out of them. These can then serve as your own personal mental models.

Step 2: Things start clicking automatically

You might not believe me, but collecting the information is the most important step. By collecting more and more information, things will start clicking automatically. Trust me! 🙂

You might have had the experience of you not understanding a problem, trying to go at it through different ways and failing. Then you forgot about the problem, but were walking one day and suddenly things clicked.

This is often called the “Eureka” moment, just like Archimedes had his “Eureka” moment when he was entering the bathtub.

Maria Popova, in an article for “Smithsonian Magazine” writes:

There is a curious cultural disconnect between our mythology of spontaneous ideation – the Eureka! moment, the stroke of genius, the proverbial light bulb – and how “new” ideas actually take shape, amalgamated into existence by the combinatorial nature of creativity. To create is to combine existing bits of insight, knowledge, ideas, and memories into new material and new interpretations of the world, to connect the seemingly dissociated, to see patterns where others see chaos.

These sudden flashes of the lightbulb are quite common. This doesn’t mean that something appears out of nothing. The building blocks of your idea are already there in the brain. It is that your brain is just playing around with them subconsciously.
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Combinatorial Knowledge Is The Key To Many Innovations – Find Out How To Apply It

In 2007, Steve Jobs got on stage to reveal a device which would go on to revolutionize the way we work in the world today. The device in question is the iPhone and it ushered in the era of the smartphone.

Ever the showman, Jobs gave a riveting speech. There is one part that really stands out and describes the essence of what the iPhone is.

An iPod, a phone, an internet mobile communicator. An iPod, a phone, an internet mobile communicator. An iPod, a phone, an internet mobile communicator. Do you get it? These are not three separated devices. This is one device, and we are calling it iPhone.

He mentioned three things: an iPod, a phone, and an internet mobile communicator. All of these things existed on the market when the iPhone came out. However each one was its own device.

What did Jobs and Apple do? They combined them and put them on one device!

This is what combinatorial knowledge is all about. You take different already existing pieces and combine them together to make something new. This something new can be another piece of knowledge, or a new device or anything else.

It is very, very hard to be truly original and come up with something totally new, something that has never existed before and which truly changes our understanding of the world. For the most part, to do that, you truly need to dedicate a lot of time to your field. This is what Albert Einstein did with his theory of relativity.

However, if you dig deeper, you will notice that even Einstein used some previously discovered knowledge, which served as inputs. He then combined it with his own things. James Hutton, when coming up with his theories on geology, also combined different strands of knowledge that were floating around in his time.

Combinations of knowledge from different sources is the key to new knowledge. It is also the key to new revolutionary devices like the iPhone.

An article in “Wired” magazine describes how Jobs came up with the idea:

In 2002, shortly after the first iPod was released, Jobs started thinking about developing a phone. He saw millions of Americans lugging separate phones, BlackBerrys, and — now — MP3 players; naturally, consumers would prefer just one device. He also saw a future in which cell phones and mobile email devices would amass ever more features, eventually challenging the iPod’s dominance as a music player. To protect his new product line, Jobs knew he would eventually need to venture into the wireless world.

The article goes on to list some of the challenges that such a product would have to overcome:

If the idea was obvious, so were the obstacles. Data networks were sluggish and not ready for a full-blown handheld Internet device. An iPhone would require Apple to create a completely new operating system; the iPod’s OS wasn’t sophisticated enough to manage complicated networking or graphics, and even a scaled-down version of OS X would be too much for a cell phone chip to handle. Apple would be facing strong competition, too: In 2003, consumers had flocked to the Palm Treo 600, which merged a phone, PDA, and BlackBerry into one slick package. That proved there was demand for a so-called convergence device, but it also raised the bar for Apple’s engineers.

These challenges lay in vastly different fields, not only with the technology, but also the way the wireless industry was structured and the business models. In order to make the iPhone a success, all these things would have to be pulled together.

Compare this description of what Steve Jobs (and his Apple team) did, and what Johannes Guttenberg did when coming up with his printing press. A passage in Samuel Arbesman’s “The Half-life of Facts” describes the process:

It turns out that the printing press is far from simple. The technological innovations that Gutenberg developed were much more than the modification of a wine press and the addition of the idea of movable type. Gutenberg combined and extended a whole host of technologies and innovations from an astonishing number of areas, and that is what made his work so powerful.

He used metallurgical developments to create metal type that not only had a consistent look (Gutenberg insisted on this), but type that could be easily cast, allowing whole pages to be printed simply at once. He used chemical innovations to create a better ink than had ever been used before in printing.

Gutenberg even exploited the concept of the division of labor by employing a large team of workers, many of whom were illiterate, to churn out books at a rate never before seen in history. And he even employed elegant error-checking mechanisms to ensure that the type was always set properly: There was a straight line on one side of each piece of type so that the workers could see at a glance whether any letters had been set upside down.

Only by having the combined knowledge of all of these technologies does the printing press become possible and cost-effective.

Just like Steve Jobs had to combine different elements when coming up with the iPhone, Johannes Guttenberg had to do something similar when he came up with the printing press. If you look at other types of inventions that revolutionized our world, you will most likely see a similar process at play.
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