There Are Many Ways To See The Same Thing
The Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Danny Kahneman is largely self-taught. He grew up in hiding in German-occupied France. When World War II ended in 1945, Kahneman immigrated to Palestine where the schools and universities had teachers who were really just chaperones—most of them refugees, who also just happened to find themselves in Israel. Danny loved his teachers, but he said they didn’t know their subjects from beans. So Danny taught himself by reading books. In his self-guided reading, Danny discovered Gestalt psychology, a school of psychological thought that captivated him. Danny particularly liked the way Gestaltists, in their books, tried to make the reader feel the inner workings of their own mind. For instance, Gestaltist psychologists liked to show a reader these two groups of three patches:
But, the Gestaltists would note of the two groups of three patches, you can also see six individual patches. You can see three groups of two patches. You can see two different groups of three patches. And so on. The point, as I took it, is that there’s always multiple ways to see the same situation. Let me show you…
A Thousand Things To A Thousand Persons
In the 1950s, the double-helix structure of DNA was discovered. Biologists thought the DNA structure might map to the genetic structure of specific organisms. They expected the structure of the DNA to give away the organism—in the way you can look at a blank map of the U.S. and point, that’s Texas, and, that’s California, and, that’s Pennsylvania, and so on. It turned out, though, that you can’t look at a double-helix structure of DNA and be sure what organism it corresponds to. Biologists were surprised to find, for instance, that the DNA for the human and the DNA for the chimpanzee are 99% identical. The difference between the human and the chimpanzee is the order in which the pieces of information in the DNA are stored and the rates at which that information is activated over time. In In The Blink Of An Eye, the film editor Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now, The Godfather I, II, and III) analogizes DNA to editing movies. “The information in the DNA can be seen as uncut film and the mysterious sequencing code as the editor,” Murch writes. If you give two editors the same raw material, they will make two completely different movies. Because “each is going to make different choices about how to structure it,” he writes, “which is to say when and in what order to release those various pieces of information.” Writers, entrepreneurs, musicians, comedians, chefs—in every field, the raw material is 99% identical. How you see that material makes all the difference. Like Emerson said, the same book “is a thousands things to a thousands persons. Take that book into your own two hands and read your eyes out. You will never find there what the other finds.” You will never see what the other sees.
This Has Nothing To Do With “Making It”
In the back of a comedy club, the comedian Orny Adams once told Jerry Seinfeld he wasn’t sure how much longer he could take it. Adams was struggling to break through. He committed his twenties to trying to “make it” as a comedian and at the age of 29, he was starting to wonder if he’d taken the wrong path. “I see my friends,” Adams says to Seinfeld in the documentary Comedian. “I see people making a lot of money on Wall Street. I see people with wife and kids and big houses. I just see people moving up.” “They’re moving up?” Seinfeld asks. “Are you out of your mind?” Seinfeld doesn’t see comedy the way Adams does. “This [stand-up comedy] has nothing to do with your friends,” Seinfeld says. He points in the direction of the stage—“this is such a special thing. This has nothing to do with ‘making it.’” Adams sees comedy as a means to some end. For Adams, there’s some amount of money and celebrity that would make him feel like he won. For Seinfeld, as I recently talked about with Zak Rosen on his podcast, the work is the win. Doing comedy is the win. Seinfeld and Adams look at the same game—comedy—two different ways.
Nothing Is Negative or Positive
In 2007, a month before the rapper 50 Cent was planning to release a single from his third album, Curtis, the single somehow leaked to the internet. When Fifty’s team at the record label Interscope learned of the leak, they saw a great reason to panic. When Fifty himself learned of the leak, he saw a great opportunity. He told his team to settle down. “We’re going to make this work for us,” he told them. A student of Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power, Fifty turned to law 37: create compelling spectacles. Fifty strategically “flew into a wild rage,” Robert writes in The 50th Law. He threw his phone. He pulled a TV off the wall and smashed it. He yelled and screamed and aggressively pointed blame. Pictures and video of the damage were “leaked” and the story spread everywhere. The spectacle helped Curtis debut at #2 on the Billboard 200 chart. “Events in life are not negative or positive,” Robert writes. “They are completely neutral…Things merely happen to you. It is your mind that chooses to interpret them as negative or positive.” It is you that chooses how to see them.
All Anyone Can Offer The World
In the scene just after Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) dies by suicide in A Star is Born, Jackson’s brother Bobby (Sam Elliott) consoles his widow Ally (Lady Gaga). “Jack talked about how music is essentially 12 notes between any octave,” Bobby tells her. “12 notes and the octave repeats. It’s the same story told over and over, forever. All any artist can offer the world is how they see those 12 notes. That’s it. He loved how you see them. He just kept saying, ‘I love how she sees them, Bobby.’”
The Way You Look At It
Like different artists looking at the same 12 notes—“this is why the same external events or circumstances affect no two people alike,” the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer wrote. “The world in which a person lives shapes itself chiefly by the way in which they look at it, and so it proves different to different people; to one it is barren, dull, and superficial; to another rich, interesting, and full of meaning.” Which way are you looking at it?