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Conceptual Blockbusting; A Guide to Better Ideas
James L. Adams
Evolution of Consciousness
Published by W. W. Norton/NY in 1979
A Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©1999


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I read this amazing book in May of 1983 during a short five-day period, so it must have grabbed and held my attention. Here are some short quotes from this insightful book:

[page 17] If you hate math, you will record little new math-related information. This tendency should make you suspicious as to whether material you recall from your memory contains an honest representation of detail that is unpleasant to you. (It does not.) It should also make you suspect that stereotyping is particularly strong in areas that have been unimportant to you and/or unpleasant for you to think about. (It is.)

Adams goes on to point out that cognitive dissonance, in which one receives an unpleasant internal state when presented with an inconsistency in one's knowledge, feelings, or behavior, induces one to minimize or devalue information that does not fit one's stereotype.

He points out that Cicero used the method of loci for committing his speeches to the Senate to memory. It's possible that the phrase, "In the first place" dates back to Cicero and his conscious use of the method of loci in which subjects to be covered in a speech are imagined as being placed in different rooms of a building with which one is intimately familiar.

On page 34 Adams quotes another conceptual blockbuster, Edward de Bono, from New Think in which de Bono writes: "Logic is the tool that is used to dig holes deeper and bigger, to make them altogether better holes. But if the hole is in the wrong place, then no amount of improvement is going to put it in the right place. . . . Vertical thinking is digging the same hole deeper; lateral thinking is trying again elsewhere."

[page 60] C. P. Snow, in his famous book hypothesizing the existence of two cultures, Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution, separates scientists from humanists. Yet, if one can separate people that clearly, then the people one has separated are not maximizing their creative potential. The scientist who are responsible for breakthroughs in knowledge cannot operate entirely by extrapolating past work, but must utilize intuition, too. Similarly, the humanists who disregard the logical are doomed to be ineffectual (even counterproductive) in influencing social actions.

On page 79, Adams says, "I know one extremely inventive engineer who finds it very important to operate with a 'clean mind' he avoids learning anything about previous, related solutions to his problems." Richard Feynman was such a man a great physicist who never read other people's work, but created his own unique understanding of Quantum Electro-Dynamics and the very useful Feynman diagrams that show particles moving forward and backward in time. It was Feynman who came up with a simple demonstration of the 0-ring problem that led to the Challenger Space Shuttle explosion.

He reports what Frank Barron said about creative persons in the September, 1958 issue of

Scientific American:

[page 126] They often express part-truths, but this they do vividly; the part they express is the generally unrecognized; by displacement of accent and apparent disproportion in statement they seek to point to the usually unobserved. They see things as others do, but also as others do not. The creative person is both more primitive and more cultured, more destructive and more constructive, crazier and saner, than the average person.

In the last chapter, the Reader's Guide, Adams gives a comprehensive list of books on the subject of his book. I have just placed an order to one I didn't have: Jerome S. Bruner, On Knowing Essays for the left hand.


Any questions about this review, Contact: Bobby Matherne


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