The gravitational pull of the obvious
For the past year I’ve been developing a cough.
I’ve been waiting for it to go away but it hasn’t.
Eventually I went to the doctor.
He wanted to know why I didn’t come earlier.
He said a persistent cough was a very worrying sign.
I knew he was hinting at cancer.
I said I kept waiting for the cough to clear up.
He rolled his eyes and sent me down to the X ray dept straight away.
They did X rays of the front, back and sides of my chest and lungs.
Back upstairs the doctor checked them out immediately.
He said the good news was he couldn’t see any evidence of cancer.
He said they’d need to do more tests.
I looked on the Internet to see what that meant.
Maybe a bronchoscopy: a camera down my throat and windpipe.
Possibly a transbrochial biopsy, where a piece of tissue is taken from the lungs and analysed.
Either way it didn’t sound like it was going to be pleasant.
But I had a bronchial problem and there didn’t seem any alternative.
A bronchial problem demands a bronchial solution.
The next day I had an appointment with my eye doctor.
He asked how I was getting on with the eye drops he prescribed for my glaucoma about a year ago.
I said fine.
He said, no side effects?
I said, like what?
He said, like maybe coughing for instance.
I said, funny you should say that, I have been coughing a lot.
He said, yes some people have that reaction.
Try pinching the top of your nose for a minute after you’ve used the eye drops.
It stops them getting into your blood stream.
So that’s what I did.
And the coughing stopped.
I didn’t need a bronchoscopy, or a transbronchial biopsy after all.
I had a bronchial problem, but I didn’t need a bronchial solution.
The coughing was caused by eyedrops.
The obvious answer was the wrong answer.
But that’s what the human mind does.
For experts just as much as anyone else.
It defaults to the obvious answer being the right answer.
Because we jump to a conclusion without having all possible information.
Or, to put it another way: we don’t know what we don’t know.
So we assume that what we know is all there is to know.
The problem with believing that we know the answer is that it stops us looking elsewhere.
It closes our minds to possibilities.
We have been brought up to believe there is strength in having firm opinions, when actually there is weakness.
Jeremy Sinclair likes to quote Socrates: “The only true wisdom lies in knowing that you know nothing.”
I prefer Lao Tsu: “The wise man knows he doesn’t know. The fool doesn’t know he doesn’t know.”
Or, as Alfred North Whitehead said: “The problem with the world is that the ignorant are arrogant and cocksure, while the intelligent are full of doubt.”
Or, perhaps more useful to creative people, as Edward de Bono said: “A conclusion is just a place where you stopped thinking.”