Navigating idea space


Lately I’ve been tracking down friends from grammar school. Three of them have become famous, and I’ve done some name-dropping inside my head, hoping some of their shine would rub off onto me. It didn’t work. No rubbing-off was noted but, well, I tried.

It’s something like the so-called halo effect, where a person’s fame or excellence seems to carry over into other areas, too. If Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter likes to brush his teeth with baking soda, well, maybe I’ll have to go out and get some of that baking stuff myself.
In his book, “Smart World,” author Richard Ogle shows how we can learn to navigate what he calls the idea-spaces that exist on their own outside our mind—zones like cyberspace and globalization, which have almost a life of their own. Imagination, insight and intelligence help us to stay on top of these zones and so to know what lies ahead.
And we thought thinking was mostly scratching our heads and yelling at those who disagreed with us. Instead, as brain scholar Andy Clark says, these information storehouses outside of ourselves allow us “to be dumb in peace,” since they’ll do their thing no matter what we think. Hey, I’ve been looking for such a place for quite some time.    
Jacqueline Leo in her book, “Seven: the Number for Happiness, Love, and Success,” says we can only have at most seven priorities at one time, so we want to make sure other people are the top one of the seven. We all have various ways of being alive. Life has different venues in which we appear, sometimes making us feel as if we were multiple personalities.
Newspapers list different departments: politics, international, sports and entertainment, travel, fashion, technology, editorials and opinion, etc. (Well, that’s seven). We could add other departments or venues from our own lives: family/relationships, work and creativity, play/entertainment, house upkeep, exercise and health, religion, dream time (was that seven?). Each one of them is like another life, a distinct way of being alive, and each of them imparts a distinct persona, like we’re wearing a different hat and being in a different time zone.
The Kepler space telescope has given evidence of hundreds of new worlds that include more than 50 that could be capable of supporting life. They are like other universes we didn’t even know existed, other idea-spaces, distinct venues or departments that comprise separate worlds in addition to those that we have known.
Lately funeral homes are marketing themselves not just as places to mourn the dead but as sites for other events, like weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, holiday parties and proms. Maybe they could offer themselves as centers where new Republican favorites could announce their candidacy for president and then later back out again. Different zones for different folks.
The brain is endowed with what is called plasticity — it can grow and stretch in ways we once thought unimaginable. That’s what makes relief from emotional distress so possible. Inside our heads we can adapt to different worlds, step from one venue and life-space to another.
So as we navigate among Ogle’s idea-spaces, happily “dumb in peace” with Andy Clark, and sorting out priorities among the scant seven Jacqueline Leo says we can handle at one time, we dance from venue to venue and explore the hundreds of new worlds the Kepler telescope has uncovered.
Shortstop Derek Jeter probably doesn’t brush his teeth with baking soda, but by halo effect or without it, our lives are all connected anyway.
We probably don’t want to rent out a funeral home for our next birthday party, but we can learn from one life venue how to manage another. From managing our health, we’ve learned to exercise day by day, and we can apply that to our family life, as well: run and stretch those family muscles or they’ll get stiff and sore.
Life-space, idea-space, they’re all related, watch them run. And pass the baking soda, just in case.

Kozeny works for Socorro Mental Health Inc. His views are not necessarily those of his employer. He can be reached by e-mail to