WhatGoes There? |
The Power ofNegative Thinking by Quentin 'Cubist' Long©2002 Quentin Long -- all rights reserved |

Case study #1: Back in the 1960s, during the height of the Apollo
era, an organizer of a space conference asked a college professor
named Gerard K. O'Neill to give a presentation on industrial uses
of space. In response, O'Neill said it was a silly idea -- that
there just *weren't* any practical industrial uses of space. The conference organizer,
undaunted, then asked O'Neill if he could give a presentation
on *why* there weren't any industrial uses for space! This, O'Neill agreed
to. And in the course of researching his presentation, O'Neill
came to realize that he was wrong; so wrong, in fact, that he
ended up writing a book about space colonization *( The High Frontier* -- ISBN 0-553-11016), and, in 1974, testifying before the US Senate Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences about how to establish a sizeable permanent population in space, and becoming so prominent a booster of the notion that permanently habitable orbital structures are commonly referred to as "O'Neill colonies".

Case study #2: While writing * Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy,* Douglas Adams had a bit of a problem: He needed to send his characters
about the Universe in a usefully small amount of time, which of
course meant FTL (

Case study #3: When I started work on my first * TBP* story, I knew that that universe had just a

Case study #4: In mathematical proofs, there is a technique called
*"reductio ad absurdum".* You employ this technique when you've got a proposition that
you want to prove, but haven't been able to prove it by any other
means. How *reductio ad absurdum* works is simple: You assume your proposition to be false, and
then show how that assumption leads to an absurd outcome such
as contradiction, or a violation of mathematical rules, or whatever
other piece of nonsense.

The common thread here: Instead of just going along with the prevailing
trend, someone turned around a full 180° to go *exactly the opposite way.* Some would call this negative thinking, and to an extent, they're
right. But unlike the usual concept of negative thinking, *i.e.* compulsively nay-saying an idea to death, what I'm talking about
here is constructive in nature. You're not going against the grain
just to be annoying, but, rather, to reach a goal that you wouldn't
otherwise have been able to get at.

This version of negative thinking is basically a specific example of a larger concept, that being: If a problem looks insoluble to you, try examining it from a different angle. You may be surprised to find how often an intractable puzzle becomes much clearer when seen from a different point of view...