Robert Dilts, an expert in neurolinguistic programming, has written about an enlightening experiment done by Gestalt psychologists with a group of dogs: “The dogs were trained to approach something when shown a white square and avoid it when shown a gray square. When the dogs learned this, the experimenters switched to using a gray square and a black square. The dogs immediately shifted to approaching the object in response to the gray square (which had previously triggered avoidance), and avoiding the object when shown the black square (which had not been conditioned to anything).
Rather than perceive the gray as an absolute stimulus, the dogs were responding to the deeper essence of lighter versus darker as opposed to gray, white or black as being “properties.” You can train a human to approach something when shown a white square and avoid it when shown a gray square. When the squares are switched to gray and black, the human will still avoid the gray square. Once gray has been defined in our minds, we see the gray as independent and entirely self-contained. This means nothing can interact with it or exert an influence on it. It, in fact, becomes an absolute.
We have lost the sensitivity to deeper relationships, functions, and patterns because we are educated to focus on the particulars of experience as opposed to the universals. We see them as independent parts of an objective reality. For example, if the average person lost a tiny object in a large room, the person would fixate on how he or she searched for objects in the past and repeat the same method (usually searching visually). That is because we are not to approach problems on their own terms, but are instead taught that when confronted with a problem to reproduce what has worked in the past.
Suppose a vacuum cleaner is prominently displayed in the room next to a table with a pair of sheer socks on it. Would you be able to perceive the value of using the cleaner with the sock to find the object?
Michael Michalko is the author of the highly acclaimed Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius; ThinkPak: A Brainstorming Card Deck and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work. http://creativethinking.net/WP01_Home.htm