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Of course, Newton believed something could be learned from anything. Everything. A piece of glass in sunlight taught him about light frequencies. Marbles taught him about thermodynamics. An apple taught him about gravity.
And while we all know Isaac Newton, many of us have never heard of his experiment that inspired a young Albert Einstein to create a theory that would change the world. In fact, it was another thinker named Ernst Mach (after whom the speed of sound is named) who put Newton’s experiment in Einstein’s lap to help him erect E=mc2. Don’t know what that most famous formula in the world even means? Don’t worry. Almost nobody knows what the hell it means. But this might help. Have fun with that later.
For now, all you have to think about is Newton’s bucket of water — and how it can help you unlock the secrets of the greatest influencers, teachers, and leaders in human history.
You never feel the world spinning.
Isaac Newton did it like this, and you can try it at home: find a bucket with a handle. Attach a rope to the middle of the handle and fill the bucket with water. Now, hold the rope in one hand and rotate the bucket with the other hand, and watch what the water does. As the bucket spins, the water slowly begins to spin, too. The water near the edges begins to move more and more rapidly, slowly beginning to creep up the walls of the bucket while the water in the middle moves more slowly. It’s good to do this alone and not drunk, if possible.
Newton, like you, recognized that the water moved because the bucket moved. While this observation takes little imagination, Newton’s further thoughts about it do. Pretend you live inside the bucket and have no reference but the bucket (let’s imagine that the bucket is your whole world, kind of like how American football fans act during Super Bowl week). You would have no understanding of why the water started to climb up the walls of the of bucket, any more than you can “feel” the world spinning under your feet right now.
The water would just start moving up the wall and you’d be like “what the f@#$ is happening to the water?!” You wouldn’t be able to explain it — unless you understood that there was a whole world outside the bucket. You wouldn’t even know that you were spinning unless you were aware of some relative point outside your world.
Newton recognized this but didn’t do much with it aside from talk about motion and inertia. Ernst Mach, centuries later, used Newton’s experiment to do an even crazier experiment. You don’t even need a bucket for this one.
everything is connected
Notice too that you are alone, spinning in a field in the middle of the night. This is what has become of your life. Maybe this is a good thing?
Mach theorized your arms floating upward were somehow related to the stars spinning, in the same way that Newton thought the water spun because the bucket spun. Put simply, your arms lifting from your body as a result of centrifugal force are directly connected to your understanding that the stars are spinning. You can’t see the stars spin like that unless you also experience centrifugal force. Einstein, thrilled by this notion, explained it by saying that “a particle’s inertia is due to some interaction of that particle with all the other masses in the universe.” The big point: everything ever is somehow connected to everything else.
You might already be interested in this idea. You might be a fan of the Butterfly Effect, in which a butterfly flapping its wings in Beijing causes a tornado in Wichita. You might be a Moneyball baseball fan who sees every piece of meaningless-looking data as a yet-to-be-understood number that could help you predict the next World Series winner. Maybe you are political and believe this is why globalism is inevitable and that all humans are of the same family. You might find spiritual comfort in this insight as well, seeing it as proof that there is a reason for randomness, tragedy, and the inexplicable.
You might also be a believer in the idea that Kevin Bacon really is only six degrees away from every actor in every film ever.
Stop explaining, start contexting
Me? I see it as the framework for how to influence how people think. People don’t understand new ideas because they are forced to. They don’t start a new habit because someone explains something to them. As a public school teacher for 20 years, I’ve learned that people don’t learn because they are taught.
People begin to think differently when someone or something finds a way to make an idea relevant to them. People don’t just accept new ideas.
We can’t learn anything new unless we can connect it to what we already know. This is a fundamental law of learning. There is no conventional teaching anywhere. There is only assisted learning. It’s a subtle but powerful distinction.
When someone helps us connect new dots, we’ll try just about anything. We will buy new products, join new churches, change careers, fight a war we were against, vote for candidates we think are clowns, have sex with people we used to ignore, and/or learn the basics of physics.
When you know how to use the context of people’s worlds to help them understand things on their own terms, you can get people to understand nearly anything. Whatever a person knows, it can be used to help him begin to think about what he doesn’t know. Every person’s life is an un-completed map with roads leading to new ideas. Understand how to build context for those you hope to influence, and you can expand anyone’s thinking. If you believe that everything is connected, then finding the right context becomes inevitable.
PEOPLE DON’T JUST ACCEPT NEW IDEAS.
They are the ones who are relentlessly concerned with how other people see and understand the world. They know that connections are waiting to be unearthed; they believe that every single person’s point of view is an opportunity.
They are Contexters.