I was looking through a book with my three year old at the weekend, and he saw a medieval illustration depicting someone standing next to an apple tree. He asked me “why is that man putting apples in a tree?”. It was a reminder to me about how we construct our understanding of how the world works, and how limiting that understanding may be.
It’s not the first time that we have talked about apples: over the summer i took him walking through an orchard, and we picked up windfall apples. I cut one in half with my penknife and we examined the seeds inside, talking about how apples contain seeds, and apple trees grow from the seeds. Some time later, he asked me whether pigeons grew from apple seeds. Putting this stuff together is hard!
The understanding that people pick apples from trees, as opposed to placing them into trees, is so obvious that anything to the contrary is odd. I realise that my whole thinking about and understanding of nature is rooted in my learned concepts of birth, growth, reproduction, death and decay. A system that i have learned and now operate within. Notions that stand counter to that are odd, or even ‘unthinkable’. Can people live forever? Of course not. Can leaves rise back into trees? No!
But whilst some of this understanding is governed by the laws of nature (which themselves may seem immutable until science catches up), others are simply social conventions. Take money: it’s not real, and yet we overwhelmingly act as though it were. It’s not a force of nature so much as a belief system that humans have created.
Why is this important?
Because as we seek to find opportunity at the edge of failure, innovation beyond systems, complex collaboration, and resilience in times of constant change, the answers we need may be hidden from us by the certainty we carry with us.
Sometimes ignorance, naivety, and the simple eyes of a child may give a clearer space of opportunity than any amount of learned certainty.