What is it like being outside the box?

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What is it like being outside the box?

What is it like being outside the box?

Some of us think the being inside the box is incredibly boring.

Everybody knows the phrase. Most of us like to think that we are original, unique, special, with our own thoughts that do not repeat well-worn cliché heard all over the place.

How true is this assumption?

It would be interesting to hear examples from Babblers about their original ideas that they think are their own, rather than repetition of common 'wisdom'.

Of course, nothing is completely original because there are so many people who have been writing and talking and filming for hundreds of years, most topics were bound to be talked over and over...

However, there are more recent topics that are still fresh and new thoughts are still possible.

The point of this thread is not proving to each other how smart we are, or to shoot down each other's ideas and prove it to them how wrong they are.

I am hoping to end up with a collection of interesting and original thoughts, right or wrong. The key feature should be one or more of the following attributes: originality, humour, freshness. It ought to be intriguing, thought-provoking, unexpected.


remind remind's picture

Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreat, thanks for asking.


How would I know?

But then, do I aspire to 'original thought'?

[And yes, I got that you didnt mean that in the extreme sense.]

Dont know the answer to that one either.

Next question.


I used to be amazed by how much I had forgotten.

Now I know that there are things I once knew which have left no trace.

And gosh darn, that illuminating new thought I just had may be one of them.


I like to read about extraordinary people who think outside the box. And they often receive a rough ride from their professional peers for posing the kinds of questions they do. It takes an awful lot of education and experience to get to that point where they are chastised by peers for challenging the standard view of things. They are an elite group of people who sometimes strangle original thought while still in the cradle.


Everybody has original thoughts. Any time when you tell yourself: “I need to figure this out for myself” because you just can’t find a satisfactory answer anywhere, you are developing original thoughts. Your own. Later you may meet the same thought from someone else but it does not take anything away from your own thinking outside the box.

Yes, there are some geniuses who do it all the time, thinking revolutionary thought nobody thought of before , but it is very rare. We are usually aware of our own thought processes and remember, often with pride, how we solved a tough puzzle or came up with something very funny.

I am sure Babblers have bundles of these gems and it could be fun collecting some of them here.


Before I retired I was a software engineer. One project I was involved with was computerizing snow-making operations on ski-resorts. Once when I was in Quebec and was trying to install the software on a new hardware configuration, it just did not work, no matter how many different ways I tried it. I was at it for 10 hours without success. Finally, dead tired, I drove back to the lodge (5km from the control room) and went to bed and fell asleep almost instantly. A few hours later, suddenly, I was wide awake and knew that the solution came to me in my dream. I got up, put my clothes on top of my pajamas (I was too excited to get properly dressed) and got into my car (it was 30 below outside) and drove back to the control room. It was 2:30 in the middle of the night. I got to work and tried my solution and holy macaroni, it worked!

I am curious. Has anybody had that experience that a solution to a tough problem would come to them in the middle of their dream? That kind of thinking for sure ought to be outside the box.

Maysie Maysie's picture

Interesting question alien.

I'm going to answer it kinda backwards.

When I was in my 20s and discovered writers like bell hooks, Angela Davis, Lee Maracle and others, what I found was well-thought out theory based in practice and personal experience that put into words various ideas that had been swimming around in my head for a while. I didn't have the language to frame how systemic oppression felt for me, and here were authors, who had written this stuff at least 10 years before, saying exactly what I was thinking. I was amazed and humbled.

When writers still do that for me, and they do, I keep feeling that same way.


It sounds like thoughts reaching you from outside the box before you are old and mature enough to venture out on your own.


I too have the same experience when writers do that for me. I particularly think of Margaret Atwood's "Oryx and Crake" and the sequel: "The Year of the Flood" – reading them was like someone from the future walking over my grave.

What I also find incredibly inspiring is when young people demonstrate that kind of unconventional thinking.

Two episodes in particular I remember very well.

In one of my previous lives I was teaching in an Ontario College’s Computer Department. I had first semester Algebra students and on the first class I asked the class to multiply 999 by 999. Everybody reached for their calculators except for a young woman who, after a second or two of  concentration gave me the correct answer. When I asked her how she did it, she replied: “I multiplied 999 by a thousand, (999.000), took away one thousand (998,000) and added one (998,001).

When I was teaching the COBOL programming language to another class, I showed them the code for a very complicated nested IF…THEN…ELSE structure and asked them to flowchart it. What I did not tell them was that I had  deliberately changed the line indentation to suggest a different structure than it actually was. Everyone fell for it except another young lady. When I asked her how she came up with the right answer, she said: “Sir, the computer does not have eyes and can not see the indentation – I pretended to be the computer and followed the logic and not the visual suggestion.”

I was delighted with these examples of thinking outside the box.


What is it like being outside the box:


Well first off you don't have much money. You have lived a hard life chasing after your dreams. You watch all your friends that stayed in the box buy houses, get married and have children and do alright financialy. You talk about government in a way that almost no one understands. You can't watch tv or go to the movies because every thing is so bourgeois centric and distorted. You can't read much history because it's all warped and lopsided. You're constantly frustrated by world events. The only thing that makes you happy is playing and listening to music and going into art gallories. YOu've been in trouble with the police because you make your own rules up as you go along (not to harm anyone but you're jsut doing it your way and trying to handle problems by yourself). YOu are in and out of many social groups. YOu live on the fringe of all social groupds you come in contact with. You get into arguement with lots of people because you refuse to look at the world and life like they do. you are constantly looking for new information trying to make sure you have it right. You try out various life philosophies. You try alternative medicians. You don't fully trust what you've been told. Everyone expects you to take route A (cause thats what everyone else does) but you decide to take route 3x4sq+(-1/23)=1bA.


You are mostly alone.


The End.

RevolutionPlease RevolutionPlease's picture

Excellent posts trippie and takeitslowly.  Taking it in...


Speaking for me, being outside of the box means wondering if I made the right decision to undergo a gender transition, and what I should do with the rest of the transition in the future. It means wondering why I am alive everyday and how can I live a meaningful and authentic life with every breath that I take. It means doing everything I can to protect those whom I love because nothing else matters. It means feeling like I never belong to anywhere or to any group. It means questioning everything and slowing down and living in the present moment regardless of how fast the rest of the world is changing and moving. It also means loving and living fearlessly.


Alien, in post#9 I see this, and particularly the second example, as people thinking differently, not of 'thinking outside the box'.

Going outside of yourself when you problem solve is just a different type of habitual response. For that matter, 'problem solving' as we mean it is just a different type of thinking, and a very linear one. We live in a culture that attaches a lot of value and importane to problem solving. The fact it does well at getting productive results does not necessarily make it thinking outside the box.

'Eccentric' and 'circular' thinking can also get fantastic results. Repeatedlyas well.

And what about inspiration- that thing that came straight in. When you had just started thinking about it. Some people do that all the time.


ooh, trippie, your account gives me shivers...its uncannily close to home, I couldn't have put it more eloquently myself.


I've worked with people who do have a nack for thinking outside the box I suppose. Two of my co-workers working in product design at a small r&d company in Ontario developed what I believe was a first in Canada software implementation for a communications  protocol referred to as frame relay. The first lead programmer on the project was a Russian import. He is brilliant imo, but he left in the early stages, and others were critical of his spaghetti code. Andwe often referred to that fomer employee as fffucking brilliant. I think he was planning for job security and caused us much work thereafter deciphering his stuff. Brilliant but far more complex than it needed to be. I was there when we eventually tested in the DV lab, and it worked to handle a test load for many voice calls simultaneously using a TTG. It went into the final build with a number of patches needed after. Then my team did the integration work. They went live with it in a medium sized city in Poland. We eventually did an IPO, but the company went bankrupt in '03. I think if that if thinking outside the box can measured in terms of how many patents a country produces per capita or whatever, Canada has much room for improvement. Smaller countries beat us to the line when it comes to patents and innovative thinking in general. There is something missing in this country, and I'm not sure what it is. I think Canada overall is decent at producing first degree grads in general. It's the specialized degrees I think we lack and have tended to steal from other countries. And so, well, those Asian countries are now providing pretty good opportunities for their home grown talent. It's time for Canada to get busy and do the same imho.


KenS wrote:

Alien, in post#9 I see this, and particularly the second example, as people thinking differently, not of 'thinking outside the box'.


'Eccentric' and 'circular' thinking can also get fantastic results. Repeatedlyas well.

And what about inspiration- that thing that came straight in. When you had just started thinking about it. Some people do that all the time.

KenS, you are right, "outside the box' does have different meaning to different people. Originally I meant it intellectually, in the problem-solving sense, but I don't have any objection to widening the scope of this thread, as it has already happened. I am happy to read about other kinds of experiences with being different from, and outside of, mainstream thinking/living.


I hadn't realized before how many kinds of box there are. I've thought of "The Box", pretty much the way alien meant it here: the mainstream, ordinary, unoriginal mode of thought. But there are social boxes, gender boxes, economic boxes, legal boxes, philosophocal boxes, occupational boxes.... We humans can sure find a lot of ways to limit our own and another's freedom!

Wouldn't it be fun to build an education system where kids didn't get put into boxes, and then see how many of them invent one anyway? Because it's no good saying, "They did it to me"; it's no good blaming "society" or "the system".  Civilizations evolve, grow, decline and fall, but are always replaced by something very similar. We humans are the society and the system, and we keep doing this. Maybe because, as trippie says, it's lonely outside a box.  


I think boxes help us organise our thoughts and ideas. In that respect, they are useful, but those who think outside the box realise the fluidity of these categories and realise they are a simply a model of how reality works rather than the truth. To me, thinking outside the box is similar to teaching yourself something in that the first step is to realise that your knowledge or methodology may be flawed (or at least not optimal) and may actually be preventing you from moving forward.

remind remind's picture

Moving forward? Where is forward?


remind wrote:

Moving forward? Where is forward?

In this particular case, it would be into a mental state where new perspectives are available to you.


Here is an example of how out-of-the-box thinking is not encouraged in the educational system and it may take years to find an out-of-the-box answer to a question none of my teachers through high school and university answered.

It has to do with Newton's second law: Force equals mass times acceleration.

We have an equation with three values in it. I know one of these three: I know what acceleration is and how to measure it. Any time I asked my teachers what mass was, I was told that it is the measure of an object’s inertia (force divided by acceleration). And when I asked what force was, I was again told, predictably, that it was mass times acceleration.

Finally, years later, I read a few books that satisfied my curiosity. One of the best: Richard Feynman’s “Lectures on Physics” recognizes the validity of my question:

“If we have discovered a fundamental law, which asserts that the force is equal to the mass times the acceleration, and then define the force to be the mass times acceleration, we have found out nothing.…Now such things certainly cannot be the content of physics, because they are definitions going in a circle….. One might sit in an armchair whole day long and define words at will, but to find out what happens when two balls push against each other or when a weight is hung on a spring, is another matter altogether, because the way the bodies behave is something completely outside any choice of definitions.”

Finally, Feynman tells us the solution to the dilemma:

“The real content of Newton’s laws is this: that the force is supposed to have some independent properties in addition to the law F=ma; but the specific independent properties that the force has were not completely described by Newton or by anybody else, and therefore the physical law F=ma is an incomplete law.” 

As far as "what use is Newton's Law" is concerned, Feynman states that: 

"In order to use Newton's laws, we have to have some formula for the force; these laws say pay attention to the forces. If an object is accelerating, some agency is at work; find it. Our program for the future of dynamics must be to find the laws for the force. Newton himself went on to give some examples. In the case of gravity he gave a specific formula for the force."

When I read all this, my philosophical problems were solved: Now I knew what Newton meant and how to use his law to solve practical problems. Once you substitute the formula for the force (be it gravity, tension in springs, etc) then I could easily determine the motion of any object subjected to the force if I knew the mass of the object.


Here is another example of thinking outside the box:

To keep the bored and unruly schoolboy Karl Friedrich Gauss busy for a good long time while teaching arithmetic to his mates, his master assigned him the task of adding up all the whole numbers from 1 through 100. The boy paused just a moment and answered 5050, which is, of course, correct. Gauss was not an idiot-savant. How did he do it? He instantly recognized that this regular sequence of 100 numbers could be arranged, starting at each end, into 50 pairs, each of which (1 + 100, 2 + 99, etc.) summed to 101. 50 times 101 equals 5050.

The moral?

When approaching a problem, before doing the obvious, think first to see if there is another, unexpected way of solving it.


This looks like what I'd call "creative thought".  We're a species of problem-solvers, and really effective problem-solving involves creative thought, thinking "outside the box", so to speak.  Whether it's engineering, computer programming, discrete math, sculpting, painting or carpentry, creative thought is required.

I use metal, glass, stone and clay to make jewellery, and I have oodles of tools and many many patterns and designs I can follow to create a variety of pieces.  But often I just start with a vague idea.  I sketch it out, then I assemble a range of materials and tools I think I might need to create the piece I've sketched out.  I experiment with them - and more often than not I end up with things that don't work out - until I have the combination of colour, texture and dimension that gives me the "aha" moment of satisfaction that tells me it works.  Sometimes the finished product looks like my original sketch, sometimes it's very different.  Sometimes I just make a mess of it and have to start all over again.  But in the end, I have something original.

Or so I think.

What the end product really is, is a combination of things I've seen, various cultural influences, a genetically predisposed way of thinking and doing, and some surprisingly primal stuff.  A lot of my pieces resemble things found in celtic archaeological digs, and the resemblance is unpremeditated.  Certain shapes and symbols are cross-cultural and representative of the most basic human concepts and emotions, going back thousands of years. 

It's the process more than the result that is creative, the ability to pull from a variety of sources and resources to problem-solve. That's thinking outside the box.


The ancient Greeks were very good at out-of-the-box thinking. 

Here is the story of how they figured out the size of Earth.

"Erathostenes, chief librarian of the Alexandria library,  in 240BC heard that in the city of Syen (now called Aswan in Egypt), on June 21st, at exactly noon, sunlight reached the very bottom of a deep and narrow well. He wondered whether it would be the same in Alexandria. On the next June 21st he went outside the library and stuck a perfectly straight pole vertically into the ground.

At high noon, he was surprised to see a definite shadow of the pole, which told him that the sun was not directly overhead, and thus, could not illuminate the bottom of a well where he lived - while a few hundred miles to the south, it did. The only logical explanation was that the Earth must be round, just as the full Moon appeared to be.

Once Erathostenes had digested this portentous thought, he started wondering how big this globe of Earth might be, and how he could find out. Knowing a fair bit of geometry, he realized that all he needed to do was to measure the distance from Alexandria to Syen and the angle of the sun's rays shining down on his pole at noon on June 21st. Measuring the angle was easy. To measure the distance between the two cities, he hired a man to walk to Syen, counting his steps.

From these two pieces of data, he calculated the circumference of our planet as 24,200 miles or 38,962 km. He must have had a very conscientious walker, because this figure is very close to the value we can measure today with our high-tech instruments from space (24,902 miles or 40,092kms)." 

Anybody knows how they figured out the size and distance of the Moon and the Sun? 

If not, I will tell you in my next Post (want to keep this thread going, maybe more will join it)


Looking up from the Earth, the Moon and the Sun were the two most visible objects in the sky. How large were they?

Being the chief librarian of the Great Library of Alexandria has its advantages. With a little research he learned that the relative size of the Moon had been calculated 10 years earlier by Aristarchus, who used the lunar eclipse to accomplish this feat. Aristarchus measured the time it took the Moon to completely disappear in the Earth's shadow (50 minutes) and the time it took to fully emerge again (200 minutes). From these two numbers he determined that the Moon's diameter had to be one-quarter of the Earth's.

Since Erathostenes had just calculated the Earth's diameter, he now knew that the diameter of the Moon had to be about 3200km.

wage zombie

alien wrote:

"Erathostenes, chief librarian of the Alexandria library,  in 240BC heard that in the city of Syen (now called Aswan in Egypt), on June 21st, at exactly noon, sunlight reached the very bottom of a deep and narrow well. He wondered whether it would be the same in Alexandria. On the next June 21st he went outside the library and stuck a perfectly straight pole vertically into the ground.

June 21 is the Solstice, the longest day of the year (in the northern hemisphere).  This means that at noon on the 21st, the sun would be at it's "most northern" spot relative to the Earth.  Would it really be directly overhead Egypt?


I have a little thought about life that can add to this topic. Merowe at post #15 is important to my thought.


I really don't believe you can think outside the box. It is impossible. When some one comes up with a seemingly new idea, in reality they just happen to be the person that was statisticly yet randumly chosen to be that person.

Life is randum and at the same time human thought and ideas all surface at about he same time.

If you look at a guy like Marx, he is credited for bring the ideas of socialism/communism forward. In reality there were many people doing the same thing.

Same with Ghandi, Darwin, Einstein, Newton,  etc.


As human thought developes and moves forward all of humanity moves forward along with it at the same time.


Take this example. I've worked in kitchens for ever. I have a loose rule I follow. Every new recipe I follow it as close as I can five times. After that I know the recipe and will alture it as needed to make it better if need be.


Same thing with math, enginering, art, what ever.. First you must fully understand the pre  requisites, then humans will naturaly move it forward together at the same time.

You may think some one is outside the box but really, that is just the next logical step forward. That person you think is unique, well there are dozens of other like them.


Personaly I think we should open schools were all the gifted kids grow up together. If you wanted to see outside the box ideas that would be the best breading ground. Why, because they can learn the prerequisits faster and have more time in life to contemplate them.


You think Einstien was special? I don't . He was just the guy credited with concluding the inevitable. Math was moving in that direction with or with out him. There had to be an Einstein.


I think that may be true for any field that creates a cumulative body of knowledge such as science or history or many crafts, but is less applicable for fields such as music or poetry.


Pants-of-dog wrote:

I think that may be true for any field that creates a cumulative body of knowledge such as science or history or many crafts, but is less applicable for fields such as music or poetry.

I get what you're saying, but don't entirely agree.  The arts - like music and poetry - can't come into existence in a vacuum any more than the sciences, but perhaps the difference lies in their building upon the cumulative body of knowledge in a less linear way.  We can't create a sociocultural vacuum to prove or disprove this, but fields of study, like ethnomusicology, address this to some degree.



Changed it again...


Good lord.

Every time you go scracthing the surface around Babble, you find another closet sociologist.


SHHHHH!!!! KenS!

 I am sure there is a sociology of closets.

Is one ever really outside the box unless they are proposing a profound paradigm shift in an area of thought?


No. You just can't be, outside the box.


Better to be a closet sociologist that tries to understand life. Then a racist bigot that loves his gun.


What about misunderstood grammar nazis?

They need lovin' too, y'know.