The first wall: conventions and rules


We impede development by fixing our perceptions on what objects and phenomena have been in the past, when we should really see what they could become. If you had been following the instructions in a 50 year old book about athletics, you would probably never be able to jump higher than 6.5 feet. In those days, the high jump was defined as diving or scissoring over the bar.

Nobel Prize-winner Murray Gell-Mann, the father of modern quantum physics, once discussed a student who made a particular impression on him – by repeatedly giving the wrong answer in an examination.

The examination question was quite simple for someone who knew basic physics. It read: Describe how with the help of a barometer you can determine the height of a building. The answer was to read the barometer at ground level, and then go up to the roof of the building and read it again. By comparing the readings one can determine how much air there is between the ground and the roof of the building. The air exerts pressure on the ground as a column and increases the air pressure proportionately. The length of the column of air is the same as the height of the building. But the student gave the ‘wrong’ answer:

Take the barometer and knock on the door of the janitor who lives on the ground floor. ‘Hi, you can have this really nice barometer if you tell me how high the building ...

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