Ideas as colors of the mind

Every new idea is built on pre-existing ones. We cannot imagine, let alone build off, what we do not know, or what we cannot comprehend on some basic level.

A painter can make almost any painting with only three primary colors: red, yellow, and blue. She can use red and yellow to create orange, blue and red for purple. She can mix all of the colors together to get black, or at least a really dark brown. But take one of the primary colors away and what the painter can create becomes limited. The painter can only paint with the colors she has available to her.

In the canvas of our minds, we acquire new colors to paint with through experience, experimentation, and rumination. The more colors we have to paint with, the more new colors we can come up with as a result.

As Steve Jobs famously quipped: “Creativity is just connecting things.” Red and yellow connect to make orange, red and blue make purple.

Though you might often feel that the best way to acquire new colors for your mind is to go on some radical journey, some life-altering trip or cinematic-like change, the reality is that anything new or different can add a lot of color to your life. All it takes is one small change, one new color to connect, and suddenly what you can imagine multiplies.

Of course a painter can recreate anything with just one color, but it’s not much of a scene to see the whole world in shades of blue or yellow. Yes, you can get away with living a life with a limited color palette, but you’re capable of so much more when you add different colors to the mix. Sometimes the thing that matters most isn’t even adding a new color, but merely having enough curiosity to blend two you already have and know well.

As Proust once wrote: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”