A Lesson in Legos

the importance of playing around with abstract thinking (and Legos)

Darren Neff

If I had a superpower, I would be Lego Man. I would be the guy all the other superheroes turn to when they need a boat, car, or spaceship to defeat the evil villains and save the world from utter destruction. I would build anything; if a superhero came to me needing a submarine spaceship, I’d be more than happy to oblige. And a laser catapult? I might have built one of those back in my youth, though I was careful to hide my secret forever by disassembling it and using its parts to build something equally fiendish.

I’m sure everyone understands what it’s like to be a kid playing with Legos, but few are likely to compare Legos to abstract ideas. But that’s what I’m hoping to do. Legos and abstract ideas are very similar, because they both challenge us to put small pieces together in different ways in order to solve problems. When playing with Legos, the problem is the desire to build an object, but with ideas, the challenge is to take ideas and continually re-organize them as our world and culture changes. Our world is constantly changing, but the fundamental ideas that we use to describe our world remain virtually the same. So we are left with the challenge of continually reassembling these basic ideas in a way that most accurately describes the world we live in today.

We do a good job with the ideas we are used to using, but sometimes we have trouble using ideas that other people have used before. But I ask, would it be logical for me to avoid a specific Lego block because my brother built something with it yesterday? Even if I hated the contraption he built using that piece, should that make the particular Lego block unusable to me today? I don’t see why it would matter, but when it comes to ideas, we are quick to throw out ideas that were once used in philosophies we object to.

And my point is that we aren’t using ideas properly, just as a childhood friend failed to use his Legos properly. Instead of using his Legos as parts for building his own creations, he had his mom help him build the Lego set by the directions. He was convinced that if the box had a picture of an airplane, he was getting a model airplane! And once the set was assembled, he put the airplane on a shelf so it wouldn’t get broken.

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