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wundayatta's avatar

Is a box so big that you've never seen the walls still a box? Could you think outside that box?

Asked by wundayatta (58596points) April 20th, 2011

This is a serious philosophical question, but it’s also tongue in cheek. What do you think? What do the walls mean? What do your perceptions mean? If you can’t perceive the box, how do you know you are in it? Does being in it even mean anything?

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30 Answers

yankeetooter's avatar

If you can’t perceive the box, how could you possibly think outside the box? It reminds me of the matrix, where the majority of the people were unaware of their situation, and thus could not know what it meant to want to be free of the matrix…

JLeslie's avatar

I think maybe what makes us feel confined is if others are able to be outside of the box? I also agree that awareness of the box makes a difference.

But, think of the earth as a box. We cannot get out of the earth so to speak, and it is so big we don’t feel confined by it, bit we are aware this is the only place we can live, but accept it as not being a prison of sorts. I don’t think the walls matter if they are so far away, and I think it is still a box, but it doesn’t matter.


seazen_'s avatar

Box = square = limited = walls = borders… outside the box means to think creatively.

I don’t have a problem with this expression, and it translates well into other languages – which is usually an indication for me that it is well understood and appreciated.

I noticed the exchange of words about this the other day – please explain why this expression is such a big deal to you?

I can’t wrap my head around your details – they are neither here nor there. Sorry.

I’ll check back though to see if you’ve added anything. Philosophical, tongue in cheek, or otherwise.

wundayatta's avatar

First of all, it’s a cliche. It’s been said so often, it has no meaning. It’s just something people mouth when they are trying to sound like they’re with it.

I’m not really sure why people say it. I think it’s because businesses are pushing people for something, maybe creativity? But creativity is not something you can turn on or off. Either you think that way, or you don’t.

If we’re saying that business culture develops hordes of yes-men and yes-women, then that’s the way they think. They follow the rules. You can’t just tell them to think outside the box and have them change their behavior. That’s no how people get ahead in that business. If you are serious about creativity, then you have to change your culture to support it.

And the box is a stupid metaphor for something that is very complex. We do keep our minds in check, and allow or disallow ourselves to think certain things. Our minds are all over the place, and they can’t be in any kind of box. Even if it were a good metaphor for how we think, it is not like the saying implies: you can’t just jump through the walls of the box. If the box is there, it’s there because that’s how people make their livings. Who is going to climb outside of a box, when the meal ticket is inside the box?

A box is a state of mind; a way of seeing. Or rather, a way of not-seeing. It is so artificial, and anyone who would let a box hinder them probably never was a child. Boxes are things to play with. Unless they are things to hold something. If you are in a box, you are nothing. You are static. Being carried from here to there.

But this isn’t toy story 3 where you can escape the box. Toys are really alive. And any human in a box is also dead and usually about to be buried.

To think “outside” the box, you have to never get into the box. You can never admit to being aware of any box. The box simply doesn’t exist, and if you think it exists, it is because you called it into existence yourself. The box is an act of suicide. If you place yourself in the box, you’re ready to be buried. There is no trying on the box. First of all, who would want to? Second, once you conjure it into existence, you are in it, only you aren’t aware you are in a box, which means it is literally impossible to think about an outside. There is no outside because you aren’t inside anything.

That’s the problem of the universe and the extent of the universe and the idea of infinity. A lot of people want to define our universe as a box. The box we live in. But we can’t see the walls, so how can we know if there is a box or not?

So, if you are in the box, you aren’t aware of it, and if you can’t see the walls, you can’t think you are in the box. In either case, there is no box. Conceptually, the concept is null and void. Return to sender. Addressee unknown and no forwarding address. It is an utterly useless metaphor, yet people mouth it over and over as if it means something. It’s simply a waste of grey matter. It sounds like it means something, but it means nothing.

JLeslie's avatar

I think the box you are reffering to is when people fail to use their own minds and simply parrott back what they have been told or have learned previously. I have said in the past that many of my doctors don’t think outside of the box. They will continue to want to try the same treatments over and over again for me, when they do not work. When I can give them clues of what has worked in at least some small measure, they don’t take the information and really think about it, the revert back to what they think my problem “should” be and should respond to. Too focused on literature, and not enough on what is right in front of their face.

seazen_'s avatar

I don’t have a problem with cliches – well, some of them anyway. They were over-used for a reason, right?

I looked up match stick puzzles to help illustrate my point – not that I have a serious point here, mind you.

I specifically looked for, and found (if you are interested) the match puzzle where you move a few to change a box into three boxes. In doing so – one must definitely think outside the box.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

Just because one cannot perceive the box,doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.
Perception is not reality.;)

wundayatta's avatar

It isn’t?

ratboy's avatar

@wundayatta—are your essays an exercise in thinking outside the box? Perhaps one must be on a higher plane, or in a different sphere to think outside the box. I bebieve the solution to these conumdrums is a firm resolution to keep geometry in its place.

ucme's avatar

I’d just like to penetrate the wife’s box thanks.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

@wundayatta-You may perceive reality,but your perception may be flawed.

flutherother's avatar

Boxes, boxes, we don’t need no stinkin’ boxes.

gondwanalon's avatar

In order for you to know that you are in a box you must first see or perceive some evidence that at least suggest that a box exist. The physical definition of a wall in such a situation might be a multi dimensional set of points which you may not pass through. The mental definition of a wall may be complex ideals that can’t be comprehended or a level of pain where we dare not pass through. From there you be able to develop a hypothesis of the box and then a theory of the box. If you can suggest that a box exists with a strong theory then it would be a simple matter to think outside of it. People theorize the possibility of parallel universes and that is outside of the box thinking for sure.

Being inside of any kind of a box may not pose a problem as we live out our humble lives. But at some point in the future the box could become a restriction as human kind stretches the limits of our planet, our physiology and our psychology.

As I get older I feel that there is a box closing in on me. Trying to step out of that box to a point of physical activity that I once had is very painful. HA!

Zaku's avatar

If you don’t know about the walls of a box, you could still think outside of it; you just wouldn’t know if you had or not.

At the point where the answer becomes important to someone, has that person turned the metaphor (which was intended to open new paths) into a new obstacle?

It seems to me that “thinking outside the box” for its own sake, is thinking inside a box.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@seazen_…I think what she’s saying is….if the box is so huge that you can’t see that there are borders, how do you know to think outside of those borders? It’s like…can you think outside of the universe?

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

As someone who often sees ways to make a product, procedure or process better, I visualize the box that those who resist discussing change mentally live in. Sometimes, the ‘box walls’ that they create are valid; often, they seem to lack the ability to see the benefit of the outcome and/or fear change.

Blondesjon's avatar

The whole thinking outside of the box thing, as stated in the original question and as answered above, is just a simple metaphor. It’s nothing more than a mental challenge to break your thought process out of it’s rut.

Living outside the box, on the other hand, is the stuff of Super Heroes and James Bonds.

do any of you do it?

Dutchess_III's avatar

Ask a five year old.

wundayatta's avatar

If there is no box, are you inside it or outside of it?

@ratboy My little brain dumps (‘tis nice of you to label them essays, but there is no need make more out of them then is there) are mostly me wandering around the pathways of my mind and picking up all kinds of garbage and describing it. That is to say, I know they aren’t terribly serious. Any box I might think outside of are surely very, very tiny boxes.

But they don’t exist so what’s the point? The point is that there are no limitations except the ones you set up for yourself. And even they aren’t limitations. Limitations help us be more creative, in fact. It’s one thing to solve a problem with all kinds of resource available to you. It’s quite another to solve it with a toothpick and a snow shovel. In fact, that’s a game a lot of people use in order to create new methods and things.

I just find the box, as a metaphor for thinking space, to be really horrid, I guess. Boxes suggest that we are closed in, but we are never completely closed in. There are always ways of escaping. But why put yourself there in the first place? That’s probably the most horrifying thing—people choosing to be in little boxes. No doubt made of ticky tacky.

I suppose if people are so horribly shallow that they really, really resist any kind of change at all, then perhaps the metaphor might be appropriate. But it does no good to tell such people to think outside that box. I’m sure that they, like I, cannot see the box, if it really exists. But I can look at them and I can see how they are set in their ways and want to go on doing the same thing they have always done because they know how to do it.

Personally, I don’t mind problems and roadblocks and things that get in the way of your plans. But then, I’m good at thinking on my feet and figuring out a way around the roadblocks. I like to surf through the challenges of life. I think it’s a lot more fun to not have any set boundaries or rules. I like it when the rules change under my feet. It keeps life interesting. Generally I hate doing the same problem more than once. It is just too boring. I always want to be learning something new. Twiceness is like death. I also like trouble.

How can there be a box if things are never the same twice?

seazen_'s avatar

I like boxes. They store things. Like sheep.

SpatzieLover's avatar

And 5yr old boys

Berserker's avatar

That’s like that question, if a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Of course it makes a sound. You don’t need to be there to know that some big ass dead tree falling over is gonna make noise. As conceited and arrogant as we humans are to dictate that pics or it didn’t happen, we still have learned quite a lot, and know quite a lot, to logically conclude that when something falls, unless gravity is going all HP Lovecraft on our posteriors, it’s gonna make noise, as long as it’s on earth. You don’t need to be there to know this. If it fell, it made noise.

Now that box thing. Presumably, this saying and all originated from the platitudes of society ans its horrid ’‘spend eternity trying to eat your own tail’’ cycle, in which we present image and necessity before essence. I’d have to assume that those who think outside the box found something more important, that which matters a lot more. Ecxept that beyond people claiming to think outside the box, elaboration is never really offered, unless it’s something we already all have heard before that really isn’t thinking outside the box, as said expression is defined.
I don’t remember where I was going with this. Even if I don’t see the walls of the box, I know they exist, because this saying comes from society being a dick, and I live in that dick, or sorry, that society. It’s just some symbolic means of attribution towards one’s stand in society that doesn’t mean anything in practical day to day. But because it has some sort of philosophical value when you discuss shit with peeps at the bar or some Kingdom Hears forum, it exists in that sense, and so we’ll never SEE the walls of the box, because it’s philosophy, and in that shape, nothing is ever clear since it’s never confirmed.
The walls of the box exist as a faucet for thought, but they don’t exist for real when it comes to being practical, whether you’re an 8 to 5 worker or a punk pretending to be a war veteran on main street and mooching cash from strip club owners.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is like…stay with me for a sec…it’s like, anytime you mention the box, and whether or not you can see its walls, it exists for the person saying how they think outside of it, or remain inside, since they feel the need to talk about it and their stance on a matter which probably doesn’t really cater to their existence and every day life anyways. They have erected their boundaries. (whether you belong within or without, it seems unimportant to me, if you have to state which side of the fence you’re on, you’re all the same to me)
They see the walls. But like, the walls don’t exist to those who actually legitimately live outside or inside the box, since they’re not talking, they’re acting, and just living how they want, or at least, what feels right to them. They’re like, fuck the box. It’s a barrier we have created, so it exists in that sense, but it doesn’t compliment what we are besides being a product of ourselves.

wtf am i talking bootz haha

incendiary_dan's avatar

Figuratively, to see the walls of such a big box would require moving around within it. Therefore, one needs to push the limits of their perceptual limitations that lie within to have that chance. Only those that explore can have a chance to find the wall and see the big picture.

seazen_'s avatar

^ Lurves it.

Coloma's avatar

What box?
Don’t you know that we all live in a snow globe in a Gary Larsen cartoon.
There are no boxes, their is only space.

Space is what makes the box, not walls.

chocolatechip's avatar

@wundayatta I just find the box, as a metaphor for thinking space, to be really horrid, I guess. Boxes suggest that we are closed in, but we are never completely closed in. There are always ways of escaping.

…Boxes can be opened…

seazen_'s avatar

My box is made of cardboard and gets mushy in the rain. I punch holes through it easily.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Gadzooks, one does not necessarily have to see the walls of the box to know or perceive there is a box. The box essentially is more mental than physical. Even Nero knew there was something beyond the Matrix. If you do not seek to find out what is beyond the box you will never look. Thinking-outside-the-box is to go beyond the probable and sometimes embrace the fantastic. If the edges where tangible you would just have to figure out how to get beyond it, there is no thought, creatively or not needed other than “there is an object how do I breech it?” like a boulder clogging a road.

No matter how big the box the top will be seen even if you can’t see the sides. That alone would tell you there is or should be something more.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@Coloma Does that mean you have….Ducks In Space??

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