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Negative space in the world of draftsmanship and photography refers to the abstract shaped space that’s created by objects in a frame.  For example, if we were to look at a regular wooden stool and attempt to see the shapes that are created by the space between the legs and the cross bars, we would see a series of trapezoids.  Another example is making the ‘a-ok’ gesture with one’s hand.  One part of the negative space is the circular space made by joining the thumb and forefinger.


Exploring the world of drawing can be aided by a concentration on negative spaces.  Drawing an object by attempting to draw only the negative space that it creates around it is a way to defamiliarize the object.  This is useful because our preconception of objects often severely hinders our ability to represent such objects graphically on a page.  For whatever reason, drawing something without knowing what it is allows us to make a much more accurate and faithful rendering.


Strangely enough, there is no actual difference in the line that delineates the visual edge of any object, and the line that delineates the visual edge of the space around it – they are the same exact line – but which side we concentrate on drastically changes our ability to accurately perceive the line.


This intersection between positive and negative space can work as a good visual framework to look at the nature between problems and solutions.


For example, we can think of the experience of pondering a riddle.  We know there is a solution, and we know that the solution, once known, will feel very obvious and intuitive.  And yet, the solution is usually not instantly obvious the moment we hear the riddle.  We can endure an agonizingly long amount of time pondering the riddle side of this equation without coming across the solution side.


But this is, in essence, the point of riddles.  They are generally phrased in such a way that makes the solution elusive.  The key is the nature of the phrasing.


Take for example this simple riddle:


Say my name and I disappear, who am I?



This is a fairly easy riddle that might be obvious after a moment or two.  But examine just how clear the solution can be if the phrasing of the problem is changed.  Here is the same exact riddle phrased in a less entertaining but obvious way.


What is a word that describes the absence of sound?


These questions both have the same answer, silence.  But in one case the phrasing creates a kind of red herring for our perspective, whereas in the other one, the phrasing aides our ability to find the solution.


Any and all problems that we encounter in life are a riddle of one kind or another.  Life is primarily just the act of solving innumerable problems, both big and small to different degrees of efficacy.


We can level-up our problem solving ability by paying close attention to how we phrase the problems we seek to solve.  A poorly phrased problem may prove impossible to solve.  But rephrase it and suddenly our abilities naturally become more effective, like attempting to draw the negative space around and between objects instead of trying to draw the objects themselves.


Using the only tool appropriately can fine-tune a question to the point where it outlines the necessary answer so clearly that the question begins to answer itself.  We can – in essence - define negative space so clearly that the positive entity of a solution literally pops into being.


The process of finding better questions may in fact be an effort to phrase questions more appropriately in order for the human mind to naturally and effortlessly fill in the negative space created by such questions.


This episode references Episode 42: Level-Up, and Episode 30: The Only Tool

Check out the Tinkered Thinking   Reading List

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Podcast Ep. 211: The Negative Space of Riddles

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