You do not seek your goal, you encounter it.
In today’s post I want to get back to connecting principals from the martial arts to everyday life and research. The above quote is from a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) seminar by Ryron Gracie which I attended a while ago. Ryron attributed it to someone attending his seminar in Spain.
The point Ryron was trying to make is that at high levels of BJJ you should not look for a submission, trying to “get it”. Instead, you just observe and seize the opportunity when it arises. I thought it was a great point, something to strive for in my training. I also thought it was a manifestation of a much older and general principal in Martial Arts by which “technique will occur in the absence of conscious thought”. This quote (Te wa ku ni to sunawachi hairu) is from the Kempo Hakku, a passage in the Bubishi . I relate this principal to ultimately achieving the mental state of Mushin. Mushin, or mushin no shin, is a Zen term translated to English as “no mind”, or “the mind without mind “. The term refers to a state of “no-mindness” where in combat, but in everyday life as well, your mind is free from thoughts. You do not think what should be the next move – it naturally occurs, without hesitation and without disturbance from any thoughts/anger/fear/ego. In modern studies of combat you can find descriptions of high level of performance on “autopilot”, where different parts of the brain “take control”, with high levels of awareness and heart rates of 175 pbm . But what does all that have to do with our work as researchers? Ah, I’m glad you asked.
In research, and life in general, we also need to keep our mind, eyes, and ears open in all directions. Then serendipity will come knocking. Instead of being married to an idea, trying to “get it”, You “listen to what the data tells you” (see a previous post on that here). Moreover, you are likely to start working towards idea A encounter B and end up doing C . But that’s OK – because you were never married to the A idea, and you knew to let it go noticing C when you “encounter it”. You will not “encounter it” though if you are too busy seeking your goal, being married to A or bummed down by B. A good example from our work is how we ended up developing MAJIQ, described here.
Seemingly, this “mindless” approach is almost contradictory to the rational way we are brought up to approach problems, especially in the Life Sciences – format a hypothesis, test it, etc. There is no real contradiction though: I would say that the “classical” formulation of the scientific methodology is the local tool that moves you forward in your research, allowing you to test/verify things, while the “no mind” approach is the more general rule by which you strive to live, fight, or direct your Science.
Possibly related to that, Francis Crick said :
“…It is amateurs who have one big bright beautiful idea that they can never abandon. Professionals know that they have to produce theory after theory before they are likely to hit the jackpot. The very process of abandoning one theory for another gives them a degree of critical detachment that is almost essential if they are to succeed”
To be fair though, I don’t think Crick was thinking about Mushin, and the above quote has to do more with a specific confounding factor in Scientific research – our egos. But that’s maybe something for another post.
 On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace, lieutenant colonel David Grossman, 2004
 Related to that: see Uri Alon’s excellent talk about getting lost in the research “cloud” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVoz_pEeV8I
 Crick F., What mad pursuit: A personal view of scientific discovery 1988, P. 142, Basic Books, NY