What is a timeless idea? My definition of a timeless idea is what was relevant 1000 years ago is relevant now and will be relevant for a long time to come, or as Nassim Taleb would put it, you can call an idea timeless only when it is lindy, meaning, it can remain immune to various types of stressors for a very long time.
But these definitions paint only half the picture, there is another definition that is more robust, more accessible, and more personal. It was proposed by the great British-American architect Christopher Alexander, widely known as the father of the pattern language movement in his book titled “The timeless way of building” . In that he says, what is timeless must be alive; and he further goes on to say that what is timeless must also be emergent. I felt this to be very powerful and profound in a sense that for an idea to have survived for a long time it must have basically lived through the generations of people who have carried that idea forward, isn’t it? So when we think of an idea, it must first live through us for it to transcend generations; and what is more interesting, is when that happens it also automatically becomes emergent in nature, meaning, it is a byproduct of nothing but itself.
Furthermore, he says, in order to seek the timeless way we must first know the quality without a name. What does that mean? It means that if you want to think about an idea that is timeless, you must first become so intimate with the idea that it gains form and shape only when it has manifested itself completely. Only such an ideas can be called timeless, for it needs no name for it to emerge.
The problem that most of us have is we want to think about an idea that can become the next Google, Apple, and the Facebooks of the world. What we forget about is that Rome wasn’t built in a day. It is the culmination of many minds and many lives that thrived in it. To put it succinctly, an idea that lives, enables. But the question is what should it enable? My take is it should first enable you towards itself i.e., the idea.
Also of great importance is realizing the shortcomings of human kind, that is, we have a tendency to optimize the idea even before it has taken shape. And I have always believed that the greatest enemy to creativity is optimization. By this I don’t mean one shouldn’t optimize, what I mean is optimization should be to increase the efficacy of an idea and not generate an idea itself. Modernity teaches us to optimize at every step but we falsely assume that the creation of an idea is also a step, which it isn’t. An idea arises not out of a method but by itself. It has a property of showing itself when you let it show itself, meaning, you think about something that interests you and the idea will emerge on its own.
In fact, I would even go on to say that a method that is timeless must be non-methodical. It should be noted that by method I don’t mean the mathematical steps or proofs, what I mean is the first step towards seeing the beauty, that is, the patterns in the numbers or the ideas hidden within the thoughts in our case. The first spark, the first aha, or that one insightful moment that can sow the seed of timeless affinity towards that idea within you.
All of us have our own paths and the issue emerges only when we try to convince others that our path is correct. Not to mention the convincing of others towards our path being the only correct path. And here is where timeless ideas shine in they organically reveal themselves and prove valuable without the need for convincing. My opinion is our journey in life should be towards realizing that there is nothing that will not perish, for everything is impermanent but we must all strive towards the things that bring about life onto everything it touches, things that can sustain time when everything else will fail in the face of time, things that have no name but are driven emotionally on a very intimate level; Only such a thing can be called timeless.