I say this in the most fundamental of ways.
We are in the space age, recognizing that the universe and space is vast with astronomical advances and insight taking place frequently.
Stephen Hawking, one of the world’s best known theoretical physicists and advanced theorists of our time, acknowledge that we have made significant advances in understanding the Universe in the modern age. He has been quoted as saying: “ We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special” (The Associated Press. 2018. “Life and the universe, according to Stephen Hawking. In The Star.)
Hawking spent a great deal of time working with his colleagues and giving renowned lectures around the world, as well as fulfilling his duties as Director of Research at the Center for Theoretical Cosmology within the University of Cambridge, and battling his crippling ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis “ALS” or Lou Gehrig’s disease). Therefore, he was not known for spending time alone. However, it can be deduced that to formulate the advanced theories of his time, Hawking must have spent a significant amount of time with his own thoughts, processing complex ideas and formulating theories that made him one of the greatest thinkers of our time.
While the focus is on the collective and collective advancements in the 21st Century, many of his predecessors and in fact many people need space and time alone in order to map out some of the best ideas, whether they are about space or advancements in art, engineering, writing and more.
One prominent example is Nikola Tesla, born in the 1850’s, a Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer and futurist who was best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system. He also created the “Tesla coil,” which is still used in radio technology. Tesla went on to contribute to advanced scientific discoveries, such as wireless communication, which have been known to be credited by others. One of his most famous disputes was with Thomas Edison.
Tesla was well known for spending time alone to generate his theories and collect his thoughts. In was in this time, and even in his dreams, that he would formulate the concepts for his inventions and even begin to invest into theories of the Universe. He spent countless hours in his laboratories investigating the nature of electrical currents, envisioning the future and pondering the cosmos.
Tesla recognized that we have only began to understand the laws and nature of space (or the universe). In elaborating on his piece ‘Talking with other Planets’ in Collier’s Weekly (1901), Tesla noted that “ My brain is only a receiver, in the Universe there is a core from which we obtain knowledge, strength and inspiration. I have not penetrated into the secrets of this core, but I know that it exists” (Science Vibe).
Innovation and Alone Time
Science 2.0, the world’s largest science writing community, reports that “when science was a much more lonely pursuit, it was that isolation that produced some of the world’s most significant breakthroughs” (Rachel Newer, 2014, “ Sometimes Scientists Just Need to Be Left Alone,” Smithsonian.com). This included Isaac Newton, an English mathematician, physicist, astronomer, theologian, and author, who, according to Newer “was a proponent of isolated working, shutting himself away in his rooms, publishing reluctantly and restricting his audience to only those he thought capable of appreciating his work.” Newton preferred to work alone
formulating some of his best theories in the space of his own space.
Sir Isaac Newton Online
Not just Science
This phenomenon is not just limited to great thinkers in the realm of sciences. The Huff Post quotes twenty five influential women who preferred to work alone, including Katharine Hepburn, Susan Cain, Audrey Hepburn, Yoko Ono, and Gertrude Stein. Susan Cain, an American writer and lecturer, and author of the 2012 non-fiction book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, was quoted as saying:
“ People sometimes seem surprised when I say this, because I’m a pretty friendly person. This is one of the greatest misconceptions about introversion. We are not anti-social; we’re differently social. I can’t live without my family and close friends, but I also crave solitude. I feel incredibly lucky that my work as a writer affords me hours a day alone with my laptop. I also have a lot of other introvert characteristics, like thinking before I speak, disliking conflict, and concentrating easily … introversion is my greatest strength. I have such a strong inner life that I’m never bored and only occasionally lonely. No matter what mayhem is happening around me, I know I can always turn inward. In our culture, snails are not considered valiant animals — we are constantly exhorting people to ‘come out of their shells’ — but there’s a lot to be said for taking your home with you wherever you go.” — Scientific American, January 2012.
Additionally, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the famous child prodigy who began composing at the age of 5 who became one of the world’s best known composers, was known to work diligently for hours, even days without distractions. According to Quotezine, “he grew up practicing furiously in a time with almost no recognizable distractions. No cars, planes or trains, let alone cell phones or computers.”
Holly Van Hare, editor of The Active Times, agreed on the need to spend time alone and that some of the world’s greatest would do the same. She was quoted saying “ There’s a reason great authors and artists have dedicated days — sometimes months — of their lives to complete solitude. Mozart, Kafka, Picasso. All these wildly different artists had one thing in common: They made a point to spend time working on their projects alone” (2018. Unexpected Benefits of Spending Time Alone. In The Active Times: https://www.theactivetimes.com/healthy-living/unexpected-benefits-spending-time-alone).
Oprah Winfrey said it herself “we’re more creative alone” (Why You Must have Time Alone” by Katrina Kenison, found on Oprah.com). According to Kenison, Pulitzer prize–winning writer John Updike, author of 51 books, attributes his astonishing productivity to a schedule that honors empty time. “Ideally,” he explains, “much of my day should be, in a strict sense, idle, for it is often in idle moments that real inspiration comes.”
I am not espousing living in a vacuum, but there in undoubtedly a push in our society towards the collective. Solitary being, is in a way, misunderstood when it comes to the process of creativity, thinking, and invention. However, it is my conviction that in the 21 st Century, and as demonstrated with the examples above that the concept of progress and alone time was already being discussed at the turning point of the 1900’s,
that, in the space age, space is exactly what we need.