How to think like Henri Poincaré


Image via: Congress of Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science. –

[NOTE] The following material is from Wikipedia’s entry on Poincaré.

Summary: His method of thinking is well summarized as:
He neglected details and jumped from idea to idea, the facts gathered from each idea would then come together and solve the problem.) (Belliver, 1956)

Jules Henri Poincaré (April 29, 1854 – July 17, 1912) was one of France’s greatest mathematicians and theoretical physicists, and a philosopher of science.

Poincaré’s work habits have been compared to a bee flying from flower to flower. Poincaré was interested in the way his mind worked; he studied his habits and gave a talk about his observations in 1908 at the Institute of General Psychology in Paris. He linked his way of thinking to how he made several discoveries.

The mathematician Darboux claimed he was un intuitif (intuitive), arguing that this is demonstrated by the fact that he worked so often by visual representation.

[I am wondering what he used? maps, diagrams? tables? sketches?]

Henri Poincaré’s student notebooks, 1870-1878 — Image via University de Lorraine –

He did not care about being rigorous and disliked logic.
He believed that logic was not a way to invent but a way to structure ideas and [believed] that logic limits ideas.

[This is a very important point. Structuring ideas, organizing information in (linear) logical ways is a something we seem to do before and after a different type of thinking process in order to “rationalize” or explain our process of thinking. The cognitive process in between (or weaving in and out) may be non-linear and complex and would probably not be very easy to understand if written down step by step – (it wouldn’t fit neatly into “logical” steps).

[Thinking purely through linear logic about specific variables is something any computer can do. I would like to think that Poincaré may have contributed a lot more to the cognitive process than linear thought.]

[He] Solved problems in his head, then commit the completed problem to paper. [lots of visualization and visual memory of internal processes]
He was ambidextrous and nearsighted. [whole brain thinker?]
He had an ability to visualise what he heard…
He never spent a long time on a problem since he believed that the subconscious would continue working on the problem while he consciously worked on another problem.

[A belief that may have triggered that part of his brain to work in the way he described]

In addition, Toulouse stated that most mathematicians worked from principles already established while Poincaré was the type that started from basic principle each time. (O’Connor et al., 2002)

Related Books

The Creative Process: Reflections on the Invention in the Arts and Sciences [Paperback]
Brewster Ghiselin

“This unique anthology brings together material from 38 well-known writers, artists, and scientists who attempt to describe the process by which original ideas come to them. Contributors include Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Amy Lowell, Rudyard Kipling, Max Ernst, Katherine Anne Porter, Henry Miller, Carl Gustav Jung, Mary Wigman, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Henri Poincaré and many others.”


Henri Poincare: A Scientific Biography
“Henri Poincare (1854-1912) was not just one of the most inventive, versatile, and productive mathematicians of all time–he was also a leading physicist who almost won a Nobel Prize for physics and a prominent philosopher of science whose fresh and surprising essays are still in print a century later. The first in-depth and comprehensive look at his many accomplishments, Henri Poincar explores all the fields that Poincar touched, the debates sparked by his original investigations, and how his discoveries still contribute to society today. ”


How to Think Like Einstein

Discover Your Genius: How to Think Like History’s Ten Most Revolutionary Mind


Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step

The first practical explanation of how creativity works, this results-oriented bestseller trains listeners to move beyond a “vertical” mode of thought to tap the potential of lateral thinking.

Six Thinking Hats

Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking Paperback

A Whole New Mind

“The future belongs to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind: artists, inventors, storytellers-creative and holistic “right-brain” thinkers whose abilities mark the fault line between who gets ahead and who doesn’t.”

The Art of Innovation: Success Through Innovation the IDEO Way Paperback
“This is an inspiring guide to managing creativity in a business environment from the co-founder of one of the most innovative design companies in the world. Discover the ten commandments of creativity, and much more…Founded by Thomas Kelley and his brother David (dubbed by Fortune the best inventor since Thomas Edison), IDEO is responsible for the first commercial mouse, a virtual reality headset for Sega and the handheld Audible Mobile Player”

Are Your Lights On?



Wikipedia: “Henri Poincaré” >>

Related in this blog
“How to think like Einstein”>>

“Types of thinking”>>

Related on Wikipedia
Portal on thinking>>

Keyword: Daniel Montano, Dan Montano, user experience design, information architect


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