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To what extent can an idea be unique?

Are all ideas just the combination of known principles or trial and error? Examples and peronal experiences are good as well as just opinions. This question could be expanded to any thought at all, not just ideas. If there is a thought that is almost entirely unique, there can't be any previous oppposite idea. What I mean is if an idea is the exact opposite of another it isn't really original. It just stated the opposite. If an entirely original idea can be made, how will it be formed?

I have some opinions currently, but I'm sure they'll change after your comments. Please ask me to expand or clarify if needed.


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    Jul 23 2013: All ideas ARE the combination of known principles AND trial and error. Thats why I consider patents and 'intellectual property' as highly counterproductive and decelerating for development in all affected fields.

    There is a nice thought experiment about ideas and why no idea is ever unique or new for 'the first time':

    Imagine a letter generator who generates letters from A to Z in complete, perfect randomness, and let it generate an infinite amount of letters - which may take some while :o) - yet would look something like this:

    sodjlqhfnskajflqwfmlvqalmvqihbfn ...

    Because the letters are random, there is a chance, that somewhere in this line of letters we could find something like this:

    jduanjshfbkjhebdjfhghellokdjshbn ...

    And, did you find it?

    jduanjshfbkjhebdjfhg HELLO kdjshbn ...

    Note, that we are using English here, but it works in any language as well, just not at the same location in that row.

    Now comes the clue. Because the letters are random AND infinite, the chances to have them somewhere perfectly aligned in order to form, lets say, the whole book of Charles Dickens 'A Christmas carol' is, admittedly, pretty small, yet NOT ZERO and this because the numbers are infinite! And not just Charles Dickens, there is any book in any language in this row of numbers, those which have been written already and those which will be written in the future...

    And there are not only books. Anything which can be described by words will be there. Somewhere.

    Mathematically, this little experiment can be done, and because it is infinite, we don't need a printout ... :o)

    Now comes the question: Does the fact that we are not capable to tap into that row to extract what it contains negate its very existence?

    I think it doesn't and therefore no idea can ever be claimed to be new. They might have been thought of a first time, but recognizing is different from existence.
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      Jul 24 2013: Ah, so ideas are just discoveries? Thanks for the thought experiment! I like the idea and I'll get back to you.
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        Jul 24 2013: In a sense, they are, and there are so much more to find! :o)
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        Jul 25 2013: Ideas may be discovered, but they aren't merely discoveries. The question that should be asked is, if an idea is discovered, how did it get there in the first place? Where did it come from and who created it?
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      Jul 25 2013: You're example of random letter generators has a famous counterpart, at least in our country, where it is asserted that if you put a dozen monkeys in front of a dozen typewriters and gave them no time limit, they would eventually write out the complete works of Shakespeare. Again, when given long enough.

      Things I disagree with you about:
      1) Ideas don't have to be new to be unique. Put another way, uniqueness is not a temporal quality.
      2) They need not be "combinations of known principles." They could be a single principle unto themselves. Note the UNI in unique means one, after all.
      3) Trail and error are not requisites, either. Many other methods may be adopted, such as chance or the elimination process or observation or induction or deduction, etc. And these are still just ways of discovering it. Do we have to discover an idea just to ascertain the extent to which it is unique?

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