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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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  • Aug 6 2013: Part 2

    In 2012, Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde manipulated the temperature, humidity, and lighting of a room so that he could use a fog machine and form a cloud indoors. According to Time Magazine, his work “evokes both the surrealism of Magritte and the classical beauty of the old masters while reminding us of the ephemerality of art and nature.” The astonishing quality of Smilde’s work lies in the fact that, although temporarily, he was able to bring a weather phenomenon, an uncontrollable part of nature, indoors. Perhaps the artist’s idea was derived from combining the weather—a concept that cannot even be attributed to anyone—with previous experiences and knowledge, but in doing so he was able to put it into use so as to expose his artwork. Is it possible that someone else wanted and knew how to make an indoor cloud but did not have the means to do so? Yes. But Smilde exposed his audience to something new, innovative. Within the modern artist realm of ideas, therefore, I believe the main reason why Smilde gained so much recognition is because his audience perceived his idea as unique.

    Finally, it is critical that a line is traced between originality and uniqueness. Even though, as stated by Abraham Lincoln, tools of knowledge like books sometimes “serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren't very new after all,” it is still possible for someone to use ideas that were not initially theirs and build on them to create a completely distinct, unique idea. Perhaps if some of us stopped being taking over by our schemas and need for specificity, we’d realize that two different ideas could be unique in different ways and exist in different time periods, while having a similar basis.
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      Aug 7 2013: Thanks for the comments!

      I see Smilde's uniqueness in creating a natural phenomenon. I wouldn't say though, that his creation is more unique than other artists and actually may be less unique than other artists. His final product was already envisioned and had been seen (outdoors, but still seen). Other artists may not have such a deinite inspiration for their final product, maybe just a theme or emotion.

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