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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 10 2013: I think I see where you are going with this. From my perspective, humans are not capable of making things up--or as you might put it, they aren't capable of an original thought. That's why I believe that there has to be some truth to things like Bigfoot, UFOs, the Lockness Monster, etc.

    That said, I also think that those who appear to have original thoughts are the great artist down through history. Who could explain where Beethoven's music came from or what possessed Vincent Van Gogh to create such amazing images? We don't know where Shakespeare got his genius, but one thing that is true, even for people like Einstein, is that somehow we are able to 'connect' with what they know. What we call genius is only called that because these works strike so many of us at a very deep level. I think these 'ideas' are very special to us because they come close to mirroring the workings of the human mind. Another way to look at it is that when anyone is very very good at doing something they don't have to think about it, it is a pure mind-body connection. If we can achieve, even for a few moments in our life a perfect connection b/t mind and body that is worth a life time of effort. I used to do this as a long distance runner, and if I could have written a perfect poem about how I felt when performing at my best, it would have moved humanity to tears.

    That said, I do think we have to have unique thoughts ever so often; if we didn't we would progress as a species. This is like punctuated equilibrium in evolutionary biology--scientist don't really know how a species can evolve to meet environmental pressure so quickly and so precisely, but it nevertheless happens. Just the same, I think our minds slowly evolve and due to unknown forces think in truly new ways when it's necessary.

    I am not sure that 'uniqueness' of thought is as important as continuing to recombine concepts in new ways and to think more clearly about everything.

    Take care, Prof. Schneider

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