TED Conversations

Pabitra Mukhopadhyay


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Is there anything truly original?

1. Is it ethical to patent ideas, technologies or products that are based on community knowledge and wisdom?
2. Are there ways to reward first proposal instead of original in copyright/patent laws?
3. Is there anything such as scientific originality as contrasted to romantic originality?
4. Is there anything truly original?

I invite you to answer the questions, separately or in one comprehensive way.


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    Mar 2 2014: It feels like Fritzie and Brendan are pulling the rope in a tug of war and I am the knot in the middle! But it is immensely pleasurable. :)
    • Mar 2 2014: What kind of a knot?

      just remember that some of them knots can half the rope loading strength ...

      I kind of like knots... all kinds of knots... specialty knots that can tighten and grab or explode and detangle by pulling on the appropriate string...
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        Mar 2 2014: If you like knots we'll have to go fishing someday. I've been looking for that special somebody who knows just the appropriate string to pull to release the entangled mess I have made on my reel with braided line.
        • Mar 2 2014: Sure... of course sometimes its just simpler to release the entangled mess and use a whole new line... it can be entertaining to undo the mess... of course it can be more fun to never get into the mess to begin with... sometimes the best and simplest solution involves preventing the problem... when one does not have the problem any solution is as effective as any other solution at solving that problem :-)
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      Mar 2 2014: Pabitra-

      Let me approach this from another angle- as you knew I would because I am the most persistent of SOB's, right? You must have laughed your butt off when I said I was outta here after my first comment, of course!

      If we avoid discussion of trivial bits of knowledge and idiotic philosophical and scientific dead ends, some of which are surprising in their vastness, like the invention of antibiotics that has created a suicidal biological arms race against organisms that evolve 50,000 times faster than we can (last six immune humans will gather and wonder, "What they hell were they thinking?"), we can follow the truly significant branches of knowledge through history that have a chance of standing the test of time and really see how new our thoughts are today.

      No sense in diving into every damned little "White Rabbit hole," right? There exists a vast ocean of "way too much information" insanity that our poorly-evolved brains are not capable of handling.

      Agreed? If not, I am going to stand back and watch you take the plunge into that, in a reversal of roles, since you love to be the detached observer. Don't be a chicken... get naked and plunge right in there, O Swami!
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        Mar 3 2014: Brendan the SOaG (know what that means? ;))
        You are right in as much as imagining I never believed you will remain silent in this conversation. Too tempting for you!

        You must have noticed that my questions are in an increasing order of philosophical challenge. Originality is a vexing idea both philosophically and functionally. The patent and copyright laws seem to address only superficially this idea yet most of our economic incentives are based on that. Its time we rethink our position to check if we are stifling creativity instead of encouraging it by these laws.

        Information does not inspire me. What one does with it inspires. You and I may pretty differently deal with same set of information. What is important to me is what's your take on it.

        Originality started of as an extension of romanticism and not long ago it was more related to work of literature and arts. With time it over-arched the whole of human faculty and technology, if not science, highjacked it of late. It's a pity not many responded to my question no. 3 except Fritzie. But then discoveries imply a-priory existence of things so it is hard to imagine an original discovery. Invention goes quite close to being original but misses it by an arm's length - inventions are unique recombination of existing elements but not original.

        I am not against the innovation, improvisation and refinement which science does to our benefit. But I believe there is no such thing as scientific originality ( I am ready to be persuaded otherwise, no problem) in a way comparable to literature or arts.

        I think, and I hope with some respectable degree of credulity, original is created without a-priori reason, necessity or reference to other originals. With this criterion, it seems hopelessly futile to find something physically or metaphysically save and except for initial sets of forces and particles out of big bang (Indian sages would laugh at that as they insist that there had been many big bangs before).
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        Mar 3 2014: BTW, how is that for a plunge o viking!
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          Mar 3 2014: Quite a nice, deep plunge there, O Swami! Nice form in the air and a nice clean entry into the water, too, with nowhere near as much splash as this guy in link below!


          Re your questions, I would put them is this order, from most comprehensive to the most reductionist:

          1. Is there anything truly original?

          2. Is there anything such as scientific originality as contrasted to romantic originality?

          3. Is it ethical to patent ideas, technologies or products that are based on community knowledge and wisdom?

          4. Are there ways to reward first proposal instead of original in copyright/patent laws?

          ...And then being the Big Picture kinda guy I am I would comment strongly on (In this new list) #1 and briefly on #2 and then ignore #3 and #4, because as you know I am not a big fan of left brain reductionism.
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        Mar 3 2014: Let your wish be granted Brendan Maloney, sir!
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        Mar 3 2014: I loved that viking helmet and that smirk on your face. You look like a person who can gamble away hard earned wealth like Yudhisthira did just for the heck of it. Your new avatar is cool too but less challenging.
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          Mar 3 2014: You are mentally well equipped for strong challenges. I am finding that some here are not. Things getting a bit too predictable here, so I have been venturing into TEDtalk comment fields with their larger brain trust.

          Two fun and hopefully relevant comments will follow this one - lyrics from Bob Dylan's "Hard Rain" that are too long for a single comment field here. As original as Bob is, no doubt he accessed ancient insights from the East, just like Father of the Atomic Bomb Robert J. Oppenheimer does here, reflecting upon and regretting the creation of that Game Over monster. But Pabitra, you should realize that scientists from your country, before the split with Pakistan, helped the US build that monster:


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