On Originality

“Old and new make the warp and woof of every moment. There is no thread that is not a twist of these two strands. By necessity, by proclivity, and by delight, we all quote. We quote not only books and proverbs, but arts, sciences, religion, customs, and laws; nay, we quote temples and houses, tables and chairs by imitation.

The nobler the truth or sentiment, the less imports the question of authorship. It never troubles the simple seeker from whom he derived such or such a sentiment. Whoever expresses to us a just thought makes ridiculous the pains of the critic who should tell him where such a word had been said before… In fact, it is as difficult to appropriate the thoughts of others, as it is to invent”

Quotation and Originality – Emerson


I used to be under the impression that for something to be original, its creation had to be something new and never before conceived by anyone else. My reasoning would follow, that if something were thought of at some previous time, what I was conceiving was therefore a copy, or somewhat less original.

I have changed my view over the years. Recognizing that many ideas come from a stream of consciousness that is out there somewhere, where “idea potentials” exist, which is possible to tap into by others . Many inventions that were credited to one person were often being worked on at the same time in another country by someone else , but by some event of an undetermined nature was completed and recorded by one person before the others had a chance to present their work. If that’s true, than originality isn’t necessarily the creation of something new, but the ability to tap into that stream of consciousness and bring the exist-able idea(s) back into physical form by some unknown process before anyone else.

originality.jpgThe other way of looking at originality is that it’s simply a way of taking what already exists and recombining the elements that define it into new ways and forms that perhaps add to its characteristics by re-defining them differently. An anagram is an example of taking a word, and reordering the letters into a different way to reveal another word with a completely different meaning.

Biodiversity is similar to the principle of Anagrams. We start with a given number of elements that have evolved into the origin of all life. Re-combination of these elements in billions of unique forms of life (DNA), also is based on a set number of amino acids (elements) that combine in different ways to reveal infinite differences within species that now exist on our planet.

Often, at first glance, I struggle with issues that may appear initially unfamiliar because I haven’t encountered the specifics . On second glance, some things have a similar echo as they progress, forcing my attention to reconsider whether they are new rather than part of a familiar pattern. I struggle, question my sanity and path, and as time passes, perhaps intuit this as something I have faced but failed to cognize . By the time I insight this, my tendency is to revert as I have in the past, to similar patterns and my behavior becomes more a circular gesture of struggling with things I have become tired of dealing with, more than an eager attempt to find a new solution to an old model.

originality3.jpgOriginality isn’t just about finding new ways to combine pre-existing things. It’s also about finding new ways of viewing things . Part of being alert is acknowledging the meaningful patterns life present as quickly as possible and finding creative solutions. Perhaps this leads to insight, which is what originality I suspect is all about.