Thoughts on Original Thoughts


John: “Hey! I have an idea!”
Henry: “Oh dear, now what?”
John: “What if someone could invent something you could pour your un-diluted juice into, and at the push of a button it would mix the un-diluted juice with water from the tap at the exact ratio you tell it to!”
Henry: “Hmmm, that would actually be quite useful, provided someone could make it work.”
John: “Meh, I’m sure someone has thought of it already.”

The following is about something that probably bugs me a lot more than it should. About 8 months ago I said to myself, “I might as well make a blog-post of it, it would make for a good filler.” So, having revamped this website I figured this would be a good time to put it into writing. Does it make for a good filler? Well, it makes for a filler.

There are about 6.8 billion people in the world, most of whom are capable of having individual thought-processes. Let’s assume that due to sleep, age, television, sports and other distractions, at any given time about 2 billion people are engaged in thinking. Let’s also assume that each person has an average of one meaningful thought a minute. The assumptions are flimsy and unsourced, but assuming my assumptions are accepted, it follows that an average of about 120 billion thoughts pop up every hour of the day. That’s quite a lot. This makes me ask a question that, statistically, is bound to have been asked many times before: how many of these thoughts are original?

Of course, a lot of thoughts are very generic, and are bound to have been thought a lot of times. The point of this post isn’t to point out the obvious; that most thoughts have probably been thought before, it is to speculate in how many thoughts are lost because of the assumption that they have all been thought before.

People still invent things. New things are still created. I don’t mean discoveries or technological advances, I’m talking about new ideas based on existing technology, whether it is a juice-mixer or a life-saver. New things still pop up which require only a good idea, a bit of starting capital and quite a bit of effort to get working. The internet has made the viability of ideas very obvious. Anyone could have, and probably did, come up with ideas like FML, The Million Dollar Homepage and Craigslist. Perhaps all these ideas were had 50, 100, 1000 times before anyone decided to actually act upon the idea.

And here I finally reach my point; how many ideas are floating around out there which are never acted upon, and how many of these ideas are never acted upon because the person with it assumes that someone must surely have thought of it before they did? Is this just me? All the time there must be people who think thoughts that have never been thought before. Sure, a lot of these thoughts are probably rightfully discarded, but how many times do average, normal people think of something absolutely brilliant? Something that may seem so simple and so obvious that there surely could be no way that no one thought of it before.

Of course, there are some people, whether you call them entrepreneurs, inventors or just crazy and overly optimistic, who jump on ideas and try putting them into action despite the fact that someone may already have thought about it. They are happy to put time into the idea, despite the probability that it might not work. A lot of these people are wasting their time, yes, but the world would look very different without them.

And that is it. Every few weeks I go through the above in my head, and it always leaves me wondering what the world would look like if there was something, be it a light-bulb, bright red flash or a vuvuzela, that popped up over your head and alerted you whenever you thought of something no one has thought of before. If you knew for certain that you were the first person to have an idea, don’t tell me you wouldn’t do something about it. It might still not work or make sense, but at least you will know that no one has failed yet.

40 years from now there is bound to be a social networking site that catalogues all your thoughts. Your thoughts would be automatically categorised and labelled, and certain thoughts would be automatically shared with your friends based on dodgy privacy settings. Just think of how interesting and useful the trending topics would be! A feature of this site would, of course, be to alert you if the thought you just thought was unique, giving you a range of “perhaps you meant to think this?” options so you can be sure nothing too similar has been thought before.

Now there’s an idea…

Photo by Brian Hillegas.

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