There has been an estimated 100+ billion people alive throughout the history of this earth. Each of these individuals had/have the ability to think and process tons and tons of information. It’s been estimated that we each have roughly 70,000 thoughts per day, and we live an average of 71 years. That means we could have somewhere around 1.8 billion thoughts in our lifetime. So trillions of thoughts have been circling around throughout human existence.
So when we think of it that way, it seems like there is no way we’d ever have an original thought. We’re just a speck in the massive thing called life, and you’d be right, we definitely are. But just because we are a little tiny speck, these minds of ours have some crazy abilities and are quite unique.
Let’s start with the idea of random combinations, to help bring context to the word ‘unique’. 3 little regular dice with 7 sides has 7^3 (343) possible combinations. At a place like McDonalds, there is more than 400,000 unique options if you buy one breakfast item, one burger, one chicken dish, one drink and one desert. That’s a lot of options, a lot of combinations just to figure out what to eat for lunch.
Using this concept, we can create a combination of letters that can easily surpass the number of atoms in the universe in one paragraph. We can say with a pretty high level of confidence that this random combination of letters has *never* been written before:
YnHmwYT sNYHfXC XTZo QBntLzXJ HaDYiE AkpA WnUNMsOj puVx hTqkQDy WCAihWe u prqcgJ eDS k EFuSl hcduh r TUeH bTso uXi XbgBDZQ CiQlAMdj FUAD rJprK iw TxtHXl d Fjq dFSVJLt xioNi JL arYVoP gHfseQ hx i gyGjY U MIWs iNgYL U YrOX jNi gAAeytx Pv yMGmDVb a kTg asdEtG
Since we have 209 characters in this blurb, and 7 bits per character (yes, roughly for the math/comp science nerds…), we get 2^1463 possible combinations. It is said the number of atoms in the universe is around the same as the possibilities in 256 bit encryption (2^256), the current secure encryption standard. Going beyond that, by several orders of magnitude creates just a ridiculous number of combinations.
Ok, ok enough with the numbers
So what does that actually mean? Aside from the fact that we just witnessed an original smattering of letters that have more possible combinations than the number of atoms in the universe. Great… now what? It’s still not really ‘original’, it’s just a ‘unique’ combination of letters, just as is most new articles or books.
Being original though, is supposed to capture concepts or actions that hasn’t been done before, or done to the same capacity. The smattering of letters in just this way, may have never been done before; but the concept has. But what about context? Has anyone associated random characters to being original? Probably. But if we think about ourselves, we are just like that random smattering of characters. Except we also have thoughts, concepts and take actions…
If we made the random words into a poem, that could be considered original thought, but has anyone made a poem from randomly created letters? Probably. Has anyone associated random characters of letters to notes, with different pitches, frequency, etc to make music? Probably. But if we created a different sounding beat, that *people liked* by experimenting would that finally be original? It’s so difficult to prove, that it becomes comical to even try. So then what’s the point?
Who created the first cell phone, was it Eric Tigerstedt because he filed the first known patent for a ‘pocket sized’ phone? Or Motorola which was the first known ‘demonstration’ of a hand held phone? Who is to say someone else didn’t create it before Eric, or someone else didn’t build it before Motorola? Once a concept or thought gets out, it can rapidly be incorporated into everyone else’s thoughts and actions, immediately taking off with no real ability to determine the origin. The fate of a writer who likes to put their ideas out there, will find other’s taking those ideas, remixing them, sometimes without even knowing it.
If we can’t prove what is or isn’t truly original, then we have to depend on social credit, social acknowledgement. Edison, arguably won social acknowledgement over most others as the pioneer of electricity in the US; but was he the ‘original’, was he even better? So not only can we not prove originality very well, it depends on social credit, and is *completely subjective*. So what’s the point of chasing originality? Before answering that, lets see if we can identify 3 ways to be more original
3 Ways to be Original
1. Study, work harder and smarter at an activity than everyone else. This one is self explanatory, if you spend more time with an activity, you will naturally have more information about this activity and thus more opportunity to do things that others aren’t doing. Trying to do this at things the rest of the world is doing, will have you working very hard, so make sure you have a passion for it.
2. Engage in an activity that very few are doing. Cheeserolling or shin-kicking for example… The number of people who have been involved in this may be so few, that you may bring something ‘original’ to the table just because your uniqueness has a much higher chance of shining.
3. Create something new, by adding to something existing. Sticking to sports as our example, there are only around 10,000 sports in the books. Coming up with something new may not be as hard as it sounds if we *base it on what already exists*. Heck lets do it right now… I’m thinking let’s strap a office chair to your butt, and wear a roller blade on one foot and regular shoe on the other. We create a ball that is a mix between a rugby ball and a basketball to make a very slightly lopsided basketball so it bounces a little off. You can only touch the floor with your feet when dribbling, but you can roll in the chair for as long as you want without dribbling. The court is about the size of half a basketball court, and the rim is 8 ft tall. Two on two sport. We’ll call it fail-skate-ball, FSB. Is our FSB sport original? Has anyone done that before? Maybe, but the chances are lower each time we add something ridiculous to it. Let’s put a light plastic bat in one hand, safety glasses and light headgear and give points for smacking someone in the face with the plastic bat, but only if hit while shooting. Being hit without shooting would mean a foul. Anyone done this before? and on and on we can go.
There you go, three ways to be more original. But what does this prove? Our fail-skate-ball, may still use a ball and a hoop. Some would argue, that building on something existing isn’t really original. I disagree, but as we established being original requires the ‘all knowing’ and completely subjective social acknowledgement.
Everything we learn is built on the backs of others. Every painting can arguably start with a single dot, everything else is built on top. Our ancestors had the proverbial ‘dot’ for language and everything else that is human. That doesn’t mean we can’t be original. Cell phones didn’t exist, robots didn’t exist, satellites didn’t exist, space travel didn’t exist, we add on to our body of knowledge and achievements slowly, steadily to the point where original thought really happens by all of us all the time, we just can’t recognize it as easily.
A Cliché Ending.
We started off discussing a random bunch of characters, and how being original involves something that hasn’t been done before, through unique thoughts, concepts or actions. Let’s close this out; I think we can probably agree that mathematically each and everyone of us are like those characters, very unique (let’s just say more than 2^3,000,000,000 based on the human genome). Except unlike those characters our unique combination includes our way of thinking, our experiences, our very detailed nuances which are all different and thus unique.
Yet if we are all so unique, you might say, why are our ‘thoughts’ and actions so similar? Why doesn’t it feel original? My theory is that we are built to generalize, we mimic each other as babies and we are trained to socially interact with common structures (like language). If we didn’t, we’d have too massive an amount of information to compare between. For example, there are studies reducing the number of base emotions to 4, yet we have more types of neurotransmitters than basic emotions (~7 types, with several in each type). We confine everything including our own emotions to very limited, generalized boxes, and expect originality which is based on other’s opinions. Anyone who says we’ve already thought of everything, is stuck inside these very same boxes. Think of all the ways we can combine words, concepts, ideas, emotions, actions, just like we did with our random characters, and you will realize, the possibilities are literally endless.
We are all original thinkers despite the similarities and it can be mathematically proven. The completely unoriginal bottom line? Instead of focusing on being original, just focus on being you, it’s the same thing anyway.
References (don’t judge me on the lack of scientific articles here…):