Thoughts, or the Problem with “Original Thoughts”

I was talking with my roommate during studying for finals (he is a philosophy person, too; surprise, surprise) and e basically realized that the idea of “original thinking” is a little silly.

First, let us start by defining what a thought is. In order to do that, we first need to understand what epistemology we are working under. At this point, I will mention that I disagree with some of the people who claim that Plato was an idealist epistemologically (that is to say, he believed that sensory information means nothing, think Kant).

So, Plato’s epistemology.  First, there is sensory information. This is what you see, touch, feel, smell, you get the point. From there, you can abstract information (by a process called “abstraction”). This means, you see a tree, you can abstract that it has a trunk, branches and leaves. You can then assume that all trees of that kind have trunks, branches, and leaves like it. The next process is understanding. When you understand your abstraction, you have made a thought. But what is understanding? It is a comparison between your abstraction and reality. If you abstracted that trees have eyes (somehow), upon understanding your abstraction, you would realize that this abstraction is wrong. If you do, then you would have had a correct thought.

That being said, let us examine what “original” means. This can be one of two things. “Original” can refer to something that one has come to by themselves, as in, I can say that the bracelet I finished making two days ago (not really) is “original” work, even though there may be many like it (suppose it is chain mail, there are surely many others that look just like it). What “original” in this sense means is not that I did not look up how to weave the chains or used a tutorial on how to make my bracelet, just that I had links and I made them into a bracelet. (This is often what is meant in academia when people talk about “original” work, that the process is what the person has done on their own). The other meaning of “original” is something that was reached of without any help. This is why people usually get patents when discovering a new technology, but not when they form a philosophy (Plato would be glad we use his philosophy, if I somehow got my hands on how to make a Macbook and made one for myself, Apple would not be too happy).

Having established these two terms, it is pretty easy to see that the term “original thought” makes no sense whether using the first or second definition of “original.” As far as the first definition is concerned, to say such a thing is silly, because a person has to understand what they have read or abstracted in order for it to become a thought (at least for that person), so in that sense, all thoughts are original thoughts, because all thoughts in a person are, in that sense, original thoughts. Otherwise, they are not thoughts, just stuff they can spit out when they think they should.

Using the second definition, seems to make sense, because people can have correct thoughts without influence from anyone else, but the problem with that definition comes somewhere else. What is thought? Well, in the end, it is conforming to ultimate reality. Allow me to illustrate. Suppose that the only way to make a computer was to make a Mac (some people may say that is the only way to make a computer). Regardless of what you put in it, if you use the same process and have the same goal, then you can only create one thing. It does not matter if it was made by Apple or Dell (again, suppose they are all making Macs), a Mac is a Mac. The only distinction would be whether it is made correctly or not. By the same token, you cannot be “originally” conforming to reality, because unless you are the first rational mind in the world (which you are not), someone else has done it before you.

So, the point is, please do not ask people to put down their original thoughts. Either you are being redundant, or you are asking for incorrect thoughts. So, don’t.


2 comments on “Thoughts, or the Problem with “Original Thoughts”

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