An Original, Unoriginal Thought

I don’t think human beings are capable of original thought.

In essence, the brain is a pattern machine. Thoughts and ideas are stored in neurons in the cerebral cortex as a nest of patterns, patterns established on physical limitations (the body) and on the environment. Emotion, circumstance, and social interaction help dictate the patterns the brain understands and values—and only that follows.

I’m not meaning to say we don’t think. (Or, at least I think we think.) What we call thought is (I think) our brains’ attempt to pattern-match our lifetimes’ worth of experiences onto whatever problem, circumstance, or question confronts us. Racking our own brains, we turn to research and randomness.

By way of example, recall Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the scene where primates discovered tool use by bludgeoning skulls with a loose femur. The act of banging was behavioral, its proximity to skulls coincidental, and thus its use random. Skulls, the primates knew, once belonged to live animals, and thus they concluded: the femur could be used against other primates. A novel idea, translated from random happenstance.

Similarly, the major leaps of man are random acts of pattern discovery: patterns observed, learned, and translated into other situations. In this sense, original thought is nothing more than discovery and translational application.

This is also not to say humans are incapable of complex thought, quantum leaps, or extraordinary thinking—I’m only suggesting that those leaps and complexities are based on a systems that we know or that we happened upon: our imaginations are limited to our experiences and the patterns we innately understand on circumstance of being human.

Consciousness is our gift. Pure creation is not. (Insert your preferred dogmatic implications here.)

Which, if I’m right, is rather frustrating… if I’m right, I never really came up with this idea—it just happened upon me.