“There is no original thought“, said my brilliant friend, “and even that notion is not an original thought”, he continued with a sigh. He expects a lot of himself, for obvious reasons, so he was very frustrated. Every idea that he had, had already been thought of. Every search phrase he tried had already been searched, and appeared in search suggestions. The only seemingly original thought that came out of that day was an idea for a domain name: “SweatyChicken.com”. This was sometime around year 2000, so it’s been 12 years. I checked: “SweatyChicken.com” is still an original thought. No one claimed that domain in 12 years. I’m wondering if it’s possible that no one ever will, who hasn’t read this post.
Thoughts on having original thoughts keep bugging people. If you search the Internet you’ll find a multitude of discussions for and against the possibility of having an original thought. The main argument against the existence of this possibility is that it’s not possible to think about something that is completely non-existent. Do you get what this means? It means that Vampires, for example, really do exist. Which is taking things a little to the extreme.
The truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle. It is possible, as many researchers think, that vampire legends stem from real people with natural disorders, such as sensitivity to light and insomnia. So the concept is not completely made up. Unfortunately it means that horrific acts by psychopaths in detective shows, are also based on some reality of what people are capable of doing, and not completely made up from thin air. That’s a sad thought.
So if vampire stories are not a complete figment of someone’s incredible imagination, do I agree that there is no original thought? The reality is that the world keeps changing, faster and faster, so how is that possible if there are no original thoughts?
I was reminded of this after watching a TV episode I stumbled upon – I really try not to spend too much time on watching this stuff, but once in a while I slip. It’s about a detective who was framed and put in prison, but was cleared and released after 12 years. (Yes, the number 12 again, not original, is it?). He’s having a hard time getting used to year 2012 gadgets. Electronic books, cars that take verbal orders on who to call and what music to play, and phones that are used for pretty much anything: music, videos, picture albums, cameras, talking maps, surfing the Internet, e-mail, video games, voice recording, controlling other gadgets, ah, and yes, texting and calling people. Seems the only thing they can’t do these days is replace toilette paper… (But maybe they will replace toilette paper by the year 2032…) So I’m forced to admit, the world did change a lot in just 12 years. There have been some original thoughts.
But here’s something interesting: the thought that there is nothing new is so old, it dates back (as assumed traditionally) to King Solomon the wise, some 3000 years ago. Imagine the ancient king, sitting in the golden city Jerusalem, and complaining “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun”, as he’s quoted in book of Ecclesiastes (Kohelet). He was probably old and tired, incredibly insightful and right for his own time, grossly wrong as proven in years to have come.
All the above brings me to what I really wanted to talk about: an incredible story I read as a kid, taking place on Mars, titled “A Rose for Ecclesiastes”. It was included in a collection of best sci-fi short stories, edited by Robert Silverberg.
It is hard to find in modern sci-fi the quality, and yes, the original thought, found in classic sci-fi. What is classic sci-fi? I’d define it as sci-fi written during the period of 1940’s – end of 1970’s, so spanning 40 years. In the 1940’s, very little was known about our neighboring planet, Mars. Stories told at that time about Mars, were mostly fantasy. The 1950’s were called ‘the Golden Age of sci-fi’, when serious authors were expected to follow logic and science. This approach was significantly relaxed in the 1960’s. At that time it was already known that Mars is barren, with probably no life and definitely no civilization. But this story written in 1963 completely ignores that fact, for the purpose of telling a great tale. It’s a tale of a great civilization that is dying, thinking that there is ‘nothing new under the sun’ – no more ‘original thought’, and a human – a vain poetry genius – quoting Ecclesiastes and the ancient king, in an attempt to prevent what’s coming.
When trying to track down the exact name of the story and time it was written, I was pleasantly surprised by something I entirely forgot: this story was written by one of my all time favorite sci-fi writers, in my (not so humble) opinion the most imaginative, creative, diverse, and original of them all, Roger Zelazny.
The story is full of meaning, packed and gripping. Can you imagine more powerful imagery than this: “Blurred Mars hung like a swollen belly above me, until it dissolved, brimmed over, and streamed down my face.”
This was in fact Zelazny’s first important publication. He only ‘arrived at the scene’ in 1962, but immediately “irreverently splashed the tired old canvas of science fiction with new colors … and etched new ideas into its dried paint with the sharp tip of his brush.” – A quote from commentary by Carl B. Yoke at the end of the story’s full text.
I was too young, and didn’t get all the meanings in this story at the time I first read it. Carl explains that Zelazny believed that death is an important component of growth. Therefore the death of the Martian’s old ways, and of the human’s vanity, are necessary before each can transform. Things and ideas have to die before any growth and renewal can occur.
Didn’t Steve Jobs believe the same thing?