Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz formulated the calculus simultaneously, but independently. Carl Wilhelm Scheele, Joseph Priestley and Antoine Lavoisier each discovered oxygen for themselves. Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace worked in parallel on the Theory of the evolution of species.
Just three of the many occasions when ideas as extraordinary as these, as well as so many that are much less so, are repeated.
At best, it can be attributed to that “great minds think alike.”
At worst, they can lead to accusations of plagiarism, theft, or, perhaps more hurtful, lack of originality.
However, there are those who think that it is almost inevitable that it will happen and others who remind us that the concept of originality as the main force in the creative process is something relatively recent.
In the summer of 1998, two films were vying for the season’s blockbuster: “Armageddon” and “Deep Impact.”
One told the story of the race to save the world from an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. The other, the race to avoid the destruction of humanity by a comet.
Although there were rumors of plot theft, nothing was ever proven, so how did two blockbusters with such a strikingly similar theme make it to the big screen a few weeks apart?
For the film critic Kristen López, both were a reaction to the relative stability of the United States at that moment.
“There was no emphasis on the war, the unemployment level was low, so what better way to celebrate that than to show a fictional account of how everything could go wrong?”
But out of this world, other things were happening that were also influencing.
Four years earlier, the world saw Jupiter being hit explosively by fragments of a comet.
According to López, at that time, there was more interest in space exploration than ever, so it was the ideal setting to show new special effects.
Rather than being the product of plagiarism, both were cultural reflections of a shared experience in America in the late 1990s.
How do “coincidences” arise?
We often emphasize the importance of uniqueness and originality. After all, it is nice to feel special.
How, then, do we keep coming up with the same ideas?
Dr Michael Muthukrishna of the London School of Economics attributes this to our cultural evolution. Explain that our new ideas arise when we experiment and reflect on problems, read articles, talk with others, and put it all together.
“The affair is that the source of our ideas is also the source of other people’s ideas “, dice.
As “cultural animals that depend on socially transmitted information,” humans begin to act collectively as a single brain, fueled in part by knowledge accumulated over generations.
Since we are all tapping into the same bank of wisdom, it is to be expected that we will come up with roughly the same concepts at the same time, a phenomenon known as simultaneous invention.
It is to say that our brains are programmed for the lack of originality, we evolved as a collective brain, absorbing our shared cultural cues and looking for what has worked in the past.
If it is in our nature, are we then doomed to lack of originality?
Originality is not that old
And if conceiving the same ideas at the same time is part of our human condition, then why do we feel so bad when it happens to us?
Our complexes around originality date back to the Romantic period, explains Professor Nick Groom of the University of Macau.
“Originality is something we take for granted today, but in fact originality is something that has a history, and it is a story that radically changed, particularly in the 18th century, “he told the BBC.
Romanticism was born at the end of the 18th century in Europe and was an artistic and literary scene that flourished until the middle of the following century. Its big names were writers like William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Lord Byron.
The romantics grappled with a completely new concept of originality because before the middle of that century, the imitation was applauded.
“The writers strove to imitate the ancients to write in a Homeric or Virgilian style, also to emulate writers such as William Shakespeare or John Milton.”
But by the mid-18th century British politics were impacting artistic ideas on the highest forms of creativity.
“That idea really emerged as the Whig party (former name of the British Liberal Party) gained ground in British politics.
“Their ideas were very much associated with Protestantism, progress, the importance of parliaments. They were very entrepreneurial. They also drive imperial ambitions. So that entrepreneurial spirit developed a whole cultural side of their politics, and curiously, that emphasized originality. “says Groom.
In 1759, a 76-year-old English critic named Edward Young articulated this shift from imitation and deference to the classical world of Ancient Greece and Rome, to a celebration of romantic genius.
“When Edward Young published his ‘Original Composition Guesses’, he set the agenda that literary value could be measured by originality, creativity, and that that was a sign of genius. “
And originality was something that could be monetized.
“There was a feeling that the art had an important commercial aspect, but it is justified in cultural terms.
“That’s one of the things that led to that sharp distinction between what is original and creative, and therefore good, and what is plagiarized and stolen, and therefore bad“.
The principle of the rubber core
Someone who has thought and rethought what it means to be original is the journalist and author of books on human behavior Ian Leslie.
For him, there is no problem in covering topics already explored by others, because what really matters is having a unique perspective on them since that is what makes ideas feel fresh and unique.
This is what he calls “the Rubber Soul principle”, in honor of The Beatles album of the same name.
The Beatles produced Rubber Soul after immersing themselves in Motown music, and although the results were soul-influenced, the sound was still unmistakably that of The Beatles.
Therefore, your ideas, opinions or creations they don’t have to be completely innovativein fact, they almost certainly won’t be.
However, if two people see the same idea through different lenses, each will have a unique view of it. And those differences will be the ones that add value to the shared idea.
As Leslie says, “You have to make sure that your range of influences is as wide as possible. That is the only thing that helps to be original: being the only person who has this breadth, variety, depth and sophistication of influences.”
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