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  • Nikita Agrawal

Is there such a thing as original thought?

Our thoughts can only be an extension of what already exists in our reality.

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As any marketing student will tell you, our time in class could have been quite easily summarized by a spree of watching campaign videos and then proceeding to analyze them. Whether or not this was the most effective use of our time, I came across one video that really stunned me and I've always remembered. It was related to brand marketing and captures the influence of subliminal messaging. In the experiment, an advertising agency is called to create a campaign for a new business venture and the advertisers are primed with certain photos and words on the way to the meeting. The advertisers subconsciously include all those elements in their design, and this works so well to the point that they were able to predict almost exactly what the advertisers will come up with.

What is priming?

In psychology, priming is a technique in which the introduction of one stimulus influences how people respond to a subsequent stimulus. This concept makes basic logical sense, right? If I see something, I am immediately more likely to perceive the world around me in relation to that thing. In an experiment setting you can witness and control how an individual is primed by a specific image or thought. But in real-life, there is so much stimuli around us all the time. We are continuously observing and taking in things around us through our five senses without always having complete control or awareness of it. Which means that all of these influences are being accumulated in our brains and might dictate how we behave in the future because of it.

Merely looking at something in passing can have such a significant impact on us and we don't even know it. This same concept is also illustrated in the movie Focus starring Will Smith and Margot Robbie. There is a scene at the end that shows how they are able to manipulate a person into thinking that he came up with a thought when in fact they were priming him with it in stages before this subconscious decision was made.

The concept of being so heavily influenced by our surroundings all the time like that is insane. It questions how much control we have over what we are thinking at any given time. Is everything we do just a product of everything we have been exposed to before this point in time? Is it just our implicit memory being regurgitated? If that's the case, how will we ever validate if our thoughts are in fact our own thoughts?

Do we have any ownership over our thoughts?

Apart from the fact that the thoughts are occuring in our minds, are those thoughts actually ours? And, can our thoughts be original? The thing is, we can only know what we already know, we can't know something we don't know. Therefore, it's impossible to actually come up with something that doesn't already exist in "our world". We can only have original or new ideas from the perspective that it is "new" to our memory bank of knowledge as we weren't exposed to it before, not that the idea itself didn't already exist. Whenever we judge something for how unique it is, the basis by which we are usually comparing or assessing it is through what we already know. If we haven't seen it before, it will arouse great interest. If we've seen it already, we are no longer impressed by it. But, the idea itself can only be an extension of what already is.

Any kind of new invention or creation usually comes about in an effort to enhance our current lives and environment. It comes from an environment that already exists. All these things are an extension of the direct world around us. Even if there are times we think we have an idea that literally came to us out-of-the-blue and we can't trace it back to how it started, there is still always a start. We just can't remember it. It's not possible for our brains to go from nothing to something. It's always going from something to something else. It's impossible for us to imagine something entirely new that isn't partly rooted or connected to something we have already seen. (Go ahead and try to rack your brain for something brand-new.) It's kind of like trying to imagine a colour we haven't seen before. Therefore, these thoughts are not exactly ours because we didn't actually create any of these thoughts. Who did? What was the first thing to have existed? What was the first thought that everything else came from? (Crazy to think about.)

If not original, we can be authentic?

A German writer Helene Hegemann released a very well-received book at the young age of 17 taking a lot of people and publishers by surprise. Shortly after it was so widely acclaimed, there were rumors that had begun to grow stating that the book had plagiarised content from some other sources. Her response to this was:

"There is no such thing as originality, just authenticity. It is ironic because what I was accused of 'stealing' had already been 'stolen'."

In most reports or journals, so much of the writing is cited from another source, and very often that source is also citing another one. Information simply gets recycled and leaves a trail for people to follow. The information itself might not be original, but you can still strive to be authentic in the way you present it. I know that there can also be arguments made against whether or not it is possible for us to be authentic and genuine, since our identities are also a construct of so many different factors. (Who are we really? Another one of life's biggest questions.) At least all of this discussion helps us understand the truth that there is very little ownership involved in anything that we do. Because, everything already is. This can help us get rid of any unnecessary pride we might have over "coming up" with anything. It's important to strive to have new thoughts, not that any of the thoughts are actually new, the thoughts will just be new to us.

Have "new" thought. Read. Expand what you know.

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