Are all the thoughts thought?



Is that a new thought right there? “Most definitely not” I hear you say, “nothing new Rich.” What if I told you that if you Googled (is that even a word?) the exact title above, Google will respond in 0,12 seconds with 491 000 000 entries, but not one single one of them have that precise sequence of words, not one!

But does that mean that particular thought process has never been thought? Of course not. The question has been debated since the beginning of time by some pretty smart dudes, and a little while back one of them said in both French and Latin (because he was that smart), “I think, therefore I am”.

Descartes argued that if all else were to be taken away, we would still exist because we think. But have you ever had a thought that not a single other soul on this planet has not already had? The converse of Descartes thinking is that if we cease to think, then we cease to exist. We are thinking all the time, but what are we thinking, and are any of those thoughts new?

What then are new thoughts?
I asked twitter if all the thoughts have been thought, and a friend, Mike, replied to say that, “a new thought gets rewarded with a Nobel prize”. In other words, only REALLY smart people get to think new thoughts. An interesting take I will admit. My retort was that many of the recent Nobel winners have taken an existing thought process and have refined it. That’s not new is it? Perhaps the following quote will substantiate that thought process.

“All intelligent thoughts have already been thought; what is necessary is only to try to think them again.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Was Johann onto something?

A distinction I’d like to interrogate is the difference between ‘new’ and ‘unique’. Try this; wait for a tweet from a very popular personality on twitter, and as soon as the tweet appears, consider your thoughts and reply to the tweet. I pretty much guarantee that within seconds (and some before yours even) another tweet will appear in reply with the same expressed thought as yours, from somebody else somewhere else in the world. It could practically speaking even be your next door neighbour.

Nonetheless, that thought was new for you, it was YOURS. What it wasn’t however is unique to you. Should that realization make us despondent? I certainly don’t want to think of myself as number seven billion and one, the ‘inadequate thought failure’ who thinks the same as everybody else.

We are taught from a very early age to think, but 92% of us (taken from Richard’s Irrefutable Journal of Statistics) are taught to think in exactly the same way as everybody else. In fact, we are rewarded for our ability to think the same way, and in a prescribed manner, and what’s worse is that we are told that in doing so we are learning how to think.

That’s like forcing a kid to colour in the lines. While indisputably there is some truth there, it unfortunately puts us into a ‘thinking box’. Most of us automatically find comfort in the confines of the box and realize that we are regularly chastised for peeking out to express a different way of thinking. And therefore we unwittingly proceed through life as a thought thief, reading articles and believing all that is written there, listening to opinion and adopting it as our own because it sounds good.

The thoughts we think are shared. My parents, my teachers and my lecturers all did an extremely good job of this. So much so in fact, that it has taken me 42 years to try to think differently.

Without doubt I know that I am not alone here. You might argue though that if all the thoughts have been thought there isn’t much point in trying to think further. There are many who share this view. Here is a link that should discourage you if that’s the reality you have owned:

break through the thought barrier

break through the thought barrier

Those are all extraordinarily successful high school drop-outs (you will notice that it’s a new list). In fact the creator of blogging, Evan Williams, is one of a much older list. Essentially these people failed college thinking, or decided they were comfortable thinking their own way, so they dropped out. Interesting to note that 80% of these people have come up with brand new ideas and concepts. So much for no new intelligent thought… At this point I pat myself on the back for not finishing either of the degrees I started, maybe too soon though, because you might have noticed that my name is missing from the above mentioned list.

And here is another thought to chew on: Imagine if I had given you the following list of words before February the 14th this year, and had asked you to think of a logical sequence. What would you have thought?

Crazy, woman, door, mental state, magistrate Nair, 4 shots, Reeva Steenkamp, prosthetics, cop, Oscar Pistorius, supermodel, ex-wife, R1 million, Hilton Botha, murder, slept together, 120 000 twitter followers, paralympian, gun, bathroom, premeditated, bail, fighting, Barry Bateman, dismissed, Cricket bat, taxi, valentines, chase, orthopedic specialist

Only 44 words, but the possible sequences are literally in the millions. How many people on this planet would have picked the possible sequence, or thought process, that played out in reality? The point being that we are all conditioned by prior knowledge, and the only way we can think new thoughts is either to build on what we already know, and develop those thoughts, or we need to free ourselves of previous thinking.

Exactly what our learned behaviour has taught us not to do. Based on our previous thinking and the acceptance of what we know, the chances that any of us would have developed even the most important thread in the Pistorius sequence correct are remote.

Additionally, It tells us that ‘new’ is happening every day. Hollywood script writers are paid big money for new scripts, have you seen a movie that bears the slightest resemblance to the sad events that played out that week?

My English teacher taught me to stick to the approximately 600 words in the Oxford Dictionary that were available to me at that time. Well, what about the new words that are added each year? Not even the dictionary is exempt from the creativity of new thinkers. Latest additions include ‘vajazzle’ (please don’t ask me) ‘OMG’ (which naturally follows the previous word), ‘tweetable’, touchless’, and ‘dumbphone’. So new are these words in fact that my spell check is screaming at me as I type. New is happening all the time, it’s a continuous process. You don’t have to be super smart to have a new thought like ‘OMG’ do you? Likewise you don’t necessarily have to be super smart to think new thoughts in many fields.

Richard Graham! that is NOT a word!

I am not intelligent enough to know all the ramifications of these questions– see mom and dad, I learned well, I know not to think I might be more intelligent than I am told I am – but what I do know is that the only way to develop thinking is by doing it. And you need to believe that you don’t have to be hyper intelligent to think new thoughts
I refuse to be fenced into somebody else’s thought patterns any longer, because I know that I am capable of cognitively changing my own thought patterns. I believe that the more you challenge your own way of thinking, the more you engage with others, the greater your skill at taking a step back and looking objectively at what you have always thought – the greater the chances that you will think new thoughts.

And while those thoughts might not be unique, they are new for you, and that is how the process starts. Who knows where that exploration of your thinking will take you? Maybe that’s what my teachers were trying to tell me? Who knew, I thought it was all about regurgitation…

Start thinking more today, start challenging your thoughts, because not all the thoughts have been thunk. [Am I allowed to do that mom? Write words that aren’t in the dictionary? Is that OK? It is? Cool beans…I have a new word. Can I go and ride my bike now? ]

As always, I’d be very keen to hear your thoughts…


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