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Original Ideas: The Last Step In The Creative Process
Shakespeare was a ruthless thief. Some of his first plays – the three parts of Henry VI – were so similar to Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine the Great that many eighteenth-century scholars believed Marlowe wrote them. By today’s standards, the plays of Henry VI were a copyright lawsuit waiting to happen. But the paraphrasing and borrowing of characters and plot lines was common practice in Elizabethan England; everybody stole from everybody. Shakespeare, as it were, was the best thief; he was constantly mining the work of his contemporaries.
Ironically, the more Shakespeare copied and imitated the more he started thinking on his own terms. The aesthetically rich atmosphere of Elizabethan England would always influence him – no man is an island - but by the time Shakespeare penned Hamlet (some fifteen years after the Henry VI plays) he had found his original voice.
Shakespeare’s story isn’t unique. All creative geniuses are thieves. In his autobiography Chronicles, Bob Dylan described his creative process as one of love and theft. “I didn’t have many songs,” he said referring to his earlier years, “but I was rearranging verses to old blues ballads, adding an original line here or there, anything that came into my mind – slapping a title on it.” Indeed, Dylan’s first recordings were mostly Woody Guthrie covers. Even his first album of original music was, with the exception of the vocals, difficult to disseminate from a Guthrie record.
And then there’s The Beatles, who were just another rock ‘n’ roll band for about five years while they preformed in Liverpool and Hamburg. Like Dylan, their first original material was an imitation of the mainstream. Mozart didn’t compose his first breakthrough composition until his early twenties – over fifteen years since he first started playing and composing music - and Picasso’s artistic talent was not evident early in his career. The real genius of people like Dylan, Mozart, Picasso and bands like The Beatles was their ability to recognize that on the road to an original idea, theft and imitation is key.
Yet, our culture is obsessed with being original. At work, we imagine ourselves presenting a novel idea that leaves the CEO dumbfounded. It’s the same at school – we strive to impress professors by trying to generate ideas that they never considered. In a larger sense, when we’re tasked to come up with an idea, implicit is that we must be original; no one wants to hear something they already know.
But what Shakespeare teaches us is that being original is not only overrated and misleading, it’s the last step in the creative process. We are better off when we begin the ideation process by surveying the creative landscape and stealing the best of other people’s work. Trying to be original, after all, is a good way to come off as an unoriginal conformist (e.g., the hipster culture).
I’m not pushing a mantra. I’m describing the reality of the creative process. Nothing is completely original. All artists’ work builds on what came before. Every new idea is just a mash-up of two previous ideas. Newton was right to remark that he stood on the shoulders of giants. And as Mark Twain said: “The kernel, the soul — let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances — is plagiarism.” Everything is a remix.
Behind any creative genius is a long paper trail of theft. For Shakespeare it was Marlowe and other playwrights of the Elizabethan Era. For Dylan, it was Guthrie and the rest of the 1950s folk movement. So don’t just imitate an idea - that’s what immature thinkers do. Instead, steal. That’s the trademark of a mature thinker.
What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?
Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.
If machines develop consciousness, or if we manage to give it to them, the human-robot dynamic will forever be different.
- Does AI—and, more specifically, conscious AI—deserve moral rights? In this thought exploration, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, ethics and tech professor Joanna Bryson, philosopher and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider, physicist Max Tegmark, philosopher Peter Singer, and bioethicist Glenn Cohen all weigh in on the question of AI rights.
- Given the grave tragedy of slavery throughout human history, philosophers and technologists must answer this question ahead of technological development to avoid humanity creating a slave class of conscious beings.
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Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.
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- The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
- The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
Duke researchers have developed the first gel-based synthetic cartilage with the strength of the real thing. A quarter-sized disc of the material can withstand the weight of a 100-pound kettlebell without tearing or losing its shape.
Photo: Feichen Yang.<p>That's the word from a team in the Department of Chemistry and Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at Duke University. Their <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/adfm.202003451" target="_blank">new paper</a>, published in the journal,<em> Advanced Functional Materials</em>, details this exciting evolution of this frustrating joint.<br></p><p>Researchers have sought materials strong and versatile enough to repair a knee since at least the seventies. This new hydrogel, comprised of three polymers, might be it. When two of the polymers are stretched, a third keeps the entire structure intact. When pulled 100,000 times, the cartilage held up as well as materials used in bone implants. The team also rubbed the hydrogel against natural cartilage a million times and found it to be as wear-resistant as the real thing. </p><p>The hydrogel has the appearance of Jell-O and is comprised of 60 percent water. Co-author, Feichen Yang, <a href="https://today.duke.edu/2020/06/lab-first-cartilage-mimicking-gel-strong-enough-knees" target="_blank">says</a> this network of polymers is particularly durable: "Only this combination of all three components is both flexible and stiff and therefore strong." </p><p> As with any new material, a lot of testing must be conducted. They don't foresee this hydrogel being implanted into human bodies for at least three years. The next step is to test it out in sheep. </p><p>Still, this is an exciting step forward in the rehabilitation of one of our trickiest joints. Given the potential reward, the wait is worth it. </p><p><span></span>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
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