I've had something on my mind for a while that I haven't been able to fully think through until a couple of days ago. My friend Danny and I recently had a conversation about originality. I made the point that anything that the world deems original is really just derivative of previous thoughts and ideas. In the moment, I was probably getting a bit pretentious with my thoughts, but we were really having a meaningful conversation, so the idea stuck with me. I spent a lot of time pondering the implications of what I had said. Do I really think that there is no way to be truly original anymore? Have all of the good thoughts and ideas been used already? Initially this was my conclusion, but as I gave it more thought I came up with a new idea: originality necessarily must be derivative to be significant. Let me explain with some examples.
Think with me for a second. I think most of us remember when the first iPhone came out in 2007. It was revolutionary; mind-blowing; the first of its kind. If asked, anyone would say it was completely original. It began the smart phone arms race that has led to the most technologically-advanced cell phones of all time. But think about something else with me. The iPhone changed so many things, but it was still a cell phone. It still operated under the premise of text messages, phone calls, and emails. There were many aspects of the phone that had been used in many cell phones predating it. This is where my point comes in. In order for the iPhone to be as significant as it was, it had to establish reference points so that consumers could grasp what it entailed. It had to have a tangential point of contact with ideas that people already understood, or else it would have been useless.
Imagine someone inventing something that has no reference points. You see a commercial on television for a new product, but it is an unidentifiable shape, the commercial is in a language that no one on earth can understand, and at no point does it visually describe what the product is or does. This manufacturer has created something completely original, but at the same time completely isolated it and eradicated any chance of making money. There were no reference points in language, comprehension, comparison to other products, or even how to purchase the product. In essence, there is no way of spreading this "originality."
This concept makes me think of Delaunay Triangulation. You might be wondering what that is, but you actually know (I promise.) We've all seen a movie where brilliant CIA agents track a cell phone call to catch a criminal. They use this triangulation method to do so. Basically cell phones connect to the closest cell masts that they can find to make calls. To triangulate a call, these agents just reference the signal that they are picking up to the closest cell phone masts determine a location. (It's actually a bit more complicated, but I don't think any of us are going to be doing this anytime soon.) To get back to the point, this method takes a signal that is in an unknown place, and makes sense of it by referencing it to know points. I think truly original ideas should work like this. They stand alone upon first examination, but they can be compared and referenced to known ideas in order for them to make sense.
This brings me to what I really wanted to say. French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once said, "No finite point has meaning without an infinite reference point." If all physical ideas must be predicated upon previously known building blocks, it makes sense that in order for us to live original lives, we too must have a reference point. To be significant, we must be compared to significance. I think Sartre hit upon a brilliant thought. How can anyone view our lives as great if someone before us hadn't done great things? The notion of great had to come from somewhere. You could compare an extreme act of courage to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; an act of humanitarianism to Nelson Mandela; or any other of the thousands of examples that history provides. These are all valid reference points, but where is their reference point? Where is the origin of their originality, if you will? Sartre spoke of an infinite reference point. The interesting thing is that he was not referring to God. Sartre was one of the founding fathers of existentialism and believed that every human was responsible for themselves and their actions; "condemned to be free" as he put it. He did not believe in a creator or ascribe to religion. His idea then seems to have fallen short. He didn't seem to have an actual infinite reference point.
To consider any one person, idea, or concept as an infinite reference point is falling short as well I think. Every one of these has come from somewhere. Every idea is predicated upon preconceived building blocks, every person influenced by those who came before, and every concept conceived my those individuals who have been influenced. That leaves the question, what is the infinite reference point? You don't have to agree with me, but I know what my infinite reference point is. It is faith in a God and a love that predates all origin; that IS origin. There is no other example of a thing or person that has no predecessor. Again, you don't have to agree. I welcome disagreement wholeheartedly. I know that I have tried so many things in life to find fulfillment, to reference my life against, and they've all fallen short except faith. It is available for all who are willing to receive.
Thanks so much for reading today. God bless you all. Follow my good friend Danny on Twitter if you want to find a truly intelligent, gifted individual @xdannyrobertsx. And, as always, I'm at @matthewhillec