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Q: Is it possible to have a completely original thought?

Physicist: Nope! At least, not for the last 27 years.

The last truly, verifiably original thought was had by Kjersti Skramstad of Oslo, in October of 1987. She reported her insight immediately, as all original thinkers do, and since then there’s been nothing new under the Sun. That stunning insight, by the way, was “curling ville være lettere med lettere steiner!“.

In 1995 there was a lot of buzz around the scientists at Bell labs; they briefly skirted originality before it was realized that their entire venture had been sketched out, beginning-to-end, by Claude Shannon in one of his notebooks almost 50 years earlier. In fact, there has been a quiet but insistent push in some industries to remove the phrase “reinventing the wheel” from common parlance, under the assertion that it is now redundant and applies to all invention.

In scientific circles the concern is fairly minimal. There are enough “loose pieces” around that scientists will still be making great strides for decades. For example, by combining lots of boring animals to create awesome crimes against nature (hippogriffs, cockatrices, manticores, etc.). Or by taking an ordinary thing (e.g., elevators) and adding the word “space” to them (e.g., space elevators). The ideas may be unoriginal, but science still happens when you try them out for the first time.

For we ordinary folk, original thoughts aren’t too important, but artists (for whom originality pays the bills) have been in a panic since the late 70’s when it first became clear that the well of new ideas was running dry. In particular, 1978 saw the album “More Songs about Buildings and Food” produced, bringing the epoch of original composition to an unceremonious close. There’s some hope that Laurie Anderson may have done something completely novel with her masterpiece “three minutes and forty-four seconds of white-noise while wearing an extraneous prosthesis” but some more pessimistic parties have already drawn parallels to John Cage’s 4’33”. Time will tell.

Oddly enough, no politicians have noticed. Like, at all.

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