Creation versus Discovery

I’ve been thinking about Remix, creativity, and how humans learn as part of my reflective essay and here is what I’ve discovered.  Most of this will appear again in the reflective essay, but this is only one point out of the entire thing. Right now, this is just me “philosophizing”, me attempting to get my thoughts out of the vaguely floating pool of my brain and out into cold, harsh, solid reality.

Humans don’t create. We build. We make connections between previous knowledge that further our understanding of the universe. The things we “create” are actually different ways of building our knowledge. “But wait!” you say, “what about exploring strange new worlds and learning about new civilizations?” (And yes, I have been watching Star Trek Next Generation lately.)

My reply is we discover what is already there. Isaac Newton’s law of gravity already existed before he napped under that apple tree. It already existed. The same for the light bulb. We did not create electricity; we put together the building blocks to access it. (and at this point I see a flaw in my thinking, but I will struggle on).

“But what about the imagination?” you point out, “we create new ideas from our imagination.” My reply is the same. “We don’t create new ideas and images. We build upon what we already know to and remix it.”  Tolkien and C.S. Lewis did that with their great imaginations. Both mixed the legends, experiences, and beliefs of their lives to build worlds that are at once familiar and unfamiliar; myths from Greece or Scandinavia mixed with a little practical experience, the interests from childhood, and the beliefs the two men held.

Here’s a quote from one of my favorite authors, G. K Chesterton: “I am the man who with the upmost daring discovered what had been discovered before.” Here’s another quote from him: “It may be, Heaven forgive me, that I did try to be original; but I only succeeded in inventing all by myself an inferior copy of the existing traditions of civilized religion.” Chesterton thought he had created a new philosophy, but he actually re-discovered Christianity.

While we don’t always find something we already know, Chesterton’s process of finding is how humans discover knowledge.

To sum up, knowledge and invention is not something we create, but something we discover. How we discover knowledge is by making connections between what we already know.

Published in: on July 6, 2011 at 7:29 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This is great! I love that you are sharing parts of your reflection paper on your blog. I am inspired to do the same. Nice post! 🙂

  2. I’m thinking of one of Plato and his chair. Here’s a quote that says it better than I can, lol.

    “One of Plato’s most important ideas was the theory of forms. He believed that there existed a world outside of space and time that held universals, or archetypes, and that what we experience in our own existence is just an approximation of what exists in the world of forms. The most common example used is that of a chair. Plato said that when we call something a chair, we do so because it has “chairness”; that is, it calls to mind the ideal form of a chair. We will never experience a true chair, only our own earthly approximations of a chair.”

    I get what you’re saying and I agree. We simply stumble upon things that have been building up for years and centuries. A chair has always been a chair long before we created it or named it (a rock was a chair to a wanderer). As I said somewhere else on a blog: we’re all an amalgamation of our experiences and influences. The world is one big mashup.

    • Yes! The world really is “one big mashup”! Isn’t it cool how we have taken a bit of this and a bit of that and discovered electricity? I agree with you about people being “an amalgamation of our experience and influences”. It makes so much sense! Since we are individual mashups, then it follows that what we “create” are really mashups of familiar things. It’s amazing how we connect so many “dots” to discover something we haven’t seen before but was always there.

      About the Lethem article, “writing out of chaos” really is how I write. I discovered this week as my thoughts tend to float vaguely around inside my head, all jumbled up with only vague connections (if any at all) holding them together. But when I write those ideas down on paper or in the computer, they suddenly become solid. And they do come from the most unlikely of places. In my last post, I suspect that Star Trek discovering-strange-new-worlds thing was influencing my thinking more than I realized. And then add Chesterton in there with WAC and the Remix….. I really see what Lethem was getting at, since I found myself doing the same thing.


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