What Comes From The Mind...

Over the last week or so I've been thinking a lot about what comes from the mind, about trust, and about the human condition. My conclusions are both amusing and disturbing to me, but oddly not so much surprising.

As much as folks pay lip service to the value of ideas, honest assessment of the value of ideas is not really a human approach. If an idea excites it is held up as vital, and if it bores it is degraded as being tired; but if you historically analyze ideas you often find the most mundane ones are the ones that have the most lasting impact on the world. What comes from the mind then is valued lightly, and that is probably why so many people will co-opt ideas without ever honouring their source. We all do it, to some extent, and it is where commonplace idea-theft, like we see with plagiarism, arises. The fact is this idea is probably one that has been expressed before, so the only reason I can even partially claim it is that I don't know it has been expressed. And that brings me to the perception factor....

A large part of what we view as our reality is founded in selfish perception. It is how we survive, ultimately, because if we fail to internalize like that I suspect we would be driven mad. Can you imagine, for example, that on a Sunday afternoon you have an amazing idea and before you transcribe it you spend all day searching the Internet to assure it is unique? People would never get a damned thing done! More to the point, it destroys the basic principle of development of ideas into expressions of new ideas. Every idea that exists now is, in truth, a homage to whomever walked a similar path before.

When you express something from your mind you are bound by a fundamental expectation of social trust. You have to trust, for example, that if your idea is truly unique then those who hear it will at least have the sense of honour to try to reference your contributions. This attribution is a basic tenant of social intercourse. It is how we judge our interactions, after all. And dishonesty in this sort of basic interaction, a violation of the fundamental expectation of social trust, is a truer form of dishonesty than most, because it cripples the openness of communication.

Modern businesses based upon Intellectual Property (IP) are often founded on disputed ideas, and while it is occasionally because people genuinely don't know they stood upon the shoulders of giants, it is more often apparent that the theft of ideas is the source of those business aspirations. And this happens because even when ideas have inherent value, people convince themselves that the ideas are not as practically valuable as their implementation. And while this was true in the past of such things as hammers (how you use it creates value beyond the actual physical hammer), it is clearly not the case with software, works of art, or other virtual expressions of ideas.

I think there is something in the human condition, in the structure of our minds, that makes violating social trust easier when you can convince yourself an idea is without value inherently. And yet, the irony is that few people violate social trust when they have no measure of gain. What that says about people is probably not kind, but also not universal. There are, after all, altruists who are honest, just as there are people who claim such a title without acting in accordance of the claims.

I wish that we had the courage as a species to become what Gene Roddenberry imagined for his Star Trek universe, a species who values all contributions, however small, and respects that all living things have claim to some talent. If we could value ideas, and those who express them, and those who expressed what came before, then I believe we would be a stronger species. Maybe in daylight I will even believe it possible that we are.

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