General Question

nebule's avatar

Is it possible to have one truly original thought not based on past impression?

Asked by nebule (16446points) July 7th, 2010

Hume’s empiricist philosophy states that our all our mental ideas (which can be simple or complex) are based on simple or complex impressions; that which we perceive through our senses, emotions and passions.

Do you think that it is possible to conjure up a truly original simple idea or combinations of original ideas that cannot in any way be traced back to experience of the external world? If you do think it is possible, please provide me with an example.

I do not believe it is possible, hence my question.

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46 Answers

Ltryptophan's avatar

Since all your thoughts have their root in the physical world there is no escaping what you are, or what the world is that has influenced and made you what you are. Your thoughts are definitely fit inside the scope of what you perceive, and I dare say that it is impossible to think outside the box so to speak.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

Helen Keller was blind, deaf and she could not speak. She had a brilliant mind and many great ideas despite her near total isolation from the experiences from the sensory world.

nebule's avatar

@Dr_Lawrence but she still had some sensory experiences didn’t she, of touch for example

tinyfaery's avatar

Our language and communication is a result of sensory experience. We cannot even think without language. There is no way to conjure up anything without relating it back to empirical data.

Ltryptophan's avatar

@lynneblundell you beat me to this question…

CMaz's avatar

Helen Keller still needed the influence/assistance of others in order to develop that greatness.

Jeruba's avatar

Inasmuch as anything we recognize as an idea will in some way be an idea about experience or awareness of this world or some other, either directly or by analogy, I would say no. Even if a person were capable of spontaneously generating an idea that owed nothing to internal or external perceptions, anyone who responded to it with something like comprehension would necessarily do it in terms of perceptions.

I do think it is possible to generate internal states and sensory experiences that have no objective counterpart and no basis in consensual reality. We call that condition insanity.

gasman's avatar

Although all of our thoughts are in some manner based on previous experience, I think any “new art” in the widest sense—paintings, musical compositions, patents, etc.—constitutes “original thought.”

Coloma's avatar

And..‘original’ thought might be called, for those that are comfortable with this concept…divine transmission.

Personally I think all artistic expression is ‘original’ thought…god mind, and we take waaay too much credit for it. lol

nebule's avatar

@gasman and @Coloma but many of those artistic examples will derive from some impression or idea of some sort…even with abstract ideas…many express ‘something’.. be that object, meaning, feeling, attribute etc. and those ideas can only surely come from what we have derived from our experience

Could a person create a painting that expresses what it would be like to feel love as a God for example..? all the ideas that would go into that painting..or expression would still be derived from our worldly knowledge of perceptions of God…and even of what a ‘feeling’ is… do you see what I mean?

Ltryptophan's avatar

see @lynneblundell has chosen high ground. Now she will have you run up to it, and shoot you as you attempt to summit.

I had not thought of the game. So let me take a swing…

Give me three strikes, please.

#1 what it was like before you were born. I dare say I know it, since I have understanding that there was history before then, and that it in itself has no part emanating from being except in the sense that we tell the ocean from the shore.

Coloma's avatar


Yes, I suppose that any manifestation of said art would come from some sort of repetitive, but maybe newly presented knowledge, but…the inspiration behind the limitations would be original, so if something old was reformed into a new expression that would still constitute an original creation. Sort of like a snowflake effect…all snow is formed from ice crystals, but each new form is a unique design unto itself.

lloydbird's avatar

@lynneblundell Are you suggesting that a ”..truly original thought..” is denoted by it not having been based on past impressions?

nebule's avatar

@lloydbird yes I am indeed x

nebule's avatar

oh post got wiped in the transition…bugger, well it went something like this….
@Ltryptophan ready for strike 2…
@Coloma Well, Hume considers resemblance, contiguity and causality to be essential in the imaginative process and that all ideas are formed through this capacity. So if the new expression was formed in any of these ways then it would not be considered as original..particularly as the ideas that you are speaking of being ‘reformed’...having parts added or taken away or altered in some fashion…those parts still contain some original impression – the new ‘thing’ would not be an original idea….

it went something like that but ten minutes ago I hadn’t drunk another glass of Merlot

Coloma's avatar


Okay..well..then I guess if thats the bottom line..then your hypothisis remains the solid.

I feel that even if the cookie dough is composed of the same basic recipe that the shape that each cookie takes, just like us humans, does, infact take the shape of an original creation. ;-)

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Personally, I have had numerous revelations and epiphanies during dream or near dream states. Revelations so profound that they seemed to have come from an external source. Sometimes they are original ideas altogether, but mostly they are new original ways of addressing an older concern.

Additionally, I consider my artwork to be based upon original thought. However, this original thought must be a culmination of older knowledge. Somewhat of a reassembling of code. For instance, my Bird on Wire series samples 004, 005, 007, obviously first requires knowledge of photography. But the original thought comes with writing an artist statement comparing these images to human social structures, of which I also required previous knowledge of human social structures. Noticing and studying this phenomenon was also required before any original thought could form about it. And I have no idea if others haven’t had these thoughts themselves. I can only claim it is original to me. And I do my best to express it to others.

I cannot produce artwork otherwise. Many artists are the same, whereas they may indeed be painting, or sculpting, using previous technical knowledge, but that should not deny the original thought of how they apply that knowledge, reassembling the code, and form their creations through original expression… thought.

This is nothing new, for neither artists or scientist. One could even claim that the first Theist found or created God through an original thought.

Dr. Otto Loewi wins a Nobel Prize from a dream

Srinivasa Ramanujan dreams mathematical genius with no formal training

Elias Howe dreams of Indians shooting arrows and invents the sewing machine

Kekule discovers benzene by dreaming of snakes

Mary Shelley thinks up Frankenstein in a dream

Paul McCartney dreams up Yesterday
Madame Walker dreams up Black cosmetics
Robert Louis Stevenson dreams of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Jack Nicklaus dreams up new golf swing
Louis Agassiz completes fossil record by dreaming

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

On the other hand

Every one of these instances could very well indeed be the result of a culmination of past impressions. I would actually think that likely, if not only for the sake of remaining consistent with my past claims that thought is dependent upon language. We must therefor have some form of language architecture, primitive or advanced, to perform any thinking at all. This language structure would definitely be a past impression.

A closer reading of the OP suggest that it requests The Proto Thought. One without a past impression. If it is so, then it must be God.

Ltryptophan's avatar

@lynneblundell you have to refute it for it to be a strike…

josie's avatar

Anybody can come up with a mental construct and call it an idea. Unless it has some connection to external reality it can not be validated.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Thoughts are presented upon codified descriptions. Codified descriptions are specifically expressed into external reality, and thus, they are validated.

zophu's avatar

I think this is a foolish way of thinking that stems from many people’s obsession with organizing everything, to justify all of existence as some kind of code (reelyz) and keep everything nice and understandable.

But the truth is that there is no true truth. Intelligence is both all of existence and but only a part of it. Our very ability to observe depends upon us observing paradox. This naturally annoys our very sanity when we get to things that strike the inevitable paradox. which is probably why we have religion and religious-ways-of-thought, come to think about it.

“Doubt is not a pleasant condition but certainty is an absurd one.” ~Voltaire (see, I quote philosophers when things are like a little relevant. I’m smart.)

There is more existence than what we have yet to filter through any of our collective awareness, most likely. It is also most likely that new existence is being introduced to our collective awareness all of the time. So, it is once again most likely that not everything is just a recombination of elements that were there before. Even if it was, and that’s how things work, it wouldn’t matter because a recombination of “old” elements is a new element. Complexity doesn’t have to be infinite to be greater than what we can comprehend, but it is greater than we can comprehend—let’s not try to put caps on it and instead focus on working with what we can comprehend so we can continue surviving and comprehending things.

Somebody give me a prize, I just explained a wisdom that could have saved us thousands of years of fucked up civilizations rising and falling all trying to define some undefinable shit that’s too complex to define and we could all just chill and focus on what we can actually work with, defining the limits to our definition instead of trying to pack everything into tiny little concepts compared to the seemingly infinite existence, and oh I am drunk. goodnight

edit: oh wait wait! the question is, did I come up with it? or was it just a derivative of all existence ever to happen before and might as well not have happened at all because it was all going to happen anyway and that implies purposelessness therefore is unacceptable yet all that can be accepted “there is a god and he has a plan yet he works in mysterious ways,” keep simplifying complexity, you sick bastards! till you simplify all of us out of complex existence! wine is more powerful than beer, isn’t it? i was thinking it was more like grapejuice and thus more inoculous. i bet that thought was a derivitive. sleeeep

nebule's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies Thank you for your post… I think the idea of the first time someone thought up the idea of God might hold some weight… do we know when the first ideas of Gods were…can we isolate it to a certain tribe of people at all?

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

From what I know, it’s a rather sorted, convoluted, and incestuous affair.

Much depends upon the invention of written language 5–6 thousand years ago, allowing recorded history to confirm the first belief in Gods. Most assume that the Gods existed before that, albeit surviving in purely spoken form, or depicted as animal spirits in primitive artwork. This is assumption, but the care given to certain animal burials suggests great reverence.

It’s difficult to sum up all cultures into one consensus. Comparing the Americas, Europe, African, Eastern and Middle Eastern notions of Gods leads us to innumerable accounts. But the most consistent story lines between them all seem to evolve out of observing the basic elements of the universe. Not necessarily worshiping them, but more of an acknowledgment.

Interesting that observation is the very first step in the scientific method. An argument could be made that religion was born out of science. Then, science born again out of religions desire to explain the wonders of Gods creation. It’s slippery.

The most commonly accepted first observation of existence are the Primordial Forces, which were not Gods, but the creator of Gods. Chaos (void) being the first, and from it came Gaia (earth), Eros (love/heaven), and Tartaros (lowest hell). As these Primordial Forces grow, they produce children, mate with them, thereby birthing the Gods and Heros such as Zeuss, Achillies, Hades, Giants, Cyclops, and the Titans.

This Creation of Gods scenario is played out among many religions bringing us the Gods of Humanity within space/time. Eastern demigods, Zoroastrian moon God… brought to us by Chaos.

But others speak of a Prime Mover, or Echo, or a Vortex from another dimension outside of space/time. Brahman, Jehovah, are most commonly accredited as being responsible for speaking Chaos into existence from a realm independent from our physical reality. They are reported as capable of dwelling in both realms simultaneously, and are considered fundamental requirements for the continued existence of our physical realm.

I don’t have it all worked out and probably never will. But it’s very entertaining and fascinating for me to see the evolution of Gods. Who knows…? Certainly not I.

or maybe…

gorillapaws's avatar

I think Escher’s Hands drawing hands might be an example of a truly original thought. Obviously there are certain concepts therein that require experiential knowledge, but it seems like there’s a nugget of true originality there.

lloydbird's avatar

@lynneblundell Sort of like insight?

zophu's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies Don’t you think we could learn why gods exist through sociology? Does it have to be a metaphysical thing? I’ve been trying to understand your specific beliefs for a while now.

Coloma's avatar

My theory is that ‘God’ reveals itself to those that want to see.

It’s that simple.

We do create our own reality by the thoughts we keep, one of the great mysteries in and of itself.

If one wants to find ‘God’ they will…if they do not, like anything, wild horses couldn’t drag them away from their mindset.

zophu's avatar

@Coloma Yeah, but most people who believe in God were taught to do so. Most equate God to great things that people come to see naturally. The beauty of nature, sense of true purpose and balance. I think that trait is exploited to create a sort of ultimatum of inferiority in people’s psychology. The sense of ultimate purpose is linked directly to the existence of a super-king that dominates everything. It seems overwhelmingly unnatural, in the unhealthy sense; yet still possible because of the benefits dominant figures throughout civilization would receive. I’d be tempted to call it evil if I believed evil existed, I think. It’s just massive social sickness.

sorry, needed my daily venting about religion

Coloma's avatar


You are right..the concept of “God’ is taught, and it is evil, when it is taught from a place of shame, punishment and ‘natural’ ‘sin.’

The all pervasive, voyeuristic, punishing mega God that tracks your every thought and move with jaundiced eye. lol Gah….

Talk about abusive bedtime stories…haha

‘God’ can only be known beyond the conceptual.

zophu's avatar

@Coloma I think the notion of human-superior authority(s) whether they be kind and loving or judgmental and damning disrespects Human strength. That is the real sickness.

Even though, the idea of being “with” god (most healthier theists) and not “under” god (the government’s reference) is there, there’s still the people who are “without” god.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

@zophu The God I know is nothing like the God I was taught.

My above dissertation was not to suggest anything metaphysical at all. In the previous post, I said that the invention of God could be considered as an original thought. The next post was simply answering what I know of how those Gods were created by the observations of humanity, similar to the scientific method. They didn’t start as Gods at all. They were first viewed as Primordial Forces. They evolved into Gods later.

Coloma's avatar

My ideas of ‘God’ are tied in with the ‘being with’ ( at one ) with the great cosmic consciousness that is responsible FOR my human ‘superiority’ which is really the design of cosmic superiority. ;-)

zophu's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies Oh, I see. That’s an interesting fact, Primordial forces predate Gods as perceived authorities. Ties into Coloma’s perception of God; sounds like being with God means being harmonious with nature.

I’m coming to understand that the problem with theism is more of a grand societal one, not so much a problem for the individual—except in that the individual may harm society somewhat by supporting any patterns that allow for sociopathic exploitation from overdominant idealists.

nebule's avatar

can I just remind you that this thread isn’t a question about God…it seems we’re going slightly off topic here

@lloydbird Hmm not so sure about insight as it still suggests some sort of deduction from what is known…. I guess I’m thinking more of categories of things…like we have objects, colours, numbers, actions, thoughts, countries, could one come up with a new category of something, completely unknown or derived from anything we know… and I suspect not.

Through creation and imagination we typically take something of what we know…say ‘colour’ and try to invent a new colour…by combination, division or relation (and suppose one could…) it would still be derived from our worldly knowledge… but to create a new category of something…not related to knowledge in any form… now that could perhaps be granted the title of ‘an original thought’

zophu's avatar

I think the problem lies in the definition of derivative. There are many things that don’t actually exist in the natural world, that we make exist so that we can better interact with it, the natural world I mean. In truth, there are no beginnings, no origins, just the constant flow of energies. We memorize traits about a certain state of these energies, rendering them into memories, and then tag certain memories with “Beginning,” “Middle,” and “End.”

Even if we go back to the theoretical big bang, so what? Just because it appears there was a centerpoint that everything came from, still does not imply a natural beginning—just the greatest practical beginning we can come up with.

So, if you really want to decide whether or not something is ultimately a derivative or not, you’re going to come up with one conclusion. Everything is derivative. Because everything is everything, therefore everything is from everything. Which renders the ultimate definition of derivative a different usefulness than its more practical counterpart.

As far as thoughts go, our very perspectives can be easily seen as at least partial derivatives. And all of our thoughts are shaped by our perspectives. So, even with never-before-discovered knowledge, there’s no escaping the fact that we’re all connected to the past existence. It’s strange that many would think it more significant if someone’s creative mind were a magically unique space snowflake floating around, disconnected from everyone else, emitting never before seen shapes into the atmosphere. I think this inclination comes from the foolish notion that property somehow defines objects, even thoughts. Einstein’s discoveries are just as much ours as they were his, I suspect he’d agree with me on that, come to think about it.

Coloma's avatar

Kinda ties in with the ‘there is no new news under the sun’ mantra…it’s all been done…lol

Coloma's avatar

But…while there are no new words, notes or colors, how they are arranged to keep producing myriad fresh combinations of writing, poetry, musical composistions and art…well…we can keep splitting hairs into infinity…. I prefer to focus on all the new forms that arise from the base unchangeable forms.

zophu's avatar

Yeah! Something, or someone, being “just” a new combination of old things doesn’t make them insignificant in any way. It’s what everything is. It’s just when people use too simple of a perspective when looking at grand things, they get stuck on issues like this, I think.

nebule's avatar

@zophu I see your point but I don’t think it’s using a simple perspective at all…neither did Hume or Kant for that matter

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

@lynneblundell when zophu doesn’t like the perspective of others, he typically insults them. I’m sure it’s nothing personal. Just take a glimpse through his comments and see how often he uses terms like simple, foolish, insignificant, unhealthy, evil, and sickness to describe the thoughts of others.

We would do well to entertain his fancies. For as he says “see, I quote philosophers when things are like a little relevant. I’m smart.” and “Somebody give me a prize, I just explained a wisdom that could have saved us thousands of years of fucked up civilizations rising and falling…

And my favorite zophu quote: “But the truth is that there is no true truth.” I wonder if that is true?

nebule's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies thanks for the heads up I’ve been away a while it seems… :-)

and for what it’s worth..I did actually think you gave a good answer @zophu until you started going all ad hominem on us x

zophu's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies Nothing personal. Just mostly shameless, rude, and a little antisocial. And when I use strong negative terms, I don’t hold myself to be immune to them. I’ll lighten up on the word choice, though.

@lynneblundell You’re right. It’s not an oversimplistic perspective, but it seemed simpler than the overcomplicated (and fairly convoluted) one I had at the time. I’m still working on balancing some things out.

I still think their are some pretty “sick” ways of thinking people can have with the “everything’s a derivative” attitude. I’ve seen it used negatively to “condemn” general artistic exploration. “Do you really believe a person can write anything that hasn’t been written before?” That sort of thing. I should have educated myself on the subject more before spouting about it.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

@zophu NP. I’ve done worse. It’s a constant battle to do better.

zophu's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies I had a sort of breakdown during my rants against your perspectives. Came to the realization that I need to work on my education. Hard. Went and bought a couple of books. I’m not exactly acceptable as I am now, I guess, but I’m working my way up from the bottom so I tend to be fairly unapologetic. Despite that, I’m sorry.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

You are quite acceptable. Accept that.

Hope to see you around soon.

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