February 4, 2013

I often encounter situations where I start to share some piece of information with someone and then suddenly remember that I originally got the fact/story from the very person I was telling it to. I then say, “Wait, was that you who told me that?” Such mistakes have increased with age. Either I’m getting more forgetful or that the sheer amount of memories that I accumulated has become hard to manage.

One of my friends often shares opinions during face-to-face or phone conversations that he believes to be his own but actually came from me verbatim. The only reason I could prove it is because most of them came up originally in our email correspondence. So, the first occurrences of those ideas can actually be traced. But I don’t stop him and tell him this. I let him believe that they are his own ideas, and in a way, they are. If he is able to use those ideas effectively in a new debate, it is clear that he has thoroughly assimilated my ideas as his own. People often have sentiments that they are unable to articulate. When someone else articulates them, they feel that those ideas were their own as they were only missing the means to express them. If the ideas had no relevance or significance for my friend, he would have forgotten them, and he wouldn’t be able to use them in any meaningful manner months or years later. After a certain point, they did become his own; they are now part of his philosophies of life.

I’m sure I do the same thing my friend does; I’m just not aware of it. I am aware of many ideas that came from others, particularly from books, that are now part of my own vocabulary of ideas. In many cases, I do not remember the source; I just remember that I read/heard from somewhere. For philosophical matters, I find attributions to be pointless. So much of what we state in philosophy has been said many times before by many different people. I don’t think there is much originality in it. In fact, originality in philosophy is irrelevant. We are just concerned about the truth; we can care less whether the truth is original. Philosophical insights are not something we can pass on and build on, like math and science; everyone needs to gain them, or come to realization, on his own. That is the only way any truth in philosophy has any meaning. This is partly why I don’t read many books. I don’t mind reinventing the wheel because the wheel itself is meaningless in philosophy, like a Mandala sand painting. Originality lies in the process of getting there.