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some notes on ideas

When people come up with ideas, they often assume that:

  • coming up with an idea is the same thing as coming up with an idea first (it isn't, read existing literature)
  • coming up with an idea first is dramatically more special than coming up with an idea (it isn't)
  • the wealth of existing literature does not include their idea (almost always it does)
  • unpublished ideas do not count (they do, lots of important discoveries happen verbally, and unfortunately sometimes only verbally :( )
  • coming up with it first is more important than fleshing out a body of work (it isn't)

And these assumptions tend to make people very unhappy. I repeatedly see people succumbing to sadness over multiple discovery. It shouldn't be sad, it should be a happy event, as it confirms our thoughts and presents an opportunity for collaborations.

This is probably an unfortunate consequence of the invention of intellectual property before memetic theory. Had evolutionary memetics been widely understood in the 1700s, perhaps people today would not claim silly ownership rights over intermediate results of trivial computations. It is unfortunate that memes are not treated like genes by our legal and social systems.

I do not claim to have invented most of the ideas i come up with. In fact, I know that most of the ideas I have ever come up with originally have already been come up with originally decades before, sometimes by many people. "Being the first" is quite rare, and often inconsequential. Though credit in science is definitely broken, it at least recognizes that exploring in-depth and fleshing out a body of work is much more important than discovering the initial ideas.

Doing it right also matters. Often, people stop short and apply an idea before understanding it and its consequences fully -- this is a source of significant pain in computer science and computing engineering.

Creating ideas and working on manifesting them gets a lot more fun and productive once you understand you "realize" ideas, not originate them. They're just information, and the same information can be and is often created many, many times over.

Multiple discoveries in the history of science provide evidence for evolutionary models of science and technology, such as memetics (the study of self-replicating units of culture), evolutionary epistemology (which applies the concepts of biological evolution to study of the growth of human knowledge), and cultural selection theory (which studies sociological and cultural evolution in a Darwinian manner).

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