Can People Have New Ideas?
Humans can’t have new ideas without prior sensory input. We copy, transform, and combine old ideas to create new ones. This impacts the way we collaborate and our culture. Let’s look at the neuroscience and logic that shows us what ideas are, how creativity works, and why it’s interesting.
In other words, speaking loosely, “there are no new ideas” just copies, transformations, and combinations based on what we perceive from others, the world around us, or from our own transformations, combinations, and relations of ideas.
The Semantics of “New Ideas”
If you consider the act of creating new mashups of old ideas to be “having new ideas”, then we can say “people can have new ideas” in this way. If you consider things more broadly, however, no person brought up in any society can remove themselves from their past experience, thus our “new ideas” are always going to be an advent of copying, transforming, and combining old ideas gleaned from sensory input. Basic reason can help to show the logic behind that, the way our memory works proves the rest.
Thus, this is partly just an issue of reason and semantics, but also party a statement on how our neurology works.
What is creativity? This really amazing PBS video on creativity explains the concepts on this page at about the 6:00 mark.
What is Creativity?
Creative thinking, or creativity, is the “creative” reconnecting of old ideas in new unique ways (creatively copying, transforming, and combining). Creativity isn’t our ability to invent new ideas out of thin air with no previous input, it’s our ability to take what we already know, draw new connections, and then express that.
We can copy other people’s ideas, we can transform other people’s ideas, or we can combine different ideas into new ones. The process is complex, involves utilizing many different thinking types, and many different parts of the brain. Generally, creativity involves one the main functions of the brain including, sensing our environment, focusing our attention, and the storing and recalling of memories.
We look at some of the details related to creativity and “having new ideas” below.
GENERAL ADVICE: One must always be the first, the best, or have great marketing.
A video looking at the way that the brain reacts to things like improvisation.
The Simple Neuroscience of Creativity and Ideas
Basic functions aside, your brain starts as a relatively clean state as far as ideas go. As we take in sensory input from the world around us, we record sensory information as memories in our neurons. When we access two or more neurons at once synaptic pathways are created between them.
Creating new connections between existing neurons in different parts of our brains, and utilizing a number of cognitive functions, results in what we call “having new ideas” or “being creative”.
When we call on stored sensory inputs in our memory with our attention (conscious or subconscious) we activate a number of different parts of our brains (especially for high-level tasks). That said, in regards to creativity, we are mainly accessing the associative “spontaneous” network and the normative “conservative” network.
The associative “spontaneous” network and the normative “conservative” network
The associative region of our brains comes up with new ways to connect old data while the normative region checks things like social norms and rules. When both areas are functioning concurrently we get creative original ideas.
At no point in this process are we pulling ideas out of thin air, every step of the process we are simply combining old elements in unique ways. this is cognition.
Be it in a human or a computer, cognition is the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.
Given all the above, in a very real way, from Mozart to Einstein, to Gates, there are no new ideas just re-mixes of old ones.
Ted-Ed looks at a musician’s brain. This is an example of how creativity works.
FACT: The more you immerse yourself in an idea, and the more you are shaped by that idea. This can be great for creativity, or it can hurt it. Also, the more time you spend being creative, the more you’ll train yourself to be creative (thinking learning and memory). Essentially, if you are interested in creating, you should brush up on neuroplasticity to better understand how you can “train your brain to be creative” (i.e. train your brain to get better at copying, combining, and transforming ideas.)