Posted by: aboutalbion | September 17, 2012

There is nothing new under the sun

I wish to associate myself with the Jewish writer of the ‘Book of Ecclesiastes’ [1:9]: “There is nothing new under the sun.”

This is the general idea that every apparently fresh new idea has been thought of before, probably in a different context and probably lost to history.  However, a modern creative can never be sure that the source of an apparently new idea has been lost to history, so it is always best to acknowledge the influences on creative work.

This reflection began as I was coming to the end of Julian Young’s book on Schopenhauer.  In his last chapter, Young writes that it is “regrettable” that Steven Pinker does not mention Schopenhauer in connection with one of the leading ideas in his book, “How the Mind Works”.  I do not have the time to consult the two texts themselves, so I am relying on the veracity of the extracts from Young’s book.

“Schopenhauer identified … the brain as the ‘one great tool’ by which a relatively weak and defenceless animal has managed to survive in a competitive environment.  It follows, he says, that the brain does not present things to consciousness as they are in themselves.  Rather, it is ‘thoroughly practical in tendency’, ‘designed exclusively for practical ends’, designed, that is, to present things to consciousness in the way that is most efficient for the attainment of ‘those ends on the attainment of which depends individual life and its propagation’. (WRII: 284-6)” (p242)

“In his book How the Mind Works, Steven Pinker makes the general claim that ‘The mind is a system of organs of computation designed [sic] by natural selection to solve the problems faced by our ancestors in their foraging way of life’.” (p242)

The conclusion: be sure your omissions will be noticed by somebody else.

[Young, Julian (2005) Schopenhauer.  London: Routledge.]


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