I get asked this question all the time and I’ve never quite known the answer. I believe Philip Pullman says he gets them from Tesco – that’s funny – but not helpful. I’ve been doing a lot of reading about particle physics and neuroscience recently and have come up with a theory about where ideas come from that comfortably fits with my experience.
We are all but energy. Every particle that is us or that we eat, breathe, stand on or touch, in fact every particle that exists in the entire universe, breaks down eventually to it’s smallest component – energy – and that’s what I think ideas are made of.
Energy has a frequency with which it resonates. I think ideas are made of energy. Each idea is made from a mix of frequencies that resonate together in a form of harmony – or maybe dischord, it depends on your point of view!
Every idea that has ever been had and every idea that ever will be had, already exists, floating around in the ether. Ideas are being broadcast constantly, like radio signals, across or through space or are just hanging suspended, waiting to be picked up.
And that is where our brains come in – or should that be our minds? Whichever – as we learn stuff we tune ourselves the same way we tune a radio into the broadcast frequency of a radio station. When we have learned a particular mix and amount of knowledge, our brains, or minds, resonate with the idea that is in harmony with the idea that is floating about, waiting to be had, creating a new frequency or harmonic.
This explains why people can have the same idea at the same time – the zietgeist is the pool of ideas waiting to be had. Often, more than one person tunes in at the same time, but their interpretations of the idea may be quite different.
Ideas exist already and are waiting to be “had”. We are just just the tools by which ideas manifest themselves as physical entities – how ever clever we think we are, we are just the medium – the idea is the clever one hoping to have found a worthy partner. I suppose we benefit each other – humans and ideas. The more I live, the more I become aware that ideas are not really mine, I’m in partnership with the idea, which is often the child of another idea that was in partnership with someone else.
What does this means for the idea of intellectual property? I’m sure ideas want their human partners to prosper, so that they can be realised and built upon. After all, the concept of intellectual property way well be an idea that wishes to protect and promote its friends.
You can work on your brain to receive more and more ideas. Our job as humans is to do something with those ideas. People walk straight past brilliant ideas everyday – they haven’t tuned in and so don’t notice them or realise their worth. Others have too many ideas and so never get to focus and realise one good idea.
Writers have a phrase, “kill your darlings.” It means remove all that you think sounds great – that makes you look clever – and keep it simple and direct. The same can be said for ideas. Just because you’ve tuned yourself into an idea, it doesn’t mean you should wed yourself to it. If you are already working hard on bringing an idea to fruition, starting on a new one will weaken your focus and you will probably fail both ideas.
Ideas are like fruit if I may mix my analogies. You need to thin fruit early in the season. It’s better to have a few plump, sweet fruits, that a whole tree full of small, hard, bitter bullets.