The first few times it happens cause a burst, or rush, of excitement, pride, even a feeling of accomplishment. The next few times are accompanied by thoughts of "well, now what?" or even "what's the point?", which, if allowed to develop, become philosophical explorations along the lines of "is there even such a thing as an 'original' thought?" and finally, inevitably "do we KNOW ANYTHING? and if so, can it help us predict, or at least adjust for, the future, and if not, then of what use or purpose is that knowledge?"
I'm referring to the phenomenon of having thoughts or insights or ideas, then coming across the same ideas as put forth by others. Two such instances over just the past several days are cases in point: in this blog back in early February, I put forth an idea for an American Idol-like contest for unknown but possible future presidential candidates, conducted via Youtube clips submitted by them, with the "winner" being funded for an actual candidacy if he/she chooses. This is a reality as of last week, with the announcement of the creator of Survivor entering a partnership with Youtube for something called the Independent, a concept exactly as I described it a few months back. I thought to myself, as I usually do with these occurrences, "cool! great! maybe somebody actually reads my stuff and has the means/relationships to realize it and make it happen, unlike myself!" Then again this morning, when on a blog I frequently comment on I saw a post from late last week recommending something on the basis of its idea of a "bubble" in alternative energy - something I put forth as a Comment on that very blog just a month or so ago, with some support of why I though it could happen.
But this time my reaction was different: I thought, ok, anyone could have the same idea, just as with the presidential candidate selection format, because we're all acting with the same pool of information/knowledge available to us. Is there really nothing new under the sun? Surely there must be - look at all of our advancement in the multitude of fields of knowledge! But then, do we "know" things, or have we just developed better means to record and make our observations of what happens around us? We know a lot more of "what" happens in the world and perhaps in the universe, but are we any closer to knowing "why" anything happens? And is knowing "what" very useful in itself, if we are actually striving to determine "why" in the hopes of being able to act on that knowledge by harnessing it for our own purposes?
After all, our entire history is that of "knowing" things, only to later have that knowledge be disproved and replaced by other "knowledge" of how things really happen - until, once again, that knowledge is replaced by still more advanced and accurate observation of what has transpired. We can attempt to cause a certain effect by performing an action that we have observed to cause the desired effect in the past, but we don't know why that action causes the effect. We THINK and BELIEVE we understand why/how, but we do not know. And perhaps we cannot know. How many times have we set off to invent or create something based on what we "know" and then had a completely unpredicted/unforeseen effect produced by our action? We even have names for this activity: trial and error, experimentation, scientific method. In their essences, these activities are truly useful, but not because they further our knowledge of "why" or "how"; rather, they are useful because they are concerted, focused efforts that expand our database of "what". Without this effort, much of our awareness of what specific things appear to be related to specific other things would not exist. But I submit that as vast as this body of observed phenomena is and will grow to be, it may never reveal to us "why" they occur or cause the effects that they do, no matter how certain we feel about our level of understanding of them.