Our thoughts do not belong to us

Hundred million inventions, ten million patents, a million patent-infringement law-suits and a few thousand proven claims of original inventions defending these law-suits - the numbers might be fictional; yet they depict the state of affairs in the world we live today. I always wondered about what makes an inventor, scientist, engineer, artist or a philosopher special. There seems to be one common element in all of them (or rather all human beings): an idea or thought that motivates them all.

Twelve years ago, me and my friends did some brainstorming for our start-up venture at that point in time. One of our idea was an about creating an application (typically for a mobile phone) that would allow any user to locate shops and services around his geographical location and also help him find his way around his location. Another was a plan to create a library/framework that would allow developers to build applications with good responsive UI within a web browser. We came up with quite of a lot of ideas that I could recollect now were very original and unique at that point in time. But then, my friends and I realized later that we were not alone thinking about them - some even got to implement them in the years to come. Atleast, it gave us a sense of satisfaction and achievement that we were thinking on the right direction.

I also remember a couple of tunes that I used to hum within my mind when I was a kid, thinking that these tunes were indeed unique and original art - only to realize in the later years that a great musician/singer had write a song for the very same tune and have also perfected the music for it. The intriguing fact is, neither the singer/musician nor me have ever met or known each other. I've pondered about this since my childhood and as time passed by, I realized that this phenomenon happens all the time, with many of us. Its just that most of us do not really talk about it to avoid possible embarrassment of being called a lunatic. A lot of us might dispose these phenomena as some sort of deja-vu.

As I grew older, I started to realize that there have been inventions and art throughout our history - where two (or sometimes more) different inventors or artists in the early generations who were from different geographical locations had come up with the same invention or artwork. The classic historical evidence was that of the Newton-Leibniz controversy over original invention of calculus. Recently, historians unearthed evidence that Indian scholars at Kerala also did research on Infinite series and Calculus around the same time-frame (during 15th century). We have known about inventions, discoveries and contributions to modern physics, space technology and rocket science by both Americans and Russians in parallel during the early and mid 20th century. They all seem like coincidence and more than often being debated that one would have copied the other. But when we ask ourselves - what really triggers an idea or thought into human mind, we still cannot not find convincing answers; each one of us could come up with our own derivations. We can debate about original idea or invention as well.

I sometimes get this strange feeling that our thoughts and our ideas do not originate in our own brain. It is likely that some parts of our brain work like transducers that pick-up specific patterns of electro-magnetic waves and also transmit them around us. There is a possibility these specific patterns of waves could trigger thoughts and idea into our brains, and just because it triggered right within our brain, we happen to believe that we own these thoughts or ideas. But in reality, the same thought patterns would have been triggered within the brains of thousands (or perhaps millions) or other people. Now, what really matters is the fact that those who get the idea or thought materialized make history. Now what if Edison did not invent the light bulb ? I guess, somebody else at a later point in time would have invented the same light bulb. Or what if Tesla did not invent the idea of alternating current ? Somebody else would have made history for the same invention at a later point in time.

With this assumption that our thoughts, ideas, inventions and discovery are not our own, all our inventions, developments, engineering and art should have been pre-determined with time. A student of mine once came up with a question - "Why didn't man invent or rather discover electricity thousands of years back ?" I quickly answered back - "Maybe, we didn't evolve enough". But his question set me thinking as to who (or rather what) decides the right time for each invention and discovery. Lets not mix the God factor, who himself is a much bigger mystery today and often blamed for facts, events of phenomena that is scientifically unexplainable. Right from the earliest generation nomads who first discovered and learnt how to use fire and wheel, to modern generation surgeons who are learning how to use nano-machinery to perform surgery - man has mentally evolved to tune to the right wavelength to harness newer ideas and implement them faster. A quick check with our history would instantly prove that the rate at which new inventions and discoveries are being done are much higher today than it was a decade ago, which again was lot more than inventions and discoveries that happened a century ago. Looking at the statistics of inventions we realize that the most significant inventions and discoveries of mankind have occurred within the last 200 years. Right from electricity, dynamo, electric motor, light bulb, aeroplane, telephone, computers, nuclear bombs, missiles to list a few - we have taken most of these modern inventions for granted today. But all of these modern inventions were less than 200 years old and the rate of new inventions and discovery is continuing to grow phenomenally since the last few decades.

Having said that, this whole business of ownership of ideas and "original" invention and discoveries would rather seem ridiculous. Why would someone own an idea and become so obsessed by it to the extent to disallow others from implementing them ? Greed and selfish attitude, coupled with lack of trust within their own social circle. Yes, you cannot patent an idea or thought, but you can patent its implementation, and with the legal support you could essentially threaten anyone else from independently inventing the same thing. Now, the argument would be "Can that somebody legally prove that it is indeed an original invention and not a copy ?" In the broader scheme of things, does that really matter ? If you are inventing something merely for monetary gain, it would. But if you are indeed inventing for the betterment of mankind, not allowing others to derive or implement your invention is clearly a wrong attitude.

In the recent years, I have witnessed a disturbing trend especially within the Information Technology industry domain. In most established IT companies today, if a senior developer seeks promotion, filing a new patent each year has become "mandatory". With this trend being adopted on a wide-spread basis, eventually, freedom of innovation would be jeopardized. Imagine yourself in the position of one such senior developer in a company that mandates compulsory filing of patents for each of their employees in your position every year. You seek promotion and so you start brain-storming with new ideas. Eventually, a brilliant idea ignites your mind and you come up with an implementation to pursue a patent. Then, you are dissappointed by the department responsible for filing your patents because, someone already patented the same invention. Does this ring a bell ? Well, it definitely does for anyone who's been there in such a situation. With the rapid capitalization of inventions by large (and even smaller) corporations in the name of Intellectual Property/Assets, eventually anything and everything that we could think of, would be already patented.This means, in the next couple of years, you cannot start your own company based on implementation of that million-dollar idea or design that you independently thought about; not without first checking whether someone patented them in the list of more than ten million patents being filed (and still growing).

Population explosion is one of the primary reasons for rapid growth of innovations in the recent years; there seem to be more people tuning their brains to similar wavelengths. When many people think in the same direction, chances are that some may discover a solution to a pertinent problem. In the late 19th century, it was not just the Wright brothers who came up with their invention that would allow man to fly; many others did come up with their own, but the Wright brothers perfected their implementation and engineering at that point in time.

The more I ponder about the source of an idea and relate them to the history of man's achievements, the more I begin to feel that the whole progress and development of mankind has been pre-determined and executed in an orderly manner. While most other living organisms used their physical abilities to sustain and survive, we humans evolved out of species that exploited and implemented thoughts and ideas for our sustenance and survival - which makes us unique and very different from other species on this planet. But the only question that remain: do we really own these thoughts, idea, inventions and discovery ? What if our whole thought process is being induced, directed and controlled by a larger system that we are still unaware of ?

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Comments

I have the same feeling

First of all, feeling really happy to read a good article after a long time. Thanks for that.
I too feel the same and I agree with most of your thoughts.
But being a believer of GOD, my answer for the question
"What if our whole thought process is being induced, directed and controlled by a larger system that we are still unaware of ? " is YES, and it is pre-determined by the ultimate creator.

But we show very less importance (or feel Out-dated) to the topic of Spirituality, the sincere search of these unanswerable questions might give the same and logical answer as GOD.

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Hey, Peter. It is really ineriesttng to read your Blog.I am a potential patent practitioner in P.R. China. But right now i am working in the US after I acquired my law degree from a US law school.For the purpose of comparasion, i found the published statistic for the record amount of patent applications received in P.R. China in FY 2005.Here is the data:The PTO received 368,757 patent applications during January 2005 to October 2005, including 136,146 invention, 109,087 utility,and 123,524 design. P.R. China resident inventors received 292,946 P.R.China patents in FY 2005.Keeping update your posts. I will be one of your readers.Lucy

Nice article, didn't know this...

Hi Chandra,
I didn't know that you had this thoughts & experience from any of your trainings I attended.
I do feel & share similar experiences...my thought/idea was, why can't we have radio/FM in cell phone in 90's when it can receive signals. Later saw the same features in few years!

We hear often that, 'Everything happens for a reason'. so it is so...
Thanks for sharing...
Kind Regards,
Murali , Qualcomm-Chennai.

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