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July 20, 2004

I Should Be Allowed To Think

I thought I had invented the concept of "boring until extremely interesting." It's a concise label to apply to those things that can switch from being unbelievably dull to deeply fascinating in one second. Most of these things have to do with general societal welfare. See here and here.

But now I see that others have thought along these lines too. Here's a quote from a column by Garrison Keillor (emphasis added):

This is Democratic bedrock: we don't let people lie in the ditch and drive past and pretend not to see them dying. Here on the frozen tundra of Minnesota, if your neighbor's car won't start, you put on your parka and get the jumper cables out and deliver the Sacred Spark that starts their car. Everybody knows this. The logical extension of this spirit is social welfare and the myriad government programs with long dry names all very uninteresting to you until you suddenly need one and then you turn into a Democrat. A liberal is a conservative who's been through treatment.

What this shows is that no one should be allowed to think anything until I've decided whether or not I want to think it first.

In the meantime, unfortunately, I am not allowed to ever come up with a single original thought. I am not allowed to meet the criminal government agent who oppresses me.

Posted at July 20, 2004 05:42 PM | TrackBack

Hi Jonathan,

This is called 'anticipatory plagiarism' -- when you come up with a great idea and then read someone else who writes about it -- extra points if the person who wrote about it has been dead for 200 years.

Posted by: Anna in Cairo at July 21, 2004 01:17 AM

It's especially fun when it happens in the sciences. A guy named Carl De Boor wrote a long, comprehensive, and frequently cryptic book that was the seminal text in spline theory (which forms the technological basis of essentially all modern Computer Aided Design software, but that's probably more information than you really wanted). Anyway, for about the next 20 years people wrote and published articles trumpeting some incredible new thing they discovered about splines, and De Boor would say "sure, that's on page 134 of my book".

The very silly thing is that most of these people had read the book and even cited it as a primary source without figuring out that what they had "discovered" was already in there.

Posted by: Ted at July 21, 2004 11:11 AM

Anna & Ted,

I was just about to think EXACTLY those things.

Unfair to Jon! I should be allowed to think!

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at July 21, 2004 01:19 PM

Sorry, Jon, the right to think is not guaranteed in the Constitution. Which is why FOX News Channel is very patriotic. Why do you hate America so?

Posted by: Ted at July 21, 2004 03:16 PM

I've seen Fox News applied by magic marker to drywall.

Posted by: Adam Kotsko at July 21, 2004 08:38 PM

Well, considering the guy published his article on July 20th, and the original 'boring until EXTREMELY INTERESTING' ran on June 9th, I suppose you could in fact be reasonably considered to have invented the concept. Sure, the story he mentions is from three years ago, but he didn't put it all together until just now. Hey, for all you know he came up with the whole thing while reading your blog.

Posted by: agrajag at July 28, 2004 12:13 AM