Mark Twain on Plagiarism

Mark Twain didn’t think that plagiarism was necessarily wrong. He thought rather that creativity is the ability to reproduce and synthesize other ideas. What interests me is the truth of that statement in philosophy. One of my lecturers once told me that whenever a student of his comes to him and says “I have this brilliant theory, nobody has ever thought of it before”, he always replies “Then forget about it and find a different idea”.

I think in philosophy particularly the statement that there are no truly new ideas is true. Discourse progresses, of course. But the way in which it progresses is by building on top of the old ideas. An idea is never really new, rather, it is just a different blend of old ideas. If you mix cartesian dualism with pantheism you get panpsychism (that is of course a very crude example).

Twain was clear in his thoughts on plagiarism.

The kernel, the soul — let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of allhuman utterances — is plagiarism. For substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily use by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral calibre and his temperament, and which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing.

We can see this everywhere. In literature: Frankenstein is a synthesis of Goethe’s Faust, the myth of Prometheus, and Milton’s Paradise Lost. In film: Avatar is a retelling of Pocahontas which probably was a retelling of something else, but I don’t have the resources right now to do the research. In the tech industry it is even more clear, if you consider what all phones looked like in the prehistoric times before iPhones, and what happened after.

Of course though, there is straight forward plagiarism. If I didn’t note that Mark Twain wrote the quote above, I’d be plagiarizing. But on the other hand, none of the ideas I wrote here are really new.

There is a great article about that Mark Twain quote at Brain Pickings

Can a 9-year old be a psychopath?

The problem of evil is haunting in the way it leads to a paradox. It is irrational to think that a human being could act in a way that they themselves would have thought was wrong. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, they all thought that what they were doing was right. Bin Laden is another one. Commonly they are labelled as ‘evil’. What is it that makes them so? The sheer monstrosity of their actions? I could try to answer that later.

A lot of people think that certain types of people are excused in some way, but also should be feared because of it. One of those types of people are psychopaths. It seems that they are simply unable to make a choice between right and wrong, and as such, cannot be morally blamed for their actions.

At the same time, we also tend to think that this sort of behaviour is limited to adults. According to a very recent New York Times article, perhaps we shouldn’t. Yet at the same time, we should be wary of labeling kids a psychopaths.

The idea that a young child could have psychopathic tendencies remains controversial among psychologists. Laurence Steinberg, a psychologist at Temple University, has argued that psychopathy, like other personality disorders, is almost impossible to diagnose accurately in children, or even in teenagers — both because their brains are still developing and because normal behavior at these ages can be misinterpreted as psychopathic. Others fear that even if such a diagnosis can be made accurately, the social cost of branding a young child a psychopath is simply too high. (The disorder has historically been considered untreatable.) John Edens, a clinical psychologist at Texas A&M University, has cautioned against spending money on research to identify children at risk of psychopathy. “This isn’t like autism, where the child and parents will find support,” Edens observes. “Even if accurate, it’s a ruinous diagnosis. No one is sympathetic to the mother of a psychopath.”

Should we be wary of that diagnosis for kids? Why? Why not? Why not tell me in the comments?

Link to the article

via this