“There is nothing new under the sun.”
That popular quote is most commonly cited to Ecclesiastes 1:9 in the The Bible and is one of the most common expressions used to highlight the futility of plagiarism.
However, the expression itself had nothing to do with originality. Instead, it was a lament about the monotony of life. While it’s not clear how this passage became one of the most common expressions about plagiarism and originality, it’s definitely been one of the most enduring.
It’s likely due in part to the fact that, even though that particular quote didn’t deal with originality, it’s easy to understand the sentiment. On a planet with billions of people and thousands of years of written history, it can certainly feel as if there is no idea unthought and no writing unwritten.
This is literally an ancient lament. In the 1st Century A.D., Julius Fontinus, a prominent Roman engineer said, “Inventions reached their limit long ago, and I see no hope for further development.”
Considering that this article is, most likely, being read on an internet that didn’t exist even 100 years ago, using electricity that wasn’t harnessed until 250 years ago, it’s clear Fontinus was wrong.
The same is true today. The breadth of human thought and human language makes it so that there is still plenty of room for new ideas and new writings.
For example, the sentence above “But even though that particular line didn’t deal with originality, it’s easy to understand the sentiment” appeared nowhere in Google before this article was published. Furthermore, it’s trivial to rewrite the sentence to convey the same sentiment but in a way that is equally original.
As long as there are people, there will be new ideas and new ways of expressing them.
But even if you do land upon an idea used before, reaching it yourself is still important as is writing it in your own voice.
Education is far more than merely learning facts and being able to recite, it’s knowing how to find those facts and how to apply them.
Essays and other written assignments aren’t just a means of testing what you know, but a means of teaching you both how to think and how to write. Both are skills that will be necessary for the rest of your life.
While gaining knowledge is an important part of education, without knowing how to use that knowledge, information alone is useless.
So even if you don’t think you can create a new or original idea, coming up with the ideas you do is still crucial. Just because someone might have had the idea before doesn’t mean that you reaching it was a waste of time.
Learning how to organize your thoughts, drawing your own conclusions and writing those conclusions down are crucial skills and you can’t develop them if you simply copy the works of others and assume that anything you have to say has been said better.