161. There Is Nothing New Under The Sun

So the Good Book says in Ecclesiastes 1:9:

That which has been is what will be,
That which is done is what will be done,
And there is nothing new under the sun.

You’ll realize that this is true, to some degree. What is a ballpoint pen but a really fancy, technologically advanced piece of chalk? What is a computer but a really advanced, really complicated Rube Goldberg machine that runs on electric power instead of manual manipulation? Even our writing system came out of symbols and pictures a more primitive us used to encapsulate ideas.

(the ballpoint pen was invented by a Hungarian newspaper editor by the name of László Bíró, who was sick and tired of waiting for his fountain pen’s ink to dry, and even more sick and tired of getting smudges all over his paper when he didn’t let it dry long enough. Necessity is the mother of invention, indeed. The more you know!)

You’ll also realize that this is especially true for the creative arts. Let’s look at blockbusters of the new tens for examples: Mr. Cameron’s Avatar was Pocahontas… IN SPACE! The Dark Knight Rises, according to Mr. Nolan, was Batman’s Knightfall, The Dark Knight Returns, and No Man’s Land with a dash of Mr. Dickens’ A Tale Of Two Cities; and then The Avengers was… well, everything you’ve ever loved about Marvel superheroes turned up to eleven.

(Mr. Cameron’s Titanic was Romeo and Juliet… ON A BOAT! Even Mr. Shakespeare didn’t come up with the idea – there already was a poem by an Arthur Brooke titled The Tragicall History of Romeus and Juliet some 30 years before the play was written. Mr. Brooke’s poem derived from Pierre Boaistuau’s tragedies; and Mr. Boaistuau’s work was a translation of Matteo Bodello’s stories, which were commitments of even older stories into writing. Just you wait ’till someone creates something based on Mr. Cameron’s Titanic)

Even the idea of superheroes, as admitted by the late Mr. Siegel and Mr. Shuster, came out of the idea of mythical heroes like Samson and Hercules. We’d ask the creators of myths about how they got the ideas for their characters as well, but they being dead for a couple of thousand years makes it a little bit difficult.

But the claim that there is absolutely nothing new under the sun is problematic for the same reason circular reasoning is. Where does it begin? It has to start from somewhere. Where is the bedrock? The solid ground? The source from which everything else originated? Where the hell does chalk come from?

(chalk is basically a limestone, composed of calcium carbonate, which is 1 part calcium, 1 part carbon, and 3 parts oxygen. Now here it comes: where the hell does calcium, carbon, or oxygen come from??)

It has to originate somewhere. The image of Descartes pulling his hair out, trying to find the one thing that he cannot doubt, comes to mind. Who wrote the first story? Where did the first element come from? The whole idea falls apart, unless you subscribe to the belief of saṃsāra. Somewhere, something has to start; and if something can originate from a single point, there’s no reason to doubt that it cannot happen again. Who knows what might happen? We might discover a new element that has never existed. We might come cross a new color that’s outside of the visible light spectrum. Someone might even – suspend disbelief with me here – come up with a completely original story!

The thought that the author of Ecclesiastes might believe in a cyclical existence is an interesting one, considering the fact that he’s (likely to be, being the son of King David and all) a very Jewish man with very Jewish beliefs. See, at its core, Judaism believes in both a linear existence and an intelligent design to the world, with only God existing outside of this system, having neither beginning nor end. The author, it seems, in a jaded fit, questions everything that he’s ever believed in while writing the book of Ecclesiastes.

Is there nothing new? Is everything meaningless?

The truth is that we have absolutely no idea.

What do we, with our finite human minds, know about the world? We observe the stars, we muse upon the reason for creation, we have travelled further than anyone could have ever imagined just a couple of hundred years ago, and yet we’ve barely even begun to understand the vastness and the complexity of the little blue marble that we call home.

We theorize. We make educated guesses. We don’t even know what we don’t know, but we’ll get there one day – a million, a billion years from now. Maybe one day we’ll know the purpose of existence. Maybe one day we’ll know where everything came from, or where everything is going to.

Maybe one day, we’ll be able to truly and properly create something completely new.


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