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How to Be Original
The problem with libraries is that they can be so large, impressive, and filled with knowledge that they unwittingly embed in us an idea that everything worth registering, everything valuable and true, must lie ‘out there’, must already have been classed on a shelf with an index number to await our discovery the moment we cease to be so preoccupied with ourselves.
But what this modest, respectful and quietly self-hating conclusion disguises is that each one of us is an unparalleled and superlative center of knowledge in and of ourselves; our minds have more ideas stored in them than are to be found in the collective catalogues of the Biblioteca Geral da Universidade de Coimbra, the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York and the British library in London; we have vaults filled with a greater number of moving and beautiful scenes than those of the world’s greatest museums put together. We are just failing to wander the stacks and galleries as often as we should; we are failing to notice what we have seen. So convinced are we that insights of worth lie beyond us, we have omitted to consult the treasury of thoughts and visions generated every hour by our endlessly brilliant, fatefully unexplored minds.
The American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson once remarked:
“In the minds of geniuses, we find — once more — our own neglected thoughts.”
In other words, geniuses don’t have thoughts that are in the end so very different from our own; they have simply had the confidence to take them more seriously. Rather than imagining that their minds are only a pale shadow of the minds of infinitely greater thinkers who lived and died elsewhere long ago, they have been respectful enough of their existence to conceive that one or two properly valuable ideas might plausibly chose to alight in the familiar aviary of their own intelligences. Thinking is — in a way we generally refuse to imagine — a truly democratic activity.
We all have very similar and very able minds; where geniuses differ is in their more confident inclinations to study them properly.