I have tried to pen down some points on the GRE issue essay topic - "Originality does not mean thinking something that was never thought before; it means putting old ideas together in new ways."
Please give your suggestions and comments for improvement.
Originality can be creating something novel and unusual. Over thousands of years, as we humans evolved to be what we are today, millions of minds observed several things surrounding them to put forth thoughts. Today, we are surrounded by innumerable ideas in every field possible and few have we left unexplored. But, everyday there are new developments, innovations and perspectives that surfeit mankind.Just a glance at the morning newspaper gives us an insight into how many thoughts, new and old flood the world; may it be a political strategy, a scientific proposal or artistic revelation.
The topic is trying to define originality. It says that originality is not thinking of something that has entirely never been thought of before. Rather, originality is trying to put together old ideas in new and unusual ways. I believe that we can still define originality to be thinking of something new, but that itself has a heavy dependence of what has already been thought.
Back then, in the primitive ages, the first few things that we did must have been ideas that were radical and sprouted as entirely new, just out of observations. For instance, starting a fire by rubbing two stones together - a revolutionary thinking that changed the course of mankind. This is speculated to be a result of observing how forest fires were started when two trees rubbed rapidly against each other. But after thousands of years of civilization, we find a plethora of thoughts in any walk of life that we can pick out. Can it not be observed that the fundamental base of thoughts and ideas have been strongly laid by our predecessors already? Thus, any thinking that is "new" today is still based on old ideas. Most ingredients already exist, it is only how we combine them that determines a new dish.
Let us consider an example to support this point. Steve Jobs was a mastermind innovator of the now far-reaching apple products. Considering even an iphone as an example, is it not an innovative and novel combination of technologies that were already thought of? Like the touch screen, software and hardware that it uses etc., put together fantastically with an added touch of simplicity. In this age of abundant information, any new ideas will rely on existing thoughts, since we have access to a lot of explored information and hence offers no necessity of starting to think from lower levels.
Originality still remains to be something that was never thought of before. But, what is thought of new is nothing but that which we get by combining old ideas in different ways using prevailing information about the topic. Thus, transitively, originality is thinking something new which is an implicit result of putting old ideas together in new ways.