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Where do ideas come from?

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And what are they anyway? asks Rory Olcayto

‘It’s as though you are sweeping off the sand and it has always existed.’ You might have thought that before, when working together with someone else in design, or when writing, or drawing, or practicing some other kind of art. That sense that you’ve stumbled across something, that you’ve ‘found’ your idea. It begs the line of inquiry: Are ideas real? Are they actual things that we encounter? And where it is that we actually find them?
The writer Alan Moore thinks yes, ideas exist, they are actual things, they inhabit a place he calls ‘Ideaspace’ and all of us can go there, any time we want.

It’s why sometimes several people have the same idea at the same time: because they have all ‘found’ the same thing during their wanderings through Ideaspace, packed it into their kit bags and hauled it back into the ‘real’ world.


Moore - the famous comic book author of Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell, Lost Girls and many more besides - spends more time than most engaging with ideas. He is among the most prolific storytellers in modern British history. The writers of Doctor Who and Sherlock cite him as a key influence, and people as diverse as Dr Brian Cox, the pop star physicist and Bill Drummond, one half of The KLF (the band that burned a million quid) have sought him out, befriended him and listened eagerly to his musings on the art of creativity, or magic as Moore calls it.

Yet, it was the apparently stoopid fanboy question, forever asked at comic book conventions: ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ that prompted Moore to formulate his concept. Perhaps, Moore thought, it’s not such a dumb question. ‘Where do we get our ideas from?’

Moore, building on Carl Jung’s notion of a collective unconscious, conceived a landscape located within the mind where ideas ‘live’. For him ideas are actual forms, peaks, craters and ridges that give shape to the landscape of Ideaspace.

We can travel there with our minds, by using our imagination, and, says Moore, our individual consciousnesses are like houses within this terrain.

Artists, writers, scientists, thinkers are the ones who choose to step outside of their own four walls in Ideaspace, he says, and wander deeper into the landscape, in search of new places - new ideas.

‘Ideaspace, where philosophies are land masses and religions are probably whole countries,’ says Moore, ‘might contain flora and fauna that are native to it, creatures of this conceptual world that are made from ideas in the same way that we creatures of the material world are made from matter.

This could conceivably explain phantoms, angels, demons, gods, djinns, grey aliens, elves, pixies …’

Ideaspace is defined in spatial terms, but the rules are quite different from the ‘real’ world.

In Ideaspace for example, John O’Groats and Land’s End are located right alongside each other - the twin peaks of a mountain form perhaps - because in our minds at least, we tend to think of these two geographically distant places as an inseparable pair.

But the most useful innovation Ideaspace presents is the notion of ideas as real things, that can be discovered, uncovered, and by more than one mind.

In this respect, we might consider ‘the theory of evolution’ - a very complex idea - as a rich, but hard to access landscape in Ideaspace, that in the middle of the 19th century was, for the first time, visited by two adventurous travellers, Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace (who ‘discovered’ it, or ‘worked it out’, but didn’t promote himself like Darwin).

Ideaspace changes how we think about authorship and creativity, and like Richard Dawkins’ meme theory, suggests we are the hosts, or guardians, of ideas, which in many ways are more alive than us. Think about it.


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