“How do ideas work?”
Her voice broke the quiet, interrupting the noise of the traffic. He opened his eyes, leaning forward half asleep.
“Hmm? How’d you mean?”
“I mean… do you ever wonder how they happen? Where they come from?”
The pair braced as the bus turned, shifting their weight, following a rhythm; as though rehearsed. He’d been waiting – these long trips were usually accompanied by meandering conversation, but she’d been quiet tonight. Lost in thought. He looked at her, signalling to continue.
“Ok, so – you can’t create or destroy anything, right? Like it all comes from something. You say you made something ‘from scratch’, but even if you planted the tree that grew the fruit; where did you get the first seed from?”
The streetlights scanned across the empty rows of seats, peering through stained windows. It was usually about movies, or a book she’d been reading. This felt different.
“But ideas just… happen? Appearing from nothing?”
“Ok, but isn’t there a bunch we don’t know about how brains work?”
“Granted – but it’s all just chemicals and neurons and signals though, right? Just because we don’t fully understand it doesn’t mean we should just throw up our hands and say ‘it’s magic’.”
The bus came to a stop, gentle and then abrupt. The pair, half illuminated by the red traffic lights, looked at each other.
“Well… if it’s complicated enough that we’ll never understand how it works, maybe that’s how it’ll always be? Even if it’s just neurons firing off random signals.”
“Right, that’s just it though! ‘Random’ is a made up word – if you get a robot to flip the same coin the exact same way, it’ll always be heads. Even computer randomness isn’t really random – we use lava lamps and weather fronts and cosmic background radiation-”
“I know! But all of that is just to… to make a ‘seed’. Something you give the computer, and it spits out a random number – some digit of PI or something. But if you have the exact same seed, you get the exact same result.”
The windows rattled as the engine rumbled to life, the lights and noise of the intersection passing and fading behind. Still a long way from home.
“So you’re thinking… what, that ideas are like these numbers? If you put the same thing in, you’d get the same result?”
“I mean… right? Like those twins separated at birth; would they come up with the same idea if they’d lived the same lives, been given the same stimuli? People say ‘what if we run out of new ideas?’, but if it’s all just the result of some complicated formula – if you could reverse-engineer it – is there even such a thing as ‘original’?”
The bus continued, falling back into it’s low, droning rhythm. He leaned back, exhaling and nodding thoughtfully.
“… That’s pretty good, actually. You should write that down.”
She looked out the window, fingers drumming on the glass.
“Somebody already has.”