“What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient… highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate.” — Inception
Much has been said about the problems of intellectual property here and elsewhere which I won’t go into today, however there is one implication of IP that I have not noticed in any of the writings of the anti-IP thinkers
Property is defined as the exclusive right to possess and control a given object or resource, which some argue logically extends to property in ideas. However if person B comes into possession of person A’s idea (the method is irrelevant) then person A no longer has exclusive possession or control of the idea, or rather the Platonic ideal of the idea.
The usual method of dealing with this problem is for the state to forbid person B from using the idea in any way, or in any way that can produce profit (profiteering would be extra evil you know). This would effectively require person B to lie to himself, to pretend that he does not know something which he does know, and to constantly audit his own thoughts for secondhand ideas before he can legitimately act upon ideas of his own.
But that is just a kludge over the real problem. Let us now “peel the lid off Hell” and look deeper.
Due to the way the mind works, person B cannot possibly respect the intellectual property rights of person A, even if the state was not involved. As long as the idea is in his mind it will subtly change the way person B thinks forever, possibly illuminating chains of thought that person B would have never followed otherwise. Who owns the idea that person B comes up with that he *thinks* is his but would never have occurred to him if he had not known about person A’s different idea?
Worse, how does person A know it’s his idea in the first place? Maybe he overheard a conversation that now lies in his subconscious in a distorted form that he can’t identify? Maybe he saw a bird fly by and that sparked the chain of thought that lead to the idea? This makes the Butterfly Effect look like a summer breeze.
So, this leaves some form of memory erasure as the only way to actually respect or enforce intellectual property rights, but we don’t *have* that technology yet.
Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that a device existed that could identify the exact sources of any given idea or idea cluster in a person and then erase it if necessary. Suppose that person B’s memory was erased clean of all previously owned ideas, dropped on an island, and came up with a new idea. Where did that idea come from? Did it simply pop into existence out of nowhere (which plays merry hell with causality)? Or did person B think about the stuff on the island? Suppose person B arrived at the same idea person A had previously, but with no causal link between them? Now who owns it?
I will leave staring into a philosophical abyss as an exercise for the reader.
Once you can see the whole picture of how ideas come into existence individual minds begin to look more like a pot of chili: random stuff thrown in and mixed around possibly producing something great.
So if person A has a pot of chili and person B has their own pot of chili, and person A spills a bit into person B’s pot, in what sense does person A get to suddenly claim the whole pot? How exactly does the mind have a claim on all copies of an idea again?
There is no logical way for person A to do so without invoking a Platonic World of Ideas, even then person A has to explain why inventing a copy of the Ideal idea gives him ownership of the Ideal idea. The history of mathematics should give ample warning to anyone thinking that Platonism will work.
The average person’s critique of intellectual property follows a pattern: first dissatisfaction with the implementation of patents and copyrights, followed by questioning their very justification. Then the person realizes that there is no justification. Now we have a third step. Realizing that it is not only unjustifiable, but actually impossible.
Tags: Intellectual Property