Our minds need originality. We crave it. But why? From the color of your car to the unsurpassed blend of tobaccos in your favorite variety of snus, you choose the things you prefer because of something that — for you, at least — stands out.
How does our love of originality square with the idea that, in most situations, people prefer the familiar? Well, we might have to get into a little anthropology. (But don’t worry! We don’t want to get too technical either.)
Since prehistoric times human beings have demonstrated the talent at perceiving patterns – or the disruption of patterns.
Disrupting the Pattern
Pattern seeking seems to be a built-in survival instinct.
In the modern world people don’t want to be like everyone else.
Welcome to life in the 21st century, where the aim is to reject the overly familiar and to seek originality.
Let’s talk about a few ways we modern humans stay original.
Is there any other color with the same kick in the pants as red? Due to its long wavelength, red is the most visible color in the spectrum, second only to yellow. It instantly grabs people's attention, which is the reason it's used to warn people of impending danger. Consider stop signs, red traffic lights, and fire engines.
But at the same time, experiencing that danger signal when you’re not about to be hunted and eaten has an allure, too. Red sets off primal feelings. And that may be why red things — a red car, a red dress, or a red sunset — stand out.
In other words, to us human beings, red feels original. It’s innate. We can’t help it.
The Secret of Spicy
Most of the time, the food we eat has a straightforward purpose — to nourish us, body and soul. Which is why we get fulfillment and pleasure from food. Sweet and salty compounds send happy signals to our pleasure receptors. It’s easy and uncomplicated. And it’s one of the most reliable patterns human beings follow.
Which makes the appeal of spicy food so odd. Spicy food is a pattern-disrupting original. Because capsaicin, the key compound in spicy food, doesn’t technically send pleasure signals to our bodies. Instead, capsaicin hurts. And the spicier the food, the more it hurts.
Why do we seek its originality?
There are few theories, but this one is persuasive. Eating spicy food sets off a mild defense response in people. Our heart rates rise, our breathing increases, and — crucially — our adrenaline begins to flow. When we combine the right amount of spicy heat with pleasant flavors like sweet or salty, the thrill of pain rejuvenates us. In short, we feel alive.
Rhyme, the Shortcut to Originality
A rhyme is an instant pattern. And it can be an instant joy. Especially when we hear good rhyming lyrics, set to music, the instruments weaving their own patterns: under, over and around the lyrics. Our brains switch to a different tempo, the song filling our ears and, if we let it, our consciousness.
But if rhymes are patterns, then isn’t that just more sameness? Why does it work?
You can probably guess the answer.
Rhyme is a trick. A little shortcut that takes our brains on a journey from instant pattern to pattern disruption.
Put another way, a rhyme sets us up to experience originality. Because if the instant pattern of rhyme is disrupted skillfully by a composer, that originality takes flight in our hearts. We don’t love the sameness of songs. We love how they stand out.
So, next time you reach for your favorite snus, or throw on your favorite song, or find yourself drawn to the red ingredient in your favorite spicy dish, think about that spark of originality. Because it’s the stuff we live for that makes all the difference.