creativity

In the Air. Who says big ideas are rare?

Malcolm Gladwell wrote an interesting article in the New Yorker on Nathan Myhrvold's company "Intellectual Ventures" which tries to come up with a method of the process of scientific discovery. The trick is that you can do it. That scientific discovery is a lot about looking at available information in a new way, relating fields to one another that are usually not considered together.

This phenomenon of simultaneous discovery—what science historians call “multiples”—turns out to be extremely common. One of the first comprehensive lists of multiples was put together by William Ogburn and Dorothy Thomas, in 1922, and they found a hundred and forty-eight major scientific discoveries that fit the multiple pattern. Newton and Leibniz both discovered calculus. Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace both discovered evolution. Three mathematicians “invented” decimal fractions. Oxygen was discovered by Joseph Priestley, in Wiltshire, in 1774, and by Carl Wilhelm Scheele, in Uppsala, a year earlier. Color photography was invented at the same time by Charles Cros and by Louis Ducos du Hauron, in France. Logarithms were invented by John Napier and Henry Briggs in Britain, and by Joost Bürgi in Switzerland.

And he continues:

For Ogburn and Thomas, the sheer number of multiples could mean only one thing: scientific discoveries must, in some sense, be inevitable. They must be in the air, products of the intellectual climate of a specific time and place.

Good ideas are out there for anyone with the wit and the will to find them.

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