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Re-inventing the wheel

Posted by Lewis on April 13, 2006

In Reply to: Genius? I'll tell you about genius. posted by pamela on April 13, 2006

: : : : : : : : : "Genius is one percent inspiration and nintynine perspiration"what does this phrase means.

: : : : : : : :
: : : : : : : : Just what it says. That to be a genius you need not only to have inspiration, but to work and sweat to make your inspiration bear fruit.

: : : : : : : That was originally said by Thomas Alva Edison, "the Wizard of Menlo Park", who worked, lived, and died in my hometown of West Orange, New Jersey.

: : : : : : In the days when Patents were often difficult to register and breaches of confidence commonplace, it was not difficult for a well-organised commercial laboratory to use others' ideas and then claim the Patent. I have read suggestions that the Edison Lab was one such place and that they were not in themselves the creative genii that history generally names them. They may have merely been good at spotting good unprotected ideas and developing them/patenting them.

: : : : : : it is like the Alexander Fleming story - he discovered penicillin, but didn't develop it or initially appreciate the importance of his discovery. when he got the Nobel Prize - the two guys who did the crucial follow up work turning his minor discovery into a life-saver shared the prize - yet it is his name, not theirs that is associated with the discovery.

: : : : : : there are many other ideas for which a populariser gained the credit.

: : : : : : Edison was something of a Gates-like entrepreneur from what I hear and were it not for their ilk, many great ideas would never get the publication they deserve.

: : : : : : Still - I think "plagiarism" ought to be added to the quote...

: : : : : : L

: : : : : Lewis, aside from the difficulty of adding to a quotation, I take it that you regard plagiarism as something very negative. Most people do, and there was a minor fuss when it was learned that Senator Biden and Martin Luther King had both plagiarized during their academic careers. Indeed, my collegiate alma mater gave the boot to a perfectly good president because he plagiarized some of his lines in fund-raising speeches. Tut tut, not nice! But borrowing ideas while acknowledging their source can make us strong, or so goes, I imagine, the conventional wisdom.
: : : : : I personally think one of the major themes of the development of human culture is the borrowing of ideas WITHOUT acknowledgment. How many times was fire independently discovered? How many tribes invented language from scratch, without knowing that there was such a thing as language? How many times was an alphabet invented from scratch? How many words were invented without any reference at all to previously invented words?

: : : : : I don't know the answers to any of those questions, and it remains remarkable that any of those discoveries was made even once. We take cultural borrowing, or imitation, for granted, if it dates back far enough. Plagiarism follows the discovery that intellectual activity can produce "property" with money value. So basically plagiarism as a concept was fostered by the discovery of money and the proliferation of greed. (How many cultures independently discovered money?) SS

: : : : Point(s) well taken, Smoke. Edison had, they say, 1000 patents, a suspiciously large number that indicates some credit-hogging, taking personal glory from his staff's work. And I don't doubt the contention that he "borrowed" some half-baked ideas from other inventors and fully baked them. It's in the nature of patents that if you make an improvement to an idea, it's patentable and therefore a "new idea." Likewise with copyrights: you can't copyright an idea, only the expression of an idea. Plagiarism is one way of putting it, but a more workable, more useful, or more efficient invention is still an invention.

: : : There's another dimension to "Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration" - that the majority of what is called "genius" (99%) is plain old hard w ork. It contrasts with the drippy Romantic idea of genius either being some inborn and very rare quality beyond the reach of most of us or a divine visitation. In my humble opinion it's a quote that reflects a particular mindset of late C19 early C20 US capitalism where progress and output is the measure of all things, including genius. Anyone can be a genius (the president or American Idol) if they work hard enough. A clever Australian invented the flexible wine casks so that covers our contribution for the next 200 years. Pamela

: : I wear ties as seldom as possible. One reason is my considerable enthusiasm for food: my energetic approach to lunch is the Enemy of the Tie. Today, however, the inevitable collision came, between an excellent lential soup and my favorite spring tie. Spots a-go-go. I whipped out a "stain stick" my (prescient) wife had given me, and the cravat miraculously survived unscathed. Now that's at least the equal to the flexible wine cask.

: I am neither a tie-wearer nor a soup dribbler and had therefore never heard of "stain stick". I googled and found the MSDS. And now I know that I must never "treat garment while wearing". I also know that it is an eye irritant and "May cause mild [skin] irritation after prolonged or repeated contact". Since flexible wine casks have never caused harm and have much improved the delivery of nature's good bounty, Australia wins. Pamela

Plastic corks for wine bottles to avoid decomposition in the bottle? I reckon perfecting that to avoid affecting the flavour was a work of widespread beneficience.

"Plagiarism" is only that if the source is not quoted - using ideas and not 'reinventing the wheel' is part of technical progress - which is why 'patents' are restricted to some new and novel development. I was giving Edison some praise for spotting potential, I just felt that perhaps there was insufficient acknowledgment of the work leading up to the patented idea.

developing is not 'plagiarism' but passing off other's work or ideas as original is.

when they developed velcro and PTFE (teflon) it wasn't obvious that eventually they would both be used in making bondage clothing, was it?