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late inventions

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A philosophical question: by what degree are inventions inevitable and what degree fortunate/hard-fought discoveries?

Are inventors creators of unique masterpieces or merely facilitators of engineering requirements?

These maybe interesting essay topics but is there any way of quantifying the answer?

One way of partially answering these questions is to look at inventions that were late. By 'late' I mean inventions that were technically and economically possible but did not eventuate until well after it would have been useful to have it. The Chinese inventing gun powder but not guns is an ancient example.

An indicator that an invention was late might be a lucrative patent or a paradigm shift in technology.

Anyway, an analysis of this type might lead to useful information about the invention process.

xaviergisz, Jan 02 2010

Time traveler's cheat sheet http://www.boingboi...cheat.html#comments
a lot of people think about this apparently [xaviergisz, Jan 14 2010]

Inventions http://www.newyorke...512fa_fact_gladwell
This author suggests inventions happen when time and circumstances are apporpriate. [bungston, Jan 15 2010]

Guns Germs and Steel http://www.lrainc.c...alkers/jpr_ggs.html
"Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?" The whole book centers on why technological advances happen when and where they do. [bungston, Jan 15 2010]

When/Where were guns invented? http://wiki.answers..._first_gun_invented
China/India/Arabia somewhere in there. [MisterQED, Jan 15 2010]

[link]






       Steam engine time.
nineteenthly, Jan 02 2010
  

       //gunpowder but not guns// metallurgy, lack of ?   

       An obvious example is Babbage's Difference and Analytical Engines.   

       Funny, I've been thinking, on and off, that schools should teach alternative reality/physics models, just to keep the minds exercised (a step away from what you're proposing).
FlyingToaster, Jan 02 2010
  

       // The Chinese inventing gun powder but not guns//
You'd'a thought they'd have got a clue from the name.
AbsintheWithoutLeave, Jan 02 2010
  

       What, "fire medicine" (according to Babel Fish)?
nineteenthly, Jan 02 2010
  

       Yes, "cures life". Does exactly what is says on the barrel ....
8th of 7, Jan 02 2010
  

       It is a terminal disease after all.
nineteenthly, Jan 02 2010
  

       I'm not sure I buy it The discovery of gun powder was just that - a discovery, not an invention. Someone happened to have the various components in the same place at the same time and noticed they went "poof". The same thing could have happened in nature (and probably has).   

       Further, you have to define "invention". You can't product an iPod without a whole tree of technology, but is an iPod an invention or just an interesting way of putting that technology together?
phoenix, Jan 02 2010
  

       why are all you people talking about powdered guns ?
FlyingToaster, Jan 02 2010
  

       Which came first? The toaster, or sliced bread?
Ian Tindale, Jan 02 2010
  

       [IT] well... given that "toaster" could be as simple as a pointy stick with food on the end, I'll go with that: probably predates mixing grass paste with water.
FlyingToaster, Jan 02 2010
  

       All inventions that were done were inevitable.
By what degree they were "fortunate/hard-fought discoveries" can be gleaned from the number of years needed to conceive them.
Late inventions might tell us how many years it took not for a single scientist, but for the general public to conceive them.
So, it may be an good indicator of originality of an idea. [+]
Inyuki, Jan 02 2010
  

       I would disagree and say "Nothing's inevitable until it's been done", but I'd just be paraphrasing Yogi Berra.
lurch, Jan 02 2010
  

       Another way of thinking about this is asking "if I could travel back in time what inventions/ideas could I implement to make a lot of money?"
xaviergisz, Jan 02 2010
  

       I've always thought that, technically, primitave man could have flown using a bamboo A-frame hang glider. I think streched and sewn together animal intestines could have provided a strong and light enough lifting surface. Right out of the Flintstones.   

       Then again maybe not. Might be a good one for Mythbusters.   

       So let me re-phrase that: I've heard a myth that cavemen could have flown using a bamboo and guts hang glider.
doctorremulac3, Jan 03 2010
  

       eg. Icarus.   

       //Another way of thinking about this is asking "if I could travel back in time what inventions/ideas could I implement to make a lot of money?"//   

       The first fellow to figure out that farts were flamable and could be stored in a bladder probably turned out to be Merlin in later accounts.
The fact that I figured out how to hold enough lighter fluid in one hand and open that hand slowly enough to control the burn rate long enough to light a cigarette has freaked out many people.
Not too long ago I'd have been burned alive for the same trick.
  

       Innovations happen as fast as we let them.   

       Oh yeah. (+)   

       // I've always thought that, technically, primitive man could have flown using a bamboo A-frame hang glider. //   

       Technically, they could've come up with a chain of ideas leading to spacecraft. The stuff is all around us at all times. The materials used to make every technological device which will ever exist are already lying about somewhere in the Universe, probably on this planet.
nineteenthly, Jan 03 2010
  

       //Technically, they could've come up with a chain of ideas leading to spacecraft// err... I think they did...
pocmloc, Jan 03 2010
  

       Yes, that was my point, in part. There are simple and complex ideas though. A PC case could be made out of a slightly different plastic or have a form factor which differs by a couple of millimetres, or it could use groovy new hardware and software which enables it to pass the Turing test. However, they're both innovations.
nineteenthly, Jan 03 2010
  

       There is another troublesome question, here. Once one invention facilitates subsequent ones, how many inventions are lost that might have come from a superior original solution?   

       Weaknesses inherent to an early technology may limit or complicate later technologies. I sometimes wonder if we ought to completely re-work the computer system now that we know what it can do. Yes, re-invent the wheel.
ShaneSezWhat, Jan 03 2010
  

       There are a few inventions that fall in the "unique masterpiece" category that might never have happened if it weren't for the actual inventor.   

       The story of the original levitron (the magnetically levitating spinning top) is one example (can't link to it at the moment but easily found on the internet). Its a sad story: A lone inventor spent years tinkering and when he finally cracked it someone else ripped it off and made all the money.
xaviergisz, Jan 03 2010
  

       This meta-discussion isn't itself a halfbakery idea ("we should investigate this...." isn't) - so I've moved the thread to the Halfbakery: area so it can stay around anyway.
jutta, Jan 04 2010
  

       Well, I was going to say this isn’t an idea, but seeing as Jutta has blessed it, and this is a topic that is near and dear to my heart, I shall wade in.   

       Inventions, occur by gathering ideas and assembling them in a new and innovative way, but the patent office will not give patents if an idea is a natural extension of a present idea.   

       My opinion is hinted by [ShaneSezWhat]’s post: //There is another troublesome question, here. Once one invention facilitates subsequent ones, how many inventions are lost that might have come from a superior original solution?//   

       So my answer is: inevitable inventions are ideas that travel in the same direction as previous inventions in a field and hard fought discoveries are those that travel back upstream to find where forks occurred and then travel down new paths to find new discoveries that opposed present conventions invoked by early path choices.   

       I’m just filing a patent on an idea that was almost invented 50 years ago, but the original idea fork died out. My next one will be off an idea fork that occurred and died 150 years ago.   

       PS The gun is a perfect example, as it was invented by the Chinese (or a neighbor)(link or Google arquebus), but they choose not to use them. This allowed the tech to filter to the west where it was developed into the weapon we used to invade China centuries later.   

       PPS Also if you want to see how cavemen could fly look up Nazca Balloons.   

       PPPS Definitely recommend "Guns Germs and Steel".
MisterQED, Jan 15 2010
  

       /So let me re-phrase that: I've heard a myth that cavemen could have flown using a bamboo and guts hang glider./   

       On Gilligans Island the Professor was very handy with the bamboo, but so little use was made of guts, even when there were obviously buckets of guts lying about. It's the same tyraanical principle.
bungston, Jan 15 2010
  

       I've just finished reading "Sex, science and politics" which provides an interesting and thought provoking analysis of why some cultures invented prolificly while others did not. It provides an answer to many questions such as why the Chinese invented gun powder but not guns.
xaviergisz, Oct 27 2010
  
      
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