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Paul Sandoz mentioned, in reaction to one of my screen-cast that chance in evolution is not random because of natural selection: [1] OK, but how can you explain Parallel Inventions?

Parallel Inventions

Is it uncommon that the same invention is discovered multiple times? Multiple times by different people? At the same time? It is indeed surprising to see something like that, however if you look back at the history of science, it is not that uncommon. I know that lightning rod has been independently invented by at least two people in the middle of 18th century. What was so special then that allowed such independent break-through?

For a centuries great mathematicians were troubled by Euclid's fifth postulate. It felt somewhat unnatural compared to the first four, the general expectation was that it is not necessary and it can be derived from the four others. Many tried, yet nobody succeeded. However, at the begging of 19th century things changed. Independently János Bolyai, Nikolaj Lobačevsky and maybe also Gauss discovered that fifth postulate is independent on the others. As such we can have geometries accepting and denying it and yet they'll make sense. Why at that time? Why three people at once?

There are many more cases that exhibit such coincidence. I do not think anyone has reasonable explanation for that, my personal feeling is that each era has something in the air that turns people's attention towards similar problems and tunes their mind to frequencies helping discover similar solutions.


alex mckale said ...

You might want to read "In the Air Who says big ideas are rare?" by Malcolm Gladwell in the Atlantic.


--alex mckale 21:19, 20 February 2010 (CET)

It was long, but interesting read. Thanks for the pointer. I've already used some information from the article during a cafeteria chat and my arguments were found interesting, almost amusing ;-)

--JaroslavTulach 07:33, 24 February 2010 (UTC)

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