A Scientific Anthology: Multiple Discoveries

Introduction

Science is all about discovery and invention. Discoveries can come from slow hunches or even spontaneously. What isn’t normally considered is the possibility of the same discovery occurring by two different people. The concept of multiple discovery, otherwise known as simultaneous invention, suggests that scientific discoveries are typically made independently of one another but simultaneously by many scientists. Essentially, more than one scientist has independently discovered the same thing.

 

This anthology profiles 15 examples of multiple discoveries in various historical situations and books that we have read this semester. From the discovery of evolution to the discovery of a carbon nanotube, it is important to understand the many types of discoveries, the time frame, and the context in which each item was discovered. Furthermore, while these examples are offered, this anthology aims to aid in the understanding of how multiple discoveries contribute to the success of of the scientific field.

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A Scientific Anthology: Multiple Discoveries

The Four Quadrants

After reading the chapter, The Fourth Quadrant, I thought it was very interesting that Johnson displayed the sort of evolution of innovations through a four quadrant system. After reading, it made me understand the relationship between platforms and stacks and the development of innovations from one another. Essentially, over periods of time, those stacks open the doors for new innovations to occur and reach the fourth quadrant. Johnson touches upon this ideas when describing the type of environment in which innovations occur. Johnson states,

“Because innovation is subject to historical changes – many of which are themselves the result of influential innovations in the transmission of information – the four quadrants display distinct shapes at different historical periods” (p 226).

Essentially, what Johnson is saying is that to reach the fourth quadrant innovations come from the building of ideas on innovations that were already presented as the stage for further development. This clearly relates to platforms and ideas that were previously presented that allowed innovations to develop over time. This suggests that innovations reach the fourth quadrant from an environment in which ideas are constantly developing.

This idea also correlates to evolution and things I have learned in my Evolution course. Essentially, evolution is change over time, but over time new ideas or traits come about from things presented prior. This relates back to coral reefs in which Johnson talked extensively about again in this last chapter. Over an historical time period, new developments came about from observing the coral reefs.

The Four Quadrants

Exaptation

This was an interesting word to learn for me because I had never heard of it before. When I looked up the definition it was defined as “a term used in evolutionary biology to describe a trait that has been co-opted for a use other than the one for which natural selection has built it” (Google Dictionary). I was curious to see the evolution of the archaeopteryx that was talked about in the chapter so I also looked up a picture to see how it had changed.

http://10e.devbio.com/article.php?ch=16&id=161

This article gives a good time line on how this creature evolved into what our modern day birds look like.

Exaptation

Evolution

Once again, chance and happy accidents are central to narrative: a random mutation lead to the evolution of feathers selected for warmth, and by chance those feathers turn out to be useful for flying, particularly after they’ve been modified to create an airfoil.

It is incredible to me how nature is. We start getting used to how we are and then with our nature we start changing and adapting. In the beginning we don’t get it, but then we realize that nature knows what it is doing. We may think that evolution may be for one reason, but nature is always one step ahead of us. It does not only change species for one reason, but because of what might come ahead too. For examples, these feathers that came to be for one reason and then it helped them fly in a certain way. 14565772169_4f3c33a00c_b

Evolution

Twitter the Exaptation

“When it first emerged, Twitter was widely derided as a frivolous distraction that was mostly goof for telling your friends what you had for breakfast.”-Johnson (192)

When Twitter was dreamed up in 2006, the founders were not expecting the many uses for Twitter that it is used for now.  I find it interesting to see how the web platform evolved from just a place to write simple thoughts to one that fosters news such as political protests, provides customer support for large corporations, and acts as a place to bypass government censorship.  I would argue that, like the wings of birds from chapter 6, Twitter is an exaptation.  Wings are recognized as originally existing for the purpose of being a dinosaur wrist bone, which would provide flexibility.  Wings however, turned out to be used in other ways such as flying.  Twitter has many better uses than just letting your friends know your every thought.

Twitter the Exaptation

Origin of Tetrapods

tetrapod_evo

Darwin’s theories repetitively appear throughout this book and in this chapter it mentioned his “Origins of Species”. It prompted me to research more about the origins of tetrapods. Johnson mentioned how a fish evolved to now how feet to be able to walk on land. According to this website I found, it all began with ray-finned fish that slowly evolved into bony fish such as Eusthenopteron. These fish eventually continued evolving until they developed forelimbs and hindlimbs with fingers.

Organisms evolve based on their need for survival. Harsh weather can prompt an organism to use a body part, even if it wasn’t designed for that specific reason, in order to survive. The example Johnson gave was the birds feathers. The feathers were made for warmth but then they became useful for flying.

Its interesting to see how organisms keep evolving based on the environmental pressures. It makes me wonder if humans are done evolving or are we going to look different in the 22nd century? Or are we going to be extinct? I wonder.

Website Consulted:

http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/evograms_04

Origin of Tetrapods

Exaptation and Ideas

After reading Chapter 6 of Where Good Ideas Come From, I thought it was very interesting to discuss the way in which ideas arise through a term often used in evolutionary biology. Johnson describes an exaptation as when

“an organism develops a trait optimized for a specific use, but then the trait gets hijacked for a completely different function” (p154).

Essentially, Johnson is suggesting that ideas come from the a change to a trait that was originally exhibited. I think a controversial word here is “hijacked.” I believe that traits are shared and understood but new ones rise based on what is favored or how it is seen that a new idea or trait can be used – the trait is not necessarily stolen, but rather used as a basis for a which in which a new trait can have a new function. This relates a lot to my Evolution course I took. We often discussed how ancestors have shared traits however on a phylogenetic tree, it is seen that new traits arise from those older ones and evolution or change over time among populations is seen. Thus, relating back to the real world, I think sharing ideas give way for new ideas to be proposed and used in a different way. Overall, I thought relating this chapter to the ideas of evolution was a great way to describe how new altered ideas arise from ones previously seen. Like Johnson states,

“exaptations help us explore the new possibilities that lurk behind those doors” (p156).

Therefore, new ideas arise from ones that previously exist, but these new ideas are used in a different way than the original.

Exaptation and Ideas

Darwin’s Hypothesis

“Without noise, evolution would stagnate, an endless series of perfect copies, incapable of change. But because DNA is susceptible to error– whether mutations in the code itself or transcription mistakes during replication– natural selection has a constant source of new possibilities to test…Error is what made humans possible in the first place” -Johnson 142

Darwin’s theory about where these variations that produced the innovations of life came forms that when a particular organ or limb was heavily used in the lifetime of an animal, it released more “gemmules” that shaped the next generation of its species (Johnson 143). As was later proved by genetics, this theory was wrong.So, as Johnson also says, Darwin erred in trying to understand error (and its successes).

This leads to the idea of wondering why Darwin might have failed at understanding completely his discoveries. He seemed to have made the discovery of natural selection in the first place from the combination of his own observations and the adjacent possible. Did he need to “tap into” the adjacent possible once again to understand the whys behind evolution? Was he trying too hard to independently force another “eureka” moment upon himself? Or maybe he simply needed more time to contemplate any slow hunches about the reason behind his observation, constantly keeping them in the back of his mind while focusing on some other problem. Maybe, if he had “slept on the problem” like other scientists who studied single topics for years at a time, he might have come up with a solution.

But looking at Darwin’s hypothesis about the reason behind the selective traits, and comparing it to the quote above, one can say that the only possible way for Darwin to come up with an idea would have been to constantly try different ideas, revising them when they were in error. Darwin actually was acting like DNA when he subjected himself to an unanswered problem (stressed environment) and attempted to answer it.

Darwin’s Hypothesis

Water Flea Daphnia

I found the description of this crustacean very interesting.  I did not previously know that an organism can choose between producing asexually and sexually.  The way this creature produces effectively asexually during the warmer months was fascinating and so is how it chooses to reproduce sexually during the winter months.  Learning about this organism also made me ponder about why don’t all organisms have a choice to reproduce asexually or sexually?  What are the benefits of only reproducing one way when both can seem useful.

Water Flea Daphnia

The Slow Hunch

After reading Chapter 3, “The Slow Hunch” in Where Good Ideas Came From I found many of the ideas presented by Johnson very insightful. I thought it was really interesting how everything discussed related back to using others’ ideas, networks, connections, and the adjacent possible. Essentially, everything builds on one another and while individuals can have hunches, those hunches aren’t relevant until they are combined with the thoughts of others. Johnson states,

“Most great ideas first take shape in the in a partial, incomplete form. They have the seeds of something profound, but they lack a key element that can turn the hunch into something truly powerful” (p75).

Johnson is suggesting that hunches while they can be good need to be nurtured by connections and thoughts of other people. The missing piece becomes complete when it is combined with a similar hunch that another individual has. In essence, complete ideas come about through the connections and networks made from a slow hunch instead of one lone idea trying to be proven. In the example of predicting the 9/11, that slow hunch was not complete because it was not built upon by other hunches or other individuals. Thus, this chapter is very important because it emphasizes the role of networks, connections, and the adjacent possible in making a hunch into a complete idea – everything is related and relevant to one another.

I also thought these ideas were really interesting because they related to the reason why we believe in evolution and natural selection. Darwin observed and made hunches, but until those ideas were coupled with other observations and predictions, they were not complete. In understanding evolution and even the scientific method, it is important to understand the role of hunches and ideas that were made to make theories and ideas real. As I learned in my Evolution course, Darwin kept a journal of everything he saw and observed while on his trip to the Galapagos. These ideas and hunches contributed to his theories once he made connections and networks between them.

The Slow Hunch

Body Parts Working Together

“François Jacob captured this in his evolution as a “tinkerer”, not an engineer; our bodies are also works of bricolage, old parts strung together to form something radically new.” (Johnson, p29)

I found this particularly interesting because it is intriguing to think of our bodies as a bunch of parts strung together for a purpose. Each piece of our body is essential, and works towards the productivity of the human body as a whole. Right away I thought of the body systems. Our body is made up of a group of different systems and they all work together to keep us functioning properly and healthily. Below I attached a very cheesy body systems rap video. I haven’t seen it since my freshman year bio class in high school. Although childish, it talks about all the body systems and what they are for. Watch it you may get a laugh out of it.

Body Parts Working Together

Darwin’s Reefs

After reading this section of the novel, I thought it was very interesting to start off with Darwin. I found this portion very relatable as I have taken an Evolution course and learned about Darwin’s ideas and theories of natural selection and competition. I think it is very interesting to understand advancements in an ecosystem through the new innovations that arise from competition and natural selection among species. This quote really stood out to me. The author states,

“Darwin’s coral reefs create and environment where biological innovations can flourish” -Johnson, p17.

Essentially, Darwin suggests that changes in the environment and things affecting ecosystems cause changes that are innovative. These changes or advancements allow things to flourish, survive in a new way, and become more complex. These all relate to the ideas of evolution and biotechnology in that new innovations create a more complex world.

Darwin’s Reefs