“Science long ago realized that we can understand something better by studying its behavior in different contexts” (Johnson, 19).
This sentence is so very true just by looking at all the advances we have had in technology, medicine, and other helpful innovations. When we study things in different contexts, we can learn more about the thing we are studying about. This can help us produce ideas just from studying other ideas. That is why it is so important to understand that something or someone’s behavior can tell a lot about it. By studying their behavior in different situations, we can try to get a good sense on why the things act the way they act or think the way they think. I feel this strategy helps us as a country become healthier and stronger with every year that came. Furthermore, this can also help the world as a whole and strengthen us to spawn new ideas for generations to come.
“Paul Uhlenhuth, an assistant professor at the Institute of Hygiene in Griefswald, found a method of determining the origin of unknown blood using a precipitating antiserum.”- Weinberg (pp. 50)
The use of antibodies have came a long way for the use in science. One of the most useful, cost efficient, and easy tests made in our society are in pregnancy tests. Pregnancy tests contain antibodies within them that contain antibodies. These antibodies in the test binds to a hormone, human chorionic gonadotropin, is secreted when a woman is pregnant. When present in urine the antibodies bind to the hormone and produce a positive result. The specificity of these antibodies for the hormone makes these pregnancy test very accurate for testing. Another uncommon found from using pregnancy tests is used to detect men’s testicular cancer. A study conducted found that the same HCG hormone secreted by women during pregnancy is also secreted in some cases of testicular cancer.
Home pregnancy tests may detect men's cancer
“The problem with these closed environments is that they inhibit serendipity and reduce the overall network of minds that can potentially engage with a problem.” (124)
I have never understood why people, scientists, corporations, could be so caught in the prospect of making a profit that they forget that they should be inventing because it betters society. Besides a small percent of innovations, everything we have today is a product of building upon others achievements, improving and perfecting them; patents and intellectual property rights are in place to protect the inventor but at what cost? R & D departments are the most secretive parts of corporation but they also are the ones on the cutting edge of science, science that, if shared with other R & D departments, could not only be perfected faster but also help a lot of people in the process.
Penicillin is an antibiotic drug discovered by accident. It was founded by Sir Alexander Fleming who at the time was experimenting with the influenza virus in a lab. The scientist took a break from experimenting and weeks later found mold on a plate. When the scientist found the mold, he investigated it and noticed the mold prevented growth of staphylococci. After this discovery, Fleming tested the mold and found out it can work against bacteria. Today, the penicillin drug treats many life threatening illnesses such as meningitis and pneumonia.
This is one of many serendipitous moments in science that has happened influencing society for the better. These accidental happenings in science are amazing and are so interesting to read out. I wonder what will be discovered next by accident.
Picture Credits: http://www.topbritishinnovations.org/~/media/Voting/Images/Penicillin_detail_2.jpg
Here is a video featuring Science and Serendipity:
Johnson talks about the potential danger of losing serendipity in the wake of the Web. I believe that the Web can make serendipitous connections in ways that were never possible before the Web was created, but that a general sense of curiously to learn and find new things is necessary for serendipity, no matter where it comes from.
In this Ted Talk, Laura Green talks about how important it is for people in all different disciplines to talk to each other and “tell a better story” so that ideas can spread. She emphasizes how important it is in science for people outside the field to ask questions and encourage the search for new answers.
We began discussing the structure of Benzene in class. Organic chemistry is the study of carbon which a fundamental part of drawing structures, includes a classic 6 membered benzene ring. However, what is benzene used for? I was curious as to how we use it and why it was so important so I looked up the historical uses of Benzene. Apparently in the 19th century, it was considered to have a nice smell to it, so men used it for after shave. Later in the 20th century it was used in decaffeinated coffees. Upon further research, benzene is actually a carcinogen and is not used for those purposes any longer. Since the danger of benzene was discovered, it is used now for manufacturing purposes: plastics, lubricants, rubbers, etc. Another great point about benzene is that is the base of many other derived chemicals.
“patents, digital rights management, intellectual property, trade secrets, proprietary technology… share a founding assumption: that in the long run, innovation will increase if you put restrictions on the spread of new ideas, because those restrictions will allow the creators to collect large financial rewards from their inventions”-Johnson p123-124″
This is Martin Shkreli. He was the CEO of a biotech company called Turing Pharmaceuticals. He is notoriously known from approving the raise price of very important drugs up to 4,000% from the original price. This overnight spike in the these drugs to treat infectious disease caused many people to suffer because they could not afford their medication. Some patients that could only be treated by Turing Pharmaceuticals drug would have no choice but to pay the obscenely high prices. This reminded me of when Johnson begins to talk about exclusive rights such as drug patents.Turing Pharmaceuticals raising the prices of lifesaving drugs overnight shows how easily these patents can hurt society more than benefit society. It shed light on how our government has to regulate patent laws in order to make any product affordable to the common man as well as the company.
It was a fun fact to learn that the FBI partakes in retreats in order for the whole division to get together and discuss and brainstorm together. Knowing that there is much competition to get into the FBI, and move up in the ranks, it is good that they work together to better the whole corporation. The ideas flow better, and similar hunches can be discussed.
“In part, his epiphany was made possible by the random connections of REM sleep. Yet it was also made possible by a slow hunch that had been lingering in the back of his mind for almost two decade” (Johnson, 103).
This section made me think back to Monday’s in-class discussion about slow hunches vs. quick hunches. A lot of us agreed that great ideas, even epiphanies, take a lot of time to fully develop. Most of the time, a brilliant idea does not just pop up out of nowhere. Background knowledge and experiences are required (majority of the time) before even the greatest epiphanies are created. This quote just proves these points and relates back to our ideas discussed on Monday.
This chapter made me think back to an article I recently read titled, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Author Nicholas Carr discusses the effect of technology on our brain. He proposes that technology is hindering us in the sense that the internet, and Google, have everything we could ever need at the click of a button. Our brains have adapted to the swiftness of the internet. No longer do we read through the entirety of texts to expand our knowledge on certain topics — our brains have adapted to skimming in order to find the bare necessities of information that we need. This article makes me wonder: Is the accessibility of information because of the internet limiting our creativity? Have our skimming habits resulted in less production of ideas?
“In a sense, dreams are the mind’s primordial soup: the medium that facilitates the serendipitous collisions of creative insight. And hunches are like those early carbon atoms, seeking out new connections to help them build new chains and rings of innovation.” -Johnson, pg 102
I thought this passage was really cool, because it connects a lot of previous ideas discussed in the book: the liquid network and hunches and carbon atoms. And I think what’s interesting about dreams is that they can sort of provide a spark for all these eureka moments we’ve talked about. We’ve talked about how these eureka moments don’t just come out of nowhere; there has to be a background, a collection of unconnected ideas that maybe you’ve been thinking about for a while, and the eureka moment is when you figure out which pieces fit together. And dreams sort of play around with our memories (the pieces we have on the table), putting them together in ways our conscious minds just wouldn’t think to do. The pieces have to be there to begin with, and sometimes it takes serendipity and the random connections of dreams to figure out new ways to put the pieces together.
“The secret to organizational inspiration is to build information networks that allow hunches to persist and disperse and recombine” (Johnson, p.127)
In order to give our hunches and innovations a chance to grow and develop, organization is key. We must create an environment, such as an open database of hunches, where our hunches can mix in an organized fashion with other people’s hunches, and lead to new innovation. This connects with the idea of a Commonplace book. If Darwin didn’t write down his discoveries, his hunches never would have developed into the knowledge we have about evolution today. This commonplace book forum that we are posting in right now is an example of one of these organized environments.
“If the commonplace book tradition tells us that the best way to nurture hunches is to write everything down, the serendipity engine of the Web suggests a parallel directive: looks everything up”– Johnson 123
I feel that this quote has truthfulness in that websites like wikipedia and online references help expand our knowledge and allow us to explore instant hunches. And even though I think that looking everything up that pikes our curiosity is good, this idea counteracts the more random route of exploration that Johnson also endorses, methods like “sleeping on the problem” or Poincare’s pedestrian method of walking where ideas “rose from crowds”. I feel like if Poincare had the web, when he got stuck or encountered a problem, he would immediately go to the web for a solution or for some random browsing. And while this random browsing could possibly stimulate the answer to form in his head, it would be much more natural and easy for him to do what randomly stimulated and gave his mind a break at the same time: take a walk or vacation.
This is not to say that all people are like this, but the more the Web becomes an influence in people’s time, I think we are going to see more solutions and more ideas be born, just different types of ideas.
“But the strange fact is that a great deal of the past two centuries of legal and folk wisdom about innovation has pursued the exact opposite argument, building walls between ideas, keeping them from the kind of random, serendipitous connections that exist in dreams and in the organic compounds of life. Ironically, those walls have been erected with the explicit aim of encouraging innovation.” – Johnson, p123
While reading this chapter this passage really made me question why we build barriers around our ideas if sharing them, and connecting with other people is really the best way to establish great ideas. Why has the world created patents and copyrights that protect ideas from the ideas of others? How can people develop a slow hunch that they have, or explore the adjacent possible if everyones ideas are guarded by legal documents? How can we break down these walls and introduce a more connective environment?
“… when the world gets challenging – scarce resources, predators, parasites – you need to innovate. And the quickest path to innovation lies in making novel connections. This strategy of switching back and forth between asexual and sexual reproduction goes by the name “heterogamy” and while it is unusual, many different organisms have adopted it.” -Johnson, page 108
This part of the the reading caught my attention because it shows how organisms have learned to survive through out the years. They have adapted ways so that they will not go extinct. They have learned to combat each threat that has presented to them. Even though it is unusual, it has helped them survive and those organisms that can adopted have started using them. This is something new to me since I though that it was one or the other, but now I know that there can be various ways that these organisms can reproduce and defend themselves. It is an interesting strategy to defend themselves and gain new ways of living and mixing themselves. If not, most of these organisms would probably not exist.
After reading Chapter 4 of Where Good Ideas Come From, I thought the discussion on serendipities was very interesting. I liked how everything connected back to innovation and even just “happy accidents” coupled with other ideas can lead to progress. As this novel progresses, each chapter seems to build on one another. Ideas came from predictions, those predictions were connected, and those connections lead to “happy accidents” in which connections and networks thrive and lead to innovation. The last line of the chapter was very powerful when relating the idea of serendipities back to a database. Johnson states,
“By making the ideas public, and by ensuring that they remain stored in the database, these systems create an architecture for ogranizational serendipity. They give good ideas new ways to connect” (p128).
Essentially, Johnson is suggesting that good ideas come from the connections that happen to cross and recombine – they are “happy accidents.” I think this idea is very interesting because going through a lot of science classes we are alway taught that things have a definite answer and came about from a definite and specific process. With these ideas, Johnson proposes that not all mechanisms come about from a definite process but rather that process created an innovative mechanism from “happy accidents” or ideas combining by change to create a good idea. Overall, I think this idea is very interesting when relating it back to the scientific world – a world where definite answers are always desired. Essentially, things don’t need to be definite but rather can be spontaneous or accidental.
In addition, it was also interesting to see these ideas related to sexual reproduction. Essentially, we want to understand the mechanisms and answers behind it, but, in reality, it just happened from a happy accident. This is similar to where good ideas come from – happy accidents.
In his chapter on “Serendipity”, Johnson reports how detailed dreams have inspired several scientists. First he cites Otto Loewi, who subconsciously developed the idea for his experiment with frogs hearts. Next, he explains that several very influential scientists, who had been working in their fields for years, realized a missing piece of their puzzles through deep REM dreams.
The most interesting thing about this is that, according to Johnson, many of the dreams, or “neuronal connections”, we experience “are meaningless”. (Johnson, 101) So when these scientists found inspirations, ideas, and answers hidden in their dreams, it was essentially coincidence.
Johnson also points out that “We conventionally associate dream inspiration with the creative arts…” (Johnson, 101) This leads me to wonder how much creativity is necessary in scientific experimentation. Why do we only associate creativity with right-brain activities, such as writing or painting, when it is so obviously needed in designing experiments? Why do we believe that scientists cannot be “creative”? By that same notion, why do we assume that those who are interested in “creative” things cannot understand science or other “left-brain” activities?