Scientific Anthology: Accidental Discoveries

Introduction

Throughout history many people have stumbled upon a discovery accidentally. Some examples of these accidental discoveries occur when someone is working on an experiment and it results in a completely different outcome then expected. No matter how these discoveries were made, there has been several significant discoveries that happened accidentally in history. These accidental discoveries may produce a physical product, but it also allows people to keep an open mind in their experiments, not knowing what the outcome may be. It is interesting to look at these accidental discoveries and see how one experiment can turn into something completely different. In this anthology, you will find a collection of examples of accidental discoveries. These examples were selected because we believe they have had a significant impact in the world.
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Scientific Anthology: Accidental Discoveries

Rough Childhood

Frediani life as a kid might have been unstable and rather violent when he was kid. There is a likelihood that this can be tied to the accusations of rape toward him. It is very common that most criminals that commit rape, murder etc are victims of violence at the hands of their parents when they were kids. I think that if the treatment was better in Frediani’s childhood then the crime accusations would not have existed. This also brings me to the idea that there is ultimately no choice the criminal has if he or she was raised in a similar fashion, years after years of child abuse and negative influence must make the criminal a certain amount of insane.

Rough Childhood

Error

I found this chapter so interesting because it brought up a very different way of thinking about technological and scientific advancements. Not all things are discovered by careful analysis and processes. Things mainly happen because of error. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/38870091/ns/technology_and_science-innovation/t/greatest-accidental-inventions-all-time/#.VryZ9cc-C1s

This list also was interesting to see how many things that are used today were never supposed to be invented!

Error

Right vs. Wrong

Ever since high school, my classmates and I have been constantly told ” don’t be afraid to fail.” Yet, most of us strive for perfection anyways. It seems like a thing that is said to reassure some kids, but also as a mechanism to get the top kids even further. This chapter “Error” stresses benefits of making errors, and I liked that because we are not often given reasons why it is okay to mess up sometimes.

“Being right keeps you in place. Being wrong forces you to explore.” (Johnson 137)

When you question your work and critique it, you might discover something unintentional, but progressive.

Right vs. Wrong

Success is Not the Absence of Failure

“The history of being spectacularly right has a shadow history lurking behind it: a much longer history of being spectacularly wrong, again and again” (Johnson, 134).

Innovative ideas, most of the time, come from a long process of trial and error. From a young age we are taught to strive for success and are often reprimanded for failures. However, success should not be synonymous with the absence of failure. Plenty of very successful people had to face multiple failures before they hit success. Even Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper company for lacking imagination and good ideas.

Success is Not the Absence of Failure

A Closer Examination of Errors

“De Forest had stumbled across a classic slow hunch… In 1903, he began a series of failed experiments with placing two electrodes in gas-filled glass bulbs. He continued tinkering with the model…”-Johnson p132-133″

 

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Reading Johnson’s Error’s reminded of other experiments and inventions performed by scientists. One of these scientists that created a breakthrough invention was Thomas Edison. Edison invented the light bulb based on idea he had concerning electricity, currents, etc. Although Edison created the light based on science concerning electricity, he did not have an immediate answer to his question. Edison required long periods of experimental testing on a trial and error basis. With time Edison finally reached a solution to a problem he posed onto himself. When asked about his failed experiments concerning the invention of the light bulb, Edison states that he did not encounter failure but found critical data for his discovery. This statement I believe is something that the entire science community abides by because although an experiment did not follow through as planned the data is critical for knowing what went wrong. By keeping these data point in lab notebooks, databases, etc., scientists can formulate a new experiment to try answer their question in manner different than before.

A Closer Examination of Errors

Accidents May Happen

This chapter reminds me of a book I once read titled, Accidents May Happen. This book was about many of the greatest discoveries/inventions that were discovered by error or mistake. For example, the author of the book describes how chocolate chips cookies were created because a baker used chocolate chips instead of regular baker’s chocolate to make a dessert, but the chips did not melt, thus turning the dessert into a what would be called a cookie. This just goes to show how often times, some of the greatest (and tastiest) inventions are created as a result of an error, and that mistakes can be meaningful.

Accidents May Happen

Benefits of Error

“Being right keeps you in place. Being wrong forces you to explore.” -Johnson, pg 137

This quote gives an excellent explanation for why making mistakes or getting something wrong shouldn’t discourage you. If you know exactly what you’re doing from the start and things turn out exactly like you planned, you won’t get to learn anything new. You won’t get to take advantage of serendipity, stumbling across something you had no intention of discovering but helps you along anyway.
I think being wrong also forces you to keep an open mindset. Johnson also mentions an experiment in which groups of students were making word associations based on colors, and their answers often became more original when actors in their groups purposefully introduced doubt to the situation. When the students weren’t a hundred percent positive that the picture they were shown was primarily blue, they were forced to stop and think, considering more possibilities.

Benefits of Error

Innovation Through Mistakes

Chapter 5 of Where Good Ideas Come From concentrates on the idea that error leads to new innovation. After reading the story about De Forest and his accidental innovation, I began to ponder how important mistakes are to innovation. I did some research about mistakes and innovation and I found this short but very insightful powerpoint online. If you get a chance check it out the link is below. It talks about the ways that mistakes lead to innovation. Perhaps our parents and teachers have been right this whole time. We do learn from our mistakes.

https://www.innovationleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Why-Real-Mistakes-Lead-to-Bigger-Innovations_FINAL.pdf

 

Innovation Through Mistakes

The Mystery of Anesthesia

“I didn’t know why it worked,… it just did” (pg. 134).

When reading this chapter, the quote above really stuck out to me and made me think of the past summer when I shadowed physicians at an Orthopaedic center. One physician that I shadowed in the OR was an anesthesiologist. She was absolutely brilliant and an excellent teacher. Among the many questions I asked her, I asked her how anesthesia actually works, the mechanism of it. She had the most appalling answer. She said she didn’t know. I was very confused and stunned but she said to me that the mechanism of why anesthesia works is still not understood, all they know is that it works. The drug that every person undergoing surgery relies on to keep them asleep and not in pain from the surgical procedure isn’t fully understood! How amazing is that to think about? And also how scary.

There are many theories proposed to how it works based on its compounds and what receptors it reacts with. However, it still stands as an abstract proposal since it can’t be fully proved yet.

The Mystery of Anesthesia

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

Mistakes: They Can Actually Be Beneficial

“It’s not that mistakes are the goal— they’re still mistakes, after all, which is why you want to get through them quickly. But those mistakes are an inevitable step on the path to true innovation” -Johnson, p148

I thought this quote did a good job of summarizing the message of this chapter. In this excerpt, Johnson emphasizes that mistakes are important in the process of creating a successful innovation, and that they are pieces of the puzzle that we cannot avoid. I also thought it was important that Johnson made sure to explain to his audience that he was not saying to make mistakes on purpose, but he was instead assuring his readers that when mistakes do happen they can be helpful instead of hurtful. For me personally, I always thought of mistakes as bad things, things that set me back in whatever I was doing, but after reading this chapter I feel more confident in the fact that mistakes can be beneficial and act as stepping stones that lead to great innovations.

Mistakes: They Can Actually Be Beneficial

chapter 5

“An organism that constantly rescrambled the genetic code passed down to its descendants would be more innovative in its offspring, but only in the sense that those offspring would find many novel ways to perish before or shortly after birth. – Johnson, p 144

This part of the the text really caught my attention since it had to do with mutation and how we develop to become what we are. In this way we are able to survive with no dramatic change. If it would be done so drastically than it would be harder for organisms to survive. So it was interesting to understand more of the why. GP.GeneticCode

chapter 5

Error and Accident: What’s the Difference?

The chapter “Error” focuses on all the inventions and discoveries that were made erroneously. The scientists that invented/discovered some of the most important things in our world (penicillin, pacemakers, and the technology that would eventually lead to the development of the computer) did not intend to do so.

Some of them intended their inventions to be for something else. For instance, Wilson Greatbatch was trying to develop an oscillator to record human heartbeats. By chance he grabbed the wrong resistor and created a device that simulates a heartbeat instead of recording them. (Johnson, 135-6)

Johnson considers this an error. Since it was an active decision that did not produce the desired result, that is true. However, as baseball defines an error, it is “a statistic charged against a fielder whose action has assisted the team on offense.” (MLB, Official Info) If Greatbatch’s actions did not cause another to succeed, was it an error? Should “error” be reserved for more grave actions?

What is the difference here between an “error” and an “accident”? Johnson also labels the creation of penicillin, when Alexander Fleming left a window open and mold invaded a culture in his lab, an “error”. Was leaving the window open an active decision, though? Did it assist someone who would not have succeeded if the action had not been made?

Where is the overlap between “error” and “accident”, and why does it matter?

Error and Accident: What’s the Difference?