Scientific Anthology: Serendipity

Introduction

Serendipity is defined as “luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for.” (1)

This anthology provides examples of scientific serendipity. This will introduce a number of scientists, inventions, and theories that all came about because of serendipity. This theme was clear throughout the books that we read during the semester and we wanted to prove that serendipity really exists in the scientific community as well as the world around us.

  1. (n.d.). Retrieved May 09, 2016, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/serendipity
Scientific Anthology: Serendipity

DNA Reference

“Tucked away in one of the genes we were studying was this peculiar stuttered piece of DNA that actually gave us the golden key that unlocked the door to [the evolution of genes].” (Weinberg, 113)

Its interesting how this can relate to serendipity in Johnson’s book. They weren’t necessarily looking for this “key”, but through experiment, they found it. Although they were conducting an entirely separate experiment, this breakthrough presented itself. Johnson told us how this can apply to real life situations and this was a first hand testament to Johnson’s idea. The concepts in biotechnology actually range across the whole realm of science, forensic science in particular. Johnson would appreciate knowing that his ideas were brought to life in a separate realm of science.

DNA Reference

Book Review: Where Good Ideas Come From

Theoretical and Evolutional Networking Connections

Our physical, emotional and mentally evolving universe has many known limitations in fields of chemistry, biology, biotechnology and innovative sciences overall. These limitations are nothing but mental barriers that are bound to be overcame using the basis of innovation that our great ancestors founded many years ago. Where Good Ideas Come From written by Steven Johnson makes clear and somewhat short the long and tedious step-by-step process in which innovation progressed. In this science related nonfiction piece, Steve Johnson, a formidable writer and historian, talks about the different variations of ways in which ideas come to be, how they are/were implemented, the best ways these ideas can come to surface and how they contribute to the overall spectrum of innovative thinking. This writing contains a wealth of information relative to what everything is today and how it came to be, thus making it relevant and interesting to audiences of all sorts. Continue reading “Book Review: Where Good Ideas Come From”

Book Review: Where Good Ideas Come From

The Root of Ideas: A Review of Where Good Ideas Come From

    Imagine you are driving along a busy highway in an area you are unfamiliar with. You miss your exit and end up in what seems to be the middle of nowhere. Panicked, you grab your GPS and it reroutes to the correct destination. In this moment, do you think to yourself, where did this invention come from? How did it become so successful?

     Steven Johnson’s novel, Where Good Ideas Come From, is successful in answering these questions as he proposes the seven steps to creating good ideas in a page-turning and thought provoking novel meant for individuals of all disciplines. Johnson offers insight on how good ideas arise in such a way that has never been considered before. He proposes that good ideas come from adjacent possibles, slow hunches, liquid networks, serendipities, platforms, error, and quadrants. Johnson focuses on the theme that ideas build off one another by coexisting in a prosperous environment. Specifically, Johnson’s fascinating and flawless discussion of hunches, platforms, and serendipities are perfect examples of how readers understand some ways in which good ideas form and thrive. Continue reading “The Root of Ideas: A Review of Where Good Ideas Come From”

The Root of Ideas: A Review of Where Good Ideas Come From

Law in Science or Science in Law

When Helena mentions she wants to be the bridge or connection between those that work in suits, which is referencing those working in the law field with people that work in her science based field. I wondered if she meant she would want to use her knowledge in science to improve the way law works, or did she mean she wants to use the ideas used in the field of law to improve her knowledge in her job field. From this speculation I realize that many different ideas can contribute to both fields i.e DNA. Since this discovery, the world of forensics was discovered, I wonder if any more connections between the two can help revolutionize ideas used in either field.

Law in Science or Science in Law

Ideas and Economics

In the conclusion of Where Good Ideas Come From, Johnson ties together his book of good ideas with introduction of the quadrant system. He explains the fourth quadrant, and the inventions that have succeeded from this category. In his explanation, he goes back to his discussion of slow hunches…

“A slow hunch can’t readily find its way to another hunch that might complete it if there’s a tariff to be paid every time it tries to make a new serendipitous connection” (Johnson 232)

This made me wonder about the amount of good ideas that have fallen short because of patents and the economic endeavours of fellow scientists. I wondered if the fourth quadrant could start to wither in the future, for the exchange of fame.

Ideas and Economics

Serendipity

“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.

Serendipity

Penicillin: An Accidental Discovery

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.

pencillin

Picture Credits: http://www.topbritishinnovations.org/~/media/Voting/Images/Penicillin_detail_2.jpg

Here is a video featuring Science and Serendipity:

Video

Penicillin: An Accidental Discovery

Curiosity 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.

http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Connecting-Curiosity-%E2%80%93-Tales-o

Curiosity and Serendipity

Faith

“You don’t reach Serendip by plotting a course for it.  You have to set out in good faith for elsewhere and lose your bearings serendipitously.” – John Barth quoted in Johnson (p108)

This quote is a very simple description of how serendipity works.  John Barth confirms that sometimes it is better not to seek answers to your problems and instead let the answers come to you.  Come of the world’s best ideas have been accidentally stumbled upon after years of searching for an answer that happened to in plain sight the whole time.

Quote

Danger of Patents

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“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.

Danger of Patents

Happy Accidents

Serendipity is built out of happy accidents, to be sure, but what makes them happy is the fact that the discovery you’ve made is meaningful to you. It completes a hunch, or opens up a door in the adjacent possible that you had overlooked. (Johnson 108)

After reading chapter four of Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From, this was the quote that seemed to resonate with me the most. It made me question, have there been times when discoveries were made that were unmeaningful to the researcher and were simply tossed aside? Could this discovery have brought serendipity to someone else? The idea that each discovery and hunch is personalized can be a scary one. It limits the influence these discoveries and hunches have simply because they are biased based on the discoverer.

Happy Accidents

Dreams and Connections

“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.

Dreams and Connections

Organization is Key

“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.

Organization is Key

Serendipity

This is a link to devonthink which is a website that allows users to share ideas that connect. You can archive all your thoughts and access old material. This program is able to make connections between things that you did not initially search for. This allows for more serendipity to occur than just using google. I believe that google is good when you are looking for a specific answer to one thing but devonthink allows you to access so much more information.

http://www.devontechnologies.com/products/devonthink/overview.html

Serendipity

Building Walls around Ideas: Good or bad?

“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?

Building Walls around Ideas: Good or bad?

Contradictory Themes

When it is mentioned that organizational inspiration is built off information networks that allow hunches to disperse and recombine, I feel like this idea can be easily contradicted, for some hunches in the past and in the future may be better off forming side by side. When hunches disperse it is likely that they will not rejoin again. Examples include the hunches that were on the way into being fully implemented in order to prevent 911. These hunches dispersed and never rejoined, the rejoining of these hunches could have resulted in a lesser consequence on that day. With every theme in this book i have come to a realization that every idea and theory can exert contradictory ideas.

Contradictory Themes

Serendipity

Wikipedia Serendipity Page

On Page 117  Johnson says that if you visit the Wikipedia page for serendipity you can find access to a plethora of human inventions. In fact the page really interested me because serendipity is often linked with many accidental scientific advancements. I had no idea that penicillin, post it notes, and the microwave were accidental discoveries. Overall I just think its really neat that humanity as a species finds so much advancement through failure or just coincidence. I also had no idea so many scientific discoveries were made by accident which is really interesting that humanity even in failure is very productive.

Link

Serendipity and Progress

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.

Serendipity and Progress