07 February 2013

"Chance favours the connected mind"


(Stephen Johnson, speaking at TED ) 


Stephen Johnson's book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation is about the environmental and cultural factors that have facilitated scientific and technological innovation over the centuries. I haven't read the book, but I have heard the TED talk, and that inspired me to parrot a few noteworthy points, and offer a little slab of cyberspace where people can improve their ideas' chances with a few informal connections...


Ideas are networks.

They ace built from, and in amongst a milieu of, other ideas. And other thinkers, makers, and doers.
The culture of exchange facilitated by open written correspondence, scholarly societies, and that glorious invention the coffee house, all contributed greatly to the groundswell of innovation during the European enlightenment. The inevitable cross-fertilization that results from such fora is also an essential activity. As Matt Ridley puts it, 'ideas have sex'.


Ideas incubate.

Whilst Darwin's autobiography reports that the idea for the mechanism of evolution by natural selection came to him in a Eureka moment whilst reading Malthus, his notebooks show quite clearly that the idea itself was with him almost fully formed many months earlier. All great breakthroughs start out as hunches. The way they stand the test of time is by regularly being remembered and re-evaluated, by their originators and by others.


A little slab...

The downside of the coffee shop, the workplace coffee break, the shop talk in the pub, etc., is that chat, for all its virtues, is transitory. The best place for ideas to incubate and stay connected is a permanent public space, which in this day and age means means somewhere in cyberspace.
So I want to try this out right here, in the comments section of this entry.
State and discuss your ideas, hypotheses, and speculations. Summarize your coffee break chats. Write (and share) primers for chats you want to have, or want other people to have.
Anything goes. Be bold or reserved;  be vague or specific; be technical or conceptual; be a footsoldier of the status quo, or a Feyerabendian anarchist. Go forth and connect!

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