Inventions are inevitablePosted: November 12, 2011
So, here’s the argument: inventions (including theories and technologies) are inevitably invented. (This links nicely with Sid Winter’s thesis.) Thus we shouldn’t focus on or celebrate mythic “heroes” who happen to get credit for inventions that are inevitable – someone else would have invented them if the hero wasn’t around (Simonton highlights the increased instance of simultaneous discovery, here’s a wiki site cataloguing simultaneous discoveries). As Robert Merton put it – “discoveries become virtually inevitable when prerequisite kinds of knowledge and tool accumulate.”
Kevin Kelly talks about this in his book What Technology Wants. He pulls in examples from mathematics and physics. For example, Einstein was ahead of his time with the theory of relativity but some scholars were concurrently looking at similar questions and would inevitably have come up with the same theory.
Sort of an interesting issue embedded in here. That is, discovering the realities and truths of nature is one thing – but clearly the possibilities and forms that technologies might take is a very different issue. This is the space that the STS folks (Science & Technology Studies) have carved out – though they employ a confused epistemology and frequently overstep their bounds (Latour/Woolgar’s Laboratory Life is an example of this problem). More perhaps on this later.
Here’s a figure from Kevin Kelly’s book (sorry, the quality isn’t the hottest).