Saturday, May 31, 2008


Trying to define "ideas" is slippery. Do we limit the term strictly to human thought? If so, we'd have to rule out some primitive tool use, since other animals make use of found objects (sticks, etc.) to get food. Clearly, at some point on the path from using found objects to actually making stone tools, something like purposeful thought or ideas must have been involved.

Fortunately, most of the interesting ideas fall well into the area of clear cut human thought. Within these, we can broadly distinguish ideas of cognition (or realization or discovery) from ideas of ignition (or creation or invention). The discovery/invention split is familiar. Electricity was discovered. The light bulb was invented.

But is it that simple? For one thing, the discovery that some things move easily when rolled led to the invention of the wheel. Since the first wheels were probably just rounded objects that rolled, it's difficult to say where discovery left off and invention began.

Beyond this, however, consider the discovery, by Copernicus, that the earth moves around the sun, instead of the other way around. Was this actually a discovery? Or was it the invention of a new mental model to help us understand the solar system? I'll write more about this later.

So here I want to write about ideas great and dumb. I think a lot about the great ideas in human history, so I want to write about those. I'll write about dumb ideas too, mostly my own.

No comments: