This is a course blog for the members of EH236 at the University of South Alabama, Spring 2006.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Timing in Invention

In the “Invention” article from the Encyclopedia of Diderot and d’Alembert, Jaucourt set his focus, primarily, on time. Although he does give credit to the genius of each invention, he explains that many inventions could be attributed to information that was already available at the time of invention. Through each explanation of the inventions described, he expresses the knowledge that had previously been discovered, which led to the invention. The invention of spectacles is attributed to Alexander Spina. Much of the knowledge used in this invention actually came from the Venetians, who “already possessed the secret of making crystal mirrors” (Jaucourt). Genius was, of course, important to the invention, but it is plausible to believe that Spina would not have discovered the spectacles had he lived many years earlier. The importance of time is great in any invention because inventions rely on current, available knowledge, and build upon it. For example, the invention of the microwave could not have occurred without first discovering the frequencies in the air by which microwaves are designed to run. The inventor of the microwave likely would never have discovered these frequencies and then gone on to invent the microwave. In this example, timing was the more important factor over the genius of the individual inventor.
Not only does Jaucourt explain that many inventions may not have come to light without the knowledge of the time. He also expresses the idea that many inventions began in some other form. He stated, “Everything was discovered in rough form or in parts and has been gradually brought to greater perfection”. Once again, time is the primary factor that has led to many great inventions. By focusing on time in his article, Jaucourt captured the true meaning of invention. While it takes much intelligence to discover new things, the timing of that invention is crucial because it must rely on foundational information.


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