One of the problems with good language and good ideas is that more than one person can come up with a good thought or idea – honestly, without plagiarizing the idea. Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace both were working, initially independently, on the idea of natural selection and evolution at the same time, and, in fact in July of 1858, both their papers on natural selection were jointly presented to the Linnean Society of London.
Dozens of men were trying to develop the first powered aircraft at the same time as the Wright brothers. And the first mechanical computer, as I’ve noted previously, wasn’t that of Thomas Babbage in 1837 [although the entire simplified analytical engine was never actually constructed in his lifetime], but the Antikythera device of the ancient Greeks, which has been dated to 100-150 B.C., and which was, and is, an ancient mechanical analog computer (as opposed to digital computer) designed to calculate astronomical positions.
Which brings us to parachutes and minds…
Until last week, I’d never heard of Sir James Dewar, perhaps because he was a noted British chemist of the last century and because chemistry was the only general science course I never took in either high school or college. Then, I ran across a quote attributed to Dewar:
“People’s minds are like parachutes. They only function when they are open.”
This took me a bit aback, because, having never read Dewar or even heard of him, some twenty years ago, in writing The Parafaith War, I had one of my characters note:
“Minds, like ancient parachutes, function better when open, but, like fists, they strike harder when closed.”
What I wrote was not quite the same as what Dewar said or wrote, but it was eerie to see a quote so similar when I had thought myself so original. Well, I was original, in the sense that I thought the idea up independently, even if I hadn’t been first, and so far as I know, I was the first to complete the idea in the way I did… and, in the time since I did, American politics have once again demonstrated the effective striking hardness of a closed mind.
Which all goes to show that there’s a certain risk in claiming originality.
By the way, for those as ignorant of Dewar as I was, he was born in 1842 in Scotland and died in 1923, and was a pioneer in the solidification of gases. He invented a special double-walled vacuum flask, now known as a Dewar flask, that facilitated his work in liquefying oxygen and hydrogen. He was also a co-inventor of cordite smokeless explosive powder, and was awarded the Copley Medal, Rumford Medal, Franklin Medal, Albert Medal, and the Lavoisier Medal. Reputedly, he was also a fascinating lecturer.