Friday, August 01, 2008

A Pensive Thinker - Part one

"What do you think could be the difference between an invention and a discovery?", I asked, trying not to spill the glass of water that I held precariously, trying to balance myself on one foot, for no seemingly good reason whatsoever. "None, I think..." came the reply, quite instantaneously from one of my room-mates. Four of us stood in a conglomerate within precincts of our tiny kitchen, trying our hand at a cup of tea - one at making, two of us at drinking it and one other abstaining from it. An uneasy silence of fifteen seconds was broken by me again - "Okay, Let's start with the definition of both." That got the person making the tea into the act, and said he : "invention is creating something new, innovative, something that is non-existent at present. Discovery is finding out something that is already there. Like the discovery of America..". "Precisely!", answered the third, probing with his fingers, for the existence of a imaginary pocket that would never be found in his track-shorts. "Anything that is created new is an invention. Electric bulb is an invention!" said another with finality, flinging a tennis ball careless amongst the pile of dishes that was strewn around.

I decided to take it one step further - "Okay. Now that we have the definitions in place and agreed upon. Can one us try and corner how an invention takes place. For instance, electric bulb was being worked upon for ages and every input required for the creation was already known to the inventor..". "Not really!", he snapped his fingers still groping for the pockets - "Agreed that he had the data/analysis required for the right configuration, but it was by a stroke that the right permutation of these inputs clicked." A mild smile played on the others lips. "Okay, now you have to identify or at least provide me with a quantifiable example of the spark, that you had mentioned", I said. "There's a very thin line of difference!!" he managed to spur it on having been able to recover the tennis ball from the mess. "Perhaps he learn't the correct permutation for the invention" volunteered the one with the probe on. "But, isn't learning and documenting discovering a fact that you haven't known so far?", said me again.

The next ten minutes was one of the rarest happenings in our house - all were in deep contemplation between cups of steaming tea. "It is impossible to identify that" said one placing his tea cup down with determination to put an end to this conversation. "You know what? Let's just call this as a lucky chance or an educated guess that we call as an invention." said another trying to put through the same determination in a gentlemanly fashion.

post-mort: If we all had agreed that the inventor had all the inputs for the invention, then is it not closer to discovery, because the invention comes about by chance? If yes, doesn't it mean that there is nothing to be invented in this world? If yes, don't we all know everything in the world and that we are just trying to remember things that we already know everything about? What a miracle!!


Anonymous said...

what are you trying to tell finally?

ViNayagar said...

Hi, I'm surprised I'm in conflict, at least with the post-mortem.

In one way, the invention almost always comes by applying mere aptitude. An inventor could never have had "all" the inputs before the invention. That applies for discovery also.

Invention is about creating some thing that doesnt exist based on things / concepts / facts we discovered (remember every thing in the world is discovered of course except the world itself).

Discovery is about just knowing / using. It doesn't involve creating. So, to me, invention stays far from discovery almost always.. :-)

Mighty Titan said...


Ah! You have defly made me glad.. the thought process has definitely been sown in your mind! :). Though most of your thoughts are rock solid, there is a minor inference that can be drawn from your statements - If we invent based on inputs (discoveries), doesn't the invention become a discovery. Let me put it this way - an invention is a collection of discovery?

ViNayagar said...

Hmm... I guess I still have a conflict.. I wud be happy to agree that invention is a product of one or more discoveries.

Putting it this way, an invention still can't become a discovery. At the most, they may become closely related. ;)