Thursday 29 February 2024


"One does not get a jet engine by improving the propeller. One does not breed horses until they give birth to a car. Telephones did not come from research on mail. Where on earth did the inspiration for the transistor and these other 'leaps' of innovation come from to begin with?"
~ Robert Rinehart, from his otherwise un-recommendable article 'Paradigm Shifts'


Tom Hunter said...

I haven't read the article but even from this brief quote it seems to push the common wisdom view that brilliant inventions by brilliant people just happen then take off.

Were that true then the USSR, which had no shortage of brilliant scientists and engineers, would have been an economic power house.

And it's more even than just "capitalism". It's the entire eco-system of that plus the freedom to innovate, which is what I write about here with How The Sun Rose On The Silicon Valley, which title I've shamelessly stolen from the 1983 article of the same name by Tom Wolfe.

That last is a long one so you may prefer my synopsis of Wolfe making the connections between the "square" community of Grinnel, Iowa in the 1940's-50's and Silicon Valley decades later:

At Noyce’s company there was no sense of bosses and employees, no social hierarchy, no limousines and chauffeurs, no reserved parking, no office suites. The social order of his youth in Grinnell was what applied, and it applied even as the company expanded

Followed by this quote from Wolfe's essay:

Everywhere the Fairchild émigrés went, they took the Noyce approach with them. It wasn’t enough to start up a company; you had to start up a community, a community in which there were no social distinctions, and it was first come, first served, in the parking lot, and everyone was supposed to internalize the common goals. The atmosphere of the new companies was so democratic, it startled businessmen from the East.

One of the parts' that I laughed out loud at was that when Noyce graduated from Grinnell College and landed at MIT he found it was the latter that was a backwater in transistor research compared to the former - all due to one Physics Professor.

MarkT said...

The point he makes about innovation having a spiritual component is no doubt correct. But unless I missed it, he doesn't do a great job of explaining what spiritual component is and why it's necessary.

It's an interesting perspective though and far from "common wisdom". Tom's wild guess about what the article was going to be about is way off the mark. Anyone who visits this site regularly should know it's far from a repository of common wisdom, and that's a good thing. You do a great job PC.

Tom Hunter said...

Tom's wild guess about what the article was going to be about is way off the mark.

Cough! Well having actually now read the thing I see that it wasn't directly pushing the line I thought it was - "brilliant inventions by brilliant people just happen then take off - but in talking about the spiritual drivers of all these people he certainly is implying it.

In every case bar perhaps the writing of scientific papers, such as Einstein's amazing burst of four Nobel-worthy efforts in one year, it's taken a lot more than spiritual drivers to get something into the hands of the rest of humanity.

The funny thing is that Wolfe's article points to similar foundations for the likes of Noyce and company, though he doesn't press the religious aspects, let alone spiritual, so much as the cultural ones that arose from the infusion of Dissenting Protestantism into 19th-20th century USA.