chapter  II
13 Pages

Two Great Discoveries. Fire and Language

RUSSIAN scientist, M. Boris Weinberg, has estimated M ** that, during the ancient prehistoric period which ends at the moment when writing appears, man made sixty discoveries.1 Here one may ask the question-are inventions the result of genius or of luck ? It seems to me that they can be the result of either. The intellect of a man more farseeing than his fellows can find something new by intuition and sometimes in his amusements, for amusement-which is a spontaneous activity of the mind-is fertile in curious discoveries. But centuries have often to pass before application is made of the new idea. How long did it take for the discovery that amber, when rubbed, has the power to attract light substances, to give birth to the marvels of electricity ? Chance again every now and then reveals some of nature’s secrets, but the discovery is put to use only by those whose attention has already been directed to i t ; chance is only the unexpected ally of the seeker. A commonplace circumstance strikes him and becomes the starting point for thought and creative activity. Newton sees an apple fall and conceives the idea of gravitation. Edison, feeling the crown of his tall hat vibrate while someone is talking to him, discovers the principle of the telephone.