6.3 The Invention of Telephone

The invention of the telephone is more clear-cut. It was invented by Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922), who took out a patent on it in March 1876. For the sake of simplicity, it is tempting to believe that he had a dream of improving the telegraph so that one could transmit the more complex waves created by the human voice, just as the various inventors of television shared the dream of improving radio by enabling one to send images as well as sounds through the air. However, unlike Baird, Farnsworth and Zworykin, Bell did not set out to invent the telephone. He had no vision of sending speech over wires. Since both his mother and his wife were deaf, he was strongly motivated to seek tools for the deaf. It was while searching for such a tool that he stumbled on the telephone. Two principles are illustrated here.

Emotion plays as much a role in the history of science and technology as reason. The motivation for discovery and invention is often very subjective though the procedures aspire to be objective. Emotion and reason are not, as conventionally assumed, in conflict - emotion is the engine and reason is the steering-wheel. Both are needed to get wherever you want to go. You need both idealistic ends (emotion) and realistic means (reason).

Where you arrive, however, is not always where you set out to go. Many discoveries and inventions are a result of serendipity - the fine art of finding something while looking for something else.62 This phenomena of serendipity is also illustrated by the discovery being triggered by a chance environmental event. Newton sees an apple fall and discovers the universal theory of gravitation. It's important to note, however, that serendipity strikes only the prepared mind. Many people saw apples fall before Newton. However, he could transmute this trivial local event into the significant universal principle of gravitation, because he had thought deeply about the mutual attraction of objects. He had shed the 99% perspiration to earn the 1% inspiration. He had drunk deeply of the spirit of the times.

Archimedes sees water overflow from his bath and discovers the theory of specific gravity. He runs naked through the streets shouting "Eureka", illustrated once again that reason and emotion are not incompatible.63 This sudden illumination has thus been called the Eureka Effect. Arthur Koestler prefers to call it the "aha phenomenon". and argues in his book, The Act of Creation, that the effect is not confined to science - it is the same as the "ah phenomenon" in art and the "haha phenomenon" in humor [KOESTLER].

62   Horace Walpole's Three Princes of Serendip were the original inspiration for this word. His three princes wandered around the world finding things they were not looking for.

63   Eureka is Greek for good God, that water's hot! Archimedes thus discovered the law of specific gravity and invented streaking on the same day.