The Value of Coincidence in Society

             “Luck is a crossroad where preparation and opportunity meet.”

–          Oprah Winfrey

            Technology and scientific progress have been greatly affected by this concept of luck.  The only issue is that it is not really luck.  Serendipity, the concept of inadvertently stumbling upon an unintended discovery, better describes this process at work.  Most scientists and inventors believe that this force exists, but they do not know how to deal with discoveries that occur through serendipity.  Should the scientists get the credit, or should the discovery be discounted because it can’t be reproduced reliably.

            Serendipity, an advanced form of luck, is a slippery topic that many don’t truly understand.  The quote by Oprah Winfrey better delineates what serendipity is and how it can be achieved.  Serendipity does not occur to a random person that is just walking around; it occurs to a person that is prepared and willing to dive deeper into the subject and actually makes something of their mistake.  Everybody knows the story about how Isaac Newton was sitting under an apple tree when an apple fell on his head and he began his research on gravity.  Naturally, an apple fell on somebody’s head long before Isaac Newton was around, but they did not discover gravity.  Serendipity occurred to Newton because he had the mind to question why the apple fell, and the perseverance to experiment and actually make a discovery.  This is why serendipity is completely different from luck, and why I believe that serendipitous discoveries should still be credited to the scientist that makes them.

            Still, the field of western science prides itself on the fact that the experiments and results are reproducible.  This leads to many believing that if the discovery is simply stumbled upon, and the reason for the result is unknown, the findings should be discredited.  Other people believe that credit is deserved by the scientist, but the finding itself should not be viewed as reliable since it can’t necessarily be reproduced.  In the event that a serendipitous discovery is reproducible by other scientists, almost all scientists will give credit to the original discoverer of the findings.  I am similar to many of the scientists in that the scientist should still be rewarded for his discovery.

            I differ from most scientists, however, in that I would still use the findings of the serendipitous discovery. Obviously, I believe that the findings should seriously be analyzed to determine what actually occurred and why, but if the findings are beneficial, I think that we should still use the findings.  There are times where the stringency of health regulations prevents beneficial treatments from being used.  For instance, aspirin does not pass FDA standards; the only reason that it is still used is that it was grandfathered into the system.  For reasons similar to this, I think that we should still use the findings in beneficial situations.

            There are many instances when a beneficial discovery occurred serendipitously.  Going back to prehistoric times, the taming of fire is a very good example of technological advancement that happened serendipitously.  In fact, because prehistoric science relied heavily on the observation of nature and stumbling upon discoveries, the basis of our technology is entirely based off of serendipitous discovery.  More recently, Albert Hoffman accredited his discovery of LSD as a serendipitous discovery.  There are a multitude of other examples of seemingly lucky discoveries, and many of these discoveries progressed (and occasionally regressed) society.  This is why I believe serendipity is a beneficial force, and while it may not be entirely the intellect of the scientist or inventor, the scientist is still an integral part of the discovery in his being willing to follow through and actually make the discovery.

            I don’t see how a field so based off of serendipity and coincidental findings can be so skeptical of what it is based off of.  Science and invention has flourished in the past off of these types of findings, and I do not see why we now question the discoveries and if they are worthy of being recognized.  Serendipity is simply another quality in the inventor’s arsenal that helps him find new beneficial developments that progress technology, so why should we question serendipity more than ingenuity.  Reward the perseverance of a man willing to follow the wrong path and make something good of it.

– Kurt Russell

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One response to this post.

  1. Your quote by Oprah is a great connection to serendipity. Serendipity does have a lot to do with luck, but the opportunity could pass if the person was not prepared to take advantage of it. This makes me wonder how many times people in history have missed out on serendipitous discoveries. We could come across things in our everyday lives but not be trained enough to recognize their significance. Your examples show how serendipity has benefited society so far, and I agree with you that scientists should recognize the importance of serendipity in their field. Scientific discoveries would not be at the advance level they are today if serendipity had not led scientists to so many findings.

    Reply

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