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Friday, May 1, 2015

The Light bulb

The invention of the light bulb is a perfect example of how the evolution of a technology is obscured by secular myth-making. 
Many tinkerers and scientists contributed to the invention of the lightbulb.  They were in various corners of the developed world and were in communication with one another to varying degrees (depending on their collaborative or competitive dispositions).   Edison didn't come up with the idea of artificial light contained in a glass bulb, nor did he personally perfect it.  We ascribe the title "inventor" to him due more to his PR prowess and his economic ability to buy up patents and buy out competitors (or hire them on his staff).  Edison was a synthesizer.  That's a skill which develops in certain individuals due to circumstances, not innate gene-based 'intelligence'.

The myth of Edison is one that fits in with the secular myths of the West: it is compact, capitalistic and individual. And it is wrong.  It obscures how this technology evolved.  This narrative dismisses the possibility the light bulb would have developed even if Edison had played no part.  It places the uniqueness of one individual above the development process.  It turns just as many people away from science by emphasizing genius as it might entice a few to pursue it.  

Let's start rethinking our stories.

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