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Did We Remember the Past and Those That Provided the Foundations on which WE Innovate

It seems so ...

By Dr. Randy KaplanPublished 2 months ago 4 min read
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Did we remember the past and those that provided the foundations upon which we create innovation?

One of the things that is a constant bother to me is that now people write about things without any attribution whatsoever. If you need to know what attribution is (for what it's worth), look it up (you might learn something). I have to determine if it is possible to copyright something retroactively so that it is possible to claim copyright infringement when someone writes something as their idea when it has been written about previously. If for no other reason, it is a way to officially notify someone who may be plagiarizing.

There is a phrase, "standing on the shoulders of giants," which means, according to Wikipedia, is a metaphor for "using the understanding gained by major thinkers who have gone before to make intellectual progress." This saying is attributed to the 12th-century philosopher Bernard of Chartres. Bernard of Chartres used to say that "we [the Moderns] are like dwarves perched on the shoulders of giants [the Ancients], and thus we can see more and farther than the latter(those whose shoulder we stand on).

This improvement of vision is not at all because of the acuteness of our sight or the stature of our body, but because we are carried aloft and elevated by the magnitude of the giants." (John of Salisbury, Metalogicon, Book III, Chapter 4. Cfr. Troyan, Scott D., Medieval Rhetoric: A Casebook, London, Routledge, 2004, p. 10.)

Although it may seem zealous and pedantic of me to expend so many words on this phrase, the fact that it appears that we are no longer concerned about those who came before strikes me as the epitome of hubris to forget about who has come before.

Usually, I would not be sensitive to or even notice had I not encountered a personal example of someone writing about something I had written years ago. I taught many students in multiple classes about this idea. The idea I taught was about a concept. The concept was a formulation of the idea that data, information, knowledge, and wisdom constituted a continuum. The information can be derived from data, and by continuing to information, we can produce knowledge. At the end of this continuum, if relevant, helpful, and appropriate, we have wisdom, all based on original data, information, and knowledge.

The continuum can be conveniently represented as a formula expressed as a composition of functions where each function represents some transformation of its argument.

For example, i(d) represents transforming data into information. To define this function(if such a function could exist), the specifics of the function would have to be defined. The complete functional representation of the continuum would be:

Wisdom = w(k(i(d)))


Wisdom is the variable representing the

Wisdom that is created from the function


Wisdom's argument is knowledge represented

by k(x). k is the function that transforms information

into knowledge.

Knowledge's argument is i(x), where i is the function

that creates information from data represented by


Finally, d is the data used to create the information

by way of the function i.

w(k(i(d))) read as wisdom is a mapping of knowledge, which in turn is a mapping of information, which is a mapping of data. The term mapping is a more general term than a strict functional notation where we say that information is a function of data. A functional interpretation implies a calculation that would lead from some data to information. We know that the transformation is more complex than a function. In fact, the transformation may be complex; how do we account for creativity in the creation of wisdom?

I am not suggesting that the authors who offered the same continuum as I specified somehow intentionally plagiarized this idea. Instead, they may have heard the same idea from someone else and decided it was okay to state without attribution, forgetting where they listened to the original idea. Nevertheless, this "forgetfulness" does not forgive the author's use of the idea without thinking it might not be original.

Today, the tendency to think an idea is original instead of thinking it might not be is more the rule these days than the exception. I remember one of my students stating that Bill Gates invented the Internet (which he did not) with such conviction that I doubt no evidence to the contrary would have convinced the student otherwise. There is another phrase that I've heard about Bill Gates, and that expression is "Bill Gates never invented anything."

The point of this essay is that we have forgotten those who came before us and established the foundations for us to build upon. We must remember that Bill Gates did not invent the Internet (or the concept of Windows), nor did Elon Musk invent electric vehicles or space travel. Look at the design of an Elon Musk rocket ship. His rockets look No different than the rockets developed in the 1960s. Has Mr. Musk invented a new kind of propulsion system? Perhaps he is keeping this a secret, but has he invented Anti-gravity and is just not telling us yet? No, his rockets still use solid rocket fuel (or some such traditional fuel).

Here's a saying to remember, "If we keep reinventing the wheel, all we will get are wheels." (I will check to see if someone else said this before me.)

Here's what a Google search returned when I asked it to find such a statement about reinventing the wheel. No results were found for "if we keep reinventing the wheel, all we will get are wheels."


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About the Creator

Dr. Randy Kaplan

Welcome to my Vocal page and storicles that are published here. I write about tech, the human condition, and anything else that interests me.

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