In the evolution of science and technology, laws governing exceptional creativity and innovation have yet to be discovered. The historian Thomas Kuhn, in his influential study The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, noted that the final stage in a scientific breakthrough such as Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity—that is, the most crucial stage—was “inscrutable.” The same is still true half a century later.
Yet, there has been considerable progress in understanding many of the stages and facets of exceptional creativity and innovation. In Exceptional Creativity in Science and Technology editor Andrew Robinson gathers together a diverse group of contributors to explore this progress. This new collection arises from a symposium with the same title held at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS), in Princeton. Organized by the John Templeton Foundation, the symposium had as its chair the late distinguished doctor and geneticist Baruch S. Blumberg, while its IAS host was the well-known physicist Freeman J. Dyson—both of whom have contributed chapters to the book. In addition to scientists, engineers, and an inventor, the book’s fifteen contributors include an economist, entrepreneurs, historians, and sociologists, all working at leading institutions, including Bell Laboratories, Microsoft Research, Oxford University, Princeton University, and Stanford University. Each contributor brings a unique perspective to the relationships between exceptional scientific creativity and innovation by individuals and institutions.
The diverse list of disciplines covered, the high-profile contributors (including two Nobel laureates), and their fascinating insights into this overarching question—how exactly do we make breakthroughs?—will make this collection of interest to anyone involved with the creative process in any context, but it will be especially appealing to readers in scientific and technological fields.
Table of Contents
Introduction / Andrew Robinson / 3
Chapter 1: The Rise and Decline of Hegemonic Systems of Scientific Creativity J. Rogers Hollingsworth and David M. Gear / 25
Chapter 2: Exceptional Creativity in Physics: Two Case Studies—Niels Bohr’s Copenhagen Institute and Enrico Fermi’s Rome Institute Gino Segrè / 53
Chapter 3: Physics at Bell Labs, 1949–1984: Young Turks and Younger Turks Philip W. Anderson / 71
Chapter 4: The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge: The Physical Realization of an Electronic
Computing Instrument at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, 1930–1958 George Dyson / 83
Chapter 5: Education and Exceptional Creativity: The Decoding of DNA and the Decipherment of Linear B Andrew Robinson / 99
Chapter 6: The Sources of Modern Engineering Innovation David P. Billington and David P. Billington Jr. / 123
Chapter 7: Technically Creative Environments Susan Hackwood / 145
Chapter 8: Entrepreneurial Creativity Timothy F. Bresnahan / 163
Chapter 9: Scientific Breakthroughs and Breakthrough Products: Creative Activity as Technology Turns into Applications Tony Hey and Jonathan Hey / 191
Chapter 10: A Billion Fresh Pairs of Eyes: The Creation of Self-Adjustable Eyeglasses Joshua Silver / 211
Chapter 11: New Ideas from High Platforms: Multigenerational Creativity at NASA Baruch S. Blumberg / 227
Afterword: From Michael Faraday to Steve Jobs Freeman Dyson / 241
Contributors / 251
Index / 255
“Following a series of outstanding books on various aspects of the history of science, Andrew Robinson has now edited a fascinating work which explores the origins of some of the greatest scientific institutions in the world and their innovations which have changed all our lives and had a remarkable effect in boosting the economies of the countries in which they were developed. While this fascinating story of the complex evolution of great science and its institutions will be of particular interest to the scientific community, given their great importance to all of us for the future it should attract a much broader audience in particular representing education, commerce, and politics. I wish it all the success that it deserves.”
This book is a collection of articles based on a 2008 symposium at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study. Despite serious and systematic investigation, much of the creative process remains inscrutable. Although it is complex, elusive, and resists measurement, analysis, and prediction, it is nonetheless a phenomenon of far-reaching importance, as is evidenced by the contents of this book.
While the book’s publicity promises it is a followup to Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions that aims to discover the “laws” of innovation, contributors are more realistic; they report their innovations were not a question of laws but support, education, persistence, luck, open-mindedness, and diverse combinations of skilled people who were together at times and places where resources and interest were available. Of interest to historians of science and to readers interested in real-life science, technology, scientists, or innovation.