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Useful And Fantastic: People They Laughed At - 13

Val Yule recommends that we should try to make a habit of thinking up solutions to problems, rather than having a good whinge.

Personality And Invention

Poor old Hamlet complained when there was ‘something rotten in the state of Denmark.

‘The times are out of joint, o cursed spite
That ever I was born to set it right.’

The times are still out of joint, and people are still being born to set them right.

It is good insurance for a society to have many different types of people who can rise to different occasions. Inventors can be many types of people - rebels, idealists, recluses, team-workers.

The gambling instinct may exist because it has been so useful in enabling humans to survive. Those intrepid humanoids who first ventured out of the forest on to the savanna tried new foods, worked out how to use fire, discovered how to tan furs to make clothes.

Gambling for money is a waste of a perfectly good instinct that could be used as originally intended, to take risks for the sake of human progress and survival. It is a great gamble to take risks when other people laugh at you for doing so.

Some people have personalities that rush from bursts of manic ideas into swamps of despair and then crawl out and up again. The manic ideas may be mostly useless and never get anywhere, but other people may have similar personalities and achieve much during their highs, and gather resources during their lows. Sometimes in their creative onrushes they produce ideas which work.

Some are obsessive, driving their families to distraction and ruin while pursuing an idea which leads them up a blind alley. But an atmosphere of invention encourages other inventors. Seemingly mad patents can have a use when they become part of a larger burst of creative activity.

Cartoonists famous for creating weird inventions for people to laugh at included Heath Robinson, who drew amazing contraptions, such as a factory with an assembly line to make eggs strong enough not to break if dropped, and a bedroom-full of the apparatus of a complicated gadget to wake you up and get you out of bed in the morning. Emmett, Hoffnung and Petty also produced cartoons showing humorous and astonishing ways of solving problems.

“If I have a thousand ideas a year and only one of them turns out to be good, I’m satisfied,’ said Alfred Nobel, who not only inventeddynamite, but also investigated synthetic rubber, blood transfusions, improvements to the telephone and aerial photography. He had a gadget to give him light when he went out in his carriage, so that he could make notes whenever he got an idea.

Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison - a long list of polymaths, doers of anything - like Lewis Carroll’s Duchess who could believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

Practice trying to think up new ideas. Far better to think up solutions rather than to sit back and whinge.

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