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Accident v. Serendipity

In the beginning, we did not intend to write about Lincoln's speeches. But discoveries happened. Our discoveries were not an accident. They were serendipity.

In a biography of psychiatrist Dr. Nathan Kline, Meredith Platt discussed Dr. Kline's early discoveries, then pointed out:

"Was this just an accident? Kline had seized upon an incidental reaction to a drug being used for other purposes. He had noticed it calmed agitated patients. But his discovery was not an accident; it was serendipity. Morton Meyers explains the difference. In his book Happy Accidents he writes,

'Accident implies mindlessness. Christopher Columbus's discovery of the American continent was pure accident-- he was looking for something else (the Orient) and stumbled upon this, and never knew, not even on his dying day, that he had discovered a new continent…

'…A better word…is serendipity, a word that came into the English language in 1754 by way of the writer Horace Walpole [who told] an ancient Persian fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip (set in the land of Serendip, now known as Sri Lanka): "As their highnesses traveled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of. Accidents and sagacity. Sagacity--defined as penetrating intelligence, keen perception, and sound judgment--is essential to serendipity…In fact, their minds typically had special qualities that enabled them to break out of established paradigms, imagine new possibilities, and see that they had found a solution." '

"Physiologist Walter B. Cannon thought the ability to seize on serendipity was the mark of a major scientist.

"Nathan Kline had all the ingredients: a background and personality that prepared him to break out of established paradigms, penetrating intelligence, and the confidence to know he had found a solution."
Platt, Meredith, Storming the Gates of Bedlam (2012), 31-32.

Had we specifically set out to discover how Lincoln wrote his speeches, we likely would have missed it. We found it because events put us in a position to see.

Purchase Structure of Reason books.
David Hirsch,
Feb 2, 2015, 1:32 PM