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Accident v. Serendipity

“I do not seek applause, nor to amuse the people, I want to convince them.” —Abraham Lincoln

David Hirsch and Dan Van Haften AUTHOR'S VOICE® The Ultimate Guide to the Gettysburg Address

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 (David Hirsch's great uncle), Meredith Platt discussed Dr. Kline's early major discoveries, and 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.

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

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