Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds. I may be given credit for having blazed the trail, but when I look at the subsequent developments I feel the credit is due to others rather than to myself.
The coming of the printing press must have seemed as if it would turn the world upside down in the way it spread and, above all, democratized knowledge. Provide you could pay and read, what was on the shelves in the new bookshops was yours for the taking. The speed with which printing presses and their operators fanned out across Europe is extraordinary. From the single Mainz press of 1457, it took only twenty-three years to establish presses in 110 towns: 50 in Italy, 30 in Germany, 9 in France, 8 in Spain, 8 in Holland, 4 in England, and so on.
Man is a shrewd inventor, and is ever taking the hint of a new machine from his own structure, adapting some secret of his own anatomy in iron, wood, and leather, to some required function in the work of the world.
An inventor is simply a person who doesn't take his education too seriously. You see, from the time a person is six years old until he graduates form college he has to take three or four examinations a year. If he flunks once, he is out. But an inventor is almost always failing. He tries and fails maybe a thousand times. It he succeeds once then he's in. These two things are diametrically opposite. We often say that the biggest job we have is to teach a newly hired employee how to fail intelligently. We have to train him to experiment over and over and to keep on trying and failing until he learns what will work.
I don't mind occasionally having to reinvent a wheel; I don't even mind using someone's reinvented wheel occasionally. But it helps a lot if it is symmetric, contains no fewer than ten sides, and has the axle centered. I do tire of trapezoidal wheels with offset axles.
In my own time there have been inventions of this sort, transparent windows tubes for diffusing warmth equally through all parts of a building short-hand, which has been carried to such a perfection that a writer can keep pace with the most rapid speaker. But the inventing of such things is drudgery for the lowest slaves; philosophy lies deeper. It is not her office to teach men how to use their hands. The object of her lessons is to form the soul.