Sunday, July 9, 2017

Lineage and baloney

Every parent and teacher is aware of the special power of a child's question about the origin of babies and other people.  A kid who has a sibling on the way in Mommy's tummy can wonder how it got there.  Some people explain the presence of new borns by invoking the work of storks, although I personally doubt they have anything to do with the presence of babies, although if you ask Google's Search "Does the stork bring babies?", you get nearly a half million results.

Since the beginning of a baby is often conducted in strong privacy, it can be difficult to verify who did what when.  Sometimes, the parents are both delighted and interested in claiming credit for their part and their luck.  Sometimes, not.  Even with blood tests, and DNA and witnesses and such, it can be difficult to establish who are parents.  We saw at the Palace of Versailles, rooms built for twenty or so people to be an audience at the birth of a child to create verification of parentage and lineage and general acceptance of lineage claims.

Things get much vaguer with ideas and influences.  I often read that this man influenced that one, that some guy got an idea for some other guy.  If I claim to have gotten the idea of a stressed supply of names, the notion that so many inventions, discoveries and ideas are springing up, that our vocabulary, our inventory of nouns, is inadequate from the author Jacques Barzun in his book "Science: The Glorious Entertainment", you can rely on my claim.  At least that is the way I remember getting the idea.  If you suggested it to me during a poker game, you may have planted the notion without my remembering it.  If I claim to have learned about "plastic" meaning both flexible and rigid from reading Barzun, you yourself may believe me and have no memory of planting the idea in my mind.  

Dr., Christine Kenneally makes very clear in her book "The Invisible History of the Human Race" that harm, nastiness, murder and other uglies have arisen among humans when they have tried in the past to say who is the ancestor of whom. In many cases, people did not understand inheritance, child creation and related questions about who begat whom.  You could say that they still don't have a clear idea of how much of my current blood is attributable to my French ancestors and how much to the Scottish ones.  And if it is not the blood, is it my bones or what?  We have had people saying that I am one sixteenth Cherokee while others claim I am one thirty-second, not one sixteenth, while nobody is willing to say which 16th of me is the Native American part.

Because ideas, inventions, and theories are fundamental in our world and becoming more so in the knowledge economy, and because we often recognize a smartie who seems to be able to get many good ideas by her handiwork, we want to know who thought of that.  But, folks, it is tough!  Who thought of it, who first mentioned it, who patented it, who developed it is the subject of court trials about intellectual properties.  If you get an idea from a movie and I get the same idea, having been in the same theater at the same time and having the same background and interests as you, I hope I can beat you to publication.

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