Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz are famous for independently discovering calculus. But their co-incidence isn’t a case in isolation.
Newton and Leibniz both discovered calculus. Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel-Wallace both discovered evolution. Three mathematicians invented decimal fractions. Oxygen was discovered by Joseph Priestly and Carl Wilhelm Schlee. Colour photography? Invented by two French men in the same year. Alexander Graham Bell filed a patent for the telephone on February 14, 1876. On the very same day, another inventor, Elisha Gray, filed an identical patent.
Back in 1922, William Ogburd and Dorothy Thomas compiled a list of major scientific discoveries that had happened simultaneously across the world. They documented 148 such discoveries.
Inventions and discoveries are often ‘floating in the air’, waiting to happen. How else could all of those things have happened for the very first time in so many different places?
Innovation isn’t the work of a heroic individual sitting in a laboratory, as we are led to imagine. Like a treasure hunt, the world has already laid out the clues for the next big invention. An innovator’s job is to put out her antenna and follow their trail.
If Newton and Leibniz didn’t discover calculus, somebody else would have.
Suggested Reading: In the Air