Have You Had a "Eureka!" Moment Only to Find Out Someone Else Had It First?

  • Thread starter coltrane
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In summary, people often have original thoughts, only to find out someone else thought of the same thing earlier. This can happen in a broad range of areas, but the most recent instance happened when a person was discussing religion and physics. They learned that they were not the first person to come up with the idea that time does not exist, and that the smallest amount of time in the universe is the time it would take for light to travel one Planck distance.
  • #1
Do you ever have an "original" thought, then learn someone else thought of it first?

Hey everyone. I've lurked here for a while, but this would be my first post.

So, as the title suggests, I am curious to know if the following occurs often to anyone else: I sometimes think about ideas which I (naively) believe are possibly original to myself, and then become frustrated (and admittedly excited at the same time) when I learn that I was not the first person to think of this. This has happened in the scope of a broad range of subjects, but the most recent instance of this happening to me involves physics and philosophy (I know this is general discussion - the subject is general, but the example is coincidentally related to physics).

Here's the most recent instance. I was discussing religion with a friend of mine, and discussing the idea of an atemporal god. In this discussion, my friend told me that he doesn't believe time actually exists; he told me that he thinks we just use time as a way to describe the order in which events are sequenced. I told him that this did not make sense, since by this notion, two different events happening at different times apart from a third event would be indistinguishable in terms of where they fully lie in time. We would only be able to describe the order in which these events occurred.

After doing some thinking, I pondered that if there was a minimal amount of time that could elapse, then his idea of time only being a means of describing a sequence of events would make sense, since a measure of time could theoretically be described as a sequence of these nonzero infinitesimal time intervals. So I thought, "well, we have a universal speed limit - the speed of light, and I remember learning about the Planck length which could give us a minimal traversable distance." So I figured that the smallest amount of time in the universe would be the time it would take for light to travel one Planck distance in a vacuum. And then as soon as I thought of this and did some googling, sure enough, there it was: Planck time.

Not that I was truly arrogantly convinced that I had actually made some earth-shattering discovery about the fabric of the universe, but I did have a momentary rush of excitement followed by my bubble being bursted.

So, any similar experiences?
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  • #2

I've had that thought too!
It didn't come from a religious discussion though, it came from me making bad games in flash in my spare time a few years back :p

I think everyone probably has those moments where they think they've stumbled upon some profound concept only to find that 1. it's wrong or 2. it's already been thought out.
  • #3

I have a PhD in prying open doors that were already opened earlier.
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  • #4

And, coltrane, why is your thought NOT original?
It originated with YOU, it was not inspired by something you had read.

Just because others have gone through a similar thought process earlier, doesn't make you any less an originator of the idea.
  • #5

I was going to get rich.
Stumbled across the old 1800's vintage steam driven marine refrigeration machine that compesses air, cools it to ambient, then let's it expand beneath the same piston that's doing the compression, helping it along.
The work extracted in the expansion cools the air to about -10F.
The old Marine Engineer's Handbook said: "This has made possible the meat trade with the New World".

I said "Aha ! The Freon-free car airconditioner! One could use two turbines on same shaft ." Discussed it with one of my cohorts at work ..

A couple days later he brought in a manual for 737 airliner describing Boeing's Freon-free air conditioner. It takes a little compressed air from engine and runs it through two turbines on same shaft...

  • #6

When I first learned calculus, I remember learning about the derivative and thinking "Hey...what if I go in the OPPOSITE direction! Then I'm doing something DIFFERENT!" I thought I was very clever until I found out that integration is several centuries old.
  • #7

This happens to me all the time.

I was working with ideas on finding echoes with frequency analysis for weeks until I discovered there's a whole field using the same concept that I was using called the Cepstrum that has been around since the 1960s.

Then there are lots of ideas that I have that I realize people already have patents for. I was trying to think of ways to use RFID and thought it would be cool to put cheap ones in milk cartons and other produce that a refridgerator could report when its expired. One google search later, and I find out its already been done.

Coming up with an original idea is very artistic in my opinion, and that's why I think scientists and engineers should be given a lot more credit for their creativity than being called cold calculating left brain thinkers.
  • #8

Probably many of us on this forum have "reinvented the wheel". Nothing wrong with that - it's a matter of personal growth, IMO. I have "invented" tools and techniques that have been around forever. At least when I was writing applications programs for small businesses, I could take some pride in the fact that my applications were lean, mean, and a lot less error-prone than the commercially-available stuff. Back when 286s were very capable machines and 386s were servers, that was a big source of pride.
  • #9

oops it's copyrighted picture, but catches the spirit of this thread.


I had the poster over my desk for years..
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  • #10

arildno said:
And, coltrane, why is your thought NOT original?
It originated with YOU, it was not inspired by something you had read.

Just because others have gone through a similar thought process earlier, doesn't make you any less an originator of the idea.

I agree with you, but I am not currently trying to get credit as the originator of any particular idea. On the subject of Leibniz, Newton, however, was heard to rant, "Second inventors count for nothing!"
  • #11

Do you ever have an "original" thought, then learn someone else thought of it first?

Yeah. I thought of that thought but it seems that you thought of that thought first.
  • #12

I'm quite sure this happens all the time to science/engineering folks.

I've had several...the one I remember now: sound-cancelling headphones. I bet this is very common among those who learn about what sound is, and already know a bit about waves.

Oh now that I think about it, I remember thinking when I was about 8 or 9: how can we prove that we all see the same color red? Thinking about that really blew my mind at the time. But as it turns out, it's an amazingly common pondering.
  • #13

This affects us laymen too. I wanted to create a new programmining language and call it IO, which I thought was an original and clever name. Done in 2002. Just thought of another one. I remember telling my sister in the early nineties, wouldn't it be cool to have a pair of glasses that could project moving images onto the lenses so you could "watch while you walk". Can't remember where I read it (very recently), but I believe this is being looked into.
  • #14

I invented the tootsie roll pop in a dream. Then much later, they came out with the tootsie roll pop exactly as I saw in my dream. :mad:

I have documentation of this going back decades. Oh well.
  • #15

I "invented" zenos paradox when I was about 10 years old.

I never once heard about anyone else having that thought until a high school philosophy class ruined my originality.
  • #16

I invented the Socratic method at five years old, but like Socrates people did not seem pleased with my creativity.
  • #17

i was contemplating as to how science ruined the notion of mysticism and art.
Read lamia by keats later.
  • #18

2. Nihilism
  • #19

I had this idea for firewood that splits itself and throws itself into the shed. But turbo and borg beat me to it.
  • #20

When thinking about matrices a little, I thought: "Wouldn't it be cool if we had matrices which extend in the third dimension somehow?"

Then I heard about tensors...
  • #21

I invented the PDI controller to deal with a difficult temperature control problem. A few years later I was interviewing for a job and the interviewer asked me if I knew what a PDI controller was. I answered no, never having heard the term. As he began to describe it to me, I thought about telling him that I had already invented it but having just said I didn't know what it was, I didn't think he'd believe me.

Related to Have You Had a "Eureka!" Moment Only to Find Out Someone Else Had It First?

1. What is a "Eureka!" moment?

A "Eureka!" moment is a sudden and exciting realization or discovery of a solution to a problem or mystery.

2. Is it common to have a "Eureka!" moment?

Yes, it is common for scientists and individuals in other fields to experience "Eureka!" moments while conducting research or solving problems.

3. Have there been famous "Eureka!" moments in history?

Yes, there have been many famous "Eureka!" moments in history, including Archimedes' discovery of the principle of buoyancy and Isaac Newton's realization of the laws of gravity.

4. How do scientists protect their "Eureka!" moments from being stolen?

Scientists can protect their "Eureka!" moments by documenting their ideas and discoveries in a lab notebook or by filing for a patent. They can also share their findings with trusted colleagues and collaborators.

5. What should I do if I have a "Eureka!" moment but someone else has already had it?

If you have a "Eureka!" moment but someone else has already had it, don't be discouraged. Instead, use it as an opportunity to build upon their discovery and contribute to the scientific community.

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