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An Apple Pie From Scratch

“If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.” — Carl Sagan

Now there is a humbling thought. It does tend to put a damper on one’s ego quotient, doesn’t it? Invention and creation are far less original than they are typically represented as being. Alexander Graham Bell certainly understood this, “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.” Henry Ford got it too, “I invented nothing new. I simply combined the inventions of others into a car.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson explained how invention and creation actually work, “Only an inventor knows how to borrow, and every man is or should be an inventor.” The essence of the principle was captured by Auguste Rodin, “I invent nothing. I rediscover;” and what may rank as the first corollary was suggested by Jonathan Swift, “Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody else has thought.” The converse of Swift’s corollary was offered by the famous Anon., “Don’t expect anything original from an echo.”

The take home point is that inventions, creations, and discoveries aren’t themselves unique or original. They are merely the objects or outcomes. Creation is in thinking what nobody else has thought.

Robertson Davies said, “Although there may be nothing new under the sun, what is old is new to us and so rich and astonishing that we never tire of it. If we do tire of it, if we lose our curiosity, we have lost something of infinite value, because to a high degree it is curiosity that gives meaning and savor to life.” Curiosity ignites imagination; and imagination in turn fuels the fire of creation. What then is this fire, this imagination? Peter Nivio Zarlenga’s words hold the answer, “I am imagination. I can see what the eyes cannot see. I can hear what the ears cannot hear. I can feel what the heart cannot feel.” Dr. Seuss’ advice is a fitting, concluding message for all who create, from universes to apple pies. “Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!”

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