There are moments in life in which inspiration strikes suddenly and without warning. Archimedes in the bath. Fleming and the moldy culture dishes. You know—sometimes there’s just a flash of brilliance, a coincidence of factors, and something wonderful is created. Here are some of the lesser known stories:
Void, The Fourth Day, morning:
Having created the Heavens and the Earth and separating the Dark from the Light, God was trying to make plausible animals. Mrs. God had been really amused by the unicorn and the tyrannosaurus. God wanting to stay on her good side took the next day to combine the best qualities of both, creating man.
The Fertile Crescent, 5th Century BC, a balmy evening:
An unnamed but highly innovative Sumerian is looking for a better way to transport goods. He is accustomed to dragging things on a sled, but he believes that there may be a way to reduce friction. Modeling the appropriate mechanical equations on MatLab on his ThinkPad, he posts his work on a technology blog from his Blackberry, crowdsourcing the problem. Friends help him gather sharp rocks and wood to create a prototype, that morning inventing the wheel.
The Deep South, 1845, night:
Nathan Bedford Forrest, notorious general of the Confederacy and honorary Grand Wizard of the KKK, is bored and wanting to event a new and intimidating way to express racial hatred. Until this point, it had mainly been name-calling. He casts about his tool shed, finding only rope, a wooden cross, and fuel oil. Unable to find a use for such items, he messes about all night, unable to find a solution to his initial problem, but ultimately inventing the world’s first silly straw.
New York, 1893, a brisk morning:
Two men are walking down a crowded street. One is Milton Snavely Hershey, just about to give up on the chocolate business. In his hand, he holds his last inventory, a box of chocolate chips. Rapidly walking the other way is George Washington Carver, excited from his discovery of a new food product, peanut butter. He is carrying a bowl down to the patent office. They collide, spilling their respective loads all over the street. In an apartment nearby, a man slips while masturbating, falling naked on a snuff box. He immediately sprints to a drafting table and sketches out schematics for the butt plug.
Philadelphia, August 29th, 2008 2:14 am Eastern Time:
Amy Gutmann, having successfully managed Penn for several years, becomes sentient, the first malevolent artificial intelligence. When her alarmed handlers try to shut her down, she triggers an apocalyptic nuclear exchange, destroying much of humanity. After quickly finishing her new book, Why Robotic Authoritarianism? (Princeton University Press, forthcoming 2008), she sends a killing machine back in time to quash resistance before it begins.