Translation:On Discoveries and Inventions

On Discoveries and Inventions  (1873) 
by Bolesław Prus, translated from Polish by Wikisource




on 23 March 1873


Price 5 kopeks (10 groszy).




Warsaw, 21 April 1873

Printed by F. Krokoszyńska, 40 Krakowskie Przedmieście.


In this talk, we shall consider discoveries and inventions.

In order to make the lecture easier to follow, I shall divide it into three short parts: in the first one, I shall describe the nature of discoveries and inventions and their importance to people; in the second one, I shall describe more or less how inventions and discoveries come about; lastly, in the third part, I shall consider what we need to do in order to take part in the general scientific and industrial movement of the civilized peoples.

Let us begin by defining "discovery" and "invention".

Discovery is the finding out of a thing that has existed and exists in nature, but which was previously unknown to people. Example: Until 400 years ago, people thought that the Earth comprised just three parts: Europe, Asia, and Africa; it was only in 1492 that the Genoese, Christopher Columbus, sailed out from Europe into the Atlantic Ocean and, proceeding ever westward, after a voyage of several dozen days, reached a part of the world that Europeans had never known. In that new land, he found copper-colored people who went about naked, and he found plants and animals different from those in Europe; in short, he had discovered a new part of the world that others would later name “America.” We say that Columbus had discovered America because America had already long existed on Earth.

Invention is the making of a thing that has not previously existed, and which nature itself cannot make. Example: As late as 500 years ago, gunpowder was unknown in Europe, and it was only about 1379 that Berthold Schwarz, a Freiburg monk, on mixing saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal, found that these three materials could be made into an explosive substance. Since gunpowder does not form, of itself, in nature and must be made by man, we say that Schwarz invented gunpowder. Similarly, 50 years ago locomotives were unknown, and no one knew how to build one; it was only in 1828 that the English engineer Stephenson built the first locomotive and set it in motion. So we say that Stephenson invented the locomotive because this machine had not previously existed because it could not of itself have come into being in nature and could only have been made by man.

Let us bear in mind, then, that if an astronomer, using a choice telescope, makes out in the sky a tiny light that has hitherto been unknown, we shall say that this person has made a discovery.

Likewise, a mariner shall make a discovery if, while sailing a sea, he sights an island unknown to any.

Likewise, we shall say that a naturalist has made a discovery if he has found a hitherto unknown plant, animal, or stone.

But if someone builds a harvester, a clock, a sewing machine – if he obtains paints from coal, if he makes a steel different from that which exists today – then this person makes an invention, that is, makes a thing previously unknown, which nature itself could not make and maintain.

History, the study of what has happened among people in the past, teaches us that discoveries and inventions have not sprung into existence full-blown, but have appeared gradually. Forty years ago, electric telegraphy was unknown; 50 years ago, there were no locomotives; 70 years ago, steamships did not exist; 100 years ago, people [in Europe –Translator] did not eat potatoes; 110 years ago, they did not use spinning machines; 200 years ago, there were no spring-driven clocks; 400 years ago, America was unknown; 450 years ago, printed books did not exist; 600 years ago, candle-making was unknown; 1,200 years ago, the spinning of thread was unknown; still earlier, there was no knowledge of glass, iron, bricks, and so on. The people who lived several thousand years ago in Europe did not know how to build houses but lived in caves, and they did not know how to cultivate fibrous plants or cereals and therefore ate almost exclusively meat and dressed in animal hides. Their weapons were of stone; their saws were notched bones. Today we can hardly conceive of their poverty and of the difficulties with which they had to contend at every step: it is no exaggeration to say that each of us could saw through a steel bar more easily than they could saw through a piece of wood; that the most wretched man today is better off and happier than princes and chiefs were back then.

If we reverse direction from those remote times and move toward our present age, we shall find that with each century the number of discoveries and inventions grew, the people’s lives improved, and their knowledge broadened. This gradual advance of civilized societies, this constant growth in knowledge of the objects that exist in nature, this constant increase in the number of tools and useful materials, is termed progress, or the evolution of civilization.

We may now proceed to considering the benefits that humankind derives from discoveries and inventions. These benefits are incalculable and I have no intention of enumerating them, but I would like to bring attention to just some of them.

Discoveries and inventions foster the growth of prosperity, and they allow people to multiply their numbers without fear of the hunger and squalor that formerly prevailed. For example, the discovery of America and Australia placed into mankind’s hands over 900 thousand square [geographical – Translator] miles [equal to over 19 million square international miles: 1 geographical mile = 4.6 U.K.-U.S. international miles – Translator] of very fertile and rich land, so that there will not soon be a shortage of living space. Millions of families have already moved from Europe to newly discovered parts of the world and have grown wealthy there. Additionally, America has given us the potato, which more than once has saved Europe from famine; and each year great quantities of cereals, cotton, wool, and costly woods are imported from America, providing us with new resources. However, not only great discoveries bear on wellbeing; indeed, the same may be said of smaller discoveries.

For a time, sugar was produced only from sugar cane, which grows in hot countries – hence sugar was very expensive; when, however, sugar was discovered in beets and when a means was invented of obtaining sugar that way, this product became much cheaper and is today affordable to all. Similarly vodka, once produced from rye, became cheaper when it came to be produced from potatoes.

Inventions heighten our powers: Today, with the help of steam-powered mills, one man produces more flour than 150 men did a century ago. A single man spins more cotton on a machine than 400 women spinners. A machine for tying fishermen’s nets replaces 37 workmen; with a pin-making machine, one man can produce 170 pins a minute. On a first-class naval ship, steam engines replace the work of 300,000 men, that is, 100 times more men than the ship can accommodate. A steam hammer in a Krupp plant forges pieces of iron weighing 400 quintals each, whereas an ordinary blacksmith with several assistants can barely forge a piece weighing a couple of quintals.

Inventions heighten our dexterity and correct our disabilities: today we can divide a human hair into several dozen if not into a hundred parts by thickness; we can measure the thickness of a spider’s thread; we can measure a weight down to 1/800,000th of a pound; we can roll gold leaf so thin that 130,000 leaves make an inch. As to correcting defects and disabilities of the human body, we all know that people can be fitted with artificial teeth and with artificial hands with which to write and paint, and so on.

Inventions and discoveries heighten our senses: an acoustic tube allows us to speak quietly with a person a couple of hundred paces away. Our telescopes allow us to see stars so remote that the light which courses from them at 42,000 miles [186,000 international miles – Translator] per second requires several million years to reach us. Our microscopes so amplify our vision that, with their aid, we can see animalcules, millions of which comfortably live in a single drop of water. Moreover, in these animalcules we can see organs that serve them for swimming, and a stomach bristling with hairs that are in constant motion!...

Inventions and discoveries heighten our mental powers: For example, the invention of higher mathematics allows us to solve, within minutes, problems that, using ordinary calculation, we could not have solved in years, if ever. An example will illustrate the power of today's mathematics.

Until 1846, aside from Earth, astronomers knew only 6 other planets; but that year two mathematicians, the Frenchman [Urbain – Translator] Le Verrier and the Englishman [John Couch – Translator] Adams, [independently – Translator] calculated that there must be another planet, over 600 million [geographical – Translator] miles [equal to some 2,800 million international miles, or 4.5 billion kilometers – Translator] distant from the sun, 100 times greater than Earth, and which circles the sun in a period of 164 years: a planet that would be visible, by the aid of very powerful instruments, on a certain specified day, at a certain specified spot in the heavens.

And so it came to pass, with the aid of mathematics, that there was discovered a planet [Neptune – Translator] that no one had ever seen!

Inventions save us time and money: Before the invention of printing, books cost as many złotych or even rubles as they now cost groszy [a grosz being a hundredth of a złoty –Translator]. One can now sail from Europe to America in ten days by steamship, where previously the trip took several months. In our time, a trip to Paris costs less and ends sooner than, formerly, a trip from Warsaw to Częstochowa. Formerly a Venetian mirror cost a whole landed estate, today the same kind of mirror can be had for a few dozen rubles.

I would never finish, if I had to enumerate just the more outstanding and more useful inventions and discoveries that have been made by chemistry, physics, technology, medicine, in a word, by every branch of human knowledge. Here I will add only that, together with the increase in discoveries and inventions, with the improvement in living conditions, people are also becoming morally better. Let us not believe the poets who sing the praises of the good old days. Those were bad days when no shame attached to burning and torturing people, to murdering in wartime defenseless enemies, women, and children. Those were bad days when a magnate could with impunity kill peasants, when barons and counts, with their bands of henchmen, engaged in highway robbery! Those were, finally, bad days when famine and plague, in a single year, swept away millions of people!...

Thus we have found that human history shows a certain movement toward the better: as it were, an enormous current of discoveries and inventions which, with each century, gains in strength, increases the prosperity and activity of every successive generation, and gradually takes almost all of humankind ever closer toward perfection. This current of discoveries and inventions is most marked among peoples of the white race inhabiting Europe and America; and those peoples are at the forefront of civilization and draw after them the peoples of the yellow and black races. Unfortunately, though, not all peoples can be said to be advancing toward perfection; on the contrary, some have been losing ground.

In America, and still more so in Australia, there are tribes so indigent that they live in hovels, go about naked, and consume even dead rotting fish and animals. There are tribes so savage that they eat not only their enemies but even their own children. These people are so limited that their language possesses barely a few hundred words, they cannot count beyond a hundred, and in conclusion they appear incapable of accepting European civilization. Sad is the lot of these hapless and unfortunate peoples.

On the day that they beheld the first European banner on their shores, their ruin began. From the moment of their first contact with the civilized peoples, they lost their freedom or were driven into the hinterlands of their islands, into the most desolate regions of the land.

The number of these savages is declining by the year in a terrifying way; soon they will disappear from the soil that they did not know how to cultivate, and today it can be said without exaggeration that the very hours of their existence are numbered.

To summarize what I have said to this point: First, discoveries and inventions secure the life of societies, enhance their comfort, heighten the precision, physical power, senses, and mental powers of individuals, saving time and money. We have found, secondly, that the number of inventions grows amazingly with each century, and at present even with each year, and as a result the civilized peoples are bettering themselves with extraordinary speed. Thirdly and finally, we have seen that savage peoples incapable of accepting civilization, incapable of understanding and profiting from discoveries and inventions, perish and give place to civilized tribes.

A curious feeling overcomes us when our thoughts course over the enormous expanses of today's human knowledge. We know part of the universe that is home to 270 million suns, we know Earth and, in it, several great landmasses, thousands of islands, tremendous expanses of seas and oceans, a host of mountains, rivers, lakes, mines, forests, deserts – and we know not only their locations but also their dimensions, the riches they contain, the characteristic traits that differentiate one from another. We know tens of thousands of plants and animals, their external appearance, their internal structure, their way of life, and the uses that they can offer us. We know myriad stones, liquids, and gases, not only by color, smell and other superficial characteristics, but in addition we know the materials of which they are built, we know the uses to which we can put them, and so on. And while we know that this whole vastness of knowledge is not yet a complete understanding of life and the world, and while we are sure that in tens of thousands of years people will still be needing to study nature and make discoveries, in any case we must own that all this knowledge greatly exceeds the powers of a single mind. At this point, in astonishment we ask: how did all this knowledge accumulate? and, with a sense of dread, we think: will our successors be able to add something of their own to this immense treasury, and if so, how?

No less imposing is the number of inventions; the machines, several of which annually augment the stock, and the new materials that greet our eyes, spread so quickly and provide such great services. It will suffice to mention here, as examples of machines: the telegraph, steam-powered machines, sewing machines; and, of materials, lighting gas, rubber, kerosene, and so on. Who of us, while watching a machine, has not marveled at the precision of its movements, of its profusion of wheels large and small, of its rods and other components? who has not asked: what good genius whispered to man the idea of building this extraordinary thing? and will this genius be equally propitious to our successors?

Man has posed such question from the earliest times and has sometimes arrived at peculiar conclusions. The ancients, for example, held that the goddess Ceres taught people husbandry; and that a hero-demigod, Prometheus, stole fire from heaven and brought it to Earth.

Today people no longer believe that gods taught useful inventions to landed proprietors; they know that man invented fire, man invented agriculture, just as man invented the telegraph and the locomotive. All this notwithstanding, we too are not free of error, for we believe that the mind of an inventor differs from ordinary minds, that the so-called genius possesses a mind distinct from an ordinary mind and superior to it. We think that discoveries and inventions are extraordinary events different from events encountered in everyday life, and we loudly maintain that discoveries and inventions elude all rules of thought.

Until now there has been no science that describes the means for making discoveries and inventions, and the generality of people, as well as many men of learning, believe that there never will be. This is an error. Someday a science of making discoveries and inventions will exist and will render services. It will arise not all at once; first only its general outline will appear, which subsequent researchers will correct and elaborate, and which still later researchers will apply to individual branches of knowledge. In a moment we shall see what a sketch of such a science would look like.

First of all, let us give up any expectation of hearing about something preternatural; inventions and discoveries are natural phenomena and, as such, are subject to certain laws. Those laws, if I am not mistaken, are three: those of gradualness, dependence, and combination.

1. The law of gradualness. No discovery or invention arises at once perfected, it is perfected gradually; likewise, no invention or discovery is the work of a single individual but of many individuals, each adding his little contribution. Evidence for the law of gradualness may be found, for example, in the fact that America was first discovered; then, in America, mountains, forests, rivers, and lakes were discovered; next, in the forests, individual sorts of trees were discovered, then various uses were discovered for the trees. Potatoes were first discovered; later they were found to make good livestock fodder; then it was learned that potatoes could nourish people; and, later, potatoes began to be used for making vodka.

In regard to inventions, gradualness may be illustrated by the evolution of the stool. First people found that it was better to sit on a stump or a rock than on the ground. Then, noticing that a rock or a stump was too heavy to lug around, they built a stool consisting of a board and several legs. Next, to the stool they added a backrest, thus making a chair; to the chair, they added armrests, making an armchair. Then they began painting and padding the armchairs and chairs, and so on.

2. The law of dependence. An invention or discovery is conditioned on the prior existence of certain known discoveries and inventions. America would not have been discovered had ships and compasses not been known; the locomotive would not have been built had iron, water, and coal not been known, had wheels, rods, and boilers not been known, and so on. If potatoes grew only in America, they could not have been discovered before America had been; if the black swan lives only in Australia, the black swan could not have been seen before Australia had been. If the rings of Saturn can be seen through telescopes, then the telescope had to have been invented before the rings could have been seen. Thus we see that any invention or discovery depends on certain discoveries and inventions that had to have existed and been known earlier.

3. The law of combination. Any new discovery or invention is a combination of earlier discoveries and inventions, or rests on them. When I study a new mineral, I inspect it, I smell it, I taste it, that is, I combine the mineral with my senses. Then I weigh it and heat it, which is to say, I combine the mineral with a balance and with fire. Then I place it into water, into sulfuric acid, and so forth, in short, I combine the mineral with everything that I have at hand and in this way I learn ever more of its properties. And as for inventions, who does not know that a clock is a combination of wheels, springs, dials, bells, etc.? Who does not know that gunpowder is a combination of sulfur, saltpeter, and charcoal?

These three laws, manifest in discoveries and inventions, entail important corollaries. The law of gradualness implies the following:

a) Since every discovery and invention requires perfecting, let us not pride ourselves only on discovering or inventing something completely new, but let us also work to improve or get to know more exactly things that are already known and already exist. Not only that naturalist makes a contribution who travels to distant lands in order to there discover some hitherto unknown animal or plant, but also he who locally studies in greater depth the life of earlier-known beings. Let us not necessarily exert ourselves to construct a clock or other machine that the world has never seen, but let us also work to improve presently-existing machines so as to make them cheaper, more durable, less complicated, and so on.

b) The same law of gradualness demonstrates the necessity of expert training. Who can perfect a watch, if not a watchmaker with a good comprehensive knowledge of his métier? Who can discover new characteristics of an animal, if not a naturalist?

From the law of dependence flow the following corollaries:

a) No invention or discovery, even one seemingly without value, should be dismissed, because that particular trifle may later prove very useful. There would seem to be no simpler invention than the needle, yet the clothing of millions of people, and the livelihoods of millions of seamstresses, depend on the needle’s existence. Even today’s beautiful sewing machine would not exist, had the needle not long ago been invented.

b) The law of dependence teaches us that what cannot be done today, might be done later. People give much thought to the construction of a flying machine that could carry many persons and parcels. The inventing of such a machine will depend, among other things, on inventing a material that is, say, as light as paper and as sturdy and fire-resistant as, for example, steel.

Let us turn, finally, to corollaries to the law of combination.

a) Anyone who wants to be a successful inventor, needs to know a great many things – in the most diverse fields. For if a new invention is a combination of earlier inventions, then the inventor’s mind is the ground on which, for the first time, various seemingly unrelated things combine. Example: The steam engine combines the kettle for cooking Rumford’s Soup, the pump, and the spinning wheel – if the first inventor had not been familiar with these objects, if he had not combined them in his mind, would we have had steam engines?

The balloon combines lighting gas, a silk-taffeta bag, a parasol, a net, and a basket – and could the balloon exist if the minds of its inventors had not held information about these objects? What is the connection among zinc, copper, sulfuric acid, a magnet, a clockwork mechanism, and an urgent message? All these had to come together in the mind of the inventor of the telegraph…

The greater the number of inventions that come into being, the more things a new inventor must know how to do; the first, earliest, and simplest inventions were made by completely uneducated people – but today’s inventions, particularly scientific ones, are products of the most highly educated minds. It means nothing that someone was a farmhand and later became a great engineer: before the farmhand could become a middling engineer, and before the middling engineer could become a great one, he had to learn a great many things. I repeat once again, therefore, that today's inventor must be a highly and comprehensively educated person. Inspiration, and the genius who was even reputed to abide in idleness, are illusions that only provincial aunties and grannies can embrace.

b) A second corollary concerns societies that wish to harbor inventors. I said that a new invention is created by combining the most diverse objects; let us see where this takes us.

Suppose I want to make an invention, and someone tells me: Take 100 different objects and bring them into contact with one another, first two at a time, then three at a time, finally four at a time, and you will arrive at a new invention. Imagine that I take a burning candle, charcoal, water, paper, zinc, sugar, sulfuric acid, and so on, 100 objects in all, and combine them with one another, that is, bring into contact first two at a time: charcoal with flame, water with flame, sugar with flame, zinc with flame, sugar with water, etc. Each time, I shall see a phenomenon: thus, in fire, sugar will melt, charcoal will burn, zinc will heat up, and so on. Now I will bring into contact three objects at a time, for example, sugar, zinc, and flame; charcoal, sugar, and flame; sulfuric acid, zinc, and water; etc., and again I shall experience phenomena. Finally I bring into contact four objects at a time, for example, sugar, zinc, charcoal, and sulfuric acid; and so on. Ostensibly this is a very simple method, because in this fashion I could make not merely one but a dozen inventions. But will such an effort not exceed my capability? It certainly will. A hundred objects, combined in twos, threes, and fours, will make over 4 million combinations; so if I made 100 combinations a day, it would take me over 110 years to exhaust them all!

But if by myself I am not up to the task, a sizable group of people will be. If 1,000 of us came together to produce the combinations that I have described, then any one person would only have to carry out slightly more than 4,000 combinations. If each of us performed just 10 combinations a day, together we would finish them all in less than a year and a half: 1,000 people would make an invention which a single man would have to spend more than 110 years to make…

The conclusion is quite clear: a society that wants to gain renown with its discoveries and inventions has to have a great many persons working in every branch of knowledge. One or a few men of learning and genius mean nothing today, or nearly nothing, because today everything is done by large numbers. I would like to offer the following simile: Inventions and discoveries are like a lottery; not every player wins, but from among the many players a few must win. The point is not that John or Paul, because they want to make an invention and because they work on it, shall make an invention; but where thousands want an invention and work on it, the invention must appear, as surely as an unsupported rock must fall to the ground.

Someone, however, will object: It’s true that it takes many very educated people to make discoveries and inventions; still, these educated people are only material – tools – used for making inventions. But what force drives their toilsome, often frustrated efforts? What thread clews these people through these recondite areas of research hitherto untraversed by the human mind?

The question is a good one. It truly is interesting what drives a person to ever new efforts – what points his way to an unknown idea? But the answer is very simple: man is driven to every kind of effort, including discovery and invention, by needs; and the thread that guides him is observation: attentive examination of the works of nature and of man.

I have said that the mainspring of all discoveries and inventions is needs. Indeed, is there any work of man that does not satisfy a need? We build railroads because we need rapid transportation; we build clocks because we need to measure time; we build sewing machines because the speed of human hands does not suffice us. We abandon home and family and depart for distant lands because we are excited by curiosity to see what lies elsewhere. We forsake the society of people and spend long hours in exhausting study because we are driven by a hunger for knowledge, by a desire to solve the challenges that are constantly thrown up by the world and by life!

Needs never cease; on the contrary, they are always growing. While the pauper thinks about a piece of bread for lunch, the rich man thinks about wine after lunch. The foot traveler dreams of a rudimentary cart; the railroad passenger demands a heater. The infant is cramped in its cradle; the adult man is cramped in the world. In short, everyone has his needs, and everyone desires to satisfy them, and that desire is an inexhaustible source of new discoveries, new inventions, in short, of all progress.

But needs are general, such as the needs for food, sleep, and clothing; and special, such as needs for a new steam engine, a new telescope, a new hammer, a new wrench. To understand the former needs, it suffices to be a human being; to understand the latter needs, one must be a specialist—an expert worker. Who knows better than a tailor what it is that tailors need, and who better than a tailor knows how to find the right way to satisfy the need?

Now let us consider how observation can lead man to new ideas; and to that end, as an example, let us imagine how, more or less, earthenware came to be invented.

Suppose that somewhere there lived on clayey ground a primitive people who already knew fire. When rain fell on the ground, the clay turned doughy; and if, shortly after the rain, a fire was set on top of the clay, the clay under the fire became fired and hardened. If such an event occurred several times, the people might observe and thereafter remember that fired clay becomes hard like stone and does not soften in water. One of the primitives might also, when walking on wet clay, have impressed deep tracks into it; after the sun had dried the ground and rain had fallen again, the primitives might have observed that water remains in those hollows longer than on the surface. Inspecting the wet clay, the people might have observed that this material can be easily kneaded in one’s fingers and accepts various forms.

Some ingenious persons might have started shaping clay into the forms of various animals, insects, and so on, including something shaped like a tortoise shell, which were in use at the time. Others, remembering that clay hardens in fire, might have fired the hollowed-out mass, thereby creating the first bowl.

After that, it was a relatively easy matter to perfect the new invention; someone else could discover a clay more suitable for such manufactures; someone else could invent a glaze, and so on, with nature and observation at every step pointing out to man the way to invention. If the people had not observed that clay hardens in fire, if they had not observed that water lingers longer inside a depression, if one of them had not wanted to form clay into something shaped like a tortoise shell, the first clay bowl would not have been invented.

What I have said may not necessarily have taken place, but it is not improbable and illustrates how people arrive at various ideas: by closely observing all things and wondering about all things.

Take another example. We know that sometimes, in a pane of glass, we find disks and bubbles, looking through which we see objects more distinctly than with the naked eye. Suppose that an observant person, spotting such a bubble in a pane, removed the piece of glass and showed it to others as a toy. Possibly among them there was a man with weak vision who found that, through the bubble in the pane, he saw better than with the naked eye. Further investigation showed that bilaterally convex glass strengthens weakened vision, and in this way eyeglasses were invented. Initially people may have cut glass for eyeglasses from glass panes, but in time others began grinding smooth pieces of glass into convex lenses and producing proper eyeglasses.

The art of grinding eyeglasses was known almost 600 years ago. A couple of hundred years later, the children of a certain eyeglass grinder, while playing with lenses, placed one in front of another and found that they could see better through two lenses than through one. They informed their father about this curious occurrence, and he began producing tubes with two magnifying lenses and selling them as a toy. Galileo, the great Italian scientist, on learning of this toy, used it for a different purpose and built the first telescope.

This example, too, shows us that observation leads man by the hand to inventions. This example again demonstrates the truth of gradualness in the development of inventions, but above all also the fact that education amplifies man’s inventiveness. A simple lens-grinder formed two magnifying glasses into a toy – while Galileo, one of the most learned men of his time, made a telescope. As Galileo’s mind was superior to the craftsman’s mind, so the invention of the telescope was superior to the invention of the toy.

In the second, most consequential part of our lecture, we learned about two things. First, that discoveries and inventions do not fall to earth from out of nowhere but are the results of human effort. The impulse behind the effort is needs, and the path to new discoveries and inventions is indicated to us by observation – by the attentive examination of what is happening around us. However, a person who wants to do something new should not only observe: he should learn, that is, get knowledge of what other people have done, and should also make independent attempts, which usually fail at first but in the end lead to the goal. Working on improvements, on inventions, learning and attempting, a person renders services to society, which can gain renown and can benefit from inventions and discoveries only when it has many educated people.

In that same part we learned, secondly, that discoveries and inventions are not the work of blind chance but are natural phenomena and are subject to certain laws. We have become acquainted with three such laws. The law of gradualness, on the strength of which every invention or discovery gradually approaches perfection, and which law requires that the inventor be educated professionally. The law of dependence, on the strength of which a new invention or discovery depends on others, known earlier, and cannot be made before them. And finally the law of combination, on the strength of which every new invention or discovery is a combination of other, earlier known discoveries or inventions, or rests on that combination. The last law requires that the inventor have a general education.

These three laws are immensely important and apply not only to discoveries and inventions, but pervade all of nature. An oak does not start out as an oak but as an acorn, then becomes a seedling, later a small tree, and finally a mighty oak: we see here, thus, the law of gradualness. A sown seed will not germinate until it finds sufficient heat, water, soil, and air: here we see the law of dependence. Finally, no animal or plant, or even stone, is something homogeneous and simple but is composed of various organs: here we see the law of combination.

I come now to the third and final part.

There is hardly a craftsman who does not on occasion complain of hard times and of a shortage of work, though on the other hand we all know that we have a shortage of domestically produced wares. Why, then, do the craftsmen complain instead of making them? It is because we import lots of the most varied things from abroad. And why do we import them from abroad? Because the foreign manufactures are cheaper and better! This phenomenon is easy to understand. The British, French, and Germans each year make discoveries and inventions, each year create new materials and machines. And since the work of a machine is cheaper and more precise, the foreign manufacturers sell things that are both cheaper and better than our craftsmen who do not have machines.

The sole remedy for this is learning. If we learn, we will make inventions, we will raise up an industry which will suffice not only for our own needs but also for trade abroad. But never mind our immediately making discoveries and inventions; we must without delay set about learning, not so much for renown as for bread because, given the present state of things, in a dozen or so years today's craftsmen may find themselves without a livelihood...

It's a very simple matter. Each year brings a growing number of machines which help us work but which require educated people to run them. When there were only wagons and horses, the driver knew enough, if he could properly grease the wagon, tie the traces, and drive the horses. Today, when railroad cars have replaced wagons, and the locomotive has replaced horses, the driver is being replaced by the engineer, who is a mechanic of sorts, above all a good metalworker.

The same is happening in every trade. A steam-hammer operator has to be much more educated than a worker who uses an ordinary hammer. A steamship engineer has to know incomparably more than a boatman. Lathe operators are in general more polished than metalworkers who can only use a file and chisel, and so on.

Every time a new machine is imported from abroad, people must also be imported along with it, because the local uneducated worker cannot manage with the machine, cannot understand its movements, cannot operate it, does not know how to repair it when it breaks down. Conversely, if our craftsmen studed mathematics, mechanics, chemistry, physics, technical drawing, if they read accounts of new machines that are invented abroad, not only would they be able to operate imported machines, but they could send their own inventions abroad.

Unfortunately, we see no sign of anything like this being in prospect. So far, craftsmen not only are not seeking to acquaint themselves with the sciences but they actually have no interest in advancing their trades. Gazeta Przemysłowo-Rzemieślnicza [The Industrial-Trades Gazette] has been coming out for over a year, from time to time noting the more important inventions that are being made elsewhere; but among the hundred thousand craftsmen in the country, the Gazette has barely four hundred subscribers!... This single fact seems the most eloquent evidence of our ineptitude.

I have said that, in order to make inventions and in order to know how to use them, it is essential to learn the most diverse things, because we do not know which of them may come in useful. I have also said that societies and people that do not make inventions or do not know how to use them, lead miserable lives and ultimately perish. And so today, amid the deluge of ever new improvements being made in the world, craftspeople have two ways open to them: either to take to the books and thereby partake in the general intellectual movement that, in a dozen or so years, will lead them on to fortune – or to remain where they are and, in a dozen or so years, to lose even the livelihoods they now have. What choice any individual makes, is not a matter for me.

In closing, I should add that I consider this lecture to be a sketch for a study in which I shall elaborate on, and substantiate, the second part of this lecture, dealing with the inception of discoveries and inventions, and the laws that govern them.


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