Discovery versus Invention

Sloppy definitions lead to sloppy thought processes, a dilemma unrecognized by many people. Full clarity in thinking can only happen if the concepts we use are firmly grounded by their antecedent concepts fully down to their root in the concrete, real world. It is only then that we can reap the fruit of understanding, the pleasure of forming an exact description of what we mean, of clearly comprehending an idea that we hold. The human mind holds only ideas and they are held in the form of clear concepts, though I’m not going to try to elaborate on that thought here.

Rather, let’s dissect both discovery and invention as to their true meaning.

The dictionary gives us, … to gain insight or knowledge of (something previously unseen or unknown). That said, just how many things we call inventions can more accurately be called discoveries? Tomas Edison implied it to be so when he said, “Results? Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward…..”

While it may seem I’m picking nits, it’s my goal to show a valuable distinction. Some of our ideas apply to the real world, others to a mythological place. The molecules we use to make a thing are not created. They are all around us, often in a different form than we want, but if we have a correct idea, we can modify them to our purpose. Hence, the idea to modify is an invention; the act of modifying is a discovery.

For the term invention, the dictionary gives multiple and somewhat conflicting meanings, 1. To originate as a product of one’s own device or connivance. 2. To produce or create with the imagination. 3. To make up or fabricate.

The essential difference that I see is that to discover means to find something in the real world. To invent pertains to what was not in the real world before.

So with that in mind, the philosophy of Objectivism can be considered a discovery rather than an invention as, when the original principles are adhered to, Objectivism concerns thinking accurately about reality.

The relationship between these two concepts is that invention is a subset of discovery. With the combination of molecules in a manner never previously done, we have a new, unique machine. In the real world, following your idea and assembling a similar batch of molecules, another person can duplicate your work.

Combining the same ingredients in the same order and subjecting the mix to the same forces, nature will ensure that you will achieve the same result. Be it flour, water and eggs for a cake or iron oxide and coal for steel or multiple etched layers of silicon, separated by impurities for a computer microchip, nature has ‘rules’ and accurately following them will yield predictable results.

The process of inventing is an intellectual exercise. The idea for something is in one’s head until it is concretized in the form of a real thing, be it a machine, a book, or whatever. The idea nonetheless is embedded in the product.


Before it is proven, a true invention may well be a falsehood or a fantasy, something outside of the possible or quite possibly at odds with reality. True inventions are really mental constructions. Witches, ghosts and perpetual motion machines fall into that category with the internet finally giving substance to one invention, trolls.

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