Ideas are what power our economy. It’s what sets us apart. It’s what America has been all about. We have been a nation of dreamers and risk-takers; people who see what nobody else sees sooner than anybody else sees it. We do innovation better than anybody else — and that makes our economy stronger. When we invest in the best ideas before anybody else does, our businesses and our workers can make the best products and deliver the best services before anybody else.
And because of that incredible dynamism, we don’t just attract the best scientists or the best entrepreneurs — we also continually invest in their success. We support labs and universities to help them learn and explore. And we fund grants to help them turn a dream into a reality. And we have a patent system to protect their inventions. And we offer loans to help them turn those inventions into successful businesses.
And the investments don’t always pay off. But when they do, they change our lives in ways that we could never have imagined. Computer chips and GPS technology, the Internet — all these things grew out of government investments in basic research. And sometimes, in fact, some of the best products and services spin off completely from unintended research that nobody expected to have certain applications. Businesses then used that technology to create countless new jobs.
So the founders of Google got their early support from the National Science Foundation. The Apollo project that put a man on the moon also gave us eventually CAT scans. And every dollar we spent to map the human genome has returned $140 to our economy — $1 of investment, $140 in return.
Great inventions are never, and great discoveries are seldom, the work of any one mind. Every great invention is really an aggregation of minor inventions, or the final step of a progression. It is not usually a creation, but a growth, as truly so as is the growth of the trees in the forest.
Books won't stay banned. They won't burn. Ideas won't go to jail. In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost. The only sure weapon against bad ideas is better ideas. The source of better ideas is wisdom. The surest path to wisdom is a liberal education.
It is notorious that the same discovery is frequently made simultaneously and quite independently, by different persons. Thus, to speak of only a few cases in late years, the discoveries of photography, of electric telegraphy, and of the planet Neptune through theoretical calculations, have all their rival claimants. It would seem, that discoveries are usually made when the time is ripe for them—that is to say, when the ideas from which they naturally flow are fermenting in the minds of many men.
The fear of meeting the opposition of envy, or the illiberality of ignorance is, no doubt, the frequent cause of preventing many ingenious men from ushering opinions into the world which deviate from common practice. Hence for want of energy, the young idea is shackled with timidity and a useful thought is buried in the impenetrable gloom of eternal oblivion.
In truth, ideas and principles are independent of men; the application of them and their illustration is man's duty and merit. The time will come when the author of a view shall be set aside, and the view only taken cognizance of. This will be the millennium of Science.
Some convenient tree will afford them a State-House, under the branches of which, the whole colony may assemble to deliberate on public matters. It is more than probable that their first laws will have the title only of REGULATIONS, and be enforced by no other penalty than public disesteem. In this first parliament every man, by natural right, will have a seat.
But as the colony increases, the public concerns will increase likewise, and the distance at which the members may be separated, will render it too inconvenient for all of them to meet on every occasion as at first, when their number was small, their habitations near, and the public concerns few and trifling. This will point out the convenience of their consenting to leave the legislative part to be managed by a select number chosen from the whole body, who are supposed to have the same concerns at stake which those who appointed them, and who will act in the same manner as the whole body would act, were they present. If the colony continues increasing, it will become necessary to augment the number of the representatives, and that the interest of every part of the colony may be attended to, it will be found best to divide the whole into convenient parts, each part sending its proper number; and that the ELECTED might never form to themselves an interest separate from the ELECTORS, prudence will point out the propriety of having elections often; because as the ELECTED might by that means return and mix again with the general body of the ELECTORS in a few months, their fidelity to the public will be secured by the prudent reflection of not making a rod for themselves. And as this frequent interchange will establish a common interest with every part of the community, they will mutually and naturally support each other, and on this (not on the unmeaning name of king) depends the STRENGTH OF GOVERNMENT, AND THE HAPPINESS OF THE GOVERNED.
Here then is the origin and rise of government; namely, a mode rendered necessary by the inability of moral virtue to govern the world; here too is the design and end of government, viz. freedom and security. And however our eyes may be dazzled with show, or our ears deceived by sound; however prejudice may warp our wills, or interest darken our understanding, the simple voice of nature and of reason will say, it is right.
If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density at any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation.
Ira Glass: For money, afterall, long ago, we used to use gold, and if you wanted to buy something, you had to carry around these heavy, shiny pieces of metal. Then we decided, no, let's just leave the gold in a bank. Instead of the gold, we're going to carry around these pieces of paper, and the paper on them says, "Yes, there's gold. You can take this paper money to a bank, you can swap it for gold." Maybe you've seen old dollars that say on them "Promise to pay the bearer so many dollars in gold." You could swap it.
Then we decided, it was the year 1933, we decided you can't trade in dollar bills for gold anymore in this country. Dollar bills are just gonna represent the idea of money. That's it. They're not gold, they're just money. And when I talked about this with Jacob, he said, it get's more abstract:
Jacob Goldstein: Because now, if you think of most of the money that you have or most of the money that I have, it's never currency, right? I get paid, that is just a direct deposit from NPR, from my employer to my checking account. I never--It's not like they give me a few hundred dollar bills every week. And then, you know, I pay my bills online, so now, currency even now is like old fashioned. You know, you don't have to touch money, you don't have to see it. It's just information.
[...] The money doesn't really exist. Not only is there no gold, there aren't even bills for most of the money that exists. Most of the money that exists is just the idea, it's just the bank saying "Yes, there is this much money in your account."
White people discovered the Galapagos Islands in 1535 when a Spanish ship came upon them after being blown off course by a storm. Nobody was living there, nor were remains of any human settlement ever found there.
This unlucky ship wished nothing more than to carry the Bishop of Panama to Peru, never losing sight of the South American coast. There was this storm which rudely hustled it westward, ever westward, where prevailing human opinion insisted there was only sea and more sea.
But when the storm lifted, the Spaniards found that they had delivered their bishop into a sailor's nightmare where the bits of land were mockeries, without safe anchorage or shade or sweet water or dangling fruit, or human beings of any kind. They were becalmed, and running out of water and food. The ocean was like a mirror. They put a longboat over the side, and towed their vessel and their spiritual leader out of there.
They did not claim the islands for Spain, any more than they would have claimed hell for Spain. And for three full centuries after revised human opinion allowed the archipelago to appear on maps, no other nation wished to own it. But then in 832, one of the smallest and poorest countries on the planet, which was Ecuador, asked the peoples of the world to share this opinion with them: that the islands were part of Ecuador.
No one objected. At the time, it seemed harmless and even comical opinion. It was as though Ecuador, in a spasm of imperialistic dementia, had annexed to its territory a passing cloud of asteroids.
But then young Charles Darwin, only three years later, began to persuade others that the often freakish plants and animals which had found ways to survive on the islands made them extremely valuable, if only people would look at them as he did-from a scientific point of view.
One one English word adequately describes his transformation of the islands from worthless to priceless: magical.