Nonlocality of Insight
Published in The Philosophical Society's Annual Review 2022
by : Safwan Zabalawi (Darshams)
THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE documents several situations in which more than one person independently arrived at the same discovery.
For example, the 17-century discovery of the calculus (1) - a wonderful tool of intellect that enabled science to greatly blossom – took place by both Issacs Newton and Gottfried Leibnitz. Other frequently mentioned examples are the introduction of the “Theory of Evolution” by Charles Darwin, which matched the work of Alfred Russel Wallace. Another example is the invention of telephony, which took place in early 20th century by both Graham Bell and Elisha Gray (2). One of the most important insights in the field of mathematics was the discovery of the zero, which was introduced by the Sumerians, Mayans and Indians – independently (3).
The emergence of the same idea in the mind of various individuals (unknown to each other) - is the focus of a study referred to by “Multiple Simultaneous Invention”:
“A study by Ogburn and Thomas in 1922 produced a list of 148 major inventions and discoveries
that were made independently by two or more groups at the same time.
A similar study by Merton in 1960 led him to conclude that “the pattern of independent multiple discoveries in
science is in principle the dominant pattern, rather than a subsidiary one”. (4)
The phenomenon of synchronicity in arriving at the same achievement can be extended to the emergence of any idea or even belief. It is also interesting - if only weird - that the sheer idea of “simultaneous thinking” itself - was also discovered independently by various people:
“Even the idea that multiple simultaneous invention is the norm was advanced by multiple independent groups at the same time”. (5)
There is no reason why different individuals, who apply the same methodology of thinking, would not independently reach similar solutions to a certain problem. Employing similar ways of reasoning, people will arrive to even identical conclusions, regardless of where they are.
Independent origins of Civilisation
In addition to scientific discoveries, the phenomenon of “Multiple Simultaneous Invention” can be generalised over other fields of achievements, such as the domain of art, culture and religious beliefs. It seems that the term “Nonlocality of Insight” can offer a convenient designation of this phenomenon of independent emergence of ideas throughout the whole spectrum of creativity – starting from the very origin of human civilisation.
Civilisation started when hunter-gatherer groups, scattered over vastly separated continents, turned into farmers. Almost like animals, our early ancestors spent most hours of the day with the worry of securing basic supply of food through hunting and collecting fruits and nuts - if any. Then, an insightful observation emerged within their leaders – that domesticating animals and planting seeds can create a reliable source of food. That was a brilliant insight: to try to master the environment rather than being controlled by its conditions.
“Agriculture has no single, simple origin. A wide variety of plants and animals have been independently domesticated at different times and in numerous places”. (6)
The shift from nomadic life into farming, building houses and tool-perfecting, occurred in different parts of the world – quite independently. No specific group of people and no particular place can be assigned to the honor of the start of human civilisation.
Insight is a mental activity, which is not conditioned by time or location. There are no barriers that can prevent the emergence of insight in individuals, who happen to be involved in finding a solution to a certain problem they are deeply concerned about. What is needed for an insight into a truth to become a reality is passion and focused efforts of involved individuals.
Nonlocality of spiritual beliefs
Alongside simultaneous discoveries in the material and intellectual field of human activity, the phenomenon of Nonlocality of Insight covers also the mental field, in particular pertaining to early beliefs. For example, worship of the Sun was recorded in many human civilisations, such as the Aztec, Mayan, Japanese and Egyptian – to name just a few. Those beliefs emerged independently.
Yet, despite the fact that truth of nonlocality of early beliefs, some fanatic views give their civilisation a precedence and influence on other civilisations! So, in the case of Sun-worship, for example, such fanatical views (of localisation of beliefs) - as if other are not able - without an external teacher to perceive the value of the Sun for life, or its greatness.
Another manifestation of the spontaneous emergence of mental expressions is the 'sense of Beauty' in nature. Beauty is perceived and experienced inwardly - it is untaught by others. In his book, “The Evolution of Beauty”, Prof. Richard Prum suggests that the sense of beauty was deeply valued by early ancestors, and was instrumental in the evolution of humanity: (7)
“Beauty is desirable because it brings other real-world benefits, like vigor, health, or good genes”
The value of Beauty is an essential drive in human psychology that motivates all what is pleasing for the five senses, including colouring, ornaments, singing and appreciating the beauty of nature, flowers in particular.
One of the outstanding examples of the shared sense of appreciation of flowers in ancient cultures was centred on the lotus flower, perceived as a spiritual object of beauty and purity. The extensive reference and deep adoration of the beauty and purity of the lotus took place independently in three quite separate and remote civilisations: the Mayan in North America, the Egyptian in the Middle East and the Indian, reaching also Far East Asia. (8). The three mentioned civilisations spontaneously assigned to the beauty of the lotus flower a dimension of sacredness despite the differences in their mythology and culture.
Insight is a treasured mental capacity that is inherent in the human mind, and as such, it cannot be claimed as being associated with a certain location, race or nation. The emergence of insight and new ideas is a phenomenon that challenges the exclusive view that certain locations are 'special' in their assumed hierarchy over others. Insight is motivated by what leads to creating benefit within the available circumstances of various groups of people. While available circumstances greatly differ between groups of people, the level of sophistication of ideas becomes different, however, the capacity of insight remains unchanged. Similar social conditions would lead to similar or identical emergence of new ideas through individuals who are unknown to each other. The nature of the human being is borderless and timeless, uniting all people.
1/ The history of the Priority Dispute between Newton and Leibniz
2/ Bell and Gray both apply for a telephone patent
3/ Who Invented the Zero:
4/ Are Inventions Inevitable? Simultaneous Inventions and Incremental nature of Discovery:
6/ Origins of Agriculture,
7/ The Evolution of Beauty, Prof. Richard O. Prum, 2017, page 11. ISBN 978-0-345-80457-0, eBook ISBN 978-0-38553722-3
8/ Nymphaea cults in ancient Egypt and the New World
Author: Safwan Darshams