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Friday, 23 January 2009

The Science of Serendipity...

First of all, I just want to shout over to Diane's Addled Ramblings to offer her this award Photobucket.

Diane's blogs are always beautifully written from the heart, (even when she's being rude about Trolls and Elves), and today's piece has so much to say to us.

I'm sounding all TV evangelical ministry here with these important messages... Ministry of Sound tv Pictures, Images and Photos and really don't mean to, (I'll be asking for your dollars, however little you can afford, later!), but emotional intelligence has such powerful resonance, don't you know.


Anyhoo, today's blog is brought to you by my favourite word Serendipity...


/ˌsɛrənˈdɪpɪti/ [ser-uhn-dip-i-tee] – noun

1. an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.

2. good fortune; luck: the serendipity of getting the first job she applied for.

Serendipity is the effect by which one accidentally discovers something fortunate, especially while looking for something else entirely.

The word was voted one of the ten English words that were hardest to translate in June 2004 by a British translation company.

The origins of the word, Serendipity date back to 1754, and Horace Walpole.

Horace Walpole was a cousin of Lord Nelson; He was the 4th Earl of Orford, and an art historian, writer, antiquarian and politician.

He is now largely remembered for Strawberry Hill Photobucket. No, not that one - This one - Photobucket the home he built in Twickenham, south west London where he revived the Gothic style some decades before his Victorian successors, and as the writer of the first truly Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto. Photobucket

Horace was writing to a friend, also called Horace, in Florence: "... once ... I read a silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of SerendipPhotobucket: As their highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of:

For instance, one of them discovered that a camel blind of the right eye had travelled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right—now do you understand serendipity? "

So, Photobucket comes from Serendip, the old Persian name for Sri Lanka, which in my childhood was called Ceylon.

Photobucket Ceylon, if you recall, was ever famous for Photobucket, while I remember it most vividly from the stamp collection I started as a child! Photobucket

Moving over to the thesaurus, and this time not finding the cat asleep on it!

"Noun 1. Serendipity - good luck in making unexpected and fortunate discoveries
fluke, good fortune, good luck - a stroke of luck

Adjective. 1. Serendipitous - lucky in making unexpected and fortunate discoveries
lucky - having or bringing good fortune; "my lucky day"; "a lucky man".

Photobucket Of course, I had also seen the film ... Serendipity - It is one of my favourite Christmassy romantic films, and has John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale (the daughter of one of the UK's sadly missed, greatest comic actors)... richard beckinsale Pictures, Images and Photos

In the film, Jonathan meets Sara by chance in Bloomingdale's on Christmas Eve. Both are trying to buy the last pair of black gloves available for sale. They decide to go to the coffee shop Serendipity, and Jonathan asks for her name and phone number. Sara writes her number in a book, and his on a $5 bill. She gives the bill to a newspaper seller and says that she will sell the book in a New York second hand bookstore. She feels that if destiny wants them to be together, Jonathan will get that book back, or she will get that $5 bill again. From that day on, Jonathan searches for Sara's book trying to reach his lost love. Relax, there's a happy ending! Isn't there always?

Incidentally, the soundtrack of the film is great, featuring as it does a couple of moving songs from the fabulous and ethereal, Nick Drake...Photobucket

I digress, it doesn't take much, does it?!

Photobucket Incidentally, while I was looking for pictures that could illustrate the word Serendipity, I came across this venue in New York, which I hadn't even realised was featured in the movie! It looks very nice, I understand that it gets lots of tourists, and that it might be temporarily closed at the moment - not very helpful if you are looking for their famous Fffrrozen Chocolate!

I love the doors, very Charles Rennie Mackintosh. And the interior appears to feature Tiffany lampshades, which I must admit to adoring and coveting. ... And a shop that is, I quote, 'part general store and part restaurant, soda fountain and coffeehouse'.

Photobucket Coffee, ice cream and general goods, such as handbags... Well! What more could a girl need?

Short detour into the history of the Serendipity 3! http://www.newyorkfirst.com/gifts/1001.html

Incidentally - "It was Patch Carradine who found The Word that would turn their fortunes. Composing salacious song lyrics and comedy routines for tiny Village boites. Tossing around a vocabulary that wandered from obscure to obscene. Able to do the whole Times crossword puzzle weekly, the London Times on off-days. One day he uncrossed a word that rang a bell. A word that you couldn’t find in the dictionary of common usage back in 1954.

That Word was Serendipity. The art of finding the pleasantly unexpected by chance or sagacity. Invented by eighteenth century wordsmith Sir Horace Walpole, it evoked the ancient legend of the three princes of the island no longer known as Serendip.
“ Hey,” said the boys, “that’s a good name for a place of our own.” The rest reads like A Thousand and One Nights. The Serendipity 3 pooled their entire fortunes of three hundred dollars and staked a claim to a tiny principality in the basement of a tenement on East Fifty-Eighth Street. It was New York’s first coffee house boutique. The first Tiffany lampshaded meeting place since the days of Diamond Jim Brady".

So, you've arrived at Photobucket

It might also look like this, Photobucket with the light just shafting through the trees at exactly the right moment to illuminate the path you are on!

Serendipity might also feel like this

Of course, some of you might not be aware of the role of Serendipity in Science and Technology (I might get the male readers back at this point!).

Here, as ever, I bow to the goddess, Wiki:

"One aspect of Walpole's original definition of serendipity that is often missed in modern discussions of the word is the "sagacity" of being able to link together apparently innocuous facts to come to a valuable conclusion. Thus, while some scientists and inventors are reluctant about reporting accidental discoveries, others openly admit its role; in fact serendipity is a major component of scientific discoveries and inventions.

According to M.K. Stoskopf, "it should be recognized that serendipitous discoveries are of significant value in the advancement of science and often present the foundation for important intellectual leaps of understanding". Photobucket

The amount of contribution of serendipitous discoveries varies extensively among the several scientific disciplines. Pharmacology and chemistry are probably the fields where serendipity is more common.

Most authors who have studied scientific serendipity both in a historical, as well as in an epistemological point of view, agree that a prepared and open mind is required on the part of the scientist or inventor to detect the importance of information revealed accidentally. About this, Albert Hofmann, the Swiss chemist who discovered LSD properties by unintentionally ingesting it at his lab, wrote:

Photobucket "It is true that my discovery of LSD was a chance discovery, but it was the outcome of planned experiments and these experiments took place in the framework of systematic pharmaceutical, chemical research. It could better be described as serendipity."

Indeed -
Mega Psych Gif Pictures, Images and Photos

The French scientist Louis Pasteur also famously said: "In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind."


Some serendipitous discoveries in Science and Pharmacology are as follows:

* Gelignite by Alfred Nobel, when he accidentally mixed gun cotton with nitroglycerin;

* Silly Putty by James Wright, on the way to solving another problem: finding a rubber substitute for the United States during World War II;

* Mauve by William Henry Perkin. At the age of 18, he was attempting to create artificial quinine. An unexpected residue caught his eye, which turned out to be the first aniline dye—specifically, mauveine;

* Teflon, by Roy J. Plunkett, who was trying to develop a new gas for refrigeration and got a slick substance instead;

* Scotchgard moisture repellant, discovered accidentally in 1953 by Patsy Sherman. One of the compounds she was investigating as a rubber material that wouldn't deteriorate when in contact with aircraft fuel spilled onto a tennis shoe and would not wash out; she then considered the spill as a protectant against spills;

* Cellophane was developed in 1908 by Swiss chemist Jacques Brandenberger, as a material for covering stain-proof tablecloth;

* The chemical element helium. British chemist William Ramsay isolated helium while looking for argon but, after separating nitrogen and oxygen from the gas liberated by sulfuric acid, noticed a bright-yellow spectral line that matched the D3 line observed in the spectrum of the Sun;

* The chemical element Iodine was discovered by Bernard Courtois in 1811, when he was trying to remove residues with strong acid from the bottom of his saltpeter production plant which used seaweed ashes as a prime material;

* Rayon, the first synthetic silk, was discovered by French chemist Hilaire de Chardonnet, an assistant to Louis Pasteur. He spilled a bottle of collodion and found later that he could draw thin strands from the evaporated viscous liquid;

* Acesulfame, an artificial sweetener, was discovered accidentally in 1967 by Karl Claus at Hoechst AG;

* Aspartame (NutraSweet) was accidentally ingested by G.D. Searle chemist James Schlatter, who was trying to develop a test for an anti-ulcer drug.

And finally, but not exhaustively,

* Penicillin by Alexander Fleming. He failed to disinfect cultures of bacteria when leaving for his vacations, only to find them contaminated with Penicillium molds, which killed the bacteria. However, he had previously done extensive research into antibacterial substances.

And, more recently, Viagra (sildenafil citrate), and Retin-A anti-wrinkle action were serendipitous discoveries.

My boss thought I had made that word up the other day, Serendipitous!

Photobucket Try to slip it into a conversation today - Go on, I dare you!

You might be ready for one of these right about now...Photobucket

Expect the unexpected - That's Serendipity! Photobucket


Braja said...

Oooooooo I love that castle one! And Prince, lol....wow this was LOOOONG!

Clippy Mat said...

that is beautiful. and the best pic? the lady with the surprised look on her face. LOL
an amazing defnition of a wonderful word. now, how can weave that into my day today?.....

Diane said...

Thank you so much for the award! I'm touched, especially since it comes from someone with SUCH heart!! xo

PS... Serendipity has always been one of my favorite words... along with grace, willikers (as in, golly gee willikers! ;), gentle, synchronicity, and crisp :)

A Woman Of No Importance said...

Braja, Clipstress and Delightful Diane, I am sorry that it's sooo lonnnggg, and rammmbbbling - I will do short tomorrow, I promise!

Diane, You know you are more than welcome and deserving of such an award! I have never heard of 'willikers' - I might just slip it in when (and if) I ever get back to work - I love to surprise my boss with language! x

Derrick said...

We once took a holiday with a company called Serenissima Travel, which we always referred to as Serendipity Travel - whatever happened was an accident!

I admire your stamina for finding so many things with which to illustrate your posts!

jinksy said...

Another entertaining and interesting post, but my mouse clicking finger has exhaustion setting in with all the scrolling down that needed doing to get to the end...

A Woman Of No Importance said...

Perhaps I should have dissected this one into two pieces - Scientifically - I'm sorry, I just didn't realise it had grown like Topsy - Having all the pictures does make it gwow and gwow!

Fat, frumpy and fifty... said...

Loved the film, Love the train of thought, you just can't be sure we know exactly where you are going with it, but its always so comforting and informative and wise oh so wise!!

Love the new award, beautiful..l know l'm shall but l do like pretty ones...

And YOU don't DO short ones do ya!?


Fat, frumpy and fifty... said...

shall= shallow!!

Fat, frumpy and fifty... said...

oh and l am a bit miffed actually Fhina!! how did you come by that picture of moi??

Mariafer said...

Great Great Post!!!! Thank you for stopping by....Have a wonderful weekend...

Scriptor Senex said...

I found your blog a few weeks ago - by serendipity, of course!

P.S. I love the LSD picture - I'm still recovering from its effect. (The picture that is, not the LSD, that wore off a long time ago...)

A Woman Of No Importance said...

FFF, dahling - I never quite know where I'm going either, I think that's the problem!

I think I need to do a lot of short logs, to make up for this one, don't you - Oops!

Maria - Hi, welcome and thankyou!

Scriptor - You are so kind - I think I was sort of going in that direction - That we are all coming together in kinship across the miles by virtue of Serendipity - Thank you!

Re the LSD, the earlier picture I had up was a fab Alice in Wonderland, complete with Mad March Hare - Very psych, but it fell away owing to bandwidth, hence the epilepsy inducing vibe! As for substances, I never inhaled...!

Anonymous said...

It is a fabulous word. Great blog post, very interesting.

CJ xx

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Something I wrote earlier...

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