Remarks delivered at the Sarasota International Design Summit, 27 Oct 2008
It is said that we live in an age of unprecedented innovation. Actually, that’s a bit redundant. Innovation invokes the unprecedented by definition; all innovation creates something having no precedent, something that did not exist before. At the moment of innovation, you perform magic. You become the latest link in an unbroken chain of transformative miracles that the universe has visited upon itself extending back to the beginning of time.
Lest you feel that was an overstatement, or if you do not fully appreciate that when you innovate you are the very universe innovating upon itself, consider this: Nearly three quarters of your body is composed of water, whose molecules are comprised of 1 atom of oxygen and 2 atoms of hydrogen. So if you weigh 150 pounds then you consist of about 10 and a half gallons of water, or over 2.5 octillion (2,532,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) atoms of hydrogen swarming about within your body.
The hydrogen atoms in your body were created some 14 billion years ago during the big bang. The nucleic protons and orbiting electrons that make up the hydrogen atoms in your body first condensed out of an almost infinitely dense quark-gluon plasma less than a second after the universe came into being and was roughly the size of a turtle.
It took about 380,000 years of expansion for the temperature of the universe to cool sufficiently so that each of those protons could capture and hold an electron to actually form hydrogen atoms, but that’s barely the blink of an eye on the cosmic time scale.
So for all intents and purposes, pretty much all the hydrogen that exists today was created at the dawn of time. In the beginning, all the matter in the universe was hydrogen.
You and everyone and everything that was to come, every thought and every dream, all of the sacred and all of the profane: all of it was contained within one big, rapidly expanding cloud of hydrogen atoms.
Roughly 2.5 octillion of those original hydrogen atoms are in you.
You are a highly organized matrix of big bang exhaust.
So, how did that happen? How did a cloud of hydrogen atoms turn into most of what you’re made of? Well, turns out, the hydrogen cloud was just a shade on the clumpy side.
If you look closely enough, and with the right instruments, you can see echoes of the Big Bang in what is called the cosmic microwave background radiation. It shows you more or less what the universe looked like shortly after its creation when it was composed entirely of hydrogen.
Some parts of the early universe became empty, intergalactic space, and other parts became galaxies of stars, stars that were made when the clumpy parts of the hydrogen cloud collapsed under the force of gravity, the hydrogen atoms getting so close together that they actually stuck together to form helium, in a process called nuclear fusion.
Through nuclear fusion, our sun converts 600 million tons of hydrogen into 596 million tons of helium every second. The other 4 tons becomes the life-giving heat and light for which our sun is so universally admired.
OK, so if all the hydrogen came from the big bang, and the helium comes from nuclear fusion in stars, where does everything else come from?
Well, eventually, stars burn up all their hydrogen and get hot enough to fuse their helium atoms into carbon, then the carbon fuses into neon, which fuses into oxygen and silicon, which then fuse into iron.
At this point, in stars that are a bit larger than our sun, the fires of creation go into overdrive, the star collapses, which ignites a course of runaway nuclear fusion, that creates a supernova. For a brief moment in time, the exploding star is the brightest thing in the universe since the big bang. And it is here where everything else is created.
The big bang made the hydrogen. Some of the hydrogen is in the water that is 70% of you. Most of the rest of the hydrogen made the stars, and the stars made everything else. From the oxygen you’re breathing, to the carbon in your cells, to the gold on your fingers. The universe made itself into these things.
And these things eventually condensed into you. You are part of the slimy film coating a rock adrift in the inky blackness of space. The slime, the rock, and you share a common ancestry in the very fabric of the universe itself.
Why the cosmology lesson? Because this blog is going to be about modern business, entrepreneurship, and intellectual property law… oh and also how the internet is fundamentally transforming civilization. And that’s less daunting when you take a cosmic view. If you want to think meaningfully about where you’re going, I think it’s important to have an idea about where you’ve been.
I consider this to be sacred: When you innovate, you are the universe innovating upon itself. When you invent, you are the universe inventing. When you advance the state of the art in a particular technology, when you author a work of art or literature, when you turn raw materials into something new and polished, you are doing what the universe has spent the last 14 billion years preparing you to do.
Innovation is never unprecedented. It’s what we do.
The only constant is change.