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Only an inventor knows how to borrow, and every man is or should be an inventor. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Invention is a term which refers to the activity of creating new forms, compositions of matter, devices, or processes, or to the products of this activity. Some inventions are based on pre-existing forms, compositions, processes or ideas. Other inventions are radical breakthroughs which may extend the boundaries of human knowledge or experience.

CONTENT : A - F , G - L , M - R , S - Z , See also , External links


Quotes are arranged alphabetically by author

A - F

  • The inventor...looks upon the world and is not contented with things as they are. He wants to improve whatever he sees, he wants to benefit the world; he is haunted by an idea. The spirit of invention possesses him, seeking materialization.
Creativity arises out of the tension between spontaneity and limitations... ~ Rollo May
Our passion for form expresses our yearning to make the world adequate to our needs and desires, and, more important, to experience ourselves as having significance. ~ Rollo May

A - K

  • A tool is but the extension of a man's hand, and a machine is but a complex tool. And he that invents a machine augments the power of a man and the well-being of mankind.
  • INVENTOR, n. A person who makes an ingenious arrangement of wheels, levers and springs, and believes it civilization.
    • Ambrose Bierce, The Cynic's Dictionary (1906); republished as The Devil's Dictionary (1911).
  • Originality is going back to the origin and finding an empty chair. Would you gladly sit on it? No thank you. It is empty for a reason. That’s where my ass was. Not where my head is now.
  • Se non è vero è ben trovato.
    • It is not true, it is a happy invention.
    • Giordano Bruno, Gli Eroici Furori. Attributed erroneously to Cardinal d'Este. Quoted in Pasquier Recherces (1600) as "Si cela n'est vray, il est bien trouve".
  • Someone told me that creativity is just learning to do something with a different perspective.
    • Ben Carson, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story, p. 84.
  • I don't think necessity is the mother of invention — invention, in my opinion, arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness. To save oneself trouble.
  • The invention of inventing, it turns out, produces yet more inventions.
    • J. Bradford DeLong, Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Twentieth Century (2022)
  • Invention is both the institution of problem solving and advancing human obsolescence. We were naturally selected to replace ourselves.
  • All recognized famous inventors had capable predecessors and successors and made their improvements at a time when society was capable of using their product.
    • Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, p. 245.
  • Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.
    • Dilbert, comic strip
  • Inventors and geniuses have almost always been looked on as no better than fools at the beginning of their career, and very frequently at the end of it also.
  • God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.
    • Ecclesiastes, VII, 29.
  • To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.
    • Thomas Edison, As quoted in Behavior-Based Robotics (1998) by Ronald C. Arkin. p. 8.
  • Only an inventor knows how to borrow, and every man is or should be an inventor.
  • Although it is not, abstractedly speaking, of importance to know who first made a most valuable experiment, or to what individual the community is indebted for the invention of the most useful machine, yet the sense of mankind has in this, as in several other things, been in direct opposition to frigid reasoning; and we are pleased with a recollection of benefits, and with rendering honour to the memory of those who bestowed them. Were public benefactors to be allowed to pass away like hewers of wood and drawers of water, without commemoration, genius and enterprise would be deprived of their most coveted distinction, and after-times would lose incentives to that emulation which urges us to cherish and practise what has been worthy of commendation or imitation in our forefathers; and to make their works, which may have served for a light and been useful to the age in which they lived, a guide and a spur to ourselves
  • A scientist, an artist, a citizen is not like a child who needs papa methodology and mama rationality to give him security and direction, he can take care of himself, for he is the inventor not only of laws, theories, pictures, plays, forms of music, ways of dealing with his fellow man, institutions, but also entire world view, he is the inventor of entire forms of like.

G - L

"Technologies needed [to help avoid a climate disaster]: Hydrogen produced without emitting carbon . . . ." - Bill Gates, from his book How to Avoid a Climate Disaster (2021). (This illustration shows a hydrogen tank in the back of a fuel cell car.)
  • For many things we can find substitutes, but there is not now, nor will there ever be, a substitute for creative thought.
    • Crawford Greenewalt, Chemical and Engineering News, November 10, 1952, as quoted by Alan Tower Waterman in Research for National Defense, in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (March 1953), Vol. 9, No. 2,ISSN 0096-3402, published by Educational Foundation for Nuclear Science, Inc., p. 39.
  • The golden hour of invention must terminate like other hours, and when the man of genius returns to the cares, the duties, the vexations, and the amusements of life, his companions behold him as one of themselves—the creature of habits and infirmities.
  • Electric telegraphs, printing, gas,
    Tobacco, balloons, and steam,
    Are little events that have come to pass
    Since the days of the old régime.
    And, spite of Lemprière's dazzling page,
    I'd give—though it might seem bold—
    A hundred years of the Golden Age
    For a year of the Age of Gold.

M - R

  • Creativity is the result of a struggle between vitality and form. As anyone who has tried to write a sonnet or scan poetry, is aware, the form ideally do not take away from the creativity but may add to it.
    • Rollo May, Love and Will (1969), Ch. 13 : Communion of Consciousness, p. 320.
  • Creativity arises out of the tension between spontaneity and limitations, the latter (like the river banks) forcing the spontaneity into the various forms which are essential to the work of art or poem.
    • Rollo May, The Courage to Create (1975), Ch. 6 : On the Limits of Creativity, p. 115.
  • Imagination is the outreaching of mind... the bombardment of the conscious mind with ideas, impulses, images and every sort of psychic phenomena welling up from the preconscious. It is the capacity to "dream dreams and see visions..."
    • Rollo May, The Courage to Create (1975), Ch. 6 : On the Limits of Creativity, p. 120.
  • The human imagination leaps to form the whole, to complete the scene in order to make sense of it. The instantaneous way this is done shows how we are driven to construct the remainder of the scene. To fill the gaps is essential if the scene is to have meaning. That we may do this in misleading ways — at times in neurotic or paranoid ways — does not gainsay the central point. Our passion for form expresses our yearning to make the world adequate to our needs and desires, and, more important, to experience ourselves as having significance.
    • Rollo May, The Courage to Create (1975), Ch. 7 : Passion for Form, p. 131.
  • Creativity perpetually invents itself.
    • Paul Palnik Creative Consciousness. The Healthiest State of Mind, p. 36.

S - Z

  • Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple of them and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.
    • John Steinbeck, "Conversations with John Steinbeck", edited by Thomas Fensch (1988).
  • Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos; the materials must, in the first place, be afforded: it can give form to dark, shapeless substances, but cannot bring into being the substance itself. In all matters of discovery and invention, even of those that appertain to the imagination, we are continually reminded of the story of Columbus and his egg. Invention consists in the capacity of seizing on the capabilities of a subject, and in the power of moulding and fashioning ideas suggested to it.
  • He had been eight years upon a project for extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers, which were to be put in phials hermetically sealed, and let out to warm the air in raw, inclement summers.
    • Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels, Part III, Chapter V. Voyage to Laputa.
  • Necessity is the mother of invention.
    • Early notable authors who used this proverb include Jonathan Swift, Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World (1726), and Sir Walter Raleigh, The History of the World (1614).
    • Commonly misattributed to Plato from Benjamin Jowett's popular idiomatic translation (1871) of Plato's Republic, Book II, 369-c as "The true creator is necessity, who is the mother of our invention." Jowett himself (Plato's Republic: The Greek Text, Vol. III "Notes", 1894, p. 82) gives a literal translation of Plato as "our need will be the real creator," without the proverbial flourish.
  • We issued gorged with knowledge, and I spoke: 'Why, Sirs, they do all this as well as we." "They hunt old trails" said Cyril, "very well; But when did woman ever yet invent?'
  • Necessity first mothered invention. Now invention has little ones of her own, and they look just like grandma.
    • E. B. White, in "The Old and the New," in The New Yorker (19 June 1937).

See also

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