The criteria that inspire the institutions that set the governance for private and public R&D rely on what Norbert Wiener —the father of cybernetics— called the direct question, that is: “we have a problem, what is the solution?”. This approach assumes that the areas of ignorance are known (“we know what we don’t know”) and that the way to go to solve the problems can be identified ex ante.
However, historical evidence shows that many fundamental breakthroughs in science and technology followed what Wiener called the inverse question. These are cases in which the solution precedes the identification of the question. As Meyer writes: “Many of the essential medical discoveries in history came about not because someone came up with a hypothesis, tested it, and discovered that it was correct, but more typically because someone stumbled upon an answer, after some creative thought, figured out what problem had been inadvertently solved” (2007: p.300). Often, problems solved through the inverse question approach revealed new areas of the adjacent possible, which were not even supposed to exist. An essential, but under-appreciated, mechanism of the inverse question is exaptation, which is the cooption of artifacts (or biological traits) for functions different from the ones they were designed (or selected) for. The microwave oven, the bow and arrow, the first antibiotic, antiseptic, and antidepressant are all cases of exaptation.
The Palazzo Feltrinelli second international workshop aims to discuss the contribution of exaptation and inverse question-driven innovation on scientific and technological development and the way research and development is organized and funded.
|Location||Palazzo Feltrinelli, Lake Garda, Italy 26, 27 and 28 of April 2018|
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