Heroic theory of invention and scientific development  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The heroic theory of invention and scientific development is the hypothesis that the principal authors of inventions and scientific discoveries are unique heroic individuals -- "great scientists" or "geniuses." A competing hypothesis ("multiple discovery") is that most inventions and scientific discoveries are made independently and simultaneously by multiple inventors and scientists.

The multiple discovery hypothesis might be especially relevant in the development of mathematics since mathematical knowledge is highly unified and any advances that happen need to be built from previously established results through a process of deduction, as a general rule. For instance, the development of infinitesimal calculus into a systematic discipline did not occur until the development of analytic geometry, the former being credited to both Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz and the latter to both Rene Descartes and Pierre de Fermat. It could still be maintained, nevertheless, that the advance of mathematical knowledge through a process of multiple discoveries does not detract from the "heroic" nature of the discoverers. In other words, heroic advances in knowledge need not be singular or unique to necessarily merit that label, and there in fact may be "multiple heroes."

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