Perhaps the worst thing you can ever do to your child, not to mention the rest of humanity, is to go ballistic whenever they are engaged in a project accidentally produces an unforeseen result. Society needs to embrace the accident more because without accidents some of the greatest contributions to the human race might have gone unrealized. Oh, and some of the worst contributions as well, but some people don’t necessarily share my view of what is an unconstructive discovery.
Try to imagine life without the elegantly designed potato chip. The entire experience of watching television or enjoying picnic would be significantly different. That elegant design covers up the ugly truth that their origin belongs to a series of unintended preparations of fried potatoes. Those accidental servings of soggy fried potatoes at the Moon’s Lake House in the 1950s combined with the vocal outrage of a customer not afraid to demand something better. Something…crunchier.
Chef George Crum finally decided that the potatoes which kept coming out too moist by accident and not by design were going to be replaced by exactly what the customer wanted, even if it meant doing away with tradition and convention. Crum sliced the potatoes to a point of thinness never before attempted and dipped them down into boiling grease. Call it inspiration if you want, but Crum’s accidental series of unpleasantly wet potatoes revolutionized the food industry and, also by accident, created one of the most successful industries in the world today: salty snacks.
It may be called Silly Putty, but the revenue this accidental product has churned out over the decades is nothing to laugh at. A terrific paradox is at work in the accident responsible for creating a bona find toy fad. Had it not been for the series of unfortunate accidental lapses in basic human decency and reason exhibited by the people of Germany during the 1930s, Silly Putty might never have become known.
A researcher named James Wright was attempting to help the war effort against the Nazis by inventing a synthetic form of rubber. One accidental drop of boric acid into the silicone oil that was the foundation of Wright’s research and a phenomenon was born. What you may not know is that the product that is sold as a child’s toy actually has a number of real world uses ranging from being one of the most effective ways to pick up lint to out of this world uses like securing tools in place within the zero gravity atmosphere of NASA spacecraft.
Not all accidents turn out to be a great thing for society, of course. While potato chips make us fat as well as taste delicious, that fact only hurts us if we indulge. Silly Putty has the negative effect of allowing those without a firm grasp of the science at work to turn an image of Blondie Bumstead into something decidedly less attractive than it should be. But, again, that downside doesn’t tend to cause us harm. I’ve never really quite understood why Christian monks are not allowed to be with a woman but they are allowed to drink alcohol. What’s up with that, anyway?
I’m also at a loss to explain how it came to be that one of those monks, who went by the familiar name of Dom Perignon, managed to find so much time away from his monastical duties to spend countless hours looking for a way to remove bubbles from wine only to accidentally stumble across a way to achieve the exact opposite. And so, because some monk couldn’t be bothered with spending a few extra hours in prayer each day, today we teetotalers find ourselves at the mercy of those whose judgment has been impaired by the addition of carbon dioxide to fermented grapes. Thanks, Dom! Thanks a whole heckuva lot!