Serendipity means an unplanned, fortunate discovery. Serendipity is a common occurrence throughout the history of product invention and scientific discovery. In recent years, the phenomenon has become a potential design principle in online activity for preventing filter bubbles and echo chambers.
The first noted use of "serendipity" in the English language was by Horace Walpole in 1754. In a letter he wrote to his friend Horace Mann, Walpole explained an unexpected discovery he had made about a lost painting of Bianca Cappello by Giorgio Vasari by reference to a Persian fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip. The princes, he told his correspondent, were "always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of". The name comes from Serendip, an old name for Sri Lanka (Ceylon), hence Sarandib by Arab traders. It is derived from the Sanskrit Siṃhaladvīpaḥ (Siṃhalaḥ, Sri Lanka + dvīpaḥ, island).
The term "serendipity" is often applied to inventions made by chance rather than intent. Andrew Smith, editor of The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink, has speculated that most everyday products had serendipitous roots, with many early ones related to animals. The origin of cheese, for example, possibly originated in the Nomad practice of storing milk in the stomach of a dead camel that was attached to the saddle of a live one, thereby mixing rennet from the stomach with the milk stored within.
The Post-It Note emerged after 3M scientist Spencer Silver produced a weak adhesive, and a colleague used it to keep bookmarks in place on a church hymnal. Silly Putty came from a failed attempt at synthetic rubber. The use of sensors to prevent automobile air bags from killing children came from a chair developed by the MIT Media Lab for a Penn and Teller magic show. Raytheon scientist Percy Spencer first patented the idea behind the microwave oven after noticing that emissions from radar equipment had melted the candy in his pocket. On a bird hunting trip, George de Mestral took a closer look at the cockleburs stuck to his pants and dog. Viewed under a microscope, each burr was covered with tiny hooks. The observation eventually led to the invention of the Velcro hook-and-loop fastener. In San Francisco, Frank Epperson, age 11, accidentally left a mix of water and soda powder outside; the frozen result became the basis for the Popsicle.
Entomologist Shaun Winterton discovered Semachrysa jade, a new species of lacewing, finding it not in its native Malasia, but on the photo-sharing site Flickr. His discovery was aided by Flickr's ability to present images that are personalized to a user's interests, thereby increasing the odds Winterton would chance upon the photo. Computer scientist Jaime Teevan has argued that serendipitous discovery is promoted by such personalization, writing that "people don’t know what to do with random new information. Instead, we want information that is at the fringe of what we already know, because that is when we have the cognitive structures to make sense of the new ideas."
William Boyd coined the term zemblanity in the late twentieth century to mean somewhat the opposite of serendipity: "making unhappy, unlucky and unexpected discoveries occurring by design". A zemblanity is, effectively, an "unpleasant unsurprise". It derives from Novaya Zemlya (or Nova Zembla), a cold, barren land with many features opposite to the lush Sri Lanka (Serendip). On this island Willem Barents and his crew were stranded while searching for a new route to the east.
Bahramdipity is derived directly from Bahram Gur as characterized in The Three Princes of Serendip. It describes the suppression of serendipitous discoveries or research results by powerful individuals.
- "Serendipity". OxfordDictionaries.com. Oxford dictionary. Retrieved 23 April 2018.
- "In praise of serendipity". The Economist. 2017-03-09. ISSN 0013-0613. Retrieved 2019-01-19.
- Reviglio, Urbano (2019-01-02). "Serendipity as an emerging design principle of the infosphere: challenges and opportunities". Ethics and Information Technology. doi:10.1007/s10676-018-9496-y. ISSN 1572-8439.
- Race, Tammera M.; Makri, Stephann (2016-06-13). Accidental Information Discovery: Cultivating Serendipity in the Digital Age. Elsevier. ISBN 9781780634319.
- Silvia Davoli, "The creation of the word 'serendipity'", Strawberry Hill Treasure Hunt, July 2nd, 2018: https://www.strawberryhillhouse.org.uk/the-creation-of-serendipity/
- Remer, Theodore G., ed. (1965). Serendipity and the Three Princes, from the Peregrinaggio of 1557. Edited, with an Introduction and Notes, by Theodore G. Remer. Preface by W. S. Lewis. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 6. LCC 65-10112
- Barber, Robert K. Merton, Elinor (2006). The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity : A Study in Sociological Semantics and the Sociology of Science (Paperback ed.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. pp. 1–3. ISBN 978-0691126302.
- "serendipity" – via The Free Dictionary.
- "Words hardest to translate – The list by Today Translations. Also defined in modern times as "An unexpected discovery occurring by design". Unknown reference updated on 12/14/2014 by Isaac Lucero, Santa Fe, NM USA". Global Oneness. 21 April 2009. Archived from the original on January 25, 2009.
- For example: Portuguese serendipicidade or serendipidade; French sérendipicité or sérendipité but also heureux hasard, "fortunate chance"; Italian serendipità (Italian Dictionary Hoepli, cfr.); Dutch serendipiteit; German Serendipität; Japanese serendipiti (セレンディピティ); Swedish, Danish and Norwegian serendipitet; Romanian serendipitate; Spanish serendipia, Polish: Serendypność; Finnish serendipiteetti
- "The Power Of Serendipity". CBS News. Retrieved 2019-02-17.
- "The story of serendipity". Understanding Science. University of California Museum of Paleontology. Retrieved 2019-02-18.
- "This Month in Physics History: February 9, 1990: Death of George de Mestral". American Physical Society. February 2004. Retrieved 2019-02-18.
- Thomas, J. Thorson (2017). Serendipity: Seemingly Random Events, Insignificant Decisions, and Accidental Discoveries that Altered History. Windy City Publishers.
- Starr, Karla (September 12, 2012). "How to Not Find What You're Looking For". Scientific American Blog Network. Retrieved 2019-02-18.
- Boyd, William. Armadillo, Chapter 12, Knopf, New York, 1998. ISBN 0-375-40223-3
- (a) Sommer, Toby J. "'Bahramdipity' and Scientific Research", The Scientist, 1999, 13(3), 13.
(b) Sommer, Toby J. "Bahramdipity and Nulltiple Scientific Discoveries," Science and Engineering Ethics, 2001, 7(1), 77–104.
- "The view from Serendip", by Arthur C. Clarke, Random House, 1977.
- "Momentum and Serendipity: how acquired leaders create value in the integration of technology firms", by Melissa E. Graebner, McCombs School of Business, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, U.S.A. 2004.
- Merton, Robert K.; Barber, Elinor (2004). The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity: A Study in Sociological Semantics and the Sociology of Science. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-11754-6. (Manuscript written 1958).
- Frédéric Darbellay et al., Interdisciplinary Research Boosted by Serendipity, Creativity Research Journal, Volume 26, Issue 1, 2014.
- Hannan, Patrick J. (2006). Serendipity, Luck and Wisdom in Research. iUniverse. ISBN 978-0-595-36551-7.
- Roberts, Royston M. (1989). Serendipity: Accidental Discoveries in Science. Wiley. ISBN 978-0-471-60203-3.
- Andel, Pek Van (1994). "Anatomy of the unsought finding : serendipity: origin, history, domains, traditions, appearances, patterns and programmability". British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. 45 (2): 631–648. doi:10.1093/bjps/45.2.631.
- Gaughan, Richard (2010). Accidental Genius: The World's Greatest By-Chance Discoveries. Metro Books. ISBN 978-1-4351-2557-5.
- Solomon, Y., & Bronstein, J. (2016). Serendipity in legal information seeking behavior: Chance encounters of family-law advocates with court rulings, Aslib Journal of Information Management, 68(1), 112–134. doi: 10.1108/AJIM-04-2015-0056
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- Accidental discoveries. PBS
- Top Ten: Accidental discoveries. Discovery Channel at the Wayback Machine (archived October 11, 2007)
- Accidental Genius Book – anecdotes of serendipitous scientific discoveries.
- ACM Paper on Creating serendipitous encounters in a geographically distributed community.
- Serendipitous Information Retrieval : An Academic Research Publication by Elaine G. Toms
- Programming for Serendipity – AAAI Technical Report FS-02-01
- The Serendipity Equations
- Serendipity and the Internet from Bill Thompson at the BBC
- Serendipity of Science – a BBC Radio 4 series by Simon Singh
- Psychology today's main article about serendipity