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PITFALLS OF CREATIVITY WELLS E. FARNSWORTH* The year 1992 was the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. In recognition of the event, the NIH planned to present Christopher Columbus Discovery Awards to a dozen or so scientists who "have made discoveries that have contributed significantly to the alleviation of disease and disability" [I]. As a case study, I have used an array of texts [2—6] to draft my idea of what Columbus's research proposal might have looked like in NIH format, and the approximate language with which it was critiqued and rejected by Portugal and initially by Spain. With this as a model, I have attempted to show how similar are the pitfalls to creativity experienced by Columbus in the Middle Ages and investigators today. RESEARCH PROPOSAL 1484 To: 1. John II, King of Portugal. 2. Ferdinand V and Isabella, King and Queen of Aragon and Castile. Title ofProject: Enterprise of the Indies. Principal Investigator: Columbus, Christopher. Budget: Personnel: Principal Investigator +100 naval officers and seamen. Equipment: 3 caravals. Supplies: rations and consumable supplies for a 6-month voyage. Research Plan A. Specific Aims. To test the hypothesis that the world is round by sailing westward across the Western Ocean from the west coast of Europe at Cape St. Vincent to the east coast of Asia (Cathay and Cipango) The author expresses gratitude to the staffs of the Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library in Lovell, Maine, and to the Oriole Branch of the Chicago Public Library for their assistance in gathering the resources used in this project. *Adjunct professor of urology, Northwestern University Medical School, Tarry Building 11-715, 303 East Chicago Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60611-3009.© 1993 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 003 1-5982/93/370 1-084510 1 .00 104 Wells E. Farnsworth ¦ Pitfalls of Creativity at Cape Cattigara. In the process, to measure and chart the course thereof. B. Background and Significance. Today the known world consists of three parts: Europe, Asia, and Africa. Europe is separated from Asia by the Red Sea and the Don River and from Africa by the Mediterranean Sea. These three parts are surrounded by what some believe is an unnavigable Western Ocean. Ptolemy considers the ocean infinite, a limitless space within the confines of which lies the Earth. In the Ptolemaic system, half of the world (approximately 180°) is covered by land; the other half and onto infinity by the ocean. In Ptolemy's view, to travel the infinite is both impossible and sacrilegious. In Portugal, though, no sailor, scientist, geographer, or mathematician doubts that the world is round. Macrobius has spoken ofa "fourfold earth," presuming the existence of a fourth region. Plato, in relating the legends of the island of Atlantis, mentioned a "hidden land," larger than Asia and Africa. Others—Pomponius, Cicero, Anchises, and Virgil —believed there are other, as yet undiscovered, lands on the Earth. More substantive evidence of lands beyond the sea are the flotsam and jetsam washed up on the shores of Madeira and the Azores. Corpses "that seemed to have wide faces, of a shape different from Christians," have also been washed ashore. In fact, at Porto Santo, I talked to a dying helmsman, the only survivor of a dismasted ship. Before this sailor died, he told me of lands beyond the sea and even drew a map of them for me. Significance. Since all the evidence available so far, though suggestive of the hypothesis, is conjectural and anecdotal, the proposed investigative voyage is of profound scientific, economic, and religious import. a.Scientific: Proof that the world is round and thus circumnavigable will immensely advance nautical science, especially navigation. It will provide an explanation and firm basis for relating astronomy to cosmography . b.Economic: For almost two centuries the economies of all the European countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea have been enriched by trading, both international and, more especially, by import/export commerce with the Far East. Initiated in the eleventh century by the findings of the Crusades, business was greatly expanded when the explorations of the Polo brothers in 1260-1265, and then of Marco Polo in 1272-1294, revealed means of travel to the...


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