Seven Mavericks

A series of mavericks inspired this work in different ways. Though on first glance, they appear diverse, all engage a single theme and one big question: What strategies do individuals going against the grain of commonly accepted views use to persuade others, and with what consequences? There are many other inspirational mavericks, but these individuals each played a particular role in inspiring my work:

— Eustache de Saint Pierre, Burgher of Calais (c. 1287 – 1371)
— Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519)
— Thomas More (1478 – 1535)
— Jean Baptiste Lamarck (1744 – 1829)
— Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882)
— Lizzie Magie (1866 – 1948)
— R. Buckminster Fuller (1895 – 1983)

Eustache de Saint Pierre

Early in the disastrous Hundred Years’ War, heavily armored French knights could not withstand repeated raids of the agile English army with their new technology of “clothyard” arrows shot from light bows.


After the battle of Crecy, England’s King Edward III laid siege to the port of Calais. He  intended to destroy the town of Calais after France’s defeat in the Battle of Crécy (1346).  but heroism and self-sacrifice enabled the townsmen to endure under the leadership of Jean de Vienne for eleven months. This painting of the Siege of Calais is from Jean de Wavrin‘s Chroniques d’Angleterre.

Weakened by famine, and disheartened by the withdrawal of promised aid from Philip VI., the town asked for terms. Its fate is told by the ancient chronicler Froissart. Edward said that he would spare the town if six leading burghers were delivered to him bare-headed, bare-footed, with ropes about their necks, and the keys to the town and its fortress in their hands.

Eustache de St. Pierre, a wealthy merchant, and one-time Mayor of the town, stepped forward first to sacrifice his life. Five other burghers joined him, all with ropes around their necks (1347).
Auguste-Rodin-Eustache-4viewsThe English barons, moved by this heroism and devotion, attempted to dissuade Edward from his sadistic purpose. He persisted, but reluctantly gave in to the Queen, “great with child.” According to Froissard, the King turned the six Burghers of Calais over to his Queen and she released them, honorably clothed, banqueted, and attended, but there is a record in the Tower of London of the imprisonment of one Jean de Vienne and his companions. Their heroism in 1347 so moved England’s Queen, Philippa of Hainault, that she persuaded her husband King Edward III to spare, not only those six heroic townsmen, but their town – Calais.

To a competition held by the city of Calais for a statue commemorating the heroism of a leading 14th century citizen, Eustache de St. Pierre, Rodin submitted instead a composition showing all six of the heroic burghers who offered themselves as a sacrifice for the protection of their fellow townsmen.
Burghers_of_CalaisDespite breaking the rules of the competition, Rodin won the commission and executed the group of figures one-half over life size in two years, but because of opposition by the Municipality that the figures were not sufficiently “heroic,” it was not until 1895 that the monument was erected in front of the Town Hall of Calais.

Eustache raises a question that Daedalus, the artist-inventor, might have asked Darwin: Why did Nature evolve artists, the intellectually curious, those committed to make a difference in the world?  When Eustache de Saint Pierre stepped forward to sacrifice his life to save his town of Calais, did he make a personal statement irrelevant to evolution? Those who sacrifice themselves don’t survive better to reproduce more. Are the most creative, committed individuals mere anomalies, inexplicable as evolution’s products? Or are they clues, as Darwin’s co-discoverer of evolution, Alfred Russel Wallace, thought, that our common view of evolution is incomplete? How do individuals inform evolution when, like Eustache, they step forward to sacrifice their lives for what they believe in, or when they make great personal sacrifices to compose symphonies, write books, or pursue their curiosity to discover knowledge?


Leonardo da Vinci

LeonadodaVinci-CodexTrivulzianus-sq 2Shortly before I finished graduate school, my aunt gave my father a large folio book, The Sublimations of Leonardo, by psychologist Raymond Stites, a remote cousin of my grandmother, whose maiden name was Stites. My father read the book and then passed it on to me. Stites contended that Freud deserved blame for broad misconceptions about Leonardo da Vinci. Stites aimed to set the record straight. Historians tended to focus on the impressive objects da Vinci invented, neglecting his process. In 1895 Henri de Geymuller, after studying da Vinci’s word lists, remarked that ideas may be born “in some mysterious region of the mind.” The word lists were mixed with pictographs and sketches, suggesting that da Vinci had a method to stimulate his inventive powers.

Stites speculated that da Vinci may have used “automatic writing” as a technique to bring submerged material up from his subconscious to fuel his ideas. What intrigued me most was Stite’s hypothesis that da Vinci’s great achievements as a technologist resulted from his unique way of putting his mind into “artistic mode” to conceive new inventions. There seemed to be a correlation between the way the brilliant artist-designer works and how evolution produces novelty.

I decided to try my own experiment in automatic writing. What emerged tapped a deep vein, predicting events that later occurred. These early jottings evolved into my earliest draft for this book, originally called Daedalus’ Dilemma: discovery, invention, design.


Thomas More

2016 is the 500th anniversary year of the publication of Thomas More’s bestselling book, Utopia, described by Ruskin as “the most mischievous book ever written.” It was indeed a mammoth hoax, but a hoax with a worthy purpose. He and his comrad Erasmus provide a fascinating answer to my core question, ” What strategies do individuals going against the grain of commonly accepted views use to persuade others, and with what consequences?”

Thomas More published his book UTOPIA  in 1516 when the hottest “new media” was the printing press. UTOPIA was a bestseller because readers thought it was real news – an island newly discovered in the New World by a Portuguese mariner on one of Amerigo Vespucci’s expeditions.
This mammoth hoax was contrived by two pals over a weekend while Thomas More was visiting his friend Desiderius Erasmus, who wrote In Praise of Folly five years earlier (1511).

Erasmus convinced Thomas More that his ideas about social reform would be less likely to get him beheaded if couched in a story told by someone else, the mysterious (fictitious) Portuguese mariner Raphael Hythloday, whose name is a mash-up. Raphael comes from the Bible (Hebrew) and refers to one of the archangels, God’s closest confidantes and messengers. Hythloday sources to Greek words meaning “expert in nonsense.”

There was a method in Thomas More’s madness, which is strikingly relevant today, on the 500th anniversary of the publication of that clever little book. Thomas More aimed for the title of his book, UTOPIA, to become a new word in the English language, a hybrid of opposites: insight and foolishness. His mariner is a messenger with wisdom to advise those in power. But hidden in his name Hythloday is the fact that his mariner is a hoax. Thomas More, contrived with Erasmus to use a tension already existing between the Christian world and the pagan (Greek) world. Hythloday was a precursor for C.P. Snow’s Two Cultures, embodying two seemingly irreconcilable world-views.


Jean Baptiste Lamarck

5Lamarck-DarwinJB Lamarck, left, and Charles Darwin, right, were not at odds to the extent popularly imagined because of the misrepresentation of Lamarck. In fact, Darwin cited his indebtedness to Lamarck, whose major work, published in 1809, anticipated Darwin’s theory of evolution by fifty years. Lamarck was an unfortunate victim of politics. Deeply curious, and not one to play the political game, his contemporary competitor Georges Cuvier delivered a eulogy at Lamarck’s funeral that effectively misrepresented Lamarck’s enormous contribution. A half century after his death, August Weismann in the late 19th century summoned the deceased Lamarck as a straw man Weismann could attack to frame his own views. So Lamarck  was castigated in his time, and for nearly two centuries, until robotics, artificial intelligence, and the recent emergence of molecular and cell biology, Developmental Systems Theory, and discoveries in neuroscience suggest that he was far ahead of his time.

Charles Darwin, worried that he would suffer the fate of Lamarck, adopted  a brilliant strategy to counter fundamentalist religion. By hitching his theory of evolution to the popular capitalist philosophy of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, Darwin assured his fame and success, but ironically paid a high price when the full implications of his theory of evolution were (as described in What Daedalus told Darwin) misunderstood.


Charles Darwin

DarwinSketch-276x300Left is a page from Darwin’s notebooks around July 1837 showing his first sketch of an evolutionary tree.
In Darwin’s summary to the section as revised in the 6th edition of 1872, Darwin explains his views on the tree of life: “The affinities of all the beings of the same class have sometimes been represented by a great tree. I believe this simile largely speaks the truth. The green and budding twigs may represent existing species; and those produced during former years may represent the long succession of extinct species. At each period of growth all the growing twigs have tried to branch out on all sides, and to overtop and kill the surrounding twigs and branches, in the same manner as species and groups of species have at all times overmastered other species in the great battle for life. The limbs divided into great branches, and these into lesser and lesser branches, were themselves once, when the tree was young, budding twigs; and this connection of the former and present buds by ramifying branches may well represent the classification of all extinct and living species in groups subordinate to groups.

Of the many twigs which flourished when the tree was a mere bush, only two or three, now grown into great branches, yet survive and bear the other branches; so with the species which lived during long-past geological periods, very few have left living and modified descendants. From the first growth of the tree, many a limb and branch has decayed and dropped off; and these fallen branches of various sizes may represent those whole orders, families, and genera which have now no living representatives, and which are known to us only in a fossil state. As we here and there see a thin straggling branch springing from a fork low down in a tree, and which by some chance has been favoured and is still alive on its summit, so we occasionally see an animal like the <em>Ornithorhynchus</em> or <em>Lepidosiren</em>, which in some small degree connects by its affinities two large branches of life, and which has apparently been saved from fatal competition by having inhabited a protected station. As buds give rise by growth to fresh buds, and these, if vigorous, branch out and overtop on all sides many a feebler branch, so by generation I believe it has been with the great Tree of Life, which fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the earth, and covers the surface with its ever-branching and beautiful ramifications.”


Lizzie Magie

LizzieMagieThe story of Monopoly starts with the 1879 best-selling book by Henry George, Progress and Poverty. Lizzie Magie envisaged that she could invent a game to teach the anti-monopolistic principles of Henry George, that his concept that a Single Tax on property could discourage the kind of real estate speculation that led to the mortgage crisis of 2009. Magie invented  The Landlord’s Game and secured a US patent on the game in 1904,

She then tried to sell her game to Parker Brothers, who rejected it. Charles B. Darrow stole her idea in the 1930s, patented it and sold it to Parker Brothers, calling it Monopoly and using it to expound exactly the opposite principles from those of Henry George and Lizzie Magie, although the board was copied from hers.
LizzieMagie-1906-Landlords-GameOn advice from Parker Brothers lawyers, after purchasing Darrow’s patent and launching the game we now know as Monopoly in 1935, Magie was approached by Parker Brothers in 1936 to buy her latest 1924 patent, which covered two versions of the game, one to teach Henry George’s principles, the other to show the downside of property ownership. Magie agreed to sell her patent for a mere $500 because she was told that her game would be used as a teaching tool. After buying her off, Parker Brothers buried her game and fabricated a story about how Charles Darrow had invented the game. In the 1970s Parker Brothers sued Ralph Anspach for his game Anti-Monopoly, which revived the original principles of the game and was used as a teaching tool, not only by Professor Anspach at San Francisco State University, but at Wharton School of Finance, Columbia University and elsewhere. Anspach fought all the way to the Supreme Court and won in 1983  (Sawyer 2007) by exposing that the concept for the game had been stolen from the original woman inventor. But did Anspach really win? How many people have heard of Lizzie Magie, or Ralph Anspach, or Anti-Monopoly? Hasbro now owns both the trademark for Monopoly and the trademark for Anti-Monopoly (Anspach 1999).

Collaborative intelligence, and its opposite, dis-intelligence, play out over the sweep of history, as each significant discovery, or innovation, or old piece of information, awaits a new context for its reinterpretation, perhaps an “innovation network” that enables its implementation, making a new interpretation possible. Lizzie Magie’s patents of 1904 and 1924 did not make her wealthy, but they became significant many decades later in the context of a lawsuit that cited her prior art to invalidate the Parker Brothers patent (Wolfe 1976).

Wolfe, B. H. (1976). The Monopolization of Monopoly: Lizzie J. Magie. San Francisco Bay Guardian.


R. Buckminster Fuller

Bucky-stampIn this century R. Buckminster Fuller, Garrett Hardin, Irving Janis, James Lovelock, and Marshall McLuhan are five salient examples of brilliant thinkers for whom the world was not yet ready. Both Fuller and McLuhan anticipated technology that did not yet exist. Hardin and Lovelock had a message that no one wanted to hear, until the jolt of earthquakes, violent storms, and smoldering heat began to rouse a sleeping public. Janis was likewise ignored; his findings called for a method that few thought was needed. These mavericks all deserve to be reconsidered in the light of what we know today.

Is Nature’s “world game” a game that we civilized humans can collaboratively play? Two seminal thinkers produced complementary breakthrough ideas concurrently. Buckminster Fuller propounded his ideas about synergy, design science, and World Game, while James Lovelock collected the data to formulate the Gaia Hypothesis. The Gaia Hypothesis and World Game fit together like hand and glove. Lovelock expressed the complexity of global environmental sustainability as a synergetic system, carefully tuned and self-regulating. Fuller proposed World Game as a way to address the system that human civilization has disrupted, to restore the balance of Earth as a synergetic system. Al Gore would later adopt that metaphor — Earth in the Balance.

As a graduate student in architecture, focusing on design method (M. Arch. Harvard), I realized that my objective was not a professional career designing buildings but to study design as systematic synthesis – to understand how problem-solving as learning exemplifies the creativity for which evolution is our ultimate examplar. I worked for Buckminster Fuller, who proposed in 1961 the concept of World Game, a learning game to address global problems. To implement World Game required technology that did not yet exist to address complex, cross-disciplinary global problems  requiring integration via social networks, mobile apps, and the public internet.

The film Game*Changers describes how the game Monopoly flipped to contradict its original inventor’s vision, and how Buckminster Fuller’s World Game, could evolve via crowdsourcing, mobile, and collaborative tools, into a Big Play to save Spaceship Earth.

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