Discovery: Shaping Civilization and Worldview

From the earliest mastery of fire to the modern scientific breakthroughs, human beings have propelled the development of civilization and shaped our worldview through discovery and exploration of the world. These discoveries primarily come from several fields, such as:

  • Natural science: Newton’s law of gravity, Einstein’s theory of relativity, etc.
  • Biology: new species or organisms, Darwin’s theory of evolution, antibiotics, the double helix structure of DNA, etc.
  • Geography: discovery of the Americas, the theory of plate tectonics, etc.
  • Archaeology: Mayan culture, dinosaur fossils, etc.
  • Astronomy: confirmation of black holes, exoplanets, etc.
  • Physics: electromagnetic waves, quantum mechanics, etc.
  • Chemistry: new elements, chemical structures, etc.

These discoveries are often confused with “innovation” or fall into a gray area in between. Generally speaking, today’s legal systems focus more on protecting innovation rather than discovery. For instance, an inventor can obtain a patent for their invention and convert it into commercial benefits. On the other hand, why are many discoveries unsuitable for commercial benefits, such as monopoly rights? This must be discussed from legal, moral, economic, and social perspectives. Generally, while granting commercial benefits can serve as an incentive mechanism, encouraging scientists, explorers, and researchers to undertake more exploration and research, many discoveries, such as chemical elements, physical laws, and all nature’s products, inherently belong to all humanity and should not be monopolized by individuals. Moreover, when privatization affects basic human rights (such as life-saving antibiotics), it may lead to more serious moral and ethical disputes. When certain discoveries (like ancient civilization relics or biological resources) are part of a specific region or culture, attempting to profit from them can conflict with local historical and cultural values.

The fruits of discovery can bring direct commercial benefits to the pioneers in some cases, such as:

  • Patent rights: When a discovery can be transformed into a substantial technological innovation, it can be protected through the patent system, providing economic rewards to the inventor. This protection not only motivates further innovation but also brings reasonable benefits to the inventor. For example, naturally occurring biological gene sequences are generally not patentable because they are a product of nature, not human-made inventions. However, if a gene sequence is artificially modified or synthesized, it may meet the standards for patent application. In fact, in many fields, there is a dispute between discovery and innovation, such as whether mathematical formulas are discoveries or innovations, which remains an unresolved philosophical question.
  • Mining rights: When natural resources like oil are discovered, there is an opportunity to obtain mining rights. These types of concessions are usually defined by contracts, thus differing from the aforementioned patent rights or other intellectual property rights. Contracts will specify the scope, conditions, duration, and associated responsibilities and obligations of mining rights. For example, an oil company may need to sign a contract with national or local governments to gain the rights to explore and exploit in a certain area.

In most cases, for natural discoveries, there are several ways to highlight and acknowledge the achievements of the pioneers:

  • Publishing academic papers: Researchers establish their contribution and priority to new discoveries by publishing papers in academic journals.
  • Naming rights: For certain discoveries in specific fields (such as astronomy), the discoverer may have the opportunity to name newly discovered celestial bodies, etc.
  • Award recognition: The academic community recognizes researchers’ outstanding contributions by awarding various prizes.
  • Research funding support: Excellent research results can attract more research funding, supporting further scientific exploration.
  • Career advancement: Academic achievements can enhance a researcher’s reputation and professional status within the academic community.

Although these reward methods do not directly translate into commercial benefits, they have significant impacts on an individual’s career and future development. Indeed, humanity has never ceased to explore outward, even before the existence of legal systems, right? Scientific discoveries, as embodiments of human intelligence and curiosity, are the