Suppose Darwin and Wallace independently come up with a similar idea. It's like the idea has entered the social consciousness at that time. What is the word for this called? Kind of the tipping point where everyone catches on and starts doing similar stuff independently.

Okay thanks guys for your answers, I am a huge fan of the site and I've been a long time lurker, this worked out well. :)

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    It's quite directly and unimaginatively called "Multiple Discovery" and is typically contrasted with the "'Heroic Theory' of Invention and Discovery".
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Nov 28, 2014 at 13:08
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    Yeah sorry I did know that, I just thought there was a better, more cool name. Commented Nov 28, 2014 at 13:21
  • I wish there were too; but I once spent a good bit of time looking for a cooler phrase than "An idea whose time has come", and didn't find anything pithier. You might say something was "In the zeitgeist", but that has its own flaws.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Nov 28, 2014 at 13:23
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    In history of science, this is known as "Railroad time". I.e, when the economy has reached a certain state of infrastructure (coal, steel, and land available, plus steam engines and demand for transportation), it's "Railroad time", and the idea of building railroads occurs to many people naturally at the same time. As it in fact did. Much the same thing happened a century or so later with the automobile. Commented Nov 28, 2014 at 15:35
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    @ben Synchronicity.
    – Joe Dark
    Commented Nov 28, 2014 at 17:41

7 Answers 7


As @Dan Bron points out in his comment, multiple discovery fits the bill perfectly.

Other terms that are sometimes used are simultaneous invention or independent invention. Frequency of occurrence in Google Search are:

    Multiple discovery:     26,600    
    Simultaneous invention: 12,100    
    Independent invention:  69,900 

In Google books:

    Multiple discovery:      4,780
    Simultaneous invention:  4,460
    Independent invention:  33,500

See this Ngram. The figures for independent invention are possibly skewed because this term is used in patent law.

If you're looking for a better, more cool name, synchronicity might work:

the coincidental occurrence of events and especially psychic events (as similar thoughts in widely separated persons or a mental image of an unexpected event before it happens) that seem related but are not explained by conventional mechanisms of causality —used especially in the psychology of C. G. Jung

For added coolness (depending on your age :-)) it's also the title of a 1983 album by The Police.


The idiomatic way to describe just this kind of situation is by saying that the idea was (floating) in the air. And unlike most other suggestions on this page, this particular metaphor is not limited to English to boot.

  • Before you ask: I can vow for German, French, and Russian. That's Germanic, Romance, and Slavic right there, so I wouldn't be surprised to see a whole array of other languages join the choir with their calques. (Edit: now also confirmed in our chat for Spanish and Dutch.) Not sure who started it, but I feel like betting an insubstantial amount on Ancient Greek philosophers.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Nov 28, 2014 at 22:03

I remember learning about the concept you're referring to - as observed in Japanese monkeys learning to wash their food... i.e. the "tipping point" when all the monkeys suddenly started washing - even though they had no contact with the behavior. I think they called it "Hundredth Monkey Syndrome"


Collective consciousness is another way to describe it. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collective_consciousness

  • Apparently your link doesn't show the term collective consciousness means a term that is used when people come up with the same idea independently.
    – user140086
    Commented Mar 6, 2016 at 17:07

[Morphic Resonance by Rupert Sheldrake:] (http://www.sheldrake.org/research/morphic-resonance)


How about great minds think alike? This proverb seems quite relevant.

  • True, however it might not necessarily be a good idea :P Commented Nov 28, 2014 at 14:48
  • That should be bad minds think alike ;)
    – user15851
    Commented Nov 28, 2014 at 15:00
  • Hahaha, touche good human Commented Nov 28, 2014 at 15:33

It is known as 'Zeitgeist' when two things of the same nature are thought of or done independently of each other.

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    Zeitgeist means spirit of the times, a somewhat different phenomenon.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 14:29
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    My German spouse shares your opinion of the applicability of this word to the Darwin-Wallace scenario. Commented Aug 22, 2015 at 4:38

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