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Wednesday, August 9. 2017
Spanning the spectrum of mankind's achievements, there are certain key moments that stand out in each field. I'm going to cover a few here, and if you have any additions that you think I might be interested in doing a future post on, leave a synopsis and maybe a link or two in the comments.
When it comes to the heading of 'Inventions', I think the sublime moment is this:
As I note in the piece, what's particularly baffling about it all is that we have natural axle-ready 'wheels' around us in nature, i.e., an eroded pebble in a stream bed or a sawed-off piece of tree trunk with a knot in the middle which pops out. So you'd think it would have evolved naturally, like fire, without any historical point of reference you could point to. But nope.
So, if you had to boil it down to one single moment, the great architects of the Egyptian empire seeing the wheel for the first time gets my vote.
With that pesky Sun-Earth business out of the way, this moment pretty much answered everything else.
Yes, Virginia, that's what those twinkling little lights are. Yes, each one could have planets revolving around it just like ours.
Still, though, they had their fancy telescopes and circular slide rules and heliospectrographs to prove their points.
How about some sticks, eyes, feet and brains?
When it gets right down to it, I think this is possibly the grandest moment in the history of the world.
And what a beautiful, innocent age (1980) it was back then, back before global warming turned the word 'scientist' into something just below 'used car salesman' on the evolutionary scale of things.
"But Eratosthenes was a scientist."
Back when he said it, it meant something.
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Okay. Thanks for thinking of me Doc.
re "Spanning the spectrum of mankind's achievements, there are certain key moments that stand out in each field."
Yes. The chariot is arguably a good choice. Off the top of my head I can't come up with anything that profound, but what does come to mind is the smallpox vaccination.
Recall when Dr. Jenner introduced the vaccine this famous cartoon appeared, seen here http://blogs.plos.org/dnascience/2017/01/12/a-necessary-retelling-of-the-smallpox-vaccine-story/
The eradication of smallpox began with Jenner, and interestingly after 200 odd years there are people still afraid of vaccines. My speculation is that the fear is caused by how we assess uncontrollable risk, but that's a topic for another day.
The science is never settled...at least not after watching the "Journey to the center of the Universe".
The wheel, born in the Middle East, seems to have disappeared after the Arab invasion introduced to the Levant a more generalized use of the camel and the inhabitants figured out that the camel was more robust— hence more efficient in the long run— than the fragile technology of the wheel. In addition, since one person could control six camels but only one carriage, the regression away from technology proved more economically sound.
Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder
The Japanese and Meso-Americans abandoned the wheel for a time. The latter did have them on toys. Not unlike the Greek having the steam engine in first century BC Alexandria but as a toy.
The spectroheliograph is neat, but I think the earlier telescopic discoveries were plenty world-expanding. Also they seem less ambiguous. It is very suggestive that the Sun's spectrum is so similar, but it doesn't absolutely nail down that the Sun is a star. In contrast, seeing moons orbiting Jupiter really nails down that Jupiter is a separate center of motion on a footing similar to at least the Earth if not the Sun, and seeing the phases of the other planets (analogous to the phases of the moon which are visible to the naked eye) really nails down that they are separate passively-lit spheres. And finding that the observed several-minutes phase shift in the orbits of the moons of Jupiter is neatly explained by a finite speed of light deserves an honorable mention for breaking long-held comfortable assumptions too.
Roy Lofquist: It is very suggestive that the Sun's spectrum is so similar, but it doesn't absolutely nail down that the Sun is a star.
The Sun is made of star-stuff.
But it was Giordano Bruno who suggested in 1584 that stars were other suns with planets. He was burned at the stake by the Inquisition in 1600.
I think what really makes the wheel novel is the axle. It is because the axle is not "intuitive" that the wheel becomes something that does not appear through all civilizations.
“Sir Isaac Newton, renowned inventor of the milled-edge coin and the catflap!"
"The what?" said Richard.
"The catflap! A device of the utmost cunning, perspicuity and invention. It is a door within a door, you see, a ..."
"Yes," said Richard, "there was also the small matter of gravity."
"Gravity," said Dirk with a slightly dismissed shrug, "yes, there was that as well, I suppose. Though that, of course, was merely a discovery. It was there to be discovered." ... "You see?" he said dropping his cigarette butt, "They even keep it on at weekends. Someone was bound to notice sooner or later. But the catflap ... ah, there is a very different matter. Invention, pure creative invention. It is a door within a door, you see.”
― Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency