We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
I'm busy moving into my new digs today, so no time for a fresh post. Here's an oldie but goodie.
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:
The main character in the marvelous book 'River God' is the head slave of the imperial palace. He's one of those do-all kind of guys; physician, astronomer, architect, inventor, etc. But, as exciting as his long life is, there is one moment that surpasses all others.
The enemy has invaded and their war chariots, with long razor-sharp blades coming out of the hubs, are slicing the Egyptian legions to ribbons. The horses and riders are both covered with armor and are almost impervious to the Egyptians' weak spears and arrows. This devastating new weapon panics the remaining Egyptian solders and the battle, and finally the kingdom, is lost.
On a hill high above the battle the slave takes all of this in, but what has him reeling with shock and despair isn't the fearsome war machines before him.
It's the wheels the chariots are mounted on.
I admit, it must have been stupefying to the first Egyptians who saw them. After veritably a lifetime of rational, scientific endeavor like the hero in the book; to suddenly see something so obvious must have come as the most mind-altering, ego-shattering blow humanly imaginable.
Not to mention civilization-changing.
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.
When it comes to the cosmos, I'd go with this:
Now here's an interesting question:
Of all the astronomical discoveries over the years, which was the most profound? Which discovery, upon further examination, opened more new doors to philosophy, deep thought and science than any other?
Certainly the discovery that the Earth wasn't at the center of the solar system would be many people's pick, since it only relegated a couple thousand years of religious belief to the dust bin of history.
But when you think about it, that particular discovery didn't really alter our view of the cosmos; it was more just a matter of a small physical realignment in the immediate neighborhood. It certainly had religious repercussions, and certainly made calculating planetary orbits easier, but not much else. Switch the Sun and the Earth around and we still have no further idea what all those twinkling little lights in the nighttime sky are.
But in 1863, an Italian astronomer named Angelo Secchi invented the heliospectrograph, which breaks a star's light into its spectral bands. He eventually charted the light from almost 4,000 stars.
He then turned it upon the sun.
Our sun is a star.
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.
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 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.
“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