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Author Topic: Why did it take so long to invent it?  (Read 4850 times)

another_someone

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Why did it take so long to invent it?
« on: 09/12/2005 00:59:17 »
If we are going to ask socioscientific questions, such as matters pertaining to religion, well here is another question to ponder over.

Why did it take until the 20th century to split the atom, or the 19th century to build the first steamship, etc.  Basically, what are the limiting factors that regulate the rate of invention.  Clearly, each invention sits atop all the preceding inventions, but what are the factors that cause it to take so long to get from one invention to the next.

Bear in mind that the first steam engine was actually built by Hero of Alexandria in the first century AD.  True, the delay in making practical use of steam (as with so much) lay in the inadequacies of material science, but it does show that ideas were coming forth, just not fast enough to solve the intervening problems for almost another two millenia.

So what were the problems – economic, population size, speed of communication (people just couldn't talk to enough other people to exchange ideas fast enough)?  Clearly, these factors are not independent (in a pre-industrial economy: population size governs productivity, and thus is interlinked with the wider economic issue; population size will also effect the pool of intellectual talent one can call upon).

So what do people think were the limiting factors?


 

Offline DoctorBeaver

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Re: Why did it take so long to invent it?
« Reply #1 on: 09/12/2005 23:36:53 »
Interesting question. How's this for a theory...

I would imagine scientific & religious orthodoxy had quite a lot to do with it. Scientists were discouraged - to put it politely - from pursuing theories that contradicted that orthodoxy. If I may mix my metaphors, barking up the wrong tree is like a red herring leading one up the garden path to a dead end :D
Once those shackles were loosened, scientists and inventors were able to explore further afield and determine the truth about scientific matters. This in its turn would have allowed more & faster developments.
The alchemical view of the world held sway & many of the world's greatest minds were involved in it; but were totally on the wrong path. Yes, I admit that without alchemy we probably wouldn't have the knowledge of chemistry that we now have; but experimenting alomg alchemical lines meant that those experimenters were, on the whole, wasting their efforts.
I think you're right to cite poor communication - especially prior to the invention of printing. Information was not easily-disseminable. Two people could have been working on the same problem, but person 1 was stumped by problem A having solved problem B, & person 2 was stumped by B but had solved A. Had they been able to share their knowledge, things would have progressed faster.
Education was also a factor. Access to schooling was very limited, hence not that many people had the basic knowledge to conduct experiments. Indeed, the poorly-educated probably didn't even realise there were problems to be solved. Of what interest would the composition of an atom be to a farmhand from Rutland? Would he even have been aware that something such as an atom even existed? These days, just about everyone knows what an atom is.
 

another_someone

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Re: Why did it take so long to invent it?
« Reply #2 on: 10/12/2005 01:51:37 »
quote:
Originally posted by DoctorBeaver

Interesting question. How's this for a theory...

I would imagine scientific & religious orthodoxy had quite a lot to do with it. Scientists were discouraged - to put it politely - from pursuing theories that contradicted that orthodoxy. If I may mix my metaphors, barking up the wrong tree is like a red herring leading one up the garden path to a dead end :D
Once those shackles were loosened, scientists and inventors were able to explore further afield and determine the truth about scientific matters. This in its turn would have allowed more & faster developments.



I thought this would be one of the proposed ideas, but I think it in some ways underrates peoples pragmatism, and in other ways overrates the degree of flexibility we have today.

By and large, when religion got in the way, it was going to pushed aside.  The question is not whether religion got in the way, but why was it not pushed aside sooner?

In any event, there were only a few points of collision between the Christian faith (and I am not even sure if these applied to Islam, or other religions), and they were with regard to a solar-centric planetary system, and with evolution (maybe one or two others, but I cannot think what they were).

In fact, much of early science was derived from very pious people marvelling God's creation, and trying to better understand the work of God.  The thought processes that went into science itself closely paralleled the logical processes applied to theology.  The problem was not that the church forbade philosophical enquiry.

When collisions did occur between science and the church, in the end, if people felt they could profit from the science, then they would ignore religion – people like profit at least as much as they like religion.  Thus, when solar-centric planetary models made for easier navigation, sailors were not likely to be too concerned about the pronouncements of the Pope in such matters.  The likes of Galileo may have been persecuted for publishing his ideas (although  Galileo's real crime was to publish in a Catholic country – Copernicus had not such constraint in a Protestant country), but the people who used, rather than published, the knowledge could not really care less about the restrictions of the Catholic church.

On the other hand, even modern science depends very much upon orthodoxy.  Most scientists still have a high regard for the peer review process, which inherently creates conservatism within science.  The funding of science also tends to restrict much enquiry to that which is acceptable.

quote:

Education was also a factor. Access to schooling was very limited, hence not that many people had the basic knowledge to conduct experiments. Indeed, the poorly-educated probably didn't even realise there were problems to be solved. Of what interest would the composition of an atom be to a farmhand from Rutland? Would he even have been aware that something such as an atom even existed? These days, just about everyone knows what an atom is.



This, in some ways may be true, but even today, although a farm hand may have learnt about atoms at school, that does not make him a scientist.

I think the more significant issue to comes out of your statement was that there were far more farm hands and far fewer intellectuals.  In modern industrialised societies, about 2% of the labour force is involved in food production; in past years, I would guess it would have probably been closer to 80%.

It must also be pointed out that in the age of enlightenment, many (though not all) at the forefront of developments in natural philosophy were self taught men.  This has changed in subsequent years, as universal education has become the norm in modern industrial societies.  On the other hand, this is sometimes as much a burden as an asset, since it merely indoctrinates the youth in the established orthodoxy, and can sometimes undermine the possibility of bringing a totally fresh approach to our understanding of nature (to quote Einstein again, “it is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education”).

Some of what I have said above may lead one to question whether I actually believe that the rate of invention has actually increased at all, or whether that is merely an illusion.  I think it would be more accurate to suggest that I believe that the Age of Enlightenment broke down some barriers that opened up a new intellectual space, and since that time we have been rushing to explore that intellectual space, and our new inventions are a product of that exploration.  But that new space still has its own boundaries, and we have not actually opened up an infinity of knowledge, only a large and as yet unexplored space, and we will soon enough reach the boundaries of that.  I see the inbuilt conservatism of this new space of knowledge as creating as impermeable a barrier to the advancement of knowledge as did the pre-enlightenment world, but we simply have not yet reached those barriers yet.

In some ways, the way knowledge is controlled today is not so very different to the way it was controlled in the middle ages.  Today, as then, in order to really be able to have time to explore nature, one needed a sponsor.  Today, such a sponsor would either be an industrial concern or a political body; in the past you would either be an aristocrat or a monk.  The monks needed the political sponsorship of the church.  Aristocrats might be considered to be a little like the commercial interests of today, but generally did not have the same narrow commercial interests, and generally had much more freedom, but the aristocrats really did not come into their own until there was adequate political stability, and they did not spend all their time warring.  But, in the end, the Age of Enlightenment really came to the fore with the rise of the middle class, and the neuvo rich bringing a fresh perspective and a confidence and vitality to everything they touched, including their view of nature.  The 21st century has lost much of the brashness that came with the first rise of this new class of thinkers.

One might further argue that the dissolution of the monasteries with the coming of the reformation further disrupted the established education and research system of the middle ages, and required the philosophers of the time to either seek patronage elsewhere, initially amongst the nobility, and later amongst the neuvo rich; or to be men of independent means from within those classes.

I don't think the restrictions of medieval thought were really so much about the church formally  constraining the boundaries of knowledge, but rather the structures of education within the church promoted a particular way of thought, and although there were those within the system who were reaching the boundaries of that way of thought, it took a group of outsiders who had not been educated within that system to really break through those boundaries.  It was, and maybe today still is, the very process of education that creates the limits on philosophical enquiry.  Education promotes engineering, since it promotes the use of existing science; but it actually discourages unorthodox science.

« Last Edit: 10/12/2005 04:49:53 by another_someone »
 

another_someone

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Re: Why did it take so long to invent it?
« Reply #3 on: 10/12/2005 13:09:44 »
I had thought to re-edit my earlier reply; but then thought it had grown quite long enough, and re-editing 12 hours after the original post might seem to create a bit too much instability in the post (after all, I could even wait until someone had responded to the post, and then re-edit the post as if they were responding to something totally other than that which they had actually read at the time).  So I have instead added this addendum.

Thinking about this a little further about the timing of the flowering of philosophical discovery, and how it compares with, for instance, the flowering of science within the Muslim world; and I think one can say that both grew out of the expansion of empire; and as the empire matured, so the science became more conservative and less novel.  This does not mean that science did not develop beyond that point, but the development was more evolutionary and less revolutionary.

I suspect one would find the same pattern with the development of Greek science and the expansion of Greek empire.
 

Offline NewBill

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Re: Why did it take so long to invent it?
« Reply #4 on: 10/12/2005 17:53:12 »
quote:
Originally posted by another_someone
Bear in mind that the first steam engine was actually built by Hero of Alexandria in the first century AD.  True, the delay in making practical use of steam (as with so much) lay in the inadequacies of material science, but it does show that ideas were coming forth, just not fast enough to solve the intervening problems for almost another two millenia.

...
So what do people think were the limiting factors?



The reference to the steam engine of antiquity reminded me of something that I had always taken for granted when first presented with this fact, but seems to surprise some people.

The steam engine of antiquity could only be a curiosity since labour was by definition performed by slaves, or by the labour class.

"I have people for that." is still a declaration of the those who would be members of a ruling class.  Those same people would not think to labour a week or two to do their own roof as an example, but would work 60 hours a week to run a roofing company bearing up under slim margins and an uncertain future just to have people for that.

Virtual technology, something I think computing has become since the actual hardware has little to do with what the technology is used to do, is a good case in point.  Anyone who has been around this technology for any time knows that people still rule over the perpetuation of mysteries long ago solved, and perform regular functions (paid handsomely) that once were, and could certainly be again, replaced by the very technology they husband.  While I recognize that none of us wants to be obsolete before the end of a working career, I am stunned by the lengths people/companies will go to obfuscate their function to perpetuate their rule.

IMO science can be no exception.  For the most part would be scientists are selected from those who would rule in a different forum.  And once certified they are for the most part, funded by those who would wish to capture a certain market rather than some altruistic good for it's own sake, more uncertain one.  This reality of academic life seems more likely to be embraced than resisted in modern times.

Far be it from me to hold the USA as an example of a forward looking altruistic society especially in these days of resisting Kyoto and the global crisis upon us and our children.  But when John F Kennedy said that America would put a man on the moon and bring him back to the Earth safely again before the end of this decade (60's), the US demonstrated just how fast science could be manipulated towards a goal.  To this day we are still exploiting the science of that decade.  The hydrogen fuel cell for instance.  One technological innovation among hundreds that could have addressed the tired old global warming alternative fuels issue that was there in the 60's and is still there largely un- addressed today.

So in the half century that I have been paying attention, and with the historical precedence told to me, I am led to conclude that the reason why science and technology do not advance is that "We have people for that." and we would rather die than be one of them.

Sometimes I am a little more optimistic and realize that my lifetime could be one lived in the century of the exception rather than the rule.
 

Offline neilep

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Re: Why did it take so long to invent it?
« Reply #5 on: 10/12/2005 22:43:21 »
What about today ?...are we taking just as long to invent things as we did then ?

Of course we have the knowledge and experience of those before to give us a piggy back to the next step in invention evolution plus (as mentioned) results of studies can be distributed very quickly.

But, is it also that today we benefit from a heightened imagination and creativity because of the fact we have more knoweldge to be imaginative with ? we have more tools to exercise experimentationa and study. And as mentioned also, surely culture has a lot to do with it also as well as the method of thinking that a society has..

I can imagine someone asking the same question in the 23rd century of us in the 21st century !



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« Last Edit: 11/12/2005 05:01:04 by neilep »
 

another_someone

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Re: Why did it take so long to invent it?
« Reply #6 on: 11/12/2005 04:49:38 »
quote:
Originally posted by NewBill

The reference to the steam engine of antiquity reminded me of something that I had always taken for granted when first presented with this fact, but seems to surprise some people.

The steam engine of antiquity could only be a curiosity since labour was by definition performed by slaves, or by the labour class.



This is partly true, but labour saving devices have continually been invented throughout the ages.

Certainly, one of the factors of conflict between the States in the lead up to the American Civil War was between the labour intensive slave owning States in the South, and the capital intensive manufacturing States of the North.  But the fact is that labour was always troublesome, even if it was in ready supply; and so if labour saving devices were available, and affordable, they were often the preferable option.  In any event, labour still had high running costs, even if the capital investment was relatively low; and in that respect, slaves could often be at least as expensive because one could not lay off slave labour as easily as itinerant workers could be laid off during slack periods.

In any event, although steam driven mills may have been seen as no more than the saving of labour; steam driven ships, if they had ever become available to the Greeks, would have provided a qualitative military advantage that was more than mere labour.  In the same vane, the use of Greek fire in warfare was not judged merely by how many slaves it would save, but by how many battles it would win.

Similarly, the Romans used underfloor heating.  This was another technological development that was not merely a labour saving device.  So too, the continued advancements in iron and steel smelting continued apace whether or not slaves were in abundance.

quote:

"I have people for that." is still a declaration of the those who would be members of a ruling class.  Those same people would not think to labour a week or two to do their own roof as an example, but would work 60 hours a week to run a roofing company bearing up under slim margins and an uncertain future just to have people for that.



Ofcourse, this is sometimes true, but it does lead to the question as to what kind of society one wishes to create.  Indeed, no-one wishes to be a slave, but equally, would they wish to be redundant.  We could, and may yet, create a society where everything is done by machine; but in such a society, what would be the worth of a man?

I don't think you are correct to say that the ruling class in any way shun technology, or have a particular inbuilt love of labour intensive processes.  What I think you would be right in suggesting is that those who have made their success in a particular environment will be reluctant to invite change, but that is not to do with labour versus machine, but to do with trying to retain the environment that gave them their success, whatever that particular environment may be.


quote:

Virtual technology, something I think computing has become since the actual hardware has little to do with what the technology is used to do, is a good case in point.  Anyone who has been around this technology for any time knows that people still rule over the perpetuation of mysteries long ago solved, and perform regular functions (paid handsomely) that once were, and could certainly be again, replaced by the very technology they husband.  While I recognize that none of us wants to be obsolete before the end of a working career, I am stunned by the lengths people/companies will go to obfuscate their function to perpetuate their rule.

IMO science can be no exception.  For the most part would be scientists are selected from those who would rule in a different forum.  And once certified they are for the most part, funded by those who would wish to capture a certain market rather than some altruistic good for it's own sake, more uncertain one.  This reality of academic life seems more likely to be embraced than resisted in modern times.



In some respects you are merely highlighting at a microscopic level the nature of evolution.  All organisms will alter their own micro-environment to better facilitate their own survival.

On the other hand, I think it would be wrong to ascribe such manipulation to malign intent.  The creation of these micro-environments is intended not so much (at least in the first instance – although as a profession matures, such as the legal or medical profession, it can become a more deliberate intent) to exclude others from environment, but to create an environment more conducive to their own needs.

quote:

Far be it from me to hold the USA as an example of a forward looking altruistic society especially in these days of resisting Kyoto and the global crisis upon us and our children.  But when John F Kennedy said that America would put a man on the moon and bring him back to the Earth safely again before the end of this decade (60's), the US demonstrated just how fast science could be manipulated towards a goal.  To this day we are still exploiting the science of that decade.  The hydrogen fuel cell for instance.  One technological innovation among hundreds that could have addressed the tired old global warming alternative fuels issue that was there in the 60's and is still there largely un- addressed today.



The hydrogen fuel cell is another demonstration of the nonsense said about global warming.  Hydrogen is not a primary fuel.  You cannot dig hydrogen out of the ground.  Hydrogen will do nothing to affect global climate.  It may well have a local effect, since it will not create CO2 in the locality where it is consumed, but on a global scale, it will merely add another level of complexity, and thus another level of inefficiency, to the overall fuel cycle.

The fact is that, whether rightly or wrongly, putting a man on the moon was a political goal, and was about political prestige (after having been embarrassed by the Soviets in their Sputnik program).  It served a useful impetus to technology, but the objective was primarily political.

It should also be noted that programs such as putting a man on the moon did nothing to reduce fuel emissions.  If we are serious about reduction of fuel usage and emissions (and I have my doubts if that should be an objective) then it follows that projects such as the transport of people to and from space will be amongst those we should be questioning.

quote:

So in the half century that I have been paying attention, and with the historical precedence told to me, I am led to conclude that the reason why science and technology do not advance is that "We have people for that." and we would rather die than be one of them.



First point, we will die, that cannot be the issue; the issue must be how we live.

The second point is that science, if it is to be of any value, must be the means to the end, and not the end of itself.  You have yourself lamented how scientists merely create work for themselves, and yet now you criticise why science and technology do not move faster than is required by the society it serves.  Is there not some inconsistency between those positions?
« Last Edit: 11/12/2005 05:12:39 by another_someone »
 

another_someone

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Re: Why did it take so long to invent it?
« Reply #7 on: 11/12/2005 05:08:01 »
quote:
Originally posted by neilep

But, is it also that today we benefit from a heightened imagination and creativity because of the fact we have more knoweldge to be imaginative with ? we have more tools to exercise experimentationa and study. And as mentioned also, surely culture has a lot to do with it also as well as the method of thinking that a society has..



I think it would be wholly wrong to underestimate our forefathers.

Ofcourse, you are totally correct to say that we have more extensive tools with which to experiment, but what those tools give us is the ability to validate the fruits of our imagination, to separate fact from fantasy.  It would be totally wrong to suggest our forebears lacked imagination, but the did lack the means by which they could separate those products of their imagination that pertained to reality from those that were contrary to reality.

quote:

I can see another someone asking the same question in the 23rd century of us in the 21st century !



I would not at all be surprised if by the 23rd century the pace of innovation would have slackened considerably.  As I suggested above, I think we are now in an explosive phase of innovation brought on by the paradigm shift of the last few centuries, but over time we will reach the limits of what this shift in paradigm will be able to provide us, and will have to await another paradigm short before we can enter another explosive phase.
 

Offline neilep

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Re: Why did it take so long to invent it?
« Reply #8 on: 11/12/2005 05:23:40 »
quote:
Originally posted by another_someone


I think it would be wholly wrong to underestimate our forefathers.

It would be totally wrong to suggest our forebears lacked imagination, but the did lack the means by which they could separate those products of their imagination that pertained to reality from those that were contrary to reality.





I could not agree with you more.

I hope you did not think I was implying that our forebears had less imagination or even suggest it.

 I said that we , today, have the benefit of todays knowledge to add to our imagination which our forebears did not possess.. The world and Universe were a lot smaller then. I have no doubt whatsoever that their capability to imagine and create was every bit as able as ours is today.

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Offline NewBill

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Re: Why did it take so long to invent it?
« Reply #9 on: 11/12/2005 15:25:27 »
quote:
Originally posted by another_someone


This is partly true, but labour saving devices have continually been invented throughout the ages.

...




For the most part you missed my point but you make interesting and positive arguments.  

"partly true"  ... I feel I am being graded.

Hydrogen technology ... primary fuel:  I am not sure what a primary fuel would be, but digging it out of the ground would surely disqualify it.  Where I am from, there is a surplus of hydro out of reach of the consumer.  Creating hydrogen and shipping it to the consumer is one mechanism to overcome this imbalance.  It is a small thing but it takes my interest at the moment.

Nor would I wish to suggest that a single technology could solve our energy balance problem.  I was taken by the irony that many of the technical spin offs of the space race languished because the original objective had been met.  Of course it was political and more it was military.  I haven't forgotten that fission was born of the same objective.  The technology at the heart of my occupation, the computer, was born of a military objective too.  The list of advances born of military objectives would be the longest of all such lists.  

"I have people for that" was the declaration of an individual of no particular talent or means with a burning passion to advance himself over those around him, to rule them as it were.  

It is my belief, persuaded by what I have read and experienced, that we cannot now solve our global heating problem without all the technologies at our disposal, the will to use them, luck and one or two new technologies in the bargain.  And while hydrogen, wind, tidal, solar, conservation, and others serve only minor percentages, they are as important as banners of interest as contributors to a solution.  Hell I listened to a suggestion that amounted to feeding cattle Beano to limit the contribution of cow farts to methane in the atmosphere, and I took the idea seriously.  I would rather have laughed arrogantly and pointed a finger as I would have once, when I was smarter.  I surprise myself with the discovery that I support the necessity of refurbishing fission reactors, particularly ironic since I grew up in the decades of the cold war.

As a child in school we would drill crouching under our desks, while being told tales of the holocaust that could come, struggling to believe that we were far enough from a primary target.  In the next decade we learned that no one was far enough away. There was serious discussion couched in terms like total kill radius, and acceptable casualties.  This dialogue continued even while the expression nuclear winter was added.

My point was that human kind's advancement seems to wax and wane more on the impulses of the desire to rule than the impulses of the desire to advance the commonweal or science or technology.

To the original point I would say, look to the political climate, the state of war and peace and stability and you may see why in once instance invention was spurred and in another it languished.

Still, perhaps because of a wish for my children, I choose to believe that we can 'invent' our way out of this one.
 

another_someone

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Re: Why did it take so long to invent it?
« Reply #10 on: 11/12/2005 19:05:20 »
quote:
Originally posted by NewBill

For the most part you missed my point but you make interesting and positive arguments.  




My apologies, but I found it sometimes difficult to pin down what your point was – may that was my inadequacy.

quote:

Hydrogen technology ... primary fuel:  I am not sure what a primary fuel would be, but digging it out of the ground would surely disqualify it.  Where I am from, there is a surplus of hydro out of reach of the consumer.  Creating hydrogen and shipping it to the consumer is one mechanism to overcome this imbalance.  It is a small thing but it takes my interest at the moment.



OK, it is clear that you see hydrogen as an energy delivery system, rather than a source of energy.  That was the distinction I was trying to make, that it could never be (on this planet) a primary source of energy because it was not freely available here, but had to be manufactured.

One has to be careful to separate out issues regarding primary energy sources (e.g. nuclear, solar, mineral) and energy distribution mediums.  Both are relevant issues, but they are different issues.

I don't see it as an ideal mechanism for energy delivery, although I can see its attractions.  It is not the easiest substance to confine, being as it is a gas that is lighter than air, and it has a very low specific energy compared to hydrocarbons (i.e. the amount of energy produced for a given weight of fuel).  One would either need to keep it under high pressure, or in cryogenic conditions, both of which also add weight to the deliver system as well as consuming energy to maintain the containment environment.  There has been talk about absorbing it into a palladium matrix, but that too would add weight to the delivery system.

The space shuttle uses hydrogen as a fuel because of its high impulse energy (i.e. because water molecules are so light, they leave the rocket exhaust at a higher velocity than CO2), but many rockets still prefer to use kerosene as a fuel because of its higher specific energy, and even the shuttle has to use solid fuelled booster rockets.  Furthermore, because of the cryogenic storage required for the liquid hydrogen tanks, it has to use heat insulating foam around the tank, some of which tends to fall off now and again and present its own problems.

A liquid fuel, such as an oil based fuel, is far more manageable.  The only real disadvantage about liquid fuels is that if they do catch light it is far more difficult to manage the fire.  Hydrogen, if it catches light, will quickly rise up rather than spreading out at ground level.

It must also be remembered that if the purpose of using hydrogen is that it does not produce CO2, and the supposed benefit of that being that CO2 is a greenhouse gas; well, water vapour is also a greenhouse gas.

If one was being wholly speculative about developing an energy delivery system, one could look at producing artificial hydrocarbons by extracting CO2 and water out of the environment, and recombining them for form hydrocarbons, using either (in your preferred model) hydro power, or nuclear power.

The present electrical distribution of energy over aluminium cables is very expensive, with a lot of power being lost through resistive losses, but it might be that in the future some of these losses might be reduced.  This might either be by the use of superconductors (although I don't see that as being feasible to the end user, but may possibly be an option for the core grid), or by more local generation of power (this would be ideal, but runs totally contrary to your argument about centralised hydro power production).  More local production of power would certainly also make the system more resilient, although unfortunately resilience seems to be very low on peoples planning priorities (greater centralisation often being equated with higher efficiency in ideal operating conditions).

With regard to hydro as a primary energy source, you may have noticed that it has fallen into disfavour.  In part, the reason for this is not to dissimilar to the problems associated with land fill, just simply a shortage of land (no matter how remote the site).  Beyond this is the issue of diversion of water courses, and in some cases the geological considerations around waterlogging the soil around a hydro site (in certain earthquake prone site, the extra lubrication of geological faults caused by the building of water reservoirs has triggered earthquakes).

quote:

Nor would I wish to suggest that a single technology could solve our energy balance problem.



With this I would agree with you, but I am also dubious about whether we have not overblown the whole issue of an 'energy balance problem'.

quote:

I was taken by the irony that many of the technical spin offs of the space race languished because the original objective had been met.



As often as we find ourselves with problems awaiting a solution, so too it is not at all uncommon that one will develop a solution but have to wait a while for an appropriate problem to which that solution may be applied.

One ancient point of interest I heard about some time ago was that the Chinese and Japanese had developed glass (as with so much else) long before Europeans did.  The problem is that early glass was not transparent, and was thus not suitable for windows.  The first use of glass in Europe was for fine table ware, but because the Chinese had developed porcelain, glass was seen by them as a redundant technology, and so was not developed.  Because the Europeans lacked porcelain, they developed, and continued to refine, the technology of glass, until they had developed to the point that it actually began to find a secondary use for windows.

quote:

It is my belief, persuaded by what I have read and experienced, that we cannot now solve our global heating problem without all the technologies at our disposal, the will to use them, luck and one or two new technologies in the bargain.



What do you mean by 'global heating problem'.  It is a fact that solar output has increased since the 17th century (just as much as it is a fact that solar output reduced between the 11th and the 17th century).  If the increase in global temperature is seen as a problem, then turning down solar output is really beyond any present or foreseeable technological fix, and rather dubious if it is even desirable to attempt it.

It is possible (although not proven) that human activities have aggravated the natural warming process, but that is simply to say that if we were to wind back the entire course of the industrial revolution we would still have a planet that was warmer than it was in the 17th century, but less warm than it might be otherwise.

Ofcourse, some of the ways it might be argued that we waste energy is by sending men to the moon (it is debatable whether it is a waste of energy, but it is undoubtable that I could travel a great number of car journeys with the energy used for a single moon launch), and ofcourse one can but imagine the amount of energy consumed in fighting a war in the Middle East.

In that context, what would you regard as a 'solution', and what is your definition of the 'problem'?

quote:

As a child in school we would drill crouching under our desks, while being told tales of the holocaust that could come, struggling to believe that we were far enough from a primary target.  In the next decade we learned that no one was far enough away. There was serious discussion couched in terms like total kill radius, and acceptable casualties.  This dialogue continued even while the expression nuclear winter was added.



And you still haven't learnt to take the stories of man-made impending disaster with a grain of salt?

I am not saying that we do not have the capacity to destroy ourselves, all things have within themselves the seeds of their own destruction; but when it does come, I would strongly suspect it will not be the thing we most fear, but will come from a direction in which we had not even thought to look.
« Last Edit: 11/12/2005 21:56:12 by another_someone »
 

Offline NewBill

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Re: Why did it take so long to invent it?
« Reply #11 on: 06/01/2007 08:15:23 »

And you still haven't learnt to take the stories of man-made impending disaster with a grain of salt?

I am not saying that we do not have the capacity to destroy ourselves, all things have within themselves the seeds of their own destruction; but when it does come, I would strongly suspect it will not be the thing we most fear, but will come from a direction in which we had not even thought to look.


There was a riddle that I heard long ago that distinguished in my mind the difference between fear and reasonable caution in this context.  It went something like this:

A farmer had a pond from which his animals drank and from which he watered his crops.  Access to his pond was inhibited by the growth of water lilies.  The farmer reckoned that as long as half the pond was free of water lilies he need do nothing about it.  Given that the amount of the pond covered in water lilies doubled each day and given that the pond would be entirely covered in thirty days the question was when should the farmer respond to the problem and how long would he have to respond.  The answer is that on the second last day the pond would be half covered and the farmer had one day to respond.

Systems in steady state are like that.  By the time we see positive evidence that a system is shifted, the system has shifted dramatically and we have precious little time to respond.  Recorded history does not give us the data to know what the impact on our system would be with a 10 fold increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide.  This is what we are doing.  I don't think one needs to cite  'Chicken Little" fear to account for the desire to ameliorate the results of our own behavior.

Even if you do not believe that global state can be affected, we all witness that a drought in one region may starve hundreds of thousands while the technology in another region could deal with the exact same conditions.  But technologies don't move overnight.  Traditional life styles don't alter easily.  Education is not instantaneous.  The will does not exist.  As a consequence changes that are relatively mild can have catastrophic consequence.

Few people dispute global warming.
 

The Naked Scientists Forum

Re: Why did it take so long to invent it?
« Reply #11 on: 06/01/2007 08:15:23 »

 

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