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Roger's Equations

This blog is all about science and technology (with occasional math thrown in for fun). The goal of this blog is to try and pass on the sense of excitement and wonder I feel when I read about these topics. I hope you enjoy the posts.

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Thoughts on Technology and "Progress"

Posted March 05, 2005 2:35 AM by Bayes

Before I start, I really have no idea what category of "Journal Topic" to put this sort of thing in. Can we have an "other" please? Not that I really care, but someone must, since I'm forced to select. One of the things I like about reading Greek and Roman history is noticing how little we have changed behaviorally in 2500 years. Many of the ancient writers discuss politics, issues, traditons, and prejudices much in the same way we do today. I think if all the worlds a stage, little has changed in 2500 other than the props. There's only two things that I can see that are really fundamentally different today than they were 2500 years ago, or probably 20,000 years ago for that matter. 1. Human population. I assume I don't have to sell anyone on the idea that there are a lot more people today then there were 2000 years ago. This is well established. 2. Technology. Just like human population, it has advanced considerably from ancient times. And also just like population, technology innovations seem to be increasing at a exponential rate. Not just now, but all the way back through history. The two things seem intricately related. I'm unclear whether it takes a critical mass of population to facilatate large advances in technology, or if large advances in technology facilatate explosive population growth. It's an interesting question. I could argue that technology is a manifestation of our intellect and intellect is the defining advantage of our species over other species, so it's only natural that our species advantage leads to population explosions. Afterall, that's the point of natural selection. Still, it seems sometimes that certain innovations of technology would be impossible without a critical mass of people.

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#1

Test Response

03/09/2005 6:24 AM

Absolutely. A critical mass of people (e.g. "the masses") is needed to provide basic necessities such as food.

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Re:Test Response

03/09/2005 8:16 AM

There have been countless technological innovations over the years to produce a more stable supply of food. One good example is language, which allowed hunters to coordinate and behave as a group more efficiently. Another great innovation was the sling spear, which greatly multiplied the power of the hunter's spear throw and allowed for a safe distance between hunter and prey. Agriculture is said to have started 10-15,000 years ago, though probably earlier than that. All of these things would have led to:

a. A longer life expectancy due to reduced risk
b. A more stable supply of food
c. A resultant population explosion due to a & b

So it would seem that technology controls population growth. But lets consider the technology of Agriculture. I would argue that any group who decides to settle down, grow crops and start a community as opposed to being a hunter gatherer society must have a critical mass of people to defend their territory, since they no longer have the option of just fleeing or the protection of caves. So before the Technology of Agriculture was in full swing, I would argue a critical mass of people were necessary to make it happen.

This seems to me to have the implication that technological innovation has less to do with innovative ideas or genius as it has to do with population density.

So I think it might go, technological advance, subsequent population explosion, population reaches a critical mass, new technological advance, etc.

Kind of takes the superiority out of being from the 20th century. Could you take a man from 50,000 years ago, and after a year of training and education, set him into modern society as a working cog? How much of our behavior would be familair to him? 50,000 years ago there is evidence of leaders, families, religon, and culture. Wouldn't he recognize these things in our society? It's an interesting question to me because it hints at the question of how much we do is by intinct and how much is by conscience choice?

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