The ancient Greek had steam engines. They used them to power amusing automatons.

In Mesoamerica, they didn't use carts or chariots. No wheels. But children toys had wheels on them.

In ancient China they knew gunpowder. It was used only for fireworks.

The inventions don't have to change the world for the worse, it's up to us how we use them.

@deshipu I see someone who haven't heard about the old Chinese rocketry program :). I don't have the book I read about it handy (it was a book about technology in ancient and imperial China), but quickly skimming the Wikipedia now:

- Gunpowder was first documented in imperial, not ancient, China, around 9th century AD.
- Back then it was already used to create incendiary arrows, flamethrowers, and proto-shotguns on a pole; by the turn of the century, rockets were deployed in combat.

@temporal Fine, strike that one out then. I will find another example to replace it. It's not like there is a shortage of those examples.

@deshipu I'd definitely like to see those, especially that the other two you have aren't convincing either. I know little about Mesoamerica, but the Greek steam engine was a machine barely deserving the name, built in an environment where they weren't able or willing to make further progress on the technology.

This is to say, my current belief is: any technology that can be put to military use *is* put to military use. Cases like Greek "steam engine" are when technology isn't mature enough to be useful.

@temporal It's similar with the wheel actually. They just didn't consider it practical. You need to invest in infrastructure of roads before you can really make use of the wheel, and they weren't willing to do it.

However, not pursuing a given technology, because you don't like the prerequisites (high maintenance costs in case of the Greek steam engine, damage to the landscape in case of the wheel) is a conscious decision.

@deshipu There are many interesting uses of wheel other than transportation, surely even in Mesoamerica they put some of them into service. For example, wheels give you mechanical leverage, and also mechanical power if appropriate extensions are attached (handholds, flat surfaces for pulling energy from river flow and wind).

@deshipu My point is that it's a constant of humanity to seek solutions to one's problems. If a technology can solve someone's problem, it'll be used. If it's close enough to be a solution, it'll be worked on until it solves that problem - at which point it may be close enough to solve a host of other problems for someone else. This is a big driver of technological progress.

Conversely, if it isn't close enough to be a potential solution, it remains undeveloped until conditions change.

@temporal This is your assumption.

And yet there are those cultures that decided that certain technologies create more problems than they solve, and rejected them.

@deshipu @temporal that's their point, it's not a rejection, the tech wasnt there yet.

Your argument reads like "Reject modernity, return to monke", is that your point?

It's pretty pessimistic to decide that anything used in warfare makes it's existence immortal or unjust. By that logic, penecilin (fuckin spelling) would be an immoral and unjust tech.

@xorowl @temporal Aren't you putting words in my mouth here?

What I am saying is that it's possible to know a technology, and not use it. Make a decision that you don't like it. And it doesn't only apply to technology.

I'm not saying that all technology is evil, or giving you criteria for what you should choose. I'm merely pointing out that you can choose. That contrary to the popular opinion, we can control what we use. We can make decisions, based on our own beliefs, and not just blindly accept things.

@deshipu @temporal okay, I can see now.
Said differently with some amusement, just because we CAN nuke mars, doesn't mean we SHOULD.
Just because we CAN write self propagating antivirus viruses doesn't mean we SHOULD.

Not trying to put words in your mouth, it's just what your examples implied. So I ask questions to understand

@xorowl @temporal There is another implication that could be drawn from those examples, too.

What technologies and ideas do we know, that are now only used for entertainment or prestige, that could be used for much more if only made available in different contexts? What are our fancy steam-powered automatons and children toys?

@xorowl @deshipu @temporal Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they *could*, they didn’t stop to think if they *should*.

@deshipu I think your questions here are all based on a fundamentally flawed assumption: that there is a "we" that can make the choice as if it was a person.

In reality there's billions of people with different problems, beliefs, wielding different amount of resources and control over other people. People forming groups that are in competition (which sometimes looks like it isn't there, because a balance is achieved). This dynamic is structurally making it hard to choose against self-interest. 🧵



For example: I, or my country, can for some reason choose not to use e.g. wheels for transportation despite being able to do so, but if you/your country chooses to use them, then I/my folks are suddenly at an economic and/or military disadvantage that will only continue to grow as time goes on. So you opting to develop wheels forces me to do the same, just to restore the balance and prevent getting exploited/conquered.

Most questions of the form "could humanity X?" have similar answer.


@temporal @xorowl And yet there are hunter-gatherer communities on this planet still. Do you think they don't do any agriculture because they don't know about it? That they are too stupid or primitive to figure it out?

When you are raised inside and imperium, it may seem like this is simply how the world is, and there is nothing that can be done. In fact, there is a certain convenience in pretending that it's all inevitable. And yet here we are.

@deshipu There are few hunter-gatherer communities, that either trade with the rest of the world or have no hunter-gatherer enemies. It's a good example actually: the reason there are only few hunter-gatherer communities remaining is that they either "went on with the program" and embraced agriculture, or got conquered by those who did.

Yes, here we are, in the world shaped by inevitabilities - because the very existence of potential competitors turns many issues into matters of survival.


@deshipu What they can hunt, make or do, for what they can't, obviously. Wood for agricultural products. Trinkets for alcohol. Etc.

@deshipu It's worth observing that in general, the degree to which individuals, groups or countries tend to make arbitrary choices based on high-minded values, is inversely correlated with how much they believe those choices actually matter to their safety/survival.

Examples abound, both in everyday life, economy and politics. We've been talking about military, but same applies to business world: companies in actual competition take every advantage and cut every corner they can get away with.


@temporal @xorowl Oh, there are a lot of companies that don't do this cut-throat business. Small family businesses that have existed for generations and will exist for generations to come, that don't pursue growth at any cost. You just don't see them, because they don't advertise on Twitter or have high-profile court cases over unethical practices. They just do their thing. Yes, they have to compete with supermarkets and the flood of low-quality cheap goods and services, but they endure.

@deshipu That's not what I observe. I see them failing and disappearing left and right. The few that survive remain because there are diminishing returns in competing with them. They live because they literally don't matter to the larger players.

Also small private businesses, in my experience, tend to be much more cut-throat, exploitative and dishonest than larger ones. They're small enough to fly under the law's radars, and they exploit this to survive.


@temporal I think we came to the crux of the matter here:

Everybody has to be hyper-competitive because those who are not *don't matter*. You ignore them, because you only care for the ones that fit your preconceptions.

We can't reject world domination, because the only thing that *matters* is world domination.

That is a big problem indeed.

@deshipu No, I don't mean that. And not that people don't matter. Is that some choices matter to survival, and some don't.

Some trivial examples:
1) My tribe can choose to not develop bows and spears. It's fine until the neighboring tribe decides to develop them, and comes to kill us and take our land.

2) As a business owner, I can choose to not advertise dishonestly. Up until my direct competitor decides the opposite, at which point they're in position to outcompete me.

@deshipu Related to 2) is 2a): I can choose to not be dishonest even if my competitor is, if I'm sitting on a pile of cash or have other successful branches in unrelated markets.

The difference between 2) and 2a) is that in the former, the choice is a life-or-death matter for my business (and good-or-bad life for me); in the latter case, it doesn't threaten survival - so I can stick to my higher values (and possibly pay a premium for it).

All those things we talk about are some version of this phenomenon.

@temporal Your examples come straight from social Darwinism. But we know now that even biological evolution doesn't work that way.

Why would the other "tribe" come to kill us? How can they take our land when neither them nor us have the concept of land ownership? Why would they come to take anything from us, when our customs are such that we freely give away anything you ask for?

@deshipu I reject the label. Social Darwinism is ascribing moral weight to behavior of dynamic systems. I'm just describing the behavior of dynamic systems. I'm talking what *is*, not what *ought to be*; SD assumes that what is is also what ought to be, and runs with it.

Among many reasons why real tribe (not a spherical-cow-in-vacuum tribe) would come to kill you, is because they need something you have but don't want to give, and it's still easier to take it from you than procure elsewhere.

@deshipu Contd. on the extremely altruistic tribe: if you keep giving the fruits of your labor away, the others benefit more, grow more, come to ask for more. At some point you realize this is unsustainable - you'll run out of things you need to survive. So you start giving things away so eagerly. At which point the other tribes, whose supply of stuff is suddenly threatened, start looking for other sources - but also keep pressuring you for as long as it's the easiest thing to do. This might involve force.

Show newer

@temporal And yet we know of countless groups of people that co-existed for thousands of years next to each other, without wars, despite having very different ways of life.

Your "what is" is a fantasy. A justification.

Show newer

@deshipu a historical note: wheels were invented in connection with pottery-making and only later used for vehicles.


@temporal Oh, and thanks for the correction, I was too lazy to check this one.

Sign in to participate in the conversation
Mastodon for Tech Folks

This Mastodon instance is for people interested in technology. Discussions aren't limited to technology, because tech folks shouldn't be limited to technology either!