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Development: More about the history of inventions

January 28, 2013

My dear friends, I have already discussed in my previous article on inventions that modern man (or homo sapiens) have been around for some 50,000 years, populating and spreading out at will and doing his work diligently. In the course of this period, he traversed the planet, learnt to grow crops, domesticate animals, built cities and civilisations, together with those wonderful, gigantic structures like the Great Wall of China, pyramids, Easter Island monoliths, Angkor Wat (Cambodia), and the mausoleums including the Taj Mahal for posterity (coming generations) to marvel and preserve. He also built grand cities like Mohenjodaro and Thebes, which for their planning and upkeep, were perhaps far ahead of their times.

Man also invented various disciplines like mathematics and languages; even developed music, excelled in the art of warfare, drew paintings and carved countless masterpieces. He formulated laws to keep society in check by punishing the errant, and rewarding the dedicated ones. He also built roads and crossed the seas; learnt to raise children usually with such affection and finesse that they emulated their elders, and excelled. All of these accomplishments could not have come about without the possession and judicious use of brain, limbs and muscles in a fairly short span of forty thousand years or so (before and after the great Ice Age).

I say forty thousand because the earliest works of art dates back that long. These are remarkable specimens of workmanship found in the caves of the Sahara desert, Czechoslovakia, Siberia, Spain and France. For the paint to have survived the dampness of caves and the ravages of time, is simply astonishing. The technology employed in this regard is simply marvellous.

But sadly the world did not change. For without the invention of machine it was destined to remain the same, come what may.

Lord Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), the great British philosopher, mathematician and historian said that if Hammurabi (1792BC-1750BC) and Alexander the Great (356BC-323BC), happened to sit together, they would understand each other well. To that I may add that if Zaheeruddin Babar (1483-1530) was the third in the company despite the 2,000 years or less between them, they would still get along well. But should they sit in your company today? It is likely that you would amaze them with what you say.

Is this because of difference in times you were born? But why? Why they could not think and act like you do? After all Hammurabi of Babylon is the inventor of law; Alexander, the artist of warfare; and, Babur the first user of gunpowder which is an amalgamation of various strong chemicals. All of these, and similar activities require hard work, industrial genius and group activity. Then they could not think beyond their times? In all cultures there were countless individuals as well as groups influenced by these men and their genius, who failed to imagine beyond their day-to-day lives. I can assure you that history is full of men and women who could have brought about a change which could have made “change” more or less a permanent feature of life thereon.

Of course, those of the antiquity can say in their defence that they built those great structures that have stood the test and vagaries of time. What else?

But you will still not be impressed. Why? Because despite all accomplishments they did not invent the machine, however rudimentary, To supplement their inaction on this all-important issue, there is an interesting story to tell.

Peter the Great (1672-1725), the Emperor of Russia, heard about the greatness of the Englishman Sir Issac Newton (1642-1727) and went all the way to England to meet him personally. The two met and discussed several ongoing projects and scientific developments in Europe. The emperor, who had changed the face of imperial Russia, had invited thousands of architects, builders, designers, surveyors from Europe, and sent thousands of young men to all over the continent for training in similar fields, failed to take steps that would lead to a machine! This is despite the fact that he was a designer of ships himself and built the Russian navy right from the scratch! But he failed to replicate Newton!

Let us look at the reasons for their inactivity, or inability on this aspect. We shall break this into two: antiquity, and, the age of inventions. So, in the next column we will explore the reasons for this non-activity. Note that the period prior to the invention of the printing press is antiquity; the one after that (till today) is the age of inventions. One will end in 1453AD, the other will begin thereon! i