Thursday, November 7, 2013

What Goes Up Must Come Down?

After my mention of technology yesterday, I got to musing about an interesting fact. It is that all things cycle in human experience, but inventions cumulate and seemingly are never lost. Empires may crumble but useful knowledge is never forgotten. A significant test of that lies ahead in coming centuries if, as I am fairly convinced, modern culture will collapse as one of its major supports, fossil energy, is finally exhausted. Will the use of electricity—unquestionably the most important discovery of this particular era of modernity—also disappear? My bet is that it won’t. What goes up must come down—to be sure. But useful knowledge just keeps rising.

That titular phrase is interesting. Pop culture attributes the line to Isaac Newton, who never actually said it. What Newton did say, in Principia Mathematica, was something else. He said: “Every body continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a right line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it.” Translated into pop lingo, Newton said: “What goes up will come down—as soon as it gets tired.”

We may exhaust our fossil fuels, but the knowledge that motion can be used to capture invisible energy that’s simple there, in the air, you might say, will not be lost. Knowledge belongs to a range of human experience not in the least affected by gravity or external forces. We may be on the way into a new Dark Age, but it will be lit by electricity. Somehow. Somehow we’ll manage to keep the copper turning inside its jacketing magnets to hold on to something that went up, spectacularly, in the nineteenth century and will never be forgotten again.

1 comment:

  1. It is amazing to me that we continuing to use fossil fuel as if it will last forever. The new boon in output being produced as a result of employing new fracking methods to extract reserves in shale and tar sands in North America, and elsewhere as well—though mostly here for now—make it easy to maintain the illusion that technology will keep finding ways to keep us floating on oil. Instead, I sure wish we'd be using this boon period to expedite effort to prepare for the inevitable transition. As the newest IEA World Energy Outlook makes clear, this new production will peak in the early 2020s and the overall trajectory is for vastly increasing demand and declining output. Sigh...

    But, I guess being outraged by the sloppy "roll-out" of Obamacare is a far more important thing.

    Okay, I shall stop sharing my cynical thoughts and instead allow the cockles of my heart to bit warmed a bit by the idea of electrical power lasting well into the future to help light the way!

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