The most world changing inventions and discoveries - Politics Forum.org | PoFo

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Early modern era & beginning of the modern era. Exploration, enlightenment, industrialisation, colonisation & empire (1492 - 1914 CE).
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#14987672
There have been a good number of inventions, as well as discoveries, which have completely revolutionized society, often on a global scale.

With this thread, I'm looking for input on this in the way of examples and discussion, but will start with some observations of my own.

There are the so-called Four Great Inventions of Ancient China.

These are:

Paper making

Printing

The Compass

Gunpowder

Each of these were revolutionary in their own right. In my subjective opinion, perhaps gunpowder most of all.

To further borrow, and moving far into the modern era, Paul Sweezy, in his analysis of industrial capitalism, stipulated that there were three great transitory inventions.

The steam engine

The railroad train

The automobile


Let me move on away from these source materials, to think about this topic in a more personal manner.

Proceeding all the way to the present, I think that the internet is an invention which is on a par with the others in a number of respects. That's not to say necessarily that it stands up to each and every one on equal terms, but the internet is in the same sort of category as the above, in my view.

To backtrack to the realm of ancient history, I think the discovery of steel is also a notable case, and possibly worthy of mention with all of the above.

The latter example demonstrates that this is a broad topic, and that's the intent of it. I am hoping to think of really genuinely societal changing developments in the way of technology, and am seeking contributions to this, just for the sake of interest.

The above is mostly what I have thought of.

I suppose oil refining and utilization is another, I'd say.

Perhaps the telegraph, and the telephone are additions, as well.

I welcome additional examples, or comments on any of the above; or remarks on the topic generally.
#14987968
There are the so-called Four Great Inventions of Ancient China.

These are:

Paper making

Printing

The Compass

Gunpowder

To further borrow, and moving far into the modern era, Paul Sweezy, in his analysis of industrial capitalism, stipulated that there were three great transitory inventions.

The steam engine

The railroad train

The automobile



The first group is attributed to ancient China, while the second group is closely associated with the Industrial Revolution from Britain. Japan is a hybrid culture between the two civilisations, which was an Asian copy of the British Empire that established itself as a great power. But China imported a degenerative culture from the West in the 19th century and the entire nation was addicted to opium, which brought about its downfall.

Image
Ah Sing's opium den was probably the most famous of the dens in Victorian London.

- The first programmable computer was invented by British mathematician and scientist Charles Babbage in the 1820s.

- The world’s first publicly demonstrated television was invented by British inventor John Logie Baird in 1925.

- The telephone was invented by British inventor Alexander Graham Bell and patented in 1876.
#14988090
Tut tut!

Fire
Wheel
Bow and arrow
Telescope
Microscope
The condom
Gin
Cocktails - where would we be if not paying through the nose for a glass full of flavoured ice?

Worst inventions
colonoscope
Exercise bike
Alarm clock
Clocking in apparatus
Piecework
Time and motion man
School teacher's cane.
#14988109
Yes, I am ashamed too. For nothing brings former colonial nations together in celebration like a good thrashing of England by West Indies in Cricket, Australians, Indians, Pakistanis, Kiwis, they all are happy. :p
#15047740
There was a plague in London in the 1800s. It was perplexing, since it appeared and disappeared for no obvious reason, in particular locations.

In the first practical use of statistics, a Doc spent years tracking down the cause. It was bad water. Companies were supposed to get clean water from upriver, but not all of them did.

That moment illustrates the magic of the Modern. Medical science used mathematics to solve the problem. Then the government stepped in to regulate, and eventually take over, the water supply.

It also illustrates what I think of as the evolution of the Modern world.
#15047800
Crantag wrote:There are the so-called Four Great Inventions of Ancient China.

These are:

Paper making

Printing

The Compass

Gunpowder

I would omit gunpowder from China, as they didn't grasp its utility, the same as I would omit Hero's steam engine, as it went nowhere in the ancient world.

There are other ancient inventions that had major implications, which I would add to your list. Going outside of the basics, I would include:

- Rope
- Wheel and axle
-- The cart and wheel: Able to carry heavy loads over distances.
-- The pulley: same. Important for construction.
- The boat, sail and tiller/rudder: Same as above, but with propulsion.
- The lever: Ability to manipulate heavy loads.
- Archimedes screw: Ability to pump water--actually Egyptian not Greek
- Candles and oil lamps
- The Roman arch
- Roman concrete
- Preservation of food
-- Fermentation of sugars--beer and wine
-- Fermentation of meats--salami, etc.
-- Dried fruits
- The loom--production of textiles.

I would consider preservation of food about the most fundamental, and would also include pottery and weaving. Without this, agricultural populations could not survive well outside of growing and hunting seasons. Preservation of food made it possible to live in Northern climates during the winter. I would consider the wheel and axle to be critical to mobility, facilitating trade, construction, transportation, etc.

Crantag wrote:Proceeding all the way to the present, I think that the internet is an invention which is on a par with the others in a number of respects. That's not to say necessarily that it stands up to each and every one on equal terms, but the internet is in the same sort of category as the above, in my view.

I don't think "The Internet" could be considered an invention all by itself. I would say conceptual inventions are also important. So while paper is important, so are alphabets. They make no sense apart from each other. Uniform and interchangeable parts was a pre-requisite to mass production. What makes the internet so interesting is that, sort of like pipes in a Linux command line, it involves stacked technologies that are built one on top of the other. IP, UDP/TCP, HTTP, FTP, DNS, and so on. It's this ability to use layered technologies that makes computing technologies so powerful.
#15047804
:roll: Yeah @blackjack21, sure they didn't realize it's utility. That's why the Chinese Song Dynasty military applications of gunpowder included primitive hand grenades, poisonous gas shells, flamethrowers and landmines.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_o ... beginnings
#15047809
Godstud wrote::roll: Yeah @blackjack21, sure they didn't realize it's utility. That's why the Chinese Song Dynasty military applications of gunpowder included primitive hand grenades, poisonous gas shells, flamethrowers and landmines.

I'm using the term "realized" in economic terms, not to be confused with "recognized"--as in "realized capital gains." Gunpowder was first used as a medicine. Militarily it was initially used primarily for rockets, or fire arrows or fire lances. They were useful against soft targets, but in the middle ages such weapons weren't very effective against stone fortifications or armored warriors. However, as incendiaries and as a means of terrorizing those who hadn't seen the weapons, they were effective. As incendiaries, they provided an advantage of range compared to archers, who had been doing the same thing for centuries. It was actually the stirrup that made the Mongols so effective, even though they had rockets.

China also invented the first cannons, but their metallurgy wasn't that good. The first "modern" cannons date to the Mamluks. Once cannons had a barrel, improved power and aim, they became much more formidable and that rendered castles pointless. Flash pan guns made it possible to aim more effectively before shooting, rendering armored knights pointless. The most notable early battles that military historians cite involve fights between Western Christian powers and the Ottomans. What made the cannon effective was the ability to hurl huge projectiles (e.g., 500lbs) over a mile; and, the ability to use grape shot as an anti-personnel weapon. Later they became instrumental in European navies.

Hero had a working steam engine in antiquity, but it didn't lead to an industrial revolution. That had to wait quite some time. Whereas with cannons, it was a matter of hundreds of years, with the steam engine it was over 1000 years.

Keep in mind that the Song dynasty was ultimately destroyed by Kublai Khan's forces--seemingly improbable, like Trump beating Hillary Clinton.
#15047819
The examples of guns and gun powder shows what is wrong with this discussion. Pinpointing original inventions often isn't very significant. It's the ability to improve inventions that is important. Most technological innovation is incremental. Rather than looking at the original inventions, it is more interesting to study why some improved inventions while others didn't.

For example, even though the Chinese had a long tradition of building cannons, they were useless compared to Western cannons. The Jesuits introduced Western cannons to China in the 16th century. They didn't just provide the cannons, they built cannon foundries for the Chinese, showed them how to make cannons and translated cannon manuals into Chinese. Which was the Jesuit's way of currying favor with local leaders, who were able to use the Western cannons for put down rebellions. However, when the British bombarded China during the Opium war in the 19th century, the Chinese were still using the cannons the Jesuits had built for them in the 16th century. Needless to say, Western cannons had been substantially improved during the intervening 3 centuries.

The same applies to the Ottomans. Hungarian engineers built the cannons the Ottomans used for the siege of Constantinople. The Ottomans were still using the same cannons in the 19th century against the British.

The same is true today. The original inventions are often insignificant in terms of economy gain. It's the ability to develop the original inventions into effective production methods or marketable products that is important. That also shows why all the talk about the Chinese stealing Western inventions is false. The modern patent system is designed so that inventions can be used (stolen) by others, not for commercial use, but for improving the invention. Thus, the problem is not that the Chinese "steal Western inventions"; the problem (to the West) is that the Chinese are capable of improving inventions.

Regarding the printing press. The Chinese didn't only use block printing long before Gutenberg's invention of the printing press, they also invented the movable type before Gutenberg. But it didn't have any impact. The Chinese used ceramic instead of lead for printing with movable type; however, due to the system of Chinese characters, block printing was more convenient than ceramic movable types. Thus while Gutenberg's invention led to an explosion in the spread of learning in Europe, the movable type printing in China had no impact at all.
#15047826
blackjack21 wrote:Keep in mind that the Song dynasty was ultimately destroyed by Kublai Khan's forces--seemingly improbable, like Trump beating Hillary Clinton.


Not really.

Many Westerners often believed the Mongol conquest of China is the same as their conquest of, say, Russia, and thus found it conquering China, the most cultured state in the world by that time, astonishing. It's quite a different picture down here.

The Song was probably the weakest of all the Chinese dynasties from the start. For one, the nomadic or semi-nomadic people have started to hold a firm ground in the more fringe areas. Three dynasties rose before the Mongols: The Khitans and the Jurchens to the NE, and the Tanguts to the NW. Even Kunming in the SW and Vietnam in the South, despite being under Chinese rule for a millennium, were independent by then. The Song Government's policy of getting a civilised yet centralised rule, in order to quell potential usurpers, didn't help the matter.

The Khitans and the Tanguts were both relatively weak so the Song had about a century and a half of peace. However, the Jurchens' rise changed the matter. They not only conquered the Khitans (forcing them to relocate to Transoxiana), but also went south and conquered the Song. In fact, they thought themselves to be the legitimate ruler of whole of China, and more or less treated the Southern Song as vassals.

Ironically, they arguably became even more Chinese than the Chinese themselves (just like their descendants, the Manchus, became in the 19th Century). They found themselves bullied by the newly united Mongols and, combined with the avenging Han Chinese and Song, fell in 1234; while the Tanguts fell slightly earlier, just before Genghis Khan's death. Nevertheless, both nations held out for about two decades, quite a remarkable feat.

Song, being the last great empire around, were initially allies to the Mongols. However, the Chinese had a problem: They thought the "Middle Plains" were their true Promised Land, and would try to take it back no matter what. Of course the Mongols would not allow that, and eventually the Mongols started to think how to subdue Southern China.

Contrary to popular belief, the Mongols did use the Chinese way to rule the Chinese lands, including the Jurchen and Tanguts' territories. In other words, the people in the Central Plains did not really think the Mongols as someone other than just another foreign race establishing a dynasty of their own. After all, some of them had been under this for three centuries. And that's exactly what Kublai Khan did -- he presented himself as a Chinese Emperor, and quite thoroughly played the part, even at the cost of losing suzerainty of his fellow Khanates in the West. He paid a great deal of work and patience in conquering the Song -- it actually took him another two decades to finish the work, bringing the whole conquest spanning almost eight decades (ironically it turned out to be how long the Mongol dynasty lasted after the conquest).

Therefore, it's a bit unfair to compare the Mongol / Yuan's feat to Donald Trump. They had worked quite hard for the best part of a century.
#15047827
Atlantis wrote:Regarding the printing press. The Chinese didn't only use block printing long before Gutenberg's invention of the printing press, they also invented the movable type before Gutenberg. But it didn't have any impact. The Chinese used ceramic instead of lead for printing with movable type; however, due to the system of Chinese characters, block printing was more convenient than ceramic movable types. Thus while Gutenberg's invention led to an explosion in the spread of learning in Europe, the movable type printing in China had no impact at all.


The Chinese did use lead blocks for moving block printing in the 15 / 16th century, and copper blocks even before Mongol conquest.

And printing did help the Chinese to preserve and publish old, useful texts. It's widely regarded that the cultural explosion of the Song was the effect of the printing press. And do not forget banknotes, which started in China, was also a very good example of the Chinese utilisation of printing press.

The real reason that moving block printing did not have as much an apparent impact in China is that Chinese characters are so vibrant that moving block printing is not as practical as those who just had a handful of alphabets.

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