Category Archive 'The Idea of Progress'

27 Feb 2019

Maybe the Modern World Is Not as Progressive As It Thinks It Is

, ,

Boston, 1904.

Ol’ Remus points out that Progress has not been progressing in the modern era nearly as much as a lot of people think.

There has been a noticeable lull in theoretical physics for a long while now. Quantum physics today, for example, amounts to experiments and commentary on a theory formulated in the 1920s, a resounding theoretical and technological success but getting long in the tooth. Physicists have been mining it like the Comstock Lode for almost a century, with diminishing returns.

    Consider how little is really new. Television, the “modern marvel” that came of age in mid-twentieth century, depended crucially on the cathode ray tube, a device from the closing years of the eighteen hundreds, just another piece of lab equipment used by Victorian era nuclear researchers. Television was a parallel development of the electronic oscilloscope, first examples of which date to 1897.

    A NASA engineer estimated that all the technology needed to launch a satellite was in place by the 1920s. The Hubble telescope’s central feature is a reflecting telescope invented in the mid-1600s. Einstein’s theory of special relativity was published in 1905, general relativity came ten years later. The LIGO gravity wave detector is built around a Michelson interferometer, invented in 1887. Electromagnetic particle accelerators were well developed in the 1920s, a concept still in use. The circular cyclotron was invented in 1930 , it’s the basis of the CERN Large Hadron Collider. And on and on.

    Science has gone quiescent, and technology is getting drowsy. Consider. The first jet aircraft flew in 1939. Both the F-86 and MiG-15 of Korean War fame first flew in 1947. The Boeing 707 entered service in 1958, sixty one years ago, and it’s the dominant pattern for jet airliners to this day.

    Semiautomatic rifles were marketed to civilians in 1903. Mexico issued standard 7×57 semi auto rifles to the infantry in 1910. France issued the 8×50 RSC , another successful semi auto, in 1917. The AR-15 goes back to 1956. The .45 ACP round goes back to 1910, the 9×19 mm to 1902. The first electronic infrared detector-display was invented in 1929 for the British air defense system.

    Electronic analog computers were in use in 1939, some aboard US submarines. By 1941 they were programmable. The first digital electronic programmable computer was delivered to Bletchley Park in early 1944. The first transistor appeared in 1947. The marriage was as inevitable as in a 1940s two-hanky movie.

    Oldsmobile began selling automobiles in 1897. Electric cars, also first mass marketed in the US in 1897 , were common until the electric starter replaced hand cranking for gasoline powered cars in 1912 and decisively captured the women’s market. GE built its first diesel-electric locomotives in 1918. By the 1930s “diesels” were in general use as yard switchers, were replacing steam in passenger service and in main line heavy freight service beginning in 1939 .

    Telephones were in common use by the 1890s . Radio, in its “wireless telegraphy” form, was patented in 1896. AM radio was first demonstrated in 1906, by the 1920s it was a commercial success. Hollywood first screened color and sound-on-film movies commercially in the early 1920s. The first color television was demonstrated in 1928, the first all electronic color television in 1940. Even the current gee-whiz technological darling, the laser, was first demonstrated in 1960.

    We’ve been cannibalizing the past for six or seven decades, combining this ‘n that, or developing existing stuff to the nth degree and calling it good. Where are the real breakthroughs today? In physics we’re reduced to reading of parallel universes and wormholes and hidden dimensions and “the universe as hologram” on the basis of little more evidence than a competent science fiction writer could conjure from public sources. String theory, the serial Lazarus of theoretical physics, has produced little more than string theorists.

    You’ll notice physics began atrophying right about the time it became Big Science with grants and other government support.

HT: Vanderleun.

07 Feb 2017


, ,

Pan Am Economy Seating, Late 1960s.

Thus, I refute the Whig Theory of History.

11 Apr 2013

The Left’s Fantasy of Progress

, , ,

In the 1940s, coal miners on their day off in my hometown used to dress better than Tech company executives do today.

In another, characteristically brilliant essay, Dan Greenfield discusses the Left’s reliance on the Idea of Progress as goal and justification.

The left tends to view the past negatively and future shock positively. It wants change to disrupt the old order of things in order to make way for a new order. It hews to a progressive understanding of history in which we have been getting better with the advance of time, the march of progress mimics evolution as a means of lifting humanity out of the muck and raising it up on ivory towers of reason through a ceaseless process of change.

The right often views the past positively, it sees change as a destroyer that undermines civilization’s accomplishments and threatens to usher in anarchy. It fights to conserve that which is threatened by the entropic winds of change. The conservative worldview is progressive in its own way, but it is the progress of the established order. It sees progress emerging from the accretion of civilization, rather than from the disruption of revolution.

Where the left tends to be unrealistically optimistic about the future, acting like a child running to the edge and jumping off, without remembering all the bumps and bruises before, the right tends to be pessimistic about the future. It tends to be wary of change because it is all too aware of how dangerous change can be.

Youth who do not understand the value of what is around them rush to the left. As they achieve a sense of worth, of the world around them and of their labors, they drift slowly to the right. Age also brings with it a sense of vulnerability. Knowing how you can be hurt, how fragile the thin skin of the body, the fleshy connections and organs dangling within, brings with it a different view of the world. Once you understand that you can lose and that you will lose, then you also understand how important it is to defend what you have left.

The vital mantra of the left is do something for the sake of doing something. Change for the sake of novelty. Action for the sake of action. This carnival drumbeat loses its appeal when you come to understand how dangerous change can be. Personal history becomes national history becomes personal history again as you live through it. Seeing what a mistake change can be as you watch politicians disgraced, causes revealed as fool’s errands and crusades fall apart, is a great teacher of the folly of change for the sake of change.

Reagan’s question, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” is the fundamental challenge of the conservative that asks whether the change was really worth it. It is the question at the heart of the struggle between the right and the left.

Are you better off than you were twenty years ago or forty years ago? It’s an uncomfortable question because it has no simple answer. In some ways we are better off and in some ways we are worse off.

Read the whole thing.

Your are browsing
the Archives of Never Yet Melted in the 'The Idea of Progress' Category.

Entries (RSS)
Comments (RSS)
Feed Shark