I had the thought a while back to chart when major inventions and scientific theories were done over the past two centuries, roughly. Consider the result. Scientific theories are in <> brackets. Tweak it, add your own, discard some of mine. A few are debatable. For example, plastics weren't invented all at once, so I picked an important one, nylon.
|1860||<genetics>||<periodic table>||bicycle||antiseptic practice||dynamite|
|1910||tank warfare||gas warfare|
|1960||silicon chip||space travel|
What strikes you?
Here's what strikes me: the past four decades. We now have a large class of people, research scientists, whose job it is to come up with new things; and the population of countries capable of supporting them is greater than before. Why did change decline, instead of accelerating?
I've had some odd responses. One: change has accelerated -- look at what happened over the past 250 years, compared to before! True: but I meant, why's it less in our lifetime? Two: you're not counting the invention of the iPod, or solar cells, or the microwave. True, but those inventions aren't as big as, oh, the computer, or electricity, or the discovery of radiant energy.
(Writer Mark Steyn makes a wry observation. A Rip Van Winkle going 1900 to 1955 would be amazed. Icebox. A little box playing music and reading news, sucking info out of the air. A TV, showing movies in a box of its own. Horse is gone and the auto's in its place. Washing machine, dishwasher, dryer, and in some cases, air conditioner.
Go 55 years further, and except for the computer, it's pretty much the same. Aren't we supposed to be the Jetsons or something by now? Where's my robot maid, my hovercar, my personality implants, my cure for cancer in easy-to-swallow tablets? Etc.)
What do you think? Why isn't change accelerating? Have we gotten to tougher problems now? Are we searching in a less effective way? Or are our thoughts on other things, like marketing? Are these other things more important? Does Moore's Law make up for the change? The answers are bound to inform our priorities -- and maybe puncture a few.