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Thread: Is Carl Sagan's description of ancient history correct or incorrect?

  1. Top | #11
    Contributor DBT's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tammuz View Post
    Really? Had to unfold the way it did?

    I can think of various leaders in history who, if they had made different decisions, history would have turned out differently.

    It was not predetermined that the Romans would defeat the Carthaginians, either.
    These leaders made what they surely felt to be the best decision they could given the circumstances they were in....would they have chosen what they felt was a lesser option, rejecting what they considered to be their best course of action?

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    The Incas were masters of civil engineering, but they never developed the wheel as dis the other hemisphere.

    Is curiosity generic ot nature or both? In the USA we have developed a cultural frenzy for innovation and electronic gadgets.

    The Greeks had basic hydraulics and phematics, but never really developed them. If they had fully developed steam power who knows what they might have done.

    What underlies all of it is math. Newyonians formulation of mechanics and calculus in a strucrured systm underwrote all of the rise of scince in Europe.

    The Greeks did not have the math.

    Rmans were brilliant engineers developing tables of strength of materials without any underlying scince.

    If a curve was somehow worked up the last 300 years of scince would show an expoentil rise. A lot of things led into the explosuion of scince going far back.

    I'd say no one person grasps it all. It is like critical mass in a reactor. At some point enough ideas start popping and causing the rise of other thoughts in a self sustaining reaction. AE, Maxwell, and the QM scientist's all built on what came before.

    He thought that if things had gone a little differently in history we would be traveling to the stars by now.
    The great BBC show Connections showed how advances in history are more often than not the serendipitous coincidence of unrelated events.

    The CMBR was discovered during an antenna test. There was noise in the system that could not be resolved. Eventually they realized it was not system noise, it was coming from space.

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    The post war American political ideology has been if we but make the right decisions in foreign policy we can make things turn out our way. Constantly proven wrong. Yet we still believe it in our mid east foreign policy.

    If it had not been FDR and Churchill would the Brits and Americans have been as motivated and strong at the darkest times?The Japanese failed to destroy the dry docks and fuel stores at Pearl Harbor out of fear of being ambushed by our carriers.

    Some agued it cost Japan the war. The Yorktown had ben severally damaged but was repaired sufficiently to join the task force at Midway. Three American carriers instead of two. The Japanese thought Yorktown had been sunk and expected only two carriers.

    If the opposing fleets were on slightly different courses and speeds the Japanese may have found us first.

    If the code breakers had not figured out Midway was a target who knows.

    A long list of what ifs. It comes down to historical conditions lining up with an individual. Napoleon.

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    It seems to me what we're all saying is that human societies were what they were. Sagan is doing a bit of anachronizing because his society possessed a lot more knowledge that allowed him to do just that.

    Agency ruled the day in these societies. One can say they were mystics but they did not choose to be mystics. In a way Sagan is making a flawed implication, but that's okay because he's doing it as a teacher. If he's wrong it's only because his observations are 100% accurate.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bronzeage View Post
    I remember the original Sagan Cosmos episode about the Planet Venus. The first astronomer to get a good focus could only see swirling clouds in the Venusian atmosphere. This led the astronomer to speculate that Venus was a wet swampy place, where dinosaurs waded through the marsh. Sagan's comment was, "Observation: can's see anything. Conclusion: Dinosaurs."

    So, Sagan is caught concluding with his pants down.

    When I look at Leonardo Di Vinci's notebook, he has lots of cool stuff which were impossible in his day because the materials needed to engineer the device did not exist. For some of his drawings, the materials still don't exist. Suppose Democritus's ideas about atoms and matter became accepted canon for the structure of the universe. When would the social engines which drive technology have taken advantage of this idea. Steel of various types has been around for several thousands of years. A better understanding of crystals and their structure might have helped, but we had no way to determine one steel crystal from another. As is was, steel suitable for making fine springs was not practical until the 1600's.

    Ideas are easy to come by, and it's really easy to look back and pick out the good ideas from the past.
    What was Sagan's conclusion about history?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gun Nut View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Bronzeage View Post
    I remember the original Sagan Cosmos episode about the Planet Venus. The first astronomer to get a good focus could only see swirling clouds in the Venusian atmosphere. This led the astronomer to speculate that Venus was a wet swampy place, where dinosaurs waded through the marsh. Sagan's comment was, "Observation: can's see anything. Conclusion: Dinosaurs."

    So, Sagan is caught concluding with his pants down.

    When I look at Leonardo Di Vinci's notebook, he has lots of cool stuff which were impossible in his day because the materials needed to engineer the device did not exist. For some of his drawings, the materials still don't exist. Suppose Democritus's ideas about atoms and matter became accepted canon for the structure of the universe. When would the social engines which drive technology have taken advantage of this idea. Steel of various types has been around for several thousands of years. A better understanding of crystals and their structure might have helped, but we had no way to determine one steel crystal from another. As is was, steel suitable for making fine springs was not practical until the 1600's.

    Ideas are easy to come by, and it's really easy to look back and pick out the good ideas from the past.
    What was Sagan's conclusion about history?
    Sagan stated in Cosmos, perhaps elsewhere, that high science arose among the Greeks thousands of years ago, which it did, citing numerous historical examples. Had it not been for the power of the mystics humanity could have been visiting other star systems by now, and not wallowing in scientific illiteracy. Sagan was particularly poignant in his rendering of the christian 's burning the great library of Alexandria and murdering it's librarian, Hypatia. He posed the question, "Who speaks for Earth?," contrasting the worlds of mysticism and science.

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    Had it not been for the power of the mystics humanity could have been visiting other star systems by now, and not wallowing in scientific illiteracy.
    I've read that implication, opinion, thought, notion from him and others... but I challenge that he presented that as a conclusion. maybe I'm wrong, though.

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    The definition of."Mystic" may be an issue.

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    I should think so. I never know what to do with specific language used vaguely. People hate being corrected, but absent correction the conversation descends into cross-talk and absurdity.

    "Mystic" and "spiritual" seem to be the waffliest terms, followed at a few paces by "magic", "superstition", and "cult".

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    Quote Originally Posted by Politesse View Post
    I should think so. I never know what to do with specific language used vaguely. People hate being corrected, but absent correction the conversation descends into cross-talk and absurdity.

    "Mystic" and "spiritual" seem to be the waffliest terms, followed at a few paces by "magic", "superstition", and "cult".
    Sagan was all about verifiability, maybe even a bit of a logical positivist. In any case he really didn't distinguish between traditional religious woo and other forms of woo. He was particularly fond of trouncing astrology for example and went so far as to say we should not immediately discount things like prayer and Velikovskyism, but should instead submit them to scientific examination.

    Sagan smoked some weed and opined at one point that Jesus must have been some type of an alien to have been able to perform impossible feats. Probably just the weed talking there.

    He just didn't grant any particular form of woo any special status. It was all woo, all mystical mumbo jumbo when held up against scientific inquiry, observation and experiment.

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