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Book of Going Forward

Wherin nothing was ever lost.
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An piece of collaborative literature, in the form of an online encyclopedia. It is set in an earlier era. (What era exactly, I trust the brilliant people here will be able to help me determine.) It is also an alternate history: one where everything went right.

The fundamental concept of this encyclopedia is that no technological innovation of humans since the Neolithic Revolution was ever lost or wasted, but was instead, adopted as fast as practical, and built upon as soon as the economy could support the change. No war, no dogmatism, no sheer stupidity, no spectacular bad luck.

The net effect is that human civilization reached its current technological peak far, far eariler. The Book tells the story of this potential civilization from its roots, about the time of the invention of agriculture, to the "present", when they are just about to found the first off-planet colony. Dates are given throughout in the Holocene calendar, allowing direct comparison to history as it exists for us.

The challenge is to work out just how early the "present" can be driven, realistically. (This is where I hope my fellow Halfbakers can help - at least to within a millenium.) The encyclopedia should be able to identify points of divergence where something lost in real history was kept - early on, by direct comparison; later, by the method of "we had the basis for this technology by time X, but then event Y prevented its adoption".

This is concept art: a monument to everything that could have been. Depending on one's viewpoint, it could be horrifying or uplifting. Horrifying: because so much has been lost, and so many lives rendered the worse therefore. Uplifting: because despite the loss, humans kept finding things again.

gisho, Dec 02 2010

Do it here http://althistory.w....com/wiki/Main_Page
Alternate history wiki [nineteenthly, Dec 03 2010]

late inventions late_20inventions
[xaviergisz, Dec 04 2010]

List of things we don't know _22Things_20We_20Do...0Know_22_20Database
[pocmloc, Dec 06 2010]


       +20% since the iron age, putting us 600 years ahead.
MaxwellBuchanan, Dec 02 2010

       Of course, you could do the same with evolution. If every beneficial mutation had survived (instead of, as is the case 99.9% of the time, getting stepped on by a sabre-toothed tiger or eaten by an elephant), we'd be about a thousand times further ahead.
MaxwellBuchanan, Dec 02 2010

       Except that war and competition, in addition to destroying innovation also drive them forward. (Iron makes better weapons than steel, the army driving aviation development, the manhattan project)   

       Without war, technological innovation would occur at a much slower pace.
MechE, Dec 02 2010

       Yay, Chrystal Pepsi is back!
daseva, Dec 03 2010

       Roosevelt ignores that Burnelli is backed by the political opposition.   

       WWII ends slightly earlier because of the much cheaper and safer (per weight/displacement) lifting-body design on the Allied side's bombers and transports.   

       After the war, the cheaper running costs per unit of cargo on lifting-body's give air transport a greater market share. The design also lends itself well to the concept of flying boats leading to a resurgence of that paradigm.   

       But jet-powered passenger aviation gets a kick in the teeth.   

       The jet engines are a bit cruder due to the 'premature' cessation of hostilities. Jet engines only operate well at high altitudes, and a lifting-body would be quite an engineering challenge to pressurize. Fast aircraft have high takeoff/landing speeds, contraindicated for water operation.   

       So, essentially, the concept of commercial jetliners never get off the ground.
FlyingToaster, Dec 03 2010

       Yes, i like, i've had similar thoughts though not in the form of an online collaborative encyclopaedia. Two PODs occur immediately to me: steam engines, either the ancient Chinese ones or Hero of Alexandria's; the alleged success in aluminium extraction during the rule of Tiberius. Incidentally, this is eminently bakeable at the althist wiki, to which i am about to post a link.
nineteenthly, Dec 03 2010

       The general problem of counterfactual history, if you want to make it any more "realistic" than soft science fiction, is to define where the unravelling stops. This problem is particularly acute in the field of opportunity-cost accounting.
pertinax, Dec 03 2010

       I've always been a little pissed that the Romans had automated factories, hot tubs, and indoor plumbing and somehow we lost it all in the dark ages.   

       This book as proposed is fundamentally flawed - as we know wars drive progress, shit happens, and some ideas don't go anywhere because they just suck. But maybe we could have a modified version. Maybe Rome never fell? Or maybe it never existed, and the Persian Empire took over. Or any other event that could lead to the dark ages not happening, and us being 1000 years ahead of where we are right now.
DIYMatt, Dec 03 2010

       Almost every look at it has a stable Rome (or Persia) retarding progress rather than enhancing it. While the fall did lead to the dark ages, it also created the conditions required for the Rennaisance.   

       If you have a stable empire, where is the impetus to improve?   

       Note, however, that at least one alternate history I have encountered approaches it from the other direction, that is if you pick a point and improve Roman communications (printing press and sempahore), it stabilizes the empire (or Republic, take your pick).
MechE, Dec 03 2010

       These annotations are way off topic. The idea says nothing about abolishising war and all that stuff. It merely asks what would have happened if ideas which we recognise (now) to be good, were accepted and widely adopted at the time.   

       Imagine how much cooler the world would have been if Apple computers had been universally recognised as inherently superior from their inception! We might now be living in a world without quite so many ugly and stupid things in it.
MaxwellBuchanan, Dec 03 2010

       wouldn't this have lead to an even more rapid development of the downside potential? Even without war, human technological development, industrialization, society, and infrastructure are all built on ever increasing resource consumption. If this process had happened in every society simultaneously it would have resulted in a grey slime type situation. Without war, medicine and nutrition would have allowed unrestricted population growth starting in the bronze age. Without the cultural and social burdens placed by warfare and the nation state I see little reason for this to have ended in anything but absolute ecological disaster. Think dust bowl but on a global scale. There is an intimate relationship between human violence and the desire to secure surplus resources which, in effect, limited the population below the supportable resource level. Take away this and essentially all other population regulation and i can imagine a scenario where the last humans cuts down the last fruit tree to eat the last piece of fruit. There are examples anthropology of stable, developed societies that simply consumed all the resources available to them and, with little evidence of violence winked out of existence. Your vision of utopia seems as rose tinted as any other and has the critical flaw of being very very boring.
WcW, Dec 04 2010

       Hm...you could have superior flight sooner, if the Wright brothers had used previous data with bird wings instead of using poorly-scaled windtunnel tests that optimized their wings for supersonic flight.   

       Mendelian genetics could have been discovered a long, long time ago- right back to the start of statistics as a branch of math, if anybody had bothered to do experiments on inheritance and had been lucky in picking independently-assorting genes.   

       The telescope and microscope, and the whole study of optics, also could have been discovered soon after the invention of clear glass, as all it would take is the discovery that glass ground in the right shape can magnify things, followed by experimentation.   

       If the alchemists had been luckier, many modern chemical developments could have been made much sooner- even the discovery of radioactivity and atom theory, not to mention chemical batteries and cheap manufacture of ammonia.   

       Gunpowder, requiring only readily avaliable materials, could have been discovered very early- which in turn, combined with ironworking, could have made guns and bullets possible. The invention of the conical bullet, allowing the disabling of specific parts of the brain during nonlethal headshots, could have kicked off the study of neuroscience within a century after the invention of the conical bullet.   

       There is some evidence the battery was discovered around the time of the ancient Egyptians- see "Baghdad Battery" - thus enabling the science of electricity to be started millennia earlier. Aluminum, which is ridiculously hard to make without electricity, could have been made practical far earlier, along with a hundred dozen other things.   

       Galileo's and Newton's theories- and much, much more- could have been discovered much, much earlier, if anybody had bothered to actually invent science and check the stuff Aristotle was saying.   

       If the Hero boiler had caught on and replaced slave labor, we'd have had steam engines far earlier- and all of modern technology can be traced back to the steam engine. The coal-fired stove, in conjunction with the steam engine, is also important- reserves of coal could have been capitalized on during the Roman occupation of coal-rich Britain.   

       Judging by the Antikythera mechanism, we might have had complex clockwork and with it, good time-keeping far earlier in human civilization. Computing via Babbage machines also could have started much earlier, thanks to this advanced clockwork, thus advancing the study of mathematics and thus science immensely.   

       The hot-air balloon is another discovery that could have been made very early indeed- say some Chinese silk merchant had a run-in with a fire and some silk bags. Thus, human flight would have begun far earlier.   

       The list goes on and on...
Hive_Mind, Dec 04 2010

       boooorrrriiinnnngggg. That's what i think the alternate reality would be like. I think if everyone was so at peace we would all lie down and just die because it would be so boring. This is definitely my own opinion, but wars and contention, no matter how brutal, allow us bravery, courage, honor, a little insanity, and gratitude through loss and sacrifice.   

       As long as humans live, we'll always have the greedy ones, selfish ones, those who seek only for power and will do anything to get it.   

       They make our world interesting.
twitch, Dec 04 2010

       I sometimes wonder what would've happened if hexadactyly without associated pathologies had appeared in a particular group of humans at a particular time. However, i seriously think this kind of discussion goes on in alternate history fora all the time and needn't really be here, fun though it is.   

       Seriously, this can be easily baked by just going to the Althist Wiki and starting it.
nineteenthly, Dec 04 2010

       //some similar concept that expresses parallel realities//   

       You've not been to Swindon, then?
MaxwellBuchanan, Dec 04 2010

       I found the gateway!!!!
DrWorm, Dec 05 2010

       //boooorrrriiinnnngggg. That's what i think the alternate reality would be like. I think if everyone was so at peace we would all lie down and just die because it would be so boring. This is definitely my own opinion, but wars and contention, no matter how brutal, allow us bravery, courage, honor, a little insanity, and gratitude through loss and sacrifice.   

       As long as humans live, we'll always have the greedy ones, selfish ones, those who seek only for power and will do anything to get it.   

       They make our world interesting.//   

       No. They do nothing but add shit to our world.   

       Power for its own sake is what stagnates society, period.
Dictators supress knowledge out of fear, and elected groups in power supress knowledge for the same reason; fear of the power itself switching hands.

       It disgusts me.   

       How much farther would science have advanced if not for the inquisition?
Would the black plague have been contained if free thinkers had been allowed to think freely and express those thoughts without fear of retribution? How much sooner would the industrial revolution have happened?...and how much sooner would we have clued in to its side effects?

       One small example...just one mind you, but it sickens me to no end, from wiki:   

       The first progress in combating infection was made in 1847 by the Hungarian doctor Ignaz Semmelweis who noticed that medical students fresh from the dissecting room at Vienna General Hospital were causing excess maternal death compared to midwives. Semmelweis, despite ridicule and opposition, introduced compulsory handwashing for everyone entering the maternal wards and was rewarded with a plunge in maternal and fetal deaths. His teachings were not accepted during his lifetime, however, and after writing a book denouncing the medical establishment and sending increasingly furious letters to prominent European obstetricians, he was dismissed as insane. He was institutionalized and, in a cruel irony, died of septicaemia in a mental hospital.   

       This makes me want to puke.   

       The Earth is but a seed, the petty dramas played out on its speck of a surface are insignificant compared to the incredible strides that could have been made as a species if we weren't so bent at retarding ourselves at every turn, a garden oasis protected throughout our galaxy by now.
Perhaps imagining how it could have been will be the only way to illuminate what still could be.

       I mean...if you reduce all of humanity down to a single point of view, a single being, isn't this exactly how every single one of us learns? eg.
{I should have said that}
{If I had just done that}
{If I only knew then what I know now...}

       Apply a bit more of this to humanity as a whole and we might just be able to rid ourselves of the crap we are piling up.
Big (+) from me.

       The author of "The History of Pi" (or similar title), was quite upset about how everyone praises the Romans, and called them thugs: responsible for systematically destroying huge libraries of mathematical work. One could argue that those libraries either may or may not have laid the way for faster mathematical progress. It depends on whether it was right or not, I suppose. The problem is, in hindsight we should* choose those ideas that allow progress, but at the time it's not so easy to know.   

       * edit
Ling, Dec 05 2010

       I just read an article recently (forgotten where, sorry...) about how much technology Bell Labs / AT&T have surpressed over the years.
Apparently, fibre optics and cell phone concepts (among many others) were being researched way bay in the 1930s or so. Bureaucratic dickheads thought the tech would threaten their copper wired network monopoly...
Regarding those who think a previously advanced society would simply overpopulate itself to death, the hope would be that social thinking would evolve at a rate comparble to the technological evolution, and people would realise (before it's too late) that too many kids is a Bad Thing, and populations would stabilise (or oscillate slowly, depending...)
[MaxwellBuchanan]s comment about Apple, while strange in it's own right (early Apple computers were ugly...), is the wrong end of the stick in my opinion - rather the better history would have universally agreed standards of compatibilty, instead of the usual 'us vs. them' mentality; so it wouldn't matter which manufacturer you went with, and you wouldn't get trapped in an iOnly (or whatever) world.
neutrinos_shadow, Dec 05 2010

       // early Apple computers were ugly //   

       Have to pick up on this. I don't like Apple, but if you're talking about the Apple ][ series, i find they look remarkably pretty compared to the PET and the TRS-80, for example. Maybe it's just fashion, but i've always liked the look of the original Apple ][. The Apple I i don't think had a case though.
nineteenthly, Dec 05 2010

       "What? You're going to use gasoline for this engine? But that will eventually run out, and besides, have you considered what billions of these things running for years could do to the atmosphere? Or the climate?"   

       "Hmmm, good point.... maybe I'll work on it a bit longer..."
smendler, Dec 06 2010

       Oh, and by the way - what would constitute "going right"? Achieving spaceflight & getting off-planet? Or a stable population with sustainable & equitable quality-of-life?
smendler, Dec 06 2010


       also, like evolution in biology, changes in technology do not follow a linear or clearly "progressive" course. Some technological paths lead to dead ends, others that are neglected or suppressed eventually thrive. Developing every technology is impossible, instead you have to hope that the ones you do pursue will not be dead ends.
WcW, Dec 06 2010

       //no technological innovation of humans since the Neolithic Revolution was ever lost //

How do you know what the lost ones were?
DrBob, Dec 06 2010

       They're on the list of things we don't know we don't know.
pocmloc, Dec 06 2010

       //we choose those ideas that allow progress//

Hmm, not so sure about that. Historically, there have been many different strands of research and technology. One of the problems with 'globalisation' is that we are becoming increasingly homogenous in our use of technology and, in the long term, monoculture has never been a good strategy for anyone.

Anyway, to address the idea finally, I don't think there ever can be //an alternate history: one where everything went right//; only one where everything went differently. One person's Nirvana is another's Barry Manilow.
DrBob, Dec 06 2010

       Well I was going to say 'another person's Limbo' but then I realised that 'Barry Manilow' worked much better in context. As all good mystics should, I leave you to your own interpretation!
DrBob, Dec 06 2010

       //we choose those ideas that allow progress//   

       You have been Blackberried... that should read:   

       //we should choose those ideas that allow progress//
Ling, Dec 07 2010


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