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Archimedes' Lever   (+8, -1)  [vote for, against]
an interesting discussion forum

I'd like to see a discussion forum similar to halfbakery that solicits proposals and discussion and voting on the proposals, dedicated to answering this question:

What is the smallest change that could be made to any part of existence as we know it, to produce the largest positive effect?

Proposals would be accepted for changes made in the past, present, or future. Participants would be left to determine for themselves what constitutes "smallness," "largeness," and "positiveness." By voting, and in the discussions, participants would also resolve the issue of whether a change with a large effect/effort ratio but small effect would trump a change with a smaller e/e ratio but much larger effect.

"Archimedes' Lever" is proposed as the name for the forum because of his quote about being able to move the world with a long enough lever.
-- beauxeault, Mar 05 2001

Halfbakery Hosting, Inc. http://www.halfbake...ry_20Hosting_20Inc.
This would be a big help. [beauxeault, Mar 05 2001, last modified Oct 04 2004]

The quote in question http://archimedes.s...eingPPT/tsld006.htm
[beauxeault, Mar 05 2001, last modified Oct 04 2004]

What if? news:soc.history.what-if
Might be a forum for the "past" part? [Monkfish, Mar 05 2001, last modified Oct 21 2004]

Halfbakery Hosting, Inc. http://www.halfbake...ery_20Hosting_20Inc
This would be a big help. [beauxeault, Oct 21 2004]

The quote in question http://archimedes.s...eingPPT/tsld006.htm
[beauxeault, Oct 21 2004]

Well, since the smallest muscle in the body is the eye -- the effect is making one who blinks first.
-- reensure, Mar 05 2001

It could be an interesting site although you might have to limit to individual cultures as the percieved size of changes between cultures can alter drastically. I can imagine Texans arguing with Californians, etc.
-- Aristotle, Mar 05 2001

Archimedes is supposed to have wanted "a place to stand", not a giant lever. Though he probably would have been the first to accept a giant lever if it were offered.

I think I just slid back two P.A. steps.
-- Monkfish, Mar 06 2001

Thanks, Monkfish. The version of the quote I encounter most freqently does call for a "long" lever, as well as a place to stand (link). So in my posting, I changed "big enough" to "long enough" to avoid ambiguity. I originally intentionally left out the "place to stand" part because I was not trying to reproduce the quote but only to refer to it, so this omission remains.
-- beauxeault, Mar 06 2001

Hm. For the sake of interest (mine, not yours): The OCD says that it's from Simplicius's commentaries on Aristotle, which aren't exactly at my fingertips. It renders the quote, though, as "give me a place to stand and I will move the earth". Archimedes doesn't seem all that likely to have said it in the first place, really; much more importantly, though, it was criminally fussy to bring it up in the first place -- it's a perfectly reasonable choice of symbol. I just love a good quibble.
-- Monkfish, Mar 06 2001

There had been slow plague periods before, and postponing a re-encounter might just as easily have made things worse. The chances of it popping up one way or another before 1666 seem rather good.

Besides, Newton made his most important discoveries while hanging around at home because the university was closed for plaguing. It could be argued that he would have been less likely to get around to thinking things through if he had remained at school.

The other, more important effects of the plague are numerous, non-obvious, and by no means all unpleasant. You would not have the Decameron, for example, or the gory paintings of St. Sebastian. More significantly, you would not have the conditions of the plague's aftermath, out of which many interesting things developed. Economically, culturally, socially, politically, and in every other respect, it was a fairly important event. I wouldn't want to have to defend the claim that the plague was "bad", taking human history as a whole. It seems like it might be rather tricky to assess and compare the weight of human misery in two radically different timelines.

Most importantly, the life's work of scores of thousands of social and economic historians would become nonsense.

As far as the quote's concerned, it's quite possible that your late antique Greek is better than T.L. Heath's, in which case I salute you.

This probably wasn't the forum you had in mind, beauxeault. Sorry about that.
-- Monkfish, Mar 07 2001

Actually, Monkfish, the discussion you and UnaBubba and PeterSealy have been having is precisely the type of thing I imagined for AL. Using the HB model (and I know of none better), UnaBubba would have posted two "ideas", one (virus antibiotics) with no annotations, and one (Genoese plague victims) with three annotations. Both of his submissions would be gathering positive or negative votes based on the points made in the discussion.

And I'm gratified that the first two proposals inspired by the question are so thought-provoking, and the discussion so educating.
-- beauxeault, Mar 07 2001

Is the idea to pinpoint events or modify history to create them (or both)?

Frankly, I think anyone would be hard pressed to identify an event that didn't simultaneously have both positive and negative aspects depending on one's point of view.
-- phoenix, Jun 13 2001

Clone Bill Gates and set him up as the rival of microsoft. With years of competing with itself microsoft (and the other one) would have to churn out lots of good software to stay in business.

Large amount of effort but INFINITE improvement.
-- RobertKidney, Jun 13 2001

phoenix, the idea is to find the *modification* to either history or the current situation (or even to future situations, but then you have an additional layer of speculation to muddy the waters) that would provide the biggest "bang for the buck." The large-scale goal would be to learn something useful about where efforts could be applied most effectively to make the world a better place. The immediate goal would be the education, intellectual stimulation, and amusement of the participants, which would, of course, also make the world a better place.
-- beauxeault, Jun 18 2001

I'm going to have another go at this... what is Hitler's only copy of mein kampf spontaneously combusted? would he have been deterred, or just carried on?

How about if we altered something like the bible - made the “thou shalt not kill” part a bit more important? what would have happened to the crusades?
-- RobertKidney, Oct 09 2001

how about - thou shalt not wear chainmail? that might have detered them a bit...
-- RobertKidney, Oct 10 2001

How about if they'd built the World Trade Centre about 100m to the left.
-- stupop, Oct 10 2001

I'ed stop the apes evolving into humans

ignore this annotation I just hate the human race
-- GreeboMaster, Oct 20 2001

How about the idea that time moves constantly and all energy/matter changes simultaneously at the rate of progress of time (discrete steps or otherwise). If you were to accept this then all change happens at a constant rate and there is no way of increaing or decreasing this rate without changing the speed of time. I think it would be pretty difficult to measure changes in the speed of time from within the system, even if we were able to cause them. This makes the discussion slightly redundant.

As a sidepoint, as it seems acceptable that we can make changes in the past, present or future, I would suggest that any change imposed at the beginning of time would have had the greatest impact so far.
-- Stef, Jan 10 2002

Hi Stef.
-- st3f, Jan 10 2002

That's very true - a penny would be worth trillions with all that compounding interest.
-- thumbwax, Jan 10 2002

Can I drop in the obvious but yet unmentioned point of cuase and effect. Any change made in the past would have immense repercussions accross time and the effects would be difficult to predict, plan or control.

As per your example: If you went back in time and destroyed Hitler's first copy of Mein Kamp, the second world war might never have happened. instead, communism might have spread across europe replacing capitalism and eventually replacing capitalist democracy in the US. Or the us and ussr could have eneded up in atomic war and wiped out life on the planet.

What might seem like a positive change could wipe out all life as we know it.
-- CasaLoco, Jan 10 2002

(beaux - for the purposes of AL, the following is meant to be envisioned from a purely sectarian viewpoint.)

What if they had chosen to crucify Barrabas instead?
-- waugsqueke, Jan 10 2002

waugs, I'd like to see what kind of rating that would get on AL, if it existed. I'd guess it would score well on plausibility (or the "smallness" scale), and would, depending on some assumptions, also score well on the potential effectiveness, though it'd be tough to call whether the effect would be seen as positive.

Even so, it would be a much juicier topic with the sectarian handcuffs removed.
-- beauxeault, Jan 10 2002

The smallest lever object is created by imagining what you want the current reality to be as if it were already here, and discussing it's existence as something created a long time ago. Anything mentioned here would never work because of that reference. So try it elsewhere and see if reality alters!
-- bibo, Nov 03 2002

Assuming that this is a strictly philosophical question. My proposal for least effort for most amount of good would be to take back some of the drugs we use to battle the influenza brought back after the first world war. This would probably have the least impact on the future of all the proposals, but it would probably not be the cause of any massive historical alterations either.
-- Mambome, Nov 15 2002

I would guess that the further back in time that you go, the bigger would be the 'lever effect' of making any changes. So, GreeboMaster's point about apes evolving into humans would clearly have the biggest effect because it would change a vastly greater amount of history than CasaLoco's burning of Mein Kampf.

In 'historical' times, I would guess that dropping something unsavoury into the water supply at Jerusalem when the Assyrians (or Babylonians or whoever it was) were sitting outside the walls would have resulted in some rather radical changes. Jerusalem being at the time the last outpost of the Jews. Had Jerusalem fallen, no more Jews. No Jews means no Christians and no Moslems. Think about it.

Regarding British history, I've long considered the morning when Henry VIII woke up and decided to get a divorce as being the most momentous. If only his wife had smiled at him before he went to bed the previous night!
-- DrBob, Nov 15 2002

A 100% accurate lie detector
-- wjt, Apr 23 2003

What is the smallest change that could be made to any part of existence as we know it, to produce the largest positive effect?

Every sexually active, fertile human on the planet to practice only protected sex or get themselves sterilised (& this would last for about 50 years). Difficult to implement but very enormous benefit. The point, of course, would be to slow the death of the planet, i.e. reduce pollution (though of course it would require condom factories to go into overdrive, but that would be outweighed by the myriad other savings), slow or stop extinctions of other species & loss of their habitat & allow forests to regenerate.
-- Blurty, Aug 26 2005

Or we could all just stop having sex, thus decreasing the heat output all together....

<Looks over shoulder> No?
-- Susan, Aug 30 2005

random, halfbakery