Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Shape of History

A recent op-ed in the New York Times had drawings illustrating various philosophers' views of the shape of history.  In response, I created the following drawing and explanation of my view of the shape of history.
New technologies give people more power over nature, and there is progress with setbacks along the way. The best graphic representation of this is a series of waves that generally tend upward and jump upward when there are major changes in technology.
  • 100,000 to 50,000 BC: Humans invented more complex tools, such as the spear and needle. Population increased slowly, and humans spread through the world by 10,000 BC. Setbacks were caused by changing natural conditions.
  • 10,000 BC: Agriculture began and gradually spread. Initially population increased rapidly. There were permanent settlements and, thousands of years later, complex civilizations. Setbacks included the collapse of the Roman and Mayan empires.
  • The industrial revolution: New technologies let population and output increase rapidly in the West and, after World War II, in most of the developing nations. Setback occurred because technology became powerfully destructive as well as productive. Aerial bombing and the atomic bomb caused immense destruction during World War II. If we do not control global warming, it could cause even more damage.
  • The future: New technologies will be even more powerful. There could be rapid progress, but there could also be weapons more destructive than nuclear bombs and environmental problems worse than global warming. The graphic shows the waves going up and down more sharply to indicate the potential for huge setbacks, but what will actually happen depends on whether we can control destructive technologies. 
See the New York Times op-ed here.


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