THE VALUE OF HISTORY
We live in a heady time of technological pyrotechnics and we tend to think that pre-modern era humans were all stone-age brutes.
Not so. As far back as written records go, clear back to the Phaistos disk printed by a printing press using a syllabary of 45 signs (one sign for each syllable) 3,700 years ago, there is clear evidence that humans were as innately intelligent, or more so, than we are today. As archeologists unearth more, there is every reason to be humbled.
Just look at the great structures of incredible size, engineering and intricate detail that were created by humans without one power tool or machine. The Taj Mahal and the Pyramids are just a couple of examples. There are ancient structures spread around the world using unbelievably immense stones. Some stones were so gigantic that it would have taken 30,000 men to move one a single inch. Yet they were moved 200 miles over land and then elevated dozens of feet in the air. Some structures in Mesoamerica and the South Pacific are made of thousands of stones weighing tons each, and somehow hewn to fit so tightly that a card cannot even be inserted anywhere in the joints. We, with all of our smarts and technology, haven't a clue how they did it.
People in the past were indeed smart, but not so much so that they could not destroy themselves through environmental devastation or exhaustion, or by senseless warring initiated by leaders merely interested in their own power. We can learn from such things, or history will be a prologue for our future.
We are linked to our past in so many ways, socially, politically, technologically, scientifically, biologically and nutritionally. An ongoing theme of the e-Health Letter in fact is to show that we are intimately genetically tied to nature and that living in accord with this understanding provides the key to health.
Here's an interesting piece of history demonstrating our ties with the past. Notice that the space shuttle has two solid fuel booster rockets on the sides of the gigantic main fuel tank. Why are these the size they are? Surely this was determined by sophisticated science, or was it?
As it turns out, these tanks are made by Thiokol, a company in Utah that must ship them to the launch pads. The mode of shipment is by rail and the thickness of the tanks is dictated by the tunnels the trains must pass through and the width of the rail cars. Well, what decides the width of the rail cars? It's based on the track. The track is exactly a standard gauge of 4 feet, 8 inches.
What a weird dimension. Why is this the distance between rails? Because the first American and Canadian rails were built by expatriated Englishmen and that's how they did it in England. But why did they do that in England? Because the first railroads were built by those who built tramways and that's how they did it.
So why did the tramway builders do it that way? Because they used the jigs, templates and tools used to build wagons and that was the wheel spacing for the wagons. Why this wheel spacing for wagons? Because the wheels were spaced to fit into the ruts on roads so they wouldn't break.
So where did the ruts come from? Imperial Rome etched those ruts with their war chariots. This was the official specification for Roman chariots, the wheels of which carved roads all over Europe, including England.
But why 4 feet, 8 inches? Because that's the width of the rear-ends of two Roman war horses. Here history helps put our modern ego in perspective when we realize so much of today's sophistication is based on the rear-end of a horse.
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