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JimD

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Historical Tidbits
« on: February 26, 2014, 07:29:19 PM »
I come across historical items of interest all the time which do not fit into our typical topics, but that tell an interesting story or provide a window into our current issues and times.  So here is a place for them.

The one that triggered this post.  A deterministic view of history over the free will view.

Who Needs World War I?

Quote
....Few events are more central to the history of the 20th century than the First World War.  Without Sarajevo, Tannenberg and the Somme, we have no Hitler, no Lenin, no Hemingway.  The history of the past hundred years flows directly from the happenstance series of events that led to Europe destroying itself for little reason between 1914 and 1918. 

And yet, if we imagine a German diplomat or general falling asleep in February 1914 and waking up today to see a prosperous Germany dominating a peaceful Europe, he would be pleased but not be surprised. The fall of the multiethnic Austrian Hungarian and Ottoman empires and their replacement by nation states was also predictable. No one in 1914 would have been astonished to learn that 100 years later Russia would remain an exporter of raw materials and its politics would be authoritarian, oligarchic, and corrupt. Britain’s half-hearted relationship towards the rest of Europe would startle no one.   What would shock our German general is the realization that it took two brutal world wars and the rise and fall of communism to achieve this outcome. Disastrous defeat twice over did not impede Germany’s rise.

So we have a conundrum.  On the one hand, even deeply important historical events can be seen as accidents or flukes.  On the other, over the longer term history seems tied to the profound processes of demographics, technology, culture and institutions that have little to do with the actions of mere men.  To put it another way, even if Christopher Columbus had never gone to sea, cassava would nonetheless be a staple crop in Africa today and a Nahuatl speaking emperor  would not be ruling Mexico.  If we explore the counterfactual and assume that World War I had not broken out in 1914 and so the Russian Revolution  not occurred in 1917 and Hitler not come to power in 1933, we might still end up with a world pretty close to what we have today.  I’m not sure what that tells us about the value of the study of history.

Determinism.  I have a streak of that in me also.  Free Will fails to inform or achieve results so often that I always question arguments based upon it.

What does this say about our current dilemma?

http://www.pieria.co.uk/articles/who_needs_world_war_i

We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because this is more comfortable. Alexander Solzhenitsyn

How is it conceivable that all our technological progress - our very civilization - is like the axe in the hand of the pathological criminal? Albert Einstein

JimD

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Re: Historical Tidbits
« Reply #1 on: March 04, 2014, 01:21:37 AM »
Billiard balls.

Prior to the invention of Bakelite in 1909 (the first synthetic plastic) all top quality billiard balls were made from ivory (not to mention piano keys and such).  For billiard balls of top quality there was no substitute as there was no other known substance which had the characteristics required for top performance.

So before that time the greatest threat to the extinction of the elephant was the demand for billiard balls from their ivory.  A maximum of 8 balls could be made from one tusk.  A minimum of one elephant per set of balls.  Apparently it was recognized in the 1800's that there were just not enough elephants to satisfy the demand and a $10,000 prize was offered for about 50 years for someone to invent a substitute for the ivory balls. 

So a game almost resulted in the extermination of the elephant and was material in the development of the scourge known as plastic.  Of course now we are going to exterminate the elephant for other reasons.  But that is a different story.
We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because this is more comfortable. Alexander Solzhenitsyn

How is it conceivable that all our technological progress - our very civilization - is like the axe in the hand of the pathological criminal? Albert Einstein

JimD

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Re: Historical Tidbits
« Reply #2 on: March 04, 2014, 09:26:51 PM »
To give a perspective of how hard it is to have a feel for history and the passage of time.

Quote
From what we can tell, the last of the wooly mammoth died out around 1700 B.C. on Russia’s Wrangel Island. In Egypt, the Pyramids of Giza were built around 4,000 years ago, although there have been claims that they're even older. This also means that Cleopatra's time on Earth is actually closer to us in history than to the construction of the pyramids.

Kind of mind boggling that the Egyptians were building pyramids when the wooly mammoths were still around, but even weirder about Cleopatra. Civilization is a mile wide and an inch deep as they say.

Another interesting one, especially in my retirement community which is about 50% Vietnam Veterans, is that the end of the Vietnam war is further back in time than its end was from the end of WWII.  The war in Afghanistan, assuming it actually ends this year as planned, will have lasted 2/3s as long as the gap between the end of WWII and the beginning of the Vietnam War (the American part of the war). 
We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because this is more comfortable. Alexander Solzhenitsyn

How is it conceivable that all our technological progress - our very civilization - is like the axe in the hand of the pathological criminal? Albert Einstein

wili

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Re: Historical Tidbits
« Reply #3 on: March 05, 2014, 08:16:09 AM »
I had a similar shock wrt the telescoping of history when I studied the earliest language that is attested among the ancient Indo-European languages: Hittite. I had studied many other ancient IE languages: old Germanic and Celtic texts, Latin, Greek, Sanskrit...but (except for a few "Linear B" inscriptions in Greek) none of those went back much beyond the middle of the first millennium BCE.

All the Hittite texts are from the middle of the second millennium BCE. So I thought, wow, I'm really getting far back there now! But the writing of the language itself is full of "Akkadograms" and "Sumerograms"--cuneiform signs that went back another 1600 years to the very beginning of writing--as far back from the Hittites as the late Roman Empire is from us.
"A force de chercher de bonnes raisons, on en trouve; on les dit; et après on y tient, non pas tant parce qu'elles sont bonnes que pour ne pas se démentir." Choderlos de Laclos "You struggle to come up with some valid reasons, then cling to them, not because they're good, but just to not back down."

pikaia

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Re: Historical Tidbits
« Reply #4 on: March 05, 2014, 01:39:47 PM »
It is true that it is hard to have a feel for the passage of time.

Homo sapiens has existed for 200,000 years, but recorded history only accounts for a few percent of that time. Similarly, the fossil record mostly only covers the last 600 million years, but Earth existed for 4 billion years before that, and life existed for much of that time. An awful lot must have happened during these earlier times, but they are almost a blank sheet.

ccgwebmaster

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Re: Historical Tidbits
« Reply #5 on: March 05, 2014, 07:44:40 PM »
An awful lot must have happened during these earlier times, but they are almost a blank sheet.

Give it only 10,000 years (and possibly much less) and I wager all that will be left of the modern world will be one or two myths (like the ancient flood stories) and rather large rubbish dumps (rubbish/trash seems to be one of the most enduring things most peoples leave behind!).

JimD

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Re: Historical Tidbits
« Reply #6 on: March 10, 2014, 04:55:15 PM »
Quote
4,000-year-old Dartmoor burial find rewrites British bronze age history

Stone box contains earliest examples of wood-turning and metal-working, along with Baltic amber and what may be bear skin...

Although tin – essential for making bronze – from Cornwall and Devon became famous across the ancient world, there was no previous evidence of smelting from such an early date. The necklace, which included amber from the Baltic, had a large tin bead made from part of an ingot beaten flat and then rolled. Although research continues, the archaeologists are convinced it was made locally.

http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/mar/09/dartmoor-burial-site-bronze-age-history
We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because this is more comfortable. Alexander Solzhenitsyn

How is it conceivable that all our technological progress - our very civilization - is like the axe in the hand of the pathological criminal? Albert Einstein

JimD

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Re: Historical Tidbits
« Reply #7 on: March 17, 2014, 01:29:25 AM »
From a text by Adolph Just and Benedict Lust (German doctors) in 1896

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Man in his misguidance has powerfully interfered with nature.  He has devastated the forests, and thereby even changed the atmospheric conditions and the climate.  Some species of plants and animals have become entirely extinct through man, although they were essential in the economy of Nature.  Everywhere the purity of the air is affected by smoke and the like, and the rivers are defiled.  These and other things are serious encroachments upon Nature, which men nowadays entirely overlook but which are of the greatest importance, and at once show their evil effect not only upon plants but upon animals as well, the latter not having the endurance and power of resistance of man.

It is just amazing how this situation sneaked up on us with no warning.  Hardly fair at all.
We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because this is more comfortable. Alexander Solzhenitsyn

How is it conceivable that all our technological progress - our very civilization - is like the axe in the hand of the pathological criminal? Albert Einstein

JimD

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Re: Historical Tidbits
« Reply #8 on: April 11, 2014, 04:14:04 PM »
How people have died.

Interesting little set of statistics.

http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/08/the-death-toll-comparison-breakdown.html
We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because this is more comfortable. Alexander Solzhenitsyn

How is it conceivable that all our technological progress - our very civilization - is like the axe in the hand of the pathological criminal? Albert Einstein

Wouter

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Re: Historical Tidbits
« Reply #9 on: April 30, 2014, 06:00:36 PM »