Appreciating Human Achievement

Humans are awesome. I know this goes against the misanthropes who view humanity as some kind of plague that should be destroyed for the sake of Mother Gaia but I’m not a misanthrope. In fact let me state the following: fuck misanthropes. If you do any research into the achievements of humanity you can only walk away awed. I feel the best way to truly gain an understanding of humanity is to research the mundane things we take for granted today. My love of wristwatches has lead me to lightly study horology, the art and science of measuring time. Measuring time is something people take for granted today as every DVD player, cell phone, computer, microwave, car, and GPS unit has a build in way of measuring time (usually referred to as a clock). Heck most of these devices don’t even have to be set anymore, instead they automatically sync with various atomic clocks built around the world. This hasn’t always been the case though, measuring the passage of time used to be quite a feat.

I’ve started reading Shaping the Day: A History of Timekeeping in England and Wales 1300-1800. The first chapter talks about the scientific achievements of Galileo Galilei (I hope to Odin that everybody knows who Galileo is and that my link to his Wikipedia page is entirely pointless). During the last 1500s and early 1600s Galileo was studying motion. In order to study motion he needed a way to measure the passage of time, unfortunately accurate clocks didn’t exist at that time. What’s a man to do? In the case of Galileo he used two methods: measuring the passage of time by the beating of his heart and by using a song with a repeating beat. Most scientists today would call such methodology unscientific but they have the benefit of highly accurate clocks that measure the passage of time based on the transition frequency of atoms. It’s easy to claim something is unscientific when you’ve enjoyed 400 years of scientific advancement.

Time brings up the though of hours, minutes, and seconds for most people. If you study horology you learn quickly learn that those measures of time, like all measures of time, are arbitrary. Why does one second need to take, well, one second? It doesn’t. The primary thing you need when measuring the passage of time is repetitiveness. Beats in songs are repetitive and thus can be used to measure the passage of time in a useful manner. Your heart rate, although far less accurate as it’s susceptible to variances based on bodily conditions, can also be used to measure the passage of time. Speaking of accuracy, it’s another thing that’s subjective. In the case of Galileo’s experiments the accurate of song beats was plenty for what the needed to do. On the other hand computers need to measure time in the span of microseconds so using the beats of songs, with the possible exception of extremely fast metal, isn’t going to cut it. To get around this we developed other methods of measuring time including the back and forth oscillation of a spring-loaded wheel, vibration of a quartz crystal that is subjective to a minor electrical current, and the aforementioned transition frequency of an atom.

The amount of ingenuity involve in telling time is phenomenal. Studying things we take for granted today really helps you appreciate what humans are capable of and what we have overcome in a short time in this universe. In roughly two million years we’ve gone from barely being able to harness fire to harnessing the power of nuclear energy. We’ve gone from a species whose only transportation was our two feet to landing on the moon. Humanity is awesome and you really need to look at the history of achievements we find entirely mundane today to appreciate that fact. Instead of trying to surpress human ability we need to let is flourish. We need to appreciate what our species can accomplish.