Which invention has benefitted mankind the most?

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Which invention has benefitted mankind the most?

Post by eMTe » Mon Aug 12, 2013 0:28

The main thing to understand is that inventions were never something outstanding and extraordinary, in fact various devices were discovered because humankind developed necessary common knowledge on various issues. It's hard to imagine that, for example, teflon would be invented in Ancient Rome.

Before modern times (define personally "modern times") many devices were "invented" unconsciously, like wheel for example. Or lever. They were "discovered" naturally by thinking entities who observed the world and played with their hands and objects. This stands in contradiction to, for example, vaccines, which were invented purposedly.

So, imo, first we should make a clear difference between discovery and invention. Wheel and lever occur naturally in nature, vaccines or teflon not.

The further problem is, now forgive my lack of vocabulary, that some inventions are momental (they can be represented by the bulb pictogram which appears in sets of forum smilies or in cartoons) and some can be considered developmental. Take the city for example. Hunter-gatherer communities lived in caves, we live in cities. Was city "invented" or did it "naturally develop"? Vaccines were discovered out of practical need. We looked for cure for various illnesses and we found them. Are vaccines momental or developmental? Was some doctor in the past sitting alone in his home and one evening he got this brilliant idea "hey, let's invent vaccines"or did the idea slowly infected our collective consciousness like the rain clouds gradually cover the sky to finally produce the rain?

So what do you think? What is the most beneficial invention?

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Re: Which invention has benefitted mankind the most?

Post by Railwaymodeler » Mon Aug 12, 2013 6:18

The steam engine.

Think of it: Steam engines were developed in the 18th century as stationary engines to pump water out of mines. But in 1804 someone had the idea to mount it on wheels, let it run on horse drawn tramway rails, and pull a load. Up to this point, no one in the early 19th century had better transport than Julius Caesar. Now suddenly you have a rapidly developing technology that is the gateway for the Industrial Revolution, and therefore, all subsequentent developments. Without large scale transport, the American West would never have been settled em masse, there would be no large scale transport of the materials needed to build modern society. Even with trains, steel wheels on steel rails, there still needed something of sufficient controlled power to move an ever increasing amount of people and cargo. Even now, many power plants, in one form or another, rely on steam to generate electricity, so without steam engines, we would not be on this site!
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Re: Which invention has benefitted mankind the most?

Post by eMTe » Mon Aug 12, 2013 11:09

Ah yes. The fellow steampunk follower. :D

I think, regarding power generation in globalised world, we should look at things from perspective. The most important thing when talking about potential "benefits" now is effectiveness/ecology ratio. Before industrial revolution power was generated by windmills and watermills, by sails when talking about sea transportation and by animal/human workforce. These means were very uneffective and only coal-based industry changed it. Coal together with various hydrocarbons still remain the most important sources of energy in the world, however the resurgence of interest in water- and wind-produced energy shows that what was once revolutionary and pushed the world quickly forward may have been only temporary. Coal-based and combustible energy was (and to some point is still - look at China for example) necessary for quick development and wide spread of humans and cargos, but it is unfortunately also the most polluting form of generating power. Once people, goods and ideas will blend further the Earth as social environment will saturate and will "cool and slow down" and we may return on larger scale to those "medieval" forms of producing energy as they will be sufficient for local communities.

Same may happen with paper. There are opinions that computers will save Amazon forests, but since virtual data storage is, from the point of its safety, much less effective than paper storage, the latter one will probably remain in use for much longer than people believe. Also, paper production isn't as dangerous to environment as many think. After all, trees grow back.

Btw, have you ever heard of in vitro meat? :D
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Re: Which invention has benefitted mankind the most?

Post by Railwaymodeler » Tue Aug 13, 2013 5:29

Wind and hydro power may indeed be on the rise, but without all these fancy technologies out there, there'd hardly be a use for them.

Sounds like chicken and the egg, but not quite. Steam is basically the harnessing of fire and water to do useful work, and as such, can be harnessed with simple technology. Without that, there'd been no foundation for more advanced technologies.

Steam was a carrier to propel humanity forward, much as an airplane can carry a space shuttle to low orbit, after which the shuttle flies into space and the plane returns to land.

Of course, the University of Minnesota is experimenting with "bio-coal", made as a wood byproduct. Scientifically speaking, anything, just about, can be burned to make steam. Whereas an internal combustion engine requires specific fuels, mostly based on petroleum, anything that can burn, can be used to make steam. The main problem is, in getting off of coal, that coal has a predictable heat output. Say a power plant burned garbage. Depending what is in any given amount of garbage, the heat given, and therefore, steam generated will greatly fluctuate. Bio-coal seeks to eliminate that problem. The UofM has recently purchased a retired steam locomotive to experiment with, and demonstrate, bio-coal. I look forward to it!
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Re: Which invention has benefitted mankind the most?

Post by eMTe » Tue Aug 13, 2013 23:39

Railwaymodeler wrote:Wind and hydro power may indeed be on the rise, but without all these fancy technologies out there, there'd hardly be a use for them.
The world around gets so unpredictable and fascinating that you may be surprised in future. There may appear whole communities which would choose to live without modern technology, simply because technology will lose its freshness aspect. Also, it may appear at some point (not so far imo) that one of the next steps humankind is supposed to take (Universe colonization) is completely beyond realization and all our efforts will be focused on maintaining most comfortable conditions for our Earth existence. Wind and hydro power will suit this scenario very well.
Railwaymodeler wrote:Scientifically speaking, anything, just about, can be burned to make steam. Whereas an internal combustion engine requires specific fuels, mostly based on petroleum, anything that can burn, can be used to make steam. The main problem is, in getting off of coal, that coal has a predictable heat output.
Anything can be burned, but the amounts of what we burn effectively for 200 years are limited. Also, we burn fuels thousands of times quicker than it took to create them. On the contrary, wind-, water- and solar energy (which was not mentioned in this thread, because it is still very ineffectively used and doesn't qualify as beneficial invention) are always here and are not limited. So, if we want to talk seriously about combustion energy we should find replacements for hydrocarbons quickly. Which doesn't sound impossible, but I doubt we will discover anything that has their burning effectiveness. Not to mention that to produce enormous amounts of such a product probably enormous amounts of coal-based power will be required, so losses will outweigh benefits.

Technically speaking, nuclear power is also a combustion energy, but as the Fukushima incidents showed (not to mention Chernobyl) the possible benefits may be quickly turned into disasters by unpredictability of nature. Nuclear energy is in the same relation to traditional, "old-school" energies as virtual data storage is to paper. It is effective, but it takes one "boom" or "click" and you face disaster. This takes us back to the effectiveness/ecology ratio issue. Imo, any technology which is effective on global scale is also dangerous on global scale, so we should rely on localised sources of power. Wind, hydro and solar are "safe".

To conclude, I partially agree with you that steam engine is one of the most finest human inventions, but I'd also like to point out that it is fine from the developmental perspective. Once we all blend and "cool down" on global scale, technologies we use will also cool down. 8)
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Re: Which invention has benefitted mankind the most?

Post by jayenkai » Sat Aug 17, 2013 11:46

Bread, and/or any other baked goods.

I can understand the majority of inventions.. Take part A, add to part B, Voila.
Or even "We need a Part A!".. Tada!

But quite how anyone came up with the concept of taking all the ingredients necessary for baking bread, and somehow magically turning it into bread.
!!! How!?!
Where do you even begin!?

"Hmm, wonder what happens if we grind that plant down to a fine powder, for some reason, then mix it in with some water, for some reason, then shove it into our fancy new burning box for an hour or so.."
My head can't wrap around all the implausibilities of those elements coming together.

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Re: Which invention has benefitted mankind the most?

Post by Zyx » Sat Aug 17, 2013 14:03

I believe that I can one-up bread with... yes, sliced bread. There's even a saying about it!
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Re: Which invention has benefitted mankind the most?

Post by Railwaymodeler » Sun Aug 18, 2013 5:54

But sliced bread could not possibly exist without bread. Therefore, the invention of bread is more amazing. Besides, "Sliced bread" is just bread that was run through a slicing machine. Not a terribly amazing idea really. One could slice bread before, and even pay someone to slice it for them, so even before sliced bread was available to the mass market, a rich person could pay someone to make them "Sliced bread".
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Re: Which invention has benefitted mankind the most?

Post by eMTe » Sun Aug 18, 2013 11:44

Bread is not an invention.

And if it is, "middle of the night" means "literally middle of the night", but this will happen over my dead body. :hijack:
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Re: Which invention has benefitted mankind the most?

Post by Scythe » Sun Aug 18, 2013 19:15

I second bread. And after bread, pasta.

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Re: Which invention has benefitted mankind the most?

Post by Scythe » Mon Aug 19, 2013 23:11

(Obviously, the true answer is soap)

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Re: Which invention has benefitted mankind the most?

Post by Pager » Wed Aug 21, 2013 6:04

You know, I'm going to go right out in left field on this one...I'm going to say the Kite.

When you think about tracing back the majority of modern aspects of life, the kite is by far the greatest invention as it in some way could very well have had a hand in absolutely everything. For instance:

1. A Kite represented the harnessing of airflow across a sail or wing, the basis of modern flight (aircrafts)
2. Wireless communication was proven using a kite for lifting the antenna off the ground.
3. Kites provide hours of enjoyment
4. And much more...
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Re: Which invention has benefitted mankind the most?

Post by Railwaymodeler » Thu Aug 22, 2013 1:38

That brings a concept of its own: Basic things in the world, like kites, impact out lives in ways we can't even imagine.
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Re: Which invention has benefitted mankind the most?

Post by Pager » Thu Aug 22, 2013 4:21

Correct. That's the way I look at it.

I watched a show a few years back called The Smartest Canadian or something to that effect, but they had to have a debate about the greatest invention, two people argued between the internet and the telegraph. But really, there would be no internet without the invention of the telegraph. And there would be no telegraph without the invention of the kite.

I guess you could disect that even further and say the greatest invention is string, something to hold the kite...
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Re: Which invention has benefitted mankind the most?

Post by eMTe » Thu Aug 22, 2013 12:39

That's how postmodernism begun. People began to demistify "hidden" nature of things, to reduce this nature to the simpliest patterns and to dissolve everything in the, no longer crystal clear, pool of classifications. Is rap art? If it is then is it art just like Beethoven is art? Maybe simply every musical performance is art? Or maybe all kinds of performance? Maybe even breathing can be named art - art of living?

To keep my mind relaxed I stick to personal classification: rap is not art, Beethoven is. Why? Because I say so. :D

Seriously, art is something that requires, in my opinion, a bit of talent and a bit of hard work. As for inventions I follow similar rule. Invention, apart from its groundbreakingness which is not always immediately obvious, is something that requires skills of observing the environment and manipulating things plus certain amount (a great deal of?) of technical knowledge and prowess. So string is not an invention, and kite...I also doubt it. Probably thousands of people around the world, having no contact with themselves developed kites or some proto-kites or simply had an idea of something-that-works-like-kite.

Take liter of light as an example. Is it invention?
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Re: Which invention has benefitted mankind the most?

Post by Pager » Fri Aug 23, 2013 6:01

Thousands of people around the world may have in fact been using kites, does not mean it hasn't benefitted mankind. You could take the most complicated invention in the world only ever invented by one person and have it do absolutely nothing useful whatsoever.

Light reading on this topic: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rube_Goldberg_machine

Albiet, string was a bad example of this argument, but I really couldn't think of anything in a lower form invention than a kite. A Kite is pretty much as low point as I'd like to get before we start talking about menial inventions that haven't really benefitted anything. I would have broken this down to materials used to build the kite, like cloth or what not, but most kites were made out of paper. But like bread, paper isn't really an invention, it's more like the invention of a process, for instance, you can still write on the bark of a tree, or the wood inside, but when you employ the process of pulping the wood, bleaching the heck out of it, then compressing it all back together again, you get paper.
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Re: Which invention has benefitted mankind the most?

Post by eMTe » Fri Aug 23, 2013 16:37

Pager wrote:But like bread, paper isn't really an invention, it's more like the invention of a process
Well, this is something that bothers me (and hopefully millions of other people around the world) for quite a time. That data must be understood as process, not as data.
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Re: Which invention has benefitted mankind the most?

Post by Pager » Sat Aug 24, 2013 4:15

Not only that but I would say the invention of the overuse of the word process may in fact be start of mankind's undoing.
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Re: Which invention has benefitted mankind the most?

Post by Railwaymodeler » Sat Aug 24, 2013 7:37

Rube Goldberg contraptions! Parts of our model railroad's workings remind me of something he would create. But they worked.

For example, we had an oil pump with the "horsehead" style pumps. But we wanted the pumps to start and stop seemingly randomly, and sometimes pump faster than others.

Using a complex system of off/on relays, we achieved this. The "trips" for the relays were placed on the train tracks. While that sounds predictable, train gets to a certain spot, pumps kick on, we went further.

There were over 10 different trips connected to their own relays, so that a number of trains moving would turn on and off relays, and relays that were daisy chained, so that if two were both on, they would then supply more voltage to the pump motors, and therefore, the pumps would move faster.

Things like this were how we had over a mile of wire under out railroad!
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Re: Which invention has benefitted mankind the most?

Post by Pater Alf » Sat Aug 24, 2013 14:41

eMTe wrote:Is rap art? If it is then is it art just like Beethoven is art? Maybe simply every musical performance is art? Or maybe all kinds of performance? Maybe even breathing can be named art - art of living?

To keep my mind relaxed I stick to personal classification: rap is not art, Beethoven is. Why? Because I say so. :D
I'm not a big rap-fan, but I think it's highly unfair to compare a single artist to a whole musical genre. In my eyes it would be right to compare classical music to rap and in this case you would find some great artists and lots of crap in both genres. Not sure if every musical performance is art, but to be honest, I don't care too much as long as I find enough music in a lot of different genres that I enjoy.
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