Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Lost knowledge

"...new people take the old inventions so much for granted that it’s not just that they don’t understand how to replicate them, they lose the idea that such things ever existed."   -Silicon Graybeard

My impressions of the phenomena that S-G points out is that things that were once common knowledge are forgotten as "the smart people" follow the cutting-edge.

In the 1940s and 1950s, manufacturing was the cutting edge that kept us ahead of the NAZI and Japanese, then the Soviet threat. It attracted many of the best-and-brightest.

At one point, all of the important questions were considered solved and the market (wages) called inquisitive people elsewhere.

Rules that had been left in place were covered with sediment. Ad hoc rule-of-thumb were formulated and used instead of the cumulative wisdom. Unintended consequences resulted from the simplified or warped rule-set.

The full moon causes frost

One of the culprits in the dumbing-down is a lack of understanding about "spurious associations".

For example, in many places it is believed that the full moon causes frost. There are accounts where observers claim that they measured the temperature plummet when the full moon became visible in the night sky.

The crux of the misinformation is the casually chosen "null hypothesis". It is widely know that the night-time temperature does not fall nearly as much when the sky is cloudy as when it is clear. So was it the fact that the phase of the moon was "full" or the fact that the sky became clear, that is free-of-clouds?
The full moon grabs our attention. It is far less obvious when something is NOT there.

Wouldn't it be more "pure" to compare the temperature drop on a clear night when the moon was full and the moon was "new"?

But what immediately catches the eye is what most observers will assume is "causality". The drop in temperature was not due to the full moon suddenly became visible. It was because the clouds moved away and stopped reflecting radiant heat loss from escaping to deep-space.

So it is when people do not study history

History is full rule-sets that seem unduly complicated. Why DO people have to be married before having children? Why should people not have sex outside of marriage? Why should people tell the truth or not gossip? Why shouldn't I steal from somebody who has more than they need?

It seems so easy to prune out the complications and run with a rule-set that seems consistent with our own, personal observations.

The implicit assumption is that our own observations are objective and unbiased. But how often do we have preconceptions about others' motives, preconceptions that might bias our assumed direction of causality?

Risk cannot be destroyed. It can only be budgeted. It can be hidden in dark places where there are few resources to address it when it goes south. Or it can be acknowledged and addressed explicitly.

I know which I prefer.


  1. Meanwhile we seem to be seeing more chemtrails and have had a more cloudy fall than usual. Also fewer early frosts and freezes. China admits to trying to move rain to the Gobi Dessert by cloud seeding. Over the years I have heard meteorologists talk about red sunsets in Alaska because of dust from the Gobi. Could these things explain some apparent climate shifts!

  2. and sometimes the old timers forget to write down how they did stuff. like manned space flight, or nuclear bombs. seems they need a shot of tritium at the right moment/quantity etc. to get the big boom. problem is no body can replicate the production of the tritium needed. its taking so long for manned moon flight i'm beginning to believe we never went in the 60's.

    1. First there must be a will. The 1960s especially was a decade with a will, and not merely for JFK's expressive speech.

      The space truck was a distraction. To be generous, it was proof-of-concept.

      Since then, the cultural wars, and the money grubbing response, have taken the reins.

  3. History, technology, and even civilization itself, is built, one thing on top of another. The future bodes evil when you build a statue with clay feet, or a castle on wet sand.

    Sometimes we "figure it out", usually we just "get lucky", but always we "stand on the shoulders of giants". When you want the power of a technology, you need to understand how it works, and it is just as important to understand how everthing it depends on works as well. It's now useful to know how to build a circuit from chips, when the chips become unavailable, and you don't know how to build them too.

    I think this is one thing the Amish get right. If you cannot afford the cost(s) of the underlying technology that a new technology depends upon, then you cannot afford the new technology either.

    If you want to know how to program computers, you should also understand semiconductor theory. If you want to make a transmission, you show know how to smelt iron, harden and anneal, cast, and mill, and you should know what it takes to do those things, and the costs and byproducts of doing those things.

  4. Well said by all including our host. Its funny how we all recognize the problem, but interpret it in slightly different ways.
    I worked in the print trade for a couple decades. The problems of the past are gone, as are the solutions! The kids re-learn and re-invent old discoveries. Its how Netflix was born (rimshot).

  5. I wonder if one of the reasons why violence is becoming more prevalent is that we have become immune to valuing Life. Why is a fetus that is wanted by its parents and is later lost due to a miscarriage so different from a fetus that the parent feels having it would 'cramp their style' and abort it's life. One party is given condolences, the other receives accolades for doing the right thing. Before abortion was given the green light by our government, we did not have as much violence.

    Plenty of ANTIFA rioters justified their arson into believing the insurance company would pay the owner of the business / home / car. They do not take into account that insurance coverage may not exist or the employees who no longer have a job and care for their families. Just not the rioter's problem - we're angry and we need to make a statement. Just don't damage my stuff is their reasoning.

    1. We had a lot more street level, everyday violence 40, 50, 100 years ago. Apparently, you just weren't in those neighborhoods. In the USA, "casual" violence was declining just about every year from mid '70s until 2018 I would say.
      The violence never dropped as fast in some areas and it's now "leaking" into environments where it has been rare.
      Also, the internet reveals a lot of crime / violence that civic boosters hushed up a generation ago.

    2. Mostly perception with the 24 hours news and internet. You hear about everyone's farting on Social Media sob"Gastric Complications" are on the rise due to Global Warming.

      We just happen to be in the most peaceful era in history. So we hear about every fight and they are all so horrible so violence is everywhere. So sad.

  6. ERJ, we sit at the apex of technology that has developed (in some cases) over thousands of years. We can operate our current technology but likely could not recreate many of the underlying building blocks that got us to this point.

    Fido's point on the Amish is good (and one I have not heard before). Even in my own life, I have eschewed certain items simply because they were too complex or complicated to maintain or repair and therefore at risk of becoming paperweights in the event they stopped functioning.


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