One of the most important discoveries that has allowed us to evolve as a society was gaining of the knowledge to manufacture steel. Indeed, if it were not for this plentiful, inexpensive alloy of iron, most of the buildings, tools and products that we have today would not be possible.
There is steel in almost everything that we touch on a daily basis. There is steel in the buildings that shelter us. Steel in our cars and household appliances. It is the basis for most of the parts in our trains, provides structure for our roads and bridges, holds up our power lines, makes it possible to build large ships and holds up our beds at night. Even small, everyday devices like doorknobs, locks, nail clippers, scissors, pens, eye glasses, cooking utensils, knives, forks and spoons include steel. Devices that seem to be made from plastics and silicon like computers still include hundreds of small parts made from steel in the form of connectors, internal supports, hinges, screws and springs.
It is a strong, yet ductile alloy that can be readily fashioned by forging, cutting, drilling and machining into a myriad of useful items from tractors to watch parts, pins, and water pumps, needles, motors, cables, pipes, picture frames, plowshares, chains, light fixtures, hand cuffs, buckles, zippers, shafts, bearings, foundries, axes, wrenches, hair clips, heaters and jet engines.
Even houses made predominantly from wood require steel nails and screws to hold them together.
Steel is everywhere in our civilization. It could be said that it is the basis for everything that supports us and that we use to explore and manipulate our environment.
The process to make steel from iron ore was discovered roughly 4000 years ago, based on archeological finds from the area now known as Turkey, but it also seems to have been independently developed in China, Africa and the Indian peninsula.
Somewhere around 500 BC, methods were developed that allowed steel to be produced in greater quantities, and the age of the sword was upon us. All of the great civilizations and conquerors relied on swords and shields made from steel to protect themselves, hunt, and yes, conquer and slaughter their enemies. It was the sword made of steel that aided and abetted the Greek, Roman, Persian and Egyptian empires, and allowed Alexander the Great, Genghis Kahn, and Julius Caesar to become legendary conquerors.
And it was thus for 2000 more years.
Steel as a weapon and a protection reached something of a peak in Europe during the middle ages. Of course, one could argue that modern armaments such as tanks, troop carriers and automatic weapons are far superior in performing that function, but a steel clad knight during the Dark Ages was nearly invincible to an opponent who was not similarly armed and protected. And it was the use and monopolization of this material that allowed the ruling classes of that time to maintain their dominance and suppress the general population, knowledge and innovation as well.
This was all possible because the sword was a particularly lethal adaptation of that material. Steel, being hard, can hold a good sharp edge for an extended period. The ductility of the metal enabled a sword to strike and be struck repeatedly without breaking, as opposed to the weapons made from obsidian points used by the Central and Southern American civilizations. It made the Conquistadors, like the knights of the Middle Ages before them, into an invincible army that could literally dominate and murder and entire civilization. Today we would call that genocide.
Another remarkable development that facilitated the formation of societies was the art of cooking.
Cooking is important because it not only makes food more palatable, helps to preserve fresh food and kills pathogens harbored within, but it also makes the food that we eat more easily digestible, allowing our bodies to maximize the caloric and nutritional value of that which we eat. It has been argued that we might never have emerged from the swamps without the ability to cook food, and every civilization has developed their own methods, techniques and styles based on the application of judicious heat to the locally available flora and fauna.
Cooking predates the invention of steel by almost 200,000 years. Likely, it was first invented by some caveman who stuck a stick through his Brontosaurus steak (like the Flintstones did) and roasted it over a fire. Since that time, the process has been in a constant state of improvement.
Improving the methods of cooking has been a struggle because the food must be somehow exposed to the heat of a fire, but not actually put into it, since that same fire would char it excessively and render it inedible (like those hamburgers that your Uncle Al grills on Memorial Day); not to mention the inability to boil anything without some sort of appropriate container. And therein lies the rub. To cook efficiently, one needs a vessel that is relatively impervious to heat that will contain the food during that process.
Another major problem centers around the ability to contain the fire that provides the heat.
Although cooking was initiated lo, those many years ago, there have been few improvements over the ages, until the most recent of times. For most of recorded history, cooking, if done indoors, was accomplished over a low fire in the living or kitchen area of the house. Chimneys were not invented until some time in the 12th century in Europe, and until that time, typically, the second floor of a home was only utilized for the smoking of meat or storage because the fumes and smoke from the fire used for cooking in the domicile would collect in the upper floor rendering it unsuitable for habitation. Indeed, indoor cooking over an open fire still creates major health problems for those families in the poorer parts of our planet where it is practiced even today. Respiratory problems are the most common ailments, but exposure to the by-products of combustion along with the trace elements released from the fuel, especially coal, can cause other pathologies.
The development of the chimney and the fireplace connected to it caused a revolution of sorts during the middle ages. The elimination of the smoke from the cooking and heating fires from the interior of the home enabled the families to utilize the upper floor or floors of the home for sleeping or other residential uses. The first chimneys were made from sticks and mud, but it wasn’t too long, historically speaking, until chimneys began to be made exclusively from masonry materials. It’s amazing how a couple of burned out homes can make one think about such things.
Metal cookware was also devised sometime during that period of the 12th century, and coupled with the chimney and fireplace, revolutionized cooking.
However, a fireplace is still a type of an open fire, and as such represents a danger to the home; and is quite inefficient. It takes a massive amount of fuel to heat even a modest home utilizing a fireplace. (Believe me, I’ve tried it.) To fuel the fires that maintained the cooking that provided heat and nutritious and tasty food required a major effort by someone in the extended family that lived with them, especially in the cold weather that characterizes much of Europe. Utilizing primitive tools for cutting and chopping wood, one could easily spend one half of a person’s time just accomplishing that task on a daily basis.
It was not until 1735 that the first enclosed stove was created by François de Cuvilliés, a French architect. This first enclosed stove was mostly a masonry construction but it included fire holes in its surface that were covered with perforated metal plates. The famous Franklin stove was invented in 1741 (by Benjamin Franklin, of course) and although it was completely enclosed and made mostly from cast iron, it was primarily designed for heating, not cooking.
These designs led to a revolution of sorts, leading up to the development of a true kitchen stove in 1850 by Mary Evard who invented the Reliance Cook stove. This also caused a redesign of cookware, since the round bottom pots that were well suited to open fires gave way to flat bottomed cookware that would rest easily on the top surface of the stoves.
You’re probably asking yourself by now, where is the author going with this, and how does this relate to a new metric for geometry?
It’s a character study of human priorities.
Humans have been cooking their food, for good reason, for over 200,000 years. This is a very long time. Steel has been known and used for over 4000 years; not as long a time as cooking, but quite a while, nonetheless. And the cook stove? About 275.
So, basically, we, as a global civilization, have been cooking over open fires, like savages, for about 99.9% of the time that we’ve been preparing food, and for 4000 years of that time we had the means at hand (steel artifacts) to revolutionize the way that we did that food preparation.
Think of all of the time and resources that could have been saved if we had applied the steel that we invented to the processes of cooking and heating. Time wasted collecting and chopping firewood. Time wasted tending fires and cooking slowly. Forests wasted to provide fuel for those inefficient methods. Lives sacrificed to death and disease because of the indoor danger and pollution produced by that process. Many lives have been extinguished because of those cooking fires spreading into the homes that contained them because the methods that were being used were inefficient and unable to properly contain the combustion going on to support the cooker. It is said that the second leading cause of mortality of women in the colonial era, after childbirth, was immolation caused by their long dresses catching the fire of the hearth.
And what did we use this marvelous gift of steel for until the 17th century? Why, wars, murder, oppression and vandalism, of course.
We’re not very smart, and we tend to focus our best energies on conflict.
It’s hard to imagine what we might have accomplished if we’d been more concerned with our own welfare, especially the welfare of the women of our species; if we’d been smart enough and willing to apply our creative abilities toward a better way to accomplish one of the most necessary processes to our civilization; cooking.
I strongly suspect that if there are aliens out there watching us, that one of their favorite pastimes is to tell ‘stupid human’ jokes. We’re a pretty ripe target.
And so it is with our geometry.
We’ve been stuck with that tired, old Euclidean geometry for almost 2400 years now, and even the best minds of the last 300 years could not conceive of a better system than the fanciful devices that are: the point, the line and the plane. And let’s not even get started with negative numbers. Incredible.
Whether you agree with the logical precepts put forward in this journal or not, it is inarguable that the geometry that we use does not reflect the shape and state of the universe that surrounds us. That is an obvious problem.
This book has offered an alternate explanation that is based on real things, real relationships between them in the universe that has been observed, not created as an abstraction, and therein lies its strength.
It has been shown that this train of thought has led to some surprising conclusions; some answers to questions long dismissed as unanswerable (the dispersion ratio for the ‘force’ of gravity for instance),and other suppositions for better descriptions and a more complete understanding of the universe that surrounds us. It would seem to be a pretty good beginning.
The language constrains the discussion.
It’s time to start speaking a different language.
Maybe, just maybe, it will allow us to find some better answers.