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James R.Fox




Location: Youngstowm,Ohio
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PostPosted: Sun 28 Dec, 2008 10:33 am    Post subject: Cultural Paradigms That Limit Military Technology/Efficency         Reply with quote

Sirs-I was reading some Roman history, and noticed the problem that occured over and over, namely, that Legions and their supplies could only be moved to a trouble point at the walking speed of man and mule.I got to wondering what they could have done with a railway system. Then I remembered that the Romans DID know about the steam engine, it was invented ariund 200 BCE by Heron of Alexandra. They also knew about hydraulic and pneumatic power, but only used it to make musical instruments, mostly organs for the theatre.In other words, their whole military system was limited by the fact mechanical power was outside their cultural paradigm.Anybody else have a good paradigm?
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Anders Backlund




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PostPosted: Sun 28 Dec, 2008 10:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

First thing that comes to mind for me is the Japanese firearms. The Japanese were introduced to the arquebus and gun-based warfare way back in the sixteenth century, and at one point they produced a plain ridiculous amount of firearms and outfitted entire armies with them. But when the Tokugawa shogunate came along they quickly fell almost completely out of use due to restrictions of ownership and the fact that the samurai class simply didn't like them.
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B. Fulton





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PostPosted: Sun 28 Dec, 2008 4:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Just because some Romans may have known about the steam engine doesn't mean it occured to them to use it for anything other than a novelty.

Black Powder, and using it in a firearm-like setup was known by the Chinese, and they mostly used it for fireworks to scare the enemy for decades. It took over a century or more before using it for cannons really caught on.
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Josh Watson





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PostPosted: Tue 30 Dec, 2008 8:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I can give you another little miss the Romans made from a logistical standpoint; wheelbarrows. They didn't have them and used baskets balanced on laborers heads to move earth.
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James R.Fox




Location: Youngstowm,Ohio
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PostPosted: Tue 30 Dec, 2008 10:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks Josh, I had forgotten that one. And the were such good engineers too.
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Tue 30 Dec, 2008 12:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Just because one understands a principle of how something is done does not mean it gets executed. From what I gather there is little evidence that steam powered anything was much more than a theory in classical times. Maybe they got a 4 inch tall steam engine to work..... does not mean the 6 foot tall one would work the same without lots more material, work and fuel. Big Grin

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Marc Pengryffyn




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PostPosted: Tue 30 Dec, 2008 5:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

One problem is that for a technology to be useable, there are often a lot of other technologies that have to be in place. For example, even if you know that steam can be used as a power source, in order to make useful steam engines you need the ability to make large, high-pressure-vessels, standardised metal tubing, valves, pistons, bearings, etc, etc. The great Charles Fort said "It steam-engines when it comes steam-engine-time", which I've always taken to mean that technologies like this can only happen when the cultural/technological zeitgeist is ready.

As to wheelbarrows, Wikipedia, for what its worth, suggests that there is evidence for Greek and Roman use of them for carrying loads on building sites. The Chinese seem to have been using large-wheeled versions for transport by road from at least the 2nd century.

Another example that's often cited is the failure of the American civilizations to use the wheel. Here it's worth noting the scarcity of available draught animals, although again it seems logical that if they'd thought of the wheelbarrow, they could have made great use of it.

This is an interesting question, and worth pondering, but I'm always very wary of trying to project modern assumptions backwards into a historical context. There may be very good reasons, of which we're unaware, why these technologies weren't used. Or, maybe they just hadn't thought of it yet. Hard to tell....

Cheers

Marc

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James R.Fox




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PostPosted: Tue 30 Dec, 2008 6:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sire-that was my point. Mechanical power was so far outside their culture they never put in the time and effort to develop the steam engine in the way they put time and effort into concrete, so that they could build gigantic concrete buildings like the Baths of Caracalla, As for the wheelbarrow, they understood the various uses of the lever (mathematically described by Archimedes) and the wheelbarrow is nothing but a lever on a wheel.It's just like the fact Archimedes despite his knowledge of algebra could not discover calculus, which is based on infinity. The classical Greeks and Romans had no word or concept of infinity untill christianity had evolved it.And Archimedes HAD formulated the problem, Its called Achlles and the Hare.If Achelles chases a hare, and closes half the distance between them with each step, when will he catch the hare. Algibraicly, the problem has no answer, as it deals with infinity plus x number of steps, a simple problem in calculus.
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Xan Stepp




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PostPosted: Wed 31 Dec, 2008 5:08 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think that several of you bring up interesting points, particularly that about the Greeks and Romans being limited by not developing a concept of infinity. However, I see thing a bit differently. As for early steam engines, namely Hero of Alexandria's aeoliphile, I just don't think that the device would have been capable of providing a useful amount of mechanical work. First of all, the chamber is open to atmospheric pressure, heated to higher pressures. Second of all when building an aeroliphile with materials like copper and bronze, I don't think that you could build a system big enough to get much torque, so that the engine would only be useful on flat surfaces and wouldn't be able to gain much speed anyway. In my mind it would have been the Romans lack of development of the [/piston] which would limit their ability to use a steam engine.

As for Zeno's (not Archimedes') paradox about Achilles and the hare, I would formulate the problem a bit differently; lim x-> infinity, x^(-2), but that still amounts to the same problem with infinity. However, this was precisely Zeno's argument, that Achilles would have to accomplish an infinite number of half steps, which would essentially require an infinite amount of time. I see the ancients' problems with math as the result of no mathematical concept of zero and a somewhat awkward numeral system as being their true limitation.

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Paul Kenworthy




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PostPosted: Wed 31 Dec, 2008 7:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think you are mistaking the absence of enabling technology for cognitive bias. Roman steam engines were so inefficient as to be useless for any practical purpose. The technological relationship between Roman steam engines and 19th-century railroad locomotives is equivalent to the technological relationship between paper airplanes and supersonic fighters. Roman steam engines used steam and were engines, but that’s where the similarity to practical locomotives ends. Similarly, paper planes have wings that exploit a pressure differential to generate lift, but that’s where the similarity to jet fighters ends. Paper plane technology can’t be scaled up to produce jet fighters and Roman steam engines can’t be scaled up to produce locomotives.

Furthermore, Romans possessed none of the supporting technology necessary for them to be able to manufacture a practical steam locomotive. You need a whole host of other technologies to manufacture a steam locomotive. But producing a working steam engine is only a tiny part of the problem of producing a working rail transportation system. For example, the steam engine makes the train go, but how do you make the train stop? Fatalities from run-away trains were a common occurrence before the invention of the pneumatic brake.

The same problem applies to firearms. I dare anyone to stand next to a cannon produced using 13th-century Chinese metallurgy firing a charge produced using 13th-century Chinese chemistry. Conservatism in the development of primitive firearms was a perfectly rational preference on the part of the inventors to surviving the development process, not an inability to conceive of the theoretical potential of the weapon. Fatal, catastrophic failures of cannon occurred well into the modern age. For example, a cannon burst during a demonstration on the USS Princeton on February 28, 1844 killing the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Navy, five other people, and wounding another 20. The President of the United States, John Tyler, was on board at the time and had just gone below before the gun burst. While primitive rockets had much less potential to injure the enemy, they also had much less potential to injure the gunner or the inventor.

Inventors tried to make breach loading, rifled cannon in the 15th century, but it wasn’t until the middle of the 19th century that advances in metallurgy and machining techniques produced practical ones. In fact, when the enabling technologies appear, things seem to almost invent themselves. It took 500 years to make a practical breech loading cannon, but it was only a couple of years after the invention of the electric induction motor and the self-primed, metallic cartridge with smokeless powder that Dr. Richard J. Gatling manufactured a machine gun with a rate of fire in excess of 3,000 rounds per minute. In this instance it was a classic case of an invention waiting for an application. Until the invention of the jet fighter there was no practical use for a machine gun with that high a rate of fire. When General Electric was contracted to construct a high rate of fire machine gun for the US Air Force in the 1950s, they borrowed Gatling’s 2 original prototypes manufactured in the 1880s to use in their development process.

Best Regards,

Paul
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Wed 31 Dec, 2008 8:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Paul Kenworthy wrote:
I think you are mistaking the absence of enabling technology for cognitive bias. Roman steam engines were so inefficient as to be useless for any practical purpose. The technological relationship between Roman steam engines and 19th-century railroad locomotives is equivalent to the technological relationship between paper airplanes and supersonic fighters. Roman steam engines used steam and were engines, but that’s where the similarity to practical locomotives ends. Similarly, paper planes have wings that exploit a pressure differential to generate lift, but that’s where the similarity to jet fighters ends. Paper plane technology can’t be scaled up to produce jet fighters and Roman steam engines can’t be scaled up to produce locomotives.

Paul


Now if someone could have told the Romans about the potentials of steam engines and convinced that it was the truth they might have eventually developed and designed viable steam engines: Knowing that a technology will work and at least an idea of the basic principles involved any of the technology we enjoy should be re-inventable starting from a very low level of technology by a reasonably organized society.

One thing missing from the Greeks or Romans was the very idea of technological progress and although they had some idea of the scientific method they didn't perceive it's potentials enough to apply it in practical terms.

The Renaissance wasn't greatly more advanced than the Romans in their time but the idea of Science did progress slowly into the 18th century industrial revolution and then we went from steam, to electricity, to electronics: With the right catalyst I think the Romans of the first century could have been a couple of centuries away from duplicating our level of technology but 1,800 years earlier ! Anyway, just speculation, small accidents of History making great difference in outcomes. Big Grin

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Xan Stepp




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PostPosted: Wed 31 Dec, 2008 9:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have to agree with both Paul and Jean here, but their discussion brings me back to the original discussion of how paradigms limit cultures. Often while studying physics as an undergrad I thought that Aristotle really screwed up future generations. Partially in terms of what he did but also in terms of who he was. Aristotle really became the prototype for a scientist in the ancient and medieval world, and established the model that scientific proof was carried out through logic rather than experiment. This was so ingrained into scientific thought at the time that many of Galileo's detractors refused to even look through his telescope, indicating a preference toward thought over experiment in the sciences. It took 1,500 years to break the Europeans out of this paradigm, and I think it is a great example of how a single world view severely limited technological development.

Beyond that, even had the Romans had a more modern scientific outlook, I still think that there was one technological development that they were lacking in order to really explode scientifically; the printing press. So even if developments like steam engines were known in certain parts of the Roman world, it is very unlikely that even the majority of the scientists were able to find out about them. With that in mind, I personally believe that the press was the most important invention in the last 1000 years, and the single most important contributor to the modern technological age.

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Bryce Felperin




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PostPosted: Wed 31 Dec, 2008 9:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Another problem the Romans had was that they had no practical need to develop automation or labor saving technologies since they had an abundance of labor from slaves for all their agricultural and industrial needs. I remember a program I saw about the archeology of ancient Rome that showed that most of their structures had a lot of room for slave quarters. This was because slaves did everything from knitting your socks, cooking and even in a lot of cases skilled work like carpentry and metal working.

It wasn't till the barbarian invasions in the later empire and epidemics, famines and wars of that period that labor got "scarser" and slavery petered out as the primary labor pool.

So you don't need a steam engine car if you have a dozen slaves or a bunch of oxen to tow stuff around. Likewise you don't need steam shovels if you have a hundred slaves with picks that you can use to dig out your ore.

In many ways this labor issue also probably applies to Chinese and Native American cultures who didn't eventually develop automated systems for labor saving use. No need, so why bother. Traditional means work so why develop new means if there is no shortage of labor to do the job.
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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Wed 31 Dec, 2008 3:58 pm    Post subject: Re: Cultural Paradigms That Limit Military Technology/Effice         Reply with quote

James R.Fox wrote:
Anybody else have a good paradigm?


How about Vikings attaching their longships together side-by-side during sea battles to emulate a land battle, rather than taking advantage of their maneuverability to ram, snap off oars, etc.? These techniques were in place well before and after the Viking age so I assume that their approach was determined by mind-set rather than technology.
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Mark Millman





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PostPosted: Wed 31 Dec, 2008 6:14 pm    Post subject: Re: Cultural Paradigms That Limit Military Technology/Effice         Reply with quote

Dear J.D.,

On Wednesday 31 December 2008, you wrote:
James R.Fox wrote:
Anybody else have a good paradigm?

How about Vikings attaching their longships together side-by-side during sea battles to emulate a land battle, rather than taking advantage of their maneuverability to ram, snap off oars, etc.? These techniques were in place well before and after the Viking age so I assume that their approach was determined by mind-set rather than technology.

Viking warships were extremely lightly built compared to earlier and later warships, such as the Mediterranean ones of which you seem to be thinking. This was part of what made them so fast and maneuverable; keep in mind the shallow drafts that allowed them to travel up rivers, and their very low freeboards. While they might perhaps have been capable of shearing oars--though perhaps not, as hull geometry might have made it difficult--they were not designed to ram enemy vessels. It also seems unlikely that that they would have been capable of supporting rams such as those used in the ancient world. Certainly a ram mounted at or under the waterline would seriously have degraded the ships' performance.

In this case, the technology determined military capability, rather than mindset doing so. The apparent early-medieval Scandinavian preference for emulating land battles at sea rather than engaging in individual ship-to-ship combat follows from the ships' construction, since without weapons capable of sinking ships, naval combat will generally have to be resolved by boarding actions and hand-to-hand combat.

Best,

Mark Millman
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Xan Stepp




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PostPosted: Wed 31 Dec, 2008 6:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Beyond the problems that Mark mentioned, part of the speed and maneuverability of the Viking ships on open ocean was based on the symmetry of the design, which would mean that the inclusion of a ram would make the craft less seaworthy and more likely to kill your crew on the rough waters of the North Atlantic, while the offensive advantage would be severely limited as there were very few large scale naval battles during the Viking.

I've also thought that ramming was a horrible idea. You risk damaging your own ship, loosing your crew overboard, and you will certainly damage the enemy ship. Ships represent a considerable investment in both time and money, especially as good ship building timber was becoming more and more scarce toward the end of the Viking Age. It makes a lot more sense to try and capture a ship than to sink it and risk sinking your own.

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Anders Backlund




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PostPosted: Thu 01 Jan, 2009 7:25 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Paul Kenworthy wrote:

The same problem applies to firearms. I dare anyone to stand next to a cannon produced using 13th-century Chinese metallurgy firing a charge produced using 13th-century Chinese chemistry. Conservatism in the development of primitive firearms was a perfectly rational preference on the part of the inventors to surviving the development process, not an inability to conceive of the theoretical potential of the weapon. Fatal, catastrophic failures of cannon occurred well into the modern age. For example, a cannon burst during a demonstration on the USS Princeton on February 28, 1844 killing the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Navy, five other people, and wounding another 20. The President of the United States, John Tyler, was on board at the time and had just gone below before the gun burst. While primitive rockets had much less potential to injure the enemy, they also had much less potential to injure the gunner or the inventor.


Since I sense this may be directed at my post, I'd like to clarify my example somewhat: the Japanese got their guns from the Portuguese and the Dutch, not form China. They also used their guns extensively in armed conflicts for decades before they fell out of use. Heck, Wikipedia claims there were more guns in Japan at one point then in any European nation at the time.

What I mean is, the Japanese knew what they were doing: their teppo were just as reliable as the European firearms that inspired them and they had proven their efficiency. The only reason they didn't make better use of them, like here in the West, was politics and bias.

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Mark Millman





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PostPosted: Thu 01 Jan, 2009 11:45 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dear Mr. Backlund,

On Thursday 1 January 2009, you wrote:
Since I sense this may be directed at my post . . .

I think that Mr. Kenworthy's posting may be more directly a response to the one by B. Fulton (third from the top, of Sunday 28 December 2008) that follows your previous comments.

I do, however, believe that the Tokugawa Shogunate's move to consolidate its power by disarming potential rivals was a far more important factor in the Japanese reduction in firearms use than upper-class bias. Europeans, after all, got over their similar bias. But Europe never had a unified administration that could (a) enforce such a ban, and (b) justify it on ideological, rather than nakedly political, grounds. (If you're relying on Noel Perrin's Giving up the Gun for your information, I understand that recent scholarship has largely discredited his arguments.)

Best,

Mark Millman
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James R.Fox




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PostPosted: Fri 02 Jan, 2009 7:50 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sirs-Here's another one. SOME Greeks knew about mechanical computers utilizing gears,i.e.the Ancyra (sp?) which was a grar-driven computer driven by a hand-crank. It showed a star map of the 23 major navagating stars you need to determine latitude to get around the Mediterranian w/o bumping into things.You turned the crank untill the star you were using was in position, then read off where the others were if that one was in cloud cover,etc.The Greeks were excellent optical astrinomers and obviously built star-maps of the major shipping routs, probably at Alexandria.This was not re-diccovered untill the early Renniassance, with the portolan(written sailing map with star observations by astrolabe.)
Ja68ms
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Steven H




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PostPosted: Fri 02 Jan, 2009 8:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

James R.Fox wrote:
Sirs-Here's another one. SOME Greeks knew about mechanical computers utilizing gears,i.e.the Ancyra (sp?) which was a grar-driven computer driven by a hand-crank. It showed a star map of the 23 major navagating stars you need to determine latitude to get around the Mediterranian w/o bumping into things.You turned the crank untill the star you were using was in position, then read off where the others were if that one was in cloud cover,etc.The Greeks were excellent optical astrinomers and obviously built star-maps of the major shipping routs, probably at Alexandria.This was not re-diccovered untill the early Renniassance, with the portolan(written sailing map with star observations by astrolabe.)


Ah, the Antikythera Mechanism, what an awesome example of what ancients could do, and how smart they were. The device requires precise math, tools and astronomical obersvations.

But it seems only one was made. And the design certainly wasn't preserved or applied to any other endeavour (such as artillery).

Cheers,
Steven

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