Appropriate use of technology

[95 Nov 22] started by now

Although I find that on the whole simpler is better, what is most basic is not necessarily the best, and there are some things which may seem like technological clutter but which have important good uses.

The most notable example of this that stands out to me is hydro-electric power, which may seem like a high level of technology (misleadingly so, as I explain below) but may be the best solution to providing necessary heating (use of non-renewable fuels obviously being right out, eventually through necessity if not already through sense, and use of replenishable resources not always being good enough... in some areas, burnable material does not re-grow as fast as it is used, and in others it may not be desirable, for example by the large amounts of cultivation it may require).

At first I thought that using even a minimal level of advanced technology would drag a philosophically advanced society down to the level of a parasite on neighbouring technologically advanced ones, but this idea became untenable as a new understanding grew within me. This is: that we can take scientifically advanced ideas, and put them to work, sensitively, for us... which means watching that we remain master over them, and they do not become a rogue golem sapping half our soul to further our private cases in the night. And if we are responsible, for us should mean for all, and should be in accordance with the briefing [Genesis 1:28] (note: replenish, as well as subdue, the earth!) that goes with the gift of the essentials of life [Genesis 1:29]. And to do this, in planning the application of a scientific idea, we must make use of ability to reason, and not just throw more technology at it.

To take an example (the one which first led me onto this), consider hydroelectric power. This is produced today as a minor pinnacle of many industries which are sophisticated in their ingenuity and power but not in their destructive and clumsy use of resources. However, thinking around various pieces of technology available today and some earlier times, the engineering techniques required were, as far as I can tell, all known in the so-called ``Dark Ages'', and could be produced (to use a classic social scenario) by a team of good engineers and scientists stranded in a remote valley or island in a matter of years, starting from flint-knapping (a skill the absence of which sadly curtails the practical flexibility of many modern power engineers). They would need the advice of some archeologists, no doubt, for the recovery of such lost engineering skills, and would no doubt constitute themselves into an organization for professional ethics, concerned that their work should neither be destructive nor be used destructively.

Let us break the work down into components, sharing material technologies where possible, and then go through the material and construction technologies required.

The technologies required are:

Water channelling
Modified from normal building techniques; done in early medieval times
Water wheel
The Vikings had these; probably wooden with metal bracings
Needs metal cores and copper wire, and reliable bearings and a strong outer structure, and (I think) a small permanent magnet to get it started. The Vikings were able to make copper wire, and the other metal parts can be made by casting. Metal parts with rotational symmetry can be made by casting, with moulds turned on a potter's wheel. No need for ball or needle bearings (I don't know how easily these are made) as oiled sliding surfaces are good enough for the combustion engine -- someone would have to know the right alloy ratios, though! Wire for windings is traditionally `enamelled' although I have a suspicion that this may commonly be plastic, and I'm not sure that enamelling wire is that easy. Alternate strands, side by side, of wire and insulating rod/thread, with layers of insulating sheet between layers of winding, would do provided it could be kept constantly dry.
got that
heating elements
just a different kind of wire

Intermediate approaches

Another way to reach such a technological level would be through the re-use of materials abandoned by a less subtle part of the world, thus also making a small contribution to cleaning up technological mess. A limitation of this is that the materials and devices re-used must not require exhorbitant use of resources to maintain them.

John C. G. Sturdy
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