invention of writing

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pages: 274 words: 66,721

Double Entry: How the Merchants of Venice Shaped the Modern World - and How Their Invention Could Make or Break the Planet by Jane Gleeson-White


Affordable Care Act / Obamacare, Bernie Madoff, Black Swan, British Empire, carbon footprint, corporate governance, credit crunch, double entry bookkeeping, full employment, Gordon Gekko, income inequality, invention of movable type, invention of writing, Islamic Golden Age, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, joint-stock company, joint-stock limited liability company, Joseph Schumpeter, means of production, Naomi Klein, Ponzi scheme, shareholder value, Silicon Valley, Simon Kuznets, spice trade, spinning jenny, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, trade route, traveling salesman, upwardly mobile

But the most significant advance occurred in around 3300 BC, when the record-keepers transformed the token-and-sealed-envelope system into something utterly new: they flattened out the clay balls and pressed the tokens into their flat surface—thus creating the world’s first clay tablets. The last step in the invention of writing was taken when the ancient traders realised they could simply draw the tokens’ shapes on the tablets with a stylus, thus bypassing the tokens altogether; in other words, the 3-D tokens could be represented by 2-D symbols. And so spheres became circles, cones became triangles, ovoids became ovals and writing was invented. Writing remained the exclusive domain of account-keepers until about 2000 BC, when it began to be used in funerary rituals to commemorate the dead, and was subsequently taken up by a range of wordmongers, including lawmakers, priests, historians and storytellers. Apart from its role in the invention of writing, accounting is significant for human civilisation because it affects the way we see the world and shapes our beliefs.

., ‘Pacioli’s De Scripturis in the context of the spread of double-entry bookkeeping’, Spanish Journal of Accounting History, abacus 19, 38, 40, 154 abbaco mathematics 40–1, 42, 44, 48, 56 schools 41, 44, 45, 63 texts 63, 64 ABC Learning 208–12 accountability 15, 141 accountancy (profession) 136, 142, 145, 146, 150–5, 158–9, 193, 199–200 enhanced role 203, 205–6 in need of reform 217 accountants 149, 150 increased workload 144, 145 invention of writing 11–12, 13–14 professional organisations 150–3 accounting 125–6, 215–16 arbitrary 236 art or science 156–7, 158 with clay tokens 12–13 for the Earth 249 father of 27–8, 34 firms 217 ‘good’ 125–6 governmental 120 green 244 international 189, 207 in modern era 141 origins 132, 133 principles-based 211 significance 14 standards 206–14 use of numbers 218 see also accountancy; accounts Accounting Standards Committee (UK) 206 accounts books for 99–100, 117–18, 119, 166, 170 meaning of 11, 218 with public offices 107–9 setting up 97 accrual accounting see corporate accounting Addison, Joseph 125 Adelard of Bath 39 Adler, Rodney 213 Aho, James 172 Ahrens, Frank 220 AIG 5 Alberti, Leon Battista 32, 58–61, 69, 117, 126, 171 algebra 38, 40, 41, 58, 67, 76 derivation of word 39 al-Haytham, Ibn 64 al-Khwarizmi, Muhammad ibn Musa 38–9, 66 Amazon rainforest 224 America see United States American Civil War 145 Amman, Jost 119 Anghiari, Battle of 30, 34 Anglo Irish Bank 5 Antwerp 119, 120 Arabic mathematics 18–19, 38–9, 63 Arabic numerals 18–19 Archimedes 37, 66, 73, 75 Aristotle 96, 172 arithmetic 20, 36, 38, 40, 41, 81 commercial 36, 41 Arte di Cambio (Guild of Money Changers) 26 Arthur Andersen & Co. 199, 204, 207, 208, 212, 214–15, 216, 217 Asia 22, 188 asset valuation 146, 218–19 astrology 29–30, 36, 38, 42 Athens 15 auditing 149, 200–1, 204, 215, 216 audit expectations gap 210 Augustine 35 Australia 153 corporate scandals 207–14 environmental accounting 233–6 Australian Bureau of Statistics 230, 232, 236 Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) 209–10, 213 Bacon, Roger 40 Badoer, Jachomo 52–5 bahi-khata 22 balance sheets 5, 219 Balfour, Robert 151–2 Bank of Credit and Commerce International 207 Bank of England 124 banking 25–6, 50, 54 bank accounts 109 bank transfers 54 bankruptcy 145, 150 barter 55, 60 Belcher, John 153 Bell Resources 208 Bellini, Gentile 56–7 Belmont Report (1979) 173 Bentley, Thomas 137, 138 Bible 116 Big Macs –4 bills of exchange 25, 53–4 biodiversity 9, 247–8 bioethics 173 Blake, William 154 Blanc, Louis 162–3 Boethius 38, 43 Bond, Alan 208 Book of Addition and Subtraction According to the Hindu Calculation 39 bookkeeping in Antwerp 119 early Renaissance 96 in Florence 21–2 Marx’s view 164–5 moral dimension of 124–6, 172 and planet Earth 8–9 texts 117, 118–21 Venetian 6–7, 27, 55, 56, 58, 67, 78, 92, 100, 117, 146 Botticelli 65 Bragadino, Domenico 58 Braudel, Fernand 61 Britain see United Kingdom Brougham, Henry 150 Brown, Richard 144 Brunelleschi 44 Bubble Act 142 Buffett, Warren 198, 200 Burckhardt, Jacob 59 Burroughs, William S. 203–4 Burton PLC 205 Bush, George W. 214, 215 business 96, 132, 136, 172 changes to 248 setting up 93–4, 96 see also commerce Byzantine Empire 18, 51 currency 55 Caetani, Daniele 89 calculating machines 203–4 California, electricity cuts Canada 153, 188 capital 101, 103, 143, 147, 231 international 253–4 regulation 144–5 see also human capital; natural capital capital accounts 112, 163, 166 capitalism 8, 29 derivation 162–3, 171 and double entry 159–60, 161–75 mercantile 170 modern era 183, 221, 224, 249 Sombart’s definition 162, 164 Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (Schumpeter) 169–70 Capitulare de Villis 16 carbon sequestration 240 Cardan, Girolamo 76 Carnegie, Andrew 156 Carruthers, Bruce G. 172–3 cash 101, 103, 122 cash-flow statements 5, 219 Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore 44, 59 Certified Public Accountants 157 Charlemagne 16–17, 38 Charles V 23 Chartered Accountants 152, 157 cheques 24–5 chess 87–8 Chiapello, Eve 163, 164, 171 Christian Church 38, 40, 51, 54, 59, 62, 68, 85 Christoffels, Jan Ympyn 119, 120, 121 Christofle, Charles 125 Churchill, Winston 183 Cicero 15, 126, 172 Clarke, Anthony 32–3 Clarke, Frank L. 203 clay tablets 13 clay token accounting 12–13, 14 climate change 232, 245 clocks 23 Code of Hammurabi 14 coinage 15 Columbus, Christopher 18 commerce 140, 167, 168, 173 13th century Florence 21 and art Italy, Dark Ages 6 medieval Europe 26, 42, 67, 96 recording transactions 14, 105–7, 108 and religion 24, 96 see also business Companies Act 1862 144 Companies Act 1900 149 Companies Act 1929 202 Constantinople 29, 34, 50, 52–3, 54, 61 consumption 179, 248 Cooper, William 145 Copernicus 167 copyright 63, 78 corporate accounting 193, 216 scandals 194–203, 206, 207–14, 215, 225 corporations 123, 144–9, 155, 199–200, 206 in need of reform 221–5 transparency cost accounting 138–9, 149, 156 cost-benefit analysis 250–1 costs fixed/variable 138 measuring 218–19 counting 19 credit see debit and credit entries Cremonensis, Jacobus 66 Crosby, Alfred W.


pages: 357 words: 110,017

Money: The Unauthorized Biography by Felix Martin


bank run, banking crisis, Basel III, Bernie Madoff, Big bang: deregulation of the City of London, Bretton Woods, British Empire, call centre, capital asset pricing model, Carmen Reinhart, central bank independence, collapse of Lehman Brothers, credit crunch, David Graeber,, financial deregulation, financial innovation, Financial Instability Hypothesis, financial intermediation, Fractional reserve banking, full employment, Goldman Sachs: Vampire Squid, Hyman Minsky, inflation targeting, invention of writing, invisible hand, Irish bank strikes, joint-stock company, Joseph Schumpeter, Kenneth Rogoff, mobile money, moral hazard, mortgage debt, new economy, Northern Rock, Occupy movement, Plutocrats, plutocrats, private military company, Republic of Letters, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, Scientific racism, seigniorage, Silicon Valley, smart transportation, South Sea Bubble, supply-chain management, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, too big to fail

The ancient system of three-dimensional objects had been translated into a new system of two-dimensional symbols. It was an epochal development: nothing less than the birth of literacy. Stimulating the invention of writing was no mean achievement on its own; but the increasing complexity of the Mesopotamian economies meant that the pressure to devise ever more efficient and flexible techniques was unrelenting. Reckoning number using the new, written symbols was certainly more efficient than shaping, firing, and then storing thousand upon thousand of little clay tokens. But both techniques still relied upon correspondence-counting—one token or symbol corresponding to each thing being counted. Soon after the invention of writing, however, another momentous improvement was made. Instead of writing five sheep symbols to signify five sheep, separate symbols for the number five and the category sheep were introduced.

When one considers that on a single surviving tablet the receipt of 140,000 litres of grain is recorded it is obvious that the practical advantages were considerable.24 The longer-term implications were even greater, however. Correspondence-counting requires no notion of abstract number; no concept, that is, of number separate from the things being counted. The new system did. Not only had Ur invented writing, it had almost simultaneously invented the concept of number—and thereby opened the way to the development of mathematics. The invention of writing and abstract number set the stage for the development of the third technology at the heart of Mesopotamian society: accounting. The hierarchical control of economic activity by clerical bureaucracies required a management information system: a technique for quantifying stocks and flows of raw materials and finished goods, for using these quantities in forward planning, and for checking that the plan was being correctly carried out on the ground.


pages: 239 words: 70,206

Data-Ism: The Revolution Transforming Decision Making, Consumer Behavior, and Almost Everything Else by Steve Lohr


23andMe, Affordable Care Act / Obamacare, Albert Einstein, big data - Walmart - Pop Tarts, bioinformatics, business intelligence, call centre, cloud computing, computer age, conceptual framework, Credit Default Swap, crowdsourcing, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, Danny Hillis, data is the new oil, David Brooks, East Village, Edward Snowden, Emanuel Derman, Erik Brynjolfsson, everywhere but in the productivity statistics, Frederick Winslow Taylor, Google Glasses, impulse control, income inequality, indoor plumbing, industrial robot, informal economy, Internet of things, invention of writing, John von Neumann, Mark Zuckerberg, market bubble, meta analysis, meta-analysis, natural language processing, obamacare, pattern recognition, payday loans, personalized medicine, precision agriculture, pre–internet, Productivity paradox, RAND corporation, rising living standards, Robert Gordon, Second Machine Age, self-driving car, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, six sigma, skunkworks, speech recognition, statistical model, Steve Jobs, Steven Levy, The Design of Experiments, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, unbanked and underbanked, underbanked, Von Neumann architecture, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!

Often, he explains, the schism results from people staring across a cultural divide of misunderstanding, of the false choice between fully human and fully automated decision making. King, as an emissary from quantland, says he offers an olive branch and cooperation. “My pitch,” he says, “is, We’re going to help you.” Still, the drift of things seems clear. Alex Pentland, a computational social scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, sees the promise of “a transition on a par with the invention of writing or the Internet.” The ranks of data scientists—people who wield their math and computing smarts to make sense of data—are modest compared to the workforce as a whole, but they loom large. Data science is hailed as the field of the future. Universities are rushing to establish data science centers, institutes, and courses, and companies are scrambling to hire data scientists. There is a trend-chasing side to the current data frenzy that invites ridicule.

Unless otherwise noted, the quotes from Hammerbacher come from a series of interviews, both in New York and San Francisco, from November 2012 to April 2014. a “paradigm shift” in medicine: An interview on Nov. 1, 2013, with Dennis Charney. a “revolution” that is just getting under way: An interview on Jan. 31, 2012, with Gary King. “There is a war in every field”: An interview on Oct. 16, 2013, with Gary King. “a transition on a par with the invention of writing or the Internet”: From an article by Alex Pentland, “The Data-Driven Society,” Scientific American 309 (October 2013): 78–83. a school paper he wrote as a seven-year-old: I was given a copy of the original. His father, Glenn, a factory worker for General Motors: The descriptions of Hammerbacher’s upbringing and family life come from my conversations with Jeff and a lengthy interview on Oct. 14, 2013, with his parents, Glenn and Lenore.


pages: 476 words: 132,042

What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly


Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, Buckminster Fuller,, carbon-based life, Cass Sunstein, charter city, Clayton Christensen, cloud computing, computer vision, Danny Hillis, dematerialisation, demographic transition, double entry bookkeeping,, Exxon Valdez, George Gilder, gravity well, hive mind, Howard Rheingold, interchangeable parts, invention of air conditioning, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, Jaron Lanier, John Conway, John von Neumann, Kevin Kelly, knowledge economy, Lao Tzu, life extension, Louis Daguerre, Marshall McLuhan, megacity, meta analysis, meta-analysis, new economy, out of africa, performance metric, personalized medicine, phenotype, Picturephone, planetary scale, RAND corporation, random walk, Ray Kurzweil, recommendation engine, refrigerator car, Richard Florida, Silicon Valley, silicon-based life, Skype, speech recognition, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Stewart Brand, Ted Kaczynski, the built environment, the scientific method, Thomas Malthus, Vernor Vinge, Whole Earth Catalog, Y2K

We can decide slavery is not a good idea. We can decide that fairly applied laws, rather than nepotistic favoritism, is a good idea. We can outlaw certain punishments with treaties. We can encourage accountability with the invention of writing. We can consciously expand our circle of empathy. These are all inventions, products of our minds, as much as lightbulbs and telegraphs are. This cyclotron of social betterment is propelled by technology. Society evolves in incremental doses; each rise in social organization throughout history was driven by an insertion of a new technology. The invention of writing unleashed the leveling fairness of recorded laws. The invention of standard minted coins made trade more universal, encouraged entrepreneurship, and hastened the idea of liberty. Historian Lynn White notes, “Few inventions have been so simple as the stirrup, but few have had so catalytic an influence on history.”

The major transitions in the technium are:Primate communication ➔ Language Oral lore ➔ Writing/mathematical notation Scripts ➔ Printing Book knowledge ➔ Scientific method Artisan production ➔ Mass production Industrial culture ➔ Ubiquitous global communication No transition in technology has affected our species, or the world at large, more than the first one, the creation of language. Language enabled information to be stored in a memory greater than an individual’s recall. A language-based culture accumulated stories and oral wisdom to disseminate to future generations. The learning of individuals, even if they died before reproducing, would be remembered. From a systems point of view, language enabled humans to adapt and transmit learning faster than genes. The invention of writing systems for language and math structured this learning even more. Ideas could be indexed, retrieved, and propagated more easily. Writing allowed the organization of information to penetrate into many everyday aspects of life. It accelerated trade, the creation of calendars, and the formation of laws—all of which organized information further. Printing organized information still more by making literacy widespread.


Guns, germs, and steel: the fates of human societies by Jared M. Diamond


affirmative action, Atahualpa, British Empire, California gold rush, correlation does not imply causation, cuban missile crisis, discovery of the americas, European colonialism, Francisco Pizarro, Hernando de Soto, invention of movable type, invention of the wheel, invention of writing, James Watt: steam engine, Maui Hawaii, QWERTY keyboard, the scientific method, trade route

They had to decide that a writing system should ignore all of that variation. They then had to devise ways to represent sounds by symbols. Somehow, the first scribes solved all those problems, without having in front of them any example of the final result to guide their efforts. That task was evidently so difficult that there have been only a few occasions in history when people invented writing entirely on their own. The two indisputably independent inventions of writing were achieved by the Su merians of Mesopotamia somewhat before 3000 B.C. and by Mexican Indians before 600 B.C. (Figure 12.1); Egyptian writing of 3000 B.C. and Chinese writing (by 1300 B.C.) may also have arisen independently. Proba- bly all other peoples who have developed writing since then have bor- rowed, adapted, or at least been inspired by existing systems. The independent invention that we can trace in greatest detail is histo- ry's oldest writing system, Sumerian cuneiform (Figure 12.1).

W I T H THE POSSIBLE exceptions of the Egyptian, Chinese, and Easter Island writing to be considered later, all other writing systems devised any- where in the world, at any time, appear to have been descendants of sys- tems modified from or at least inspired by Sumerian or early Mesoamerican writing. One reason why there were so few independent origins of writing is the great difficulty of inventing it, as we have already discussed. The other reason is that other opportunities for the independent invention of writing were preempted by Sumerian or early Mesoamerican writing and their derivatives. We know that the development of Sumerian writing took at least hun- dreds, possibly thousands, of years. As we shall see, the prerequisites for those developments consisted of several features of human society that determined whether a society would find writing useful, and whether the society could support the necessary specialist scribes.

Only later did the alphabet's easily learned vehicle of private communication become co-opted for public or bureaucratic purposes. Thus, the developmental sequence of uses for alphabetic writing was the reverse of that for the earlier systems of logo- grams and syllabaries. THE L I M I T E D USES and users of early writing suggest why writing appeared so late in human evolution. All of the likely or possible indepen- dent inventions of writing (in Sumer, Mexico, China, and Egypt), and all of the early adaptations of those invented systems (for example, those in Crete, Iran, Turkey, the Indus Valley, and the Maya area), involved socially stratified societies with complex and centralized political institutions, whose necessary relation to food production we shall explore in a later chapter. Early writing served the needs of those political institutions (such as record keeping and royal propaganda), and the users were full-time bureaucrats nourished by stored food surpluses grown by food-producing peasants.


pages: 479 words: 144,453

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari


23andMe, agricultural Revolution, algorithmic trading, Anne Wojcicki, anti-communist, Anton Chekhov, autonomous vehicles, Berlin Wall, call centre, Chris Urmson, cognitive dissonance, Columbian Exchange, computer age, Deng Xiaoping, don't be evil, European colonialism, experimental subject, falling living standards, Flash crash, Frank Levy and Richard Murnane: The New Division of Labor, glass ceiling, global village, invention of writing, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, job automation, Kevin Kelly, means of production, Mikhail Gorbachev, Minecraft, Moneyball by Michael Lewis explains big data, mutually assured destruction, new economy, pattern recognition, Peter Thiel, placebo effect, Ray Kurzweil, self-driving car, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley ideology, stem cell, Steven Pinker, telemarketer, too big to fail, trade route, Turing machine, Turing test, ultimatum game, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!

Even today fans still buy the King’s posters and albums, radio stations go on paying royalties, and more than half a million pilgrims flock each year to Graceland, the King’s necropolis in Memphis, Tennessee. Brands are not a modern invention. Just like Elvis Presley, pharaoh too was a brand rather than a living organism. For millions of followers his image counted for far more than his fleshy reality, and they kept worshipping him long after he was dead. Left: © Richard Nowitz/Getty Images. Right: © Archive Photos/Stringer/Getty Images. Prior to the invention of writing, stories were confined by the limited capacity of human brains. You couldn’t invent overly complex stories which people couldn’t remember. With writing you could suddenly create extremely long and intricate stories, which were stored on tablets and papyri rather than in human heads. No ancient Egyptian remembered all of pharaoh’s lands, taxes and tithes; Elvis Presley never even read all the contracts signed in his name; no living soul is familiar with all the laws and regulations of the European Union; and no banker or CIA agent tracks down every dollar in the world.

Hence the first phase of history involved an increase in the number and variety of human processors, at the expense of connectivity: 20,000 years ago there were many more Sapiens than 70,000 years ago, and Sapiens in Europe processed information differently to Sapiens in China. However, there were no connections between people in Europe and China, and it would have seemed utterly impossible that all Sapiens may one day be part of a single data-processing web. The second stage began with the Agricultural Revolution and continued until the invention of writing and money about 5,000 years ago. Agriculture speeded demographic growth, so the number of human processors rose sharply. Simultaneously, agriculture enabled many more people to live together in the same place, thereby generating dense local networks that contained an unprecedented number of processors. In addition, agriculture created new incentives and opportunities for different networks to trade and communicate with one another.

In addition, agriculture created new incentives and opportunities for different networks to trade and communicate with one another. Nevertheless, during the second phase centrifugal forces remained predominant. In the absence of writing and money, humans could not establish cities, kingdoms or empires. Humankind was still divided into innumerable little tribes, each with its own lifestyle and world view. Uniting the whole of humankind was not even a fantasy. The third stage kicked off with the invention of writing and money about 5,000 years ago, and lasted until the beginning of the Scientific Revolution. Thanks to writing and money, the gravitational field of human cooperation finally overpowered the centrifugal forces. Human groups bonded and merged to form cities and kingdoms. Political and commercial links between different cities and kingdoms also tightened. At least since the first millennium BC – when coinage, empires and universal religions appeared – humans began to consciously dream about forging a single network that would encompass the entire globe.


pages: 379 words: 109,612

Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?: The Net's Impact on Our Minds and Future by John Brockman


A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, Albert Einstein, AltaVista, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Asperger Syndrome, availability heuristic, Benoit Mandelbrot, biofilm, Black Swan, British Empire, conceptual framework, corporate governance, Danny Hillis, Douglas Engelbart, Emanuel Derman, epigenetics, Flynn Effect, Frank Gehry, Google Earth, hive mind, Howard Rheingold, index card, information retrieval, Internet Archive, invention of writing, Jane Jacobs, Jaron Lanier, Kevin Kelly, lone genius, loss aversion, mandelbrot fractal, Marshall McLuhan, Menlo Park, meta analysis, meta-analysis, New Journalism, Nicholas Carr, out of africa, Ponzi scheme, pre–internet, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Rodney Brooks, Ronald Reagan, Schrödinger's Cat, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, SETI@home, Silicon Valley, Skype, slashdot, smart grid, social graph, social software, social web, Stephen Hawking, Steve Wozniak, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, Ted Nelson, telepresence, the medium is the message, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, theory of mind, trade route, upwardly mobile, Vernor Vinge, Whole Earth Catalog, X Prize

If you were asked a question in those days, you thought of what you had seen and heard and done yourself and what others had said to you. I’m rereading Thucydides this winter and watching the way everything depended on whom you knew, where the messengers came, from and whether they were delayed en route, walking from one end of Greece to another. Thucydides was literate, but his world hadn’t absorbed that new technology yet. With the invention of writing, the eyes took on a new role. Knowledge wasn’t all in memory but was found in present, visual stimuli: the written word in one form or another. We have built a mighty culture based on all the things humankind can produce and the eye can study. What we could read in the traditional library of twenty-five years ago was orders of magnitude richer and more diverse than the most that any person could ever see, hear, or be told of in one lifetime.

After several conversations and a grant application, my colleagues and I launched the GoodPlay project, a social science study of ethics in the digital media. Even though I myself am a digital immigrant—I sometimes refer to myself as a digital paleolith—I now spend many hours a week thinking about the ways in which nearly all of us, young and old, are affected by being online, networked, and surfing or posting for so much of the day. I’ve become convinced that the “digital revolution” may be as epoch-making as the invention of writing or, certainly, the invention of printing or of broadcasting. While I agree with those who caution that it is premature to detail the effects, it is not too early to begin to think, observe, reflect, or conduct pivotal observations and experiments. Indeed, I wish that social scientists and/or other observers had been around when earlier new media debuted. Asked for my current thinking, I would make the following points.


pages: 290 words: 94,968

Writing on the Wall: Social Media - the First 2,000 Years by Tom Standage


Bill Duvall, British Empire, Edmond Halley, Edward Lloyd's coffeehouse, invention of the printing press, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, knowledge worker, Mark Zuckerberg, Menlo Park, Mohammed Bouazizi, New Journalism, packet switching, place-making, Republic of Letters, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, theory of mind

This is simply the desire to pass around information about common acquaintances’ control of resources, sexual activity, alliances, and disputes operating at a societal level. The innate human propensity to share such information, it seems, will take advantage of any available means to do so. For most of the one hundred thousand years or so since the dawn of language, however, the only available means to convey specific items of news was speech. A new way to exchange information with others only emerged five thousand years ago, with the invention of writing. The development of writing was pioneered not by gossips, storytellers, or poets, but by accountants. The earliest writing system has its roots in the Neolithic period, when humans first began to switch from a nomadic existence of hunting and gathering to a settled lifestyle based on agriculture. This transition began around 9500 B.C. in a region known as the Fertile Crescent, which stretches from modern-day Egypt, up to southeastern Turkey, and down again to the border between Iraq and Iran.

Instead they are a means of recording and transmitting spoken words from the sender to the recipient, using scribes to turn speech into written marks at one end, and then back into speech at the other. Rather than beginning with a salutation, such as “Dear so-and-so” or “To so-and-so,” Mesopotamian letters from this period begin with direct instructions to the scribe reading out the letter: “Say to so-and-so.” The ability to read and write was limited to a tiny fraction of the population for the first fifteen centuries after the invention of writing, for a number of reasons. Acquiring literacy required extensive training, which was time-consuming and expensive, and therefore available to only a small subset of the elite. And the scribal class that emerged wanted to protect its privileged position as an information priesthood. It had no interest in making literacy easier to acquire and thus more widely available. Egyptian scribal-training texts emphasized the superiority of being a scribe over all other career choices, with titles like “Do Not Be Soldier, Priest or Baker,” “Do Not Be a Husbandman,” and “Do Not Be a Charioteer.”


pages: 137 words: 36,231

Information: A Very Short Introduction by Luciano Floridi


agricultural Revolution, Albert Einstein, bioinformatics, carbon footprint, Claude Shannon: information theory, conceptual framework, double helix, Douglas Engelbart, George Akerlof, Gordon Gekko, industrial robot, Internet of things, invention of writing, John Nash: game theory, John von Neumann, moral hazard, Nash equilibrium, Norbert Wiener, phenotype, prisoner's dilemma, RAND corporation, RFID, Turing machine

What all these and many other metrics have in common is that they are all historical, in the strict sense that they all depend on the development of systems to record events and hence accumulate and transmit information about the past. No records, no history, so history is actually synonymous with the information age, since prehistory is that age in human development that precedes the availability of recording systems. It follows that one may reasonably argue that humanity has been living in various kinds of information societies at least since the Bronze Age, the era that marks the invention of writing in Mesopotamia and other regions of the world (4th millennium BC). And yet, this is not what is typically meant by the information revolution. There may be many explanations, but one seems more convincing than any other: only very recently has human progress and welfare begun to depend mostly on the successful and efficient management of the life cycle of information. The life cycle of information typically includes the following phases: occurrence (discovering, designing, authoring, etc.), transmission (networking, distributing, accessing, retrieving, transmitting, etc.), processing and management (collecting, validating, modifying, organizing, indexing, classifying, filtering, updating, sorting, storing, etc.), and usage (monitoring, modelling, analysing, explaining, planning, forecasting, decision-making, instructing, educating, learning, etc.).


pages: 695 words: 194,693

Money Changes Everything: How Finance Made Civilization Possible by William N. Goetzmann


Albert Einstein, Andrei Shleifer, asset allocation, asset-backed security, banking crisis, Benoit Mandelbrot, Black Swan, Black-Scholes formula, Bretton Woods, Brownian motion, capital asset pricing model, Cass Sunstein, collective bargaining, colonial exploitation, compound rate of return, conceptual framework, corporate governance, Credit Default Swap, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, debt deflation, delayed gratification, Detroit bankruptcy, disintermediation, diversified portfolio, double entry bookkeeping, Edmond Halley,, equity premium, financial independence, financial innovation, financial intermediation, fixed income, frictionless, frictionless market, full employment, high net worth, income inequality, index fund, invention of the steam engine, invention of writing, invisible hand, James Watt: steam engine, joint-stock company, joint-stock limited liability company, laissez-faire capitalism, Louis Bachelier, mandelbrot fractal, market bubble, means of production, money: store of value / unit of account / medium of exchange, moral hazard, new economy, passive investing, Paul Lévy, Ponzi scheme, price stability, principal–agent problem, profit maximization, profit motive, quantitative trading / quantitative finance, random walk, Richard Thaler, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, shareholder value, short selling, South Sea Bubble, sovereign wealth fund, spice trade, stochastic process, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, time value of money, too big to fail, trade liberalization, trade route, transatlantic slave trade, transatlantic slave trade, tulip mania, wage slave

While other scholars of the ancient Near East were studying big problems like the evolution of temple architecture, the political history of ancient city-states, and the question of how the ancient climate affected farming and urbanism, Denise concentrated her efforts on laboratory analysis and documentation of the tokens. She established that tokens predated even the ancient city of Uruk. They appeared in prehistoric sites throughout the Near East as early as 7000 BCE. Whatever these things were—counters, game tokens, or mystical symbols, they were used by many different peoples and cultures long before the invention of writing. The objects are about the size of game pieces. Their stylization and simplification suggest that they were standardized for easy recognition—abstract and simple rather than realistic. A systematic organization of the tokens by form and place of discovery led Denise to a stunningly novel hypothesis. Her analysis linked them iconographically to the earliest pictographic writing on clay tablets found in the oldest parts of Uruk.

Schmandt-Besserat’s theory is not universally accepted—some scholars question the basic idea of a transition from tokens to writing and point out discrepancies in the notion of a temporal evolution from models to signs. For example, tokens were used for thousands of years in the ancient Near East—not just in the preliterate period. Why, for example, did the bullae system survive after the invention of writing? Also puzzling is that the widest variety of tokens appeared after the first writing began, not before—suggesting that the token and bullae system was alive, well, and developing in parallel to cuneiform. While tokens and bullae may have led to the discovery of writing, it appears that this technology continued to respond to needs that were not completely met with the written word. ANCIENT CONTRACTS Why would the ancient accountants of Uruk use a cumbersome bullae system for their records—and then keep using it even after they could simply write the information down?

Everything we think of as a financial instrument today is a contract. A government bond, for instance, is a contract between the government and the bondholder to guarantee a series of payments in the future. A share of stock is a contract between the shareholder and the corporation that guarantees participation in the profits of the firm and a right to vote on its management. Although contracts existed before the invention of writing—and even before the invention of bullae—the hollow clay balls and their tokens are arguably the earliest archaeological evidence of contracts. Each bulla evidently meant that someone made a promise to give some commodity—jars of honey, sheep, cattle, perhaps even days of work—to the temple. The writing on the outside of the bulla allowed the contracting parties to refer to the amount owed over the term of the contract or to the people entering into the contract.


pages: 291 words: 77,596

Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything by C. Gordon Bell, Jim Gemmell


airport security, Albert Einstein, book scanning, cloud computing, conceptual framework, full text search, information retrieval, invention of writing, inventory management, Isaac Newton, Menlo Park, optical character recognition, pattern recognition, performance metric, RAND corporation, RFID, semantic web, Silicon Valley, Skype, social web, statistical model, Stephen Hawking, Steve Ballmer, Ted Nelson, telepresence, Turing test, Vannevar Bush, web application

One thing that has defined our progress as the preeminent species on the planet has been our ability to develop better and better systems of memory. Our greatest innovation was language, a unique system for representing, storing, and sharing knowledge. Language made us into the first and only truly cultural animal, able to share both highly specific and powerfully abstract bits of knowledge across societies and down through generations. The next great turning point in human development was the invention of writing, which it became necessary to invent as the needs of record keeping in agrarian city-states outstripped the limits of naked memory. Thanks to writing, human knowledge snow-balled over just a few thousand years and brought us most recently into the Information Age. Around the middle of the last century the digital computer joined our mnemonic arsenal and rapidly precipitated another epochal change in how we manage our knowledge.


pages: 272 words: 83,378

Digital Barbarism: A Writer's Manifesto by Mark Helprin


Albert Einstein, anti-communist, Berlin Wall, carbon footprint, computer age, crowdsourcing, hive mind, invention of writing, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, Plutocrats, plutocrats, race to the bottom, semantic web, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley ideology, the scientific method, Yogi Berra

Even as a child, I was intoxicated by the greatness of the written word, and took refuge in its power as the gift and protection of God. Like music, it is a direct route to the truths that lie beyond understanding, taking those who will follow to a height from which it is possible to see something too bright to comprehend. This attitude and belief has been preserved among the Jews since the invention of writing and the advent of revelation. It is so deeply ingrained in Jewish culture and nationality—apart from religion, where it is certainly not absent—that I am controlled by it atavistically and thus can never be a modern man. When I chose my profession, which I was sure would keep me poor all my life, I did so not because I wanted to copy the existence of Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, or Nabokov, but because I was compelled to follow the lead of the people from which I am descended, in the most rewarding and satisfying exercise I can imagine: something that, when done with great effort and an honest heart, touches upon the holy; that, even in the face of death and destruction, offers warmth, comfort, promise, and a shield.


pages: 266 words: 67,272

Fun Inc. by Tom Chatfield


Alexey Pajitnov wrote Tetris, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, cloud computing, cognitive dissonance, computer age, credit crunch, game design, invention of writing, Silicon Valley, Skype, stem cell, upwardly mobile

Like society itself, media are better understood as a constantly evolving and interlocking system than as a discrete series of trends and ventures. There is competition within such a system, of course, sometimes of a brutally Darwinian nature. But there are also synergies and shared fundamentals, the most significant of which is the users themselves, whose natures have not shifted perceptibly over the millennia between the invention of writing and the present day, let alone between the creation of cinema and the birth of the games console. Older media must continue to adapt, and governments, societies and families must continue to support and value them. But the apparent war between different media is emphatically not a struggle for the human soul between debasing and ennobling tendencies. There is bad and good in each medium, as well as great power, and the recipe for progress remains much the same as it has always been: investigation, rigour, understanding, specificity, context, education and, perhaps above all, the refusal to succumb to glib hysteria.


pages: 255 words: 68,829

How PowerPoint Makes You Stupid by Franck Frommer


Albert Einstein, business continuity plan, cuban missile crisis, dematerialisation, hypertext link, invention of writing, inventory management, invisible hand, Just-in-time delivery, knowledge worker, Marshall McLuhan, means of production, new economy, oil shock, Ronald Reagan, Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, union organizing

All kinds of lists: simple, alphabetical, hierarchical, graduated, disseminated, illustrated, animated, linear, and vertical for agendas, summaries, actions, objectives, results, and so on. PowerPoint did not invent the list, the use of which can be detected at the very beginnings of writing. In a pathbreaking study of the relationship between oral and written expression, the American anthropologist Jack Goody notes that “the making of tables, lists, and formulae” is characteristic of the earliest forms of writing.13 The invention of writing made it possible to provide a concrete, permanent, and “objective” medium for speech. This form of neutrality provided to language by writing is, however, a two-edged sword. At the outset, writing had two primary functions: preserving speech and shifting from the oral to the visual. The great interest of writing was its combinatorial aspect: words became autonomous units that could be shifted, extracted, changed, transposed, and so forth.


pages: 267 words: 82,580

The Dark Net by Jamie Bartlett


3D printing, 4chan, bitcoin, blockchain, brain emulation, carbon footprint, crowdsourcing, cryptocurrency, deindustrialization, Edward Snowden, Filter Bubble, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, global village, Google Chrome, Howard Rheingold, Internet of things, invention of writing, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Julian Assange, Kuwabatake Sanjuro: assassination market, life extension, litecoin, Mark Zuckerberg, Marshall McLuhan, moral hazard, Occupy movement, pre–internet, Ray Kurzweil, Satoshi Nakamoto, Skype, slashdot, technological singularity, technoutopianism, Ted Kaczynski, The Coming Technological Singularity, Turing test, Vernor Vinge, WikiLeaks, Zimmermann PGP

All information is derived from interviews I conducted with members of pro-ana websites, and is accurate to the best of my knowledge. I have also cloaked quotes where necessary. Conclusion Zoltan vs Zerzan TRANSFORMATIVE TECHNOLOGIES HAVE always been accompanied by optimistic and pessimistic visions of how they will change humanity and society. In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates worried that the recent invention of writing would have a deleterious effect on the memories of young Greeks who, he predicted, would become ‘the hearers of many things and will have learned nothing’. When books began to roll off Johannes Gutenberg’s press, many suspected they would be ‘confusing and harmful’, overwhelming young people with information. Although Marconi believed his radio was helping humanity win ‘the struggle with space and time’, as his invention became popular, others feared that children’s impressionable minds would be polluted by dangerous ideas and families rendered obsolete as they sat around listening to entertainment programmes.


pages: 210 words: 67,361

Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Lewis Galantiere


invention of writing

The energy I burn up in listening to him is dispensed in the same instant by a lake formed in the River Yser which, four thousand miles from him and five hundred from me, melts like snow in the action of the turbines. Transport of the mails, transport of the human voice, transport of flickering pictures - in this century as in others our highest accomplishments still have the single aim of bringing men together. Do our dreamers hold that the invention of writing, of printing, of the sailing ship, degraded the human spirit? It seems to me that those who complain of man's progress confuse ends with means. True, that man who struggles in the unique hope of material gain will harvest nothing worthwhile. But how can anyone conceive that the machine is an end? It is a tool. As much a tool as is the plough. The microscope is a tool. What disservice do we do the life of the spirit when we analyze the universe through a tool created by the science of optics, or seek to bring together those who love one another and are parted in space?


pages: 734 words: 244,010

The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution by Richard Dawkins


agricultural Revolution, Alfred Russel Wallace, complexity theory, delayed gratification, double helix, Drosophila, Haight Ashbury, invention of writing, Louis Pasteur, nuclear winter, out of africa, Peter Singer: altruism, phenotype, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Ronald Reagan, Spread Networks laid a new fibre optics cable between New York and Chicago, Steven Pinker, the High Line, urban sprawl

Triangulation Linguists often wish to trace languages back through history. Where written records survive it is rather easy. The historical linguist can use the second of our two methods of reconstruction, tracing back renewed relics, in this case words. Modern English goes back via Middle English to Anglo-Saxon using the continuous literary tradition, through Shakespeare, Chaucer and Beowulf. But speech obviously goes back long before the invention of writing, and many languages have no written form anyway. For the earlier history of dead languages, linguists resort to a version of what I am calling triangulation. They compare modern languages and group them hierarchically into families within families. Romance, Germanic, Slavic, Celtic and other European language families are in turn grouped with some Indian language families into Indo-European.

Some authorities are so impressed by the Great Leap Forward that they think it coincided with the origin of language. What else, they ask, could account for such a sudden change? It is not as silly as it sounds to suggest that language arose suddenly. Nobody thinks writing goes back more than a few thousand years, and everyone agrees that brain anatomy didn't change to coincide with anything so recent as the invention of writing. In theory, speech could be another example of the same thing. Nevertheless, my hunch, supported by the authority of linguists such as Steven Pinker, is that language is older than the Leap. We'll come back to the point a million years further into the past, when our pilgrimage reaches Homo ergaster(erectus). If not language itself, perhaps the Great Leap Forward coincided with the sudden discovery of what we might call a new software technique: maybe a new trick of grammar, such as the conditional clause, which, at a stroke, would have enabled 'what if' imagination to flower.


pages: 855 words: 178,507

The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick


Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, Albert Einstein, AltaVista, bank run, bioinformatics, Brownian motion, butterfly effect, citation needed, Claude Shannon: information theory, clockwork universe, computer age, conceptual framework, crowdsourcing, death of newspapers, discovery of DNA, double helix, Douglas Hofstadter,, Eratosthenes, Fellow of the Royal Society, Gödel, Escher, Bach, Henri Poincaré, Honoré de Balzac, index card, informal economy, information retrieval, invention of the printing press, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, Jaron Lanier, jimmy wales, John von Neumann, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, Louis Daguerre, Marshall McLuhan, Menlo Park, microbiome, Milgram experiment, Network effects, New Journalism, Norbert Wiener, On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, PageRank, pattern recognition, phenotype, pre–internet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, RAND corporation, reversible computing, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Simon Singh, Socratic dialogue, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, stochastic process, talking drums, the High Line, The Wisdom of Crowds, transcontinental railway, Turing machine, Turing test, women in the workforce

Since the paradoxes seem to be in language, or about language, one way to banish them was to purify the medium: eliminate ambiguous words and woolly syntax, employ symbols that were rigorous and pure. To turn, that is, to mathematics. By the beginning of the twentieth century, it seemed that only a system of purpose-built symbols could make logic work properly—free of error and paradoxes. This dream was to prove illusory; the paradoxes would creep back in, but no one could hope to understand until the paths of logic and mathematics converged. Mathematics, too, followed from the invention of writing. Greece is often thought of as the springhead for the river that becomes modern mathematics, with all its many tributaries down the centuries. But the Greeks themselves alluded to another tradition—to them, ancient—which they called Chaldean, and which we understand to be Babylonian. That tradition vanished into the sands, not to surface until the end of the nineteenth century, when tablets of clay were dug up from the mounds of lost cities.

Claude struck her as dark in temperament and sparkling in intellect. They began to see each other every day; he wrote sonnets for her, uncapitalized in the style of E. E. Cummings. She loved the way he loved words, the way he said Boooooooolean algebra. By January they were married (Boston judge, no ceremony), and she followed him to Princeton, where he had received a postdoctoral fellowship. The invention of writing had catalyzed logic, by making it possible to reason about reasoning—to hold a train of thought up before the eyes for examination—and now, all these centuries later, logic was reanimated with the invention of machinery that could work upon symbols. In logic and mathematics, the highest forms of reasoning, everything seemed to be coming together. By melding logic and mathematics in a system of axioms, signs, formulas, and proofs, philosophers seemed within reach of a kind of perfection—a rigorous, formal certainty.


pages: 330 words: 99,226

Extraterrestrial Civilizations by Isaac Asimov


Albert Einstein, Cepheid variable, Columbine, Edward Charles Pickering, Harvard Computers: women astronomers, invention of radio, invention of the telescope, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, Louis Pasteur, Magellanic Cloud, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

That means, if we follow the principle of mediocrity, that 40 percent of the habitable planets in existence are not old enough to have developed a civilization and 60 percent are old enough. That gives us our twelfth figure: 12—The number of planets in our Galaxy on which a technological civilization has developed = 390,000,000. In other words, one star out of 770 in the Galaxy today has shone down on the development of a technological civilization. We can go a little bit further. Our own civilization, if we count from the invention of writing to the first venture into space, has lasted 5,000 years. If we want to be glowingly optimistic about it, we can suppose that our civilization will continue to last on Earth as long as the Earth can support life—for another 7.4 billion years—and that our level of technology will advance in all that time.* Suppose we say, then, that the average duration of a civilization is 7.4 billion years (we’ll have more to say about that later on in the book) and that space flight is reached in the first 5,000 years.


pages: 325 words: 99,983

Globish: How the English Language Became the World's Language by Robert McCrum


Alistair Cooke, anti-communist, Berlin Wall, British Empire, call centre, colonial rule, credit crunch, cuban missile crisis, Deng Xiaoping, Etonian, failed state, Fall of the Berlin Wall, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, invention of movable type, invention of writing, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, jimmy wales, knowledge economy, Livingstone, I presume, Martin Wolf, Naomi Klein, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Republic of Letters, Ronald Reagan, Scramble for Africa, Silicon Valley, Steven Pinker, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas L Friedman, trade route, transatlantic slave trade, transcontinental railway, upwardly mobile

In any culture, it is impossible to quantify the tides of influence between the written and the spoken word but, comparable to the impact of the World Wide Web in the 1990s, the spread of printing in the late fifteenth century was a milestone of incalculable consequence. Printing introduces a crucial modern separation between spoken and written mass communications. In the digital twenty-first century you will not always find ink and paper, but you cannot escape the printed word; it defines our civilization. Printing has been described as ‘the third revolution’ in human communications, after the invention of writing and the alphabet. It began in the 1450s with Johannes Gutenberg, a German businessman from Mainz. 4 Before Gutenberg, books were costly, rare and handmade. The composition of a single volume was a laborious business, closer to an art than a craft. A single copy might take a month or two to produce (one 1,272–page commentary on the Bible took two scribes five years, 1453–8, to complete).


pages: 398 words: 100,679

The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World From Scratch by Lewis Dartnell


agricultural Revolution, Albert Einstein, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, clean water, Dava Sobel, decarbonisation, discovery of penicillin, Dmitri Mendeleev, global village, Haber-Bosch Process, invention of movable type, invention of radio, invention of writing, iterative process, James Watt: steam engine, John Harrison: Longitude, lone genius, nuclear winter, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, technology bubble, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, trade route

PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY, “Ozymandias” (1818) TODAY, WITH THE INTERNET, ubiquitous wireless networks, and handheld smartphones, communication with one another anywhere in the world is effortless and instantaneous. We keep in touch via e-mail and Twitter, websites disseminate news and information, and we can access the wealth of human knowledge from the palm of our hand. But in a post-apocalyptic world you’ll need to return to more traditional communication technologies. WRITING Before the invention of writing, knowledge circulated among the minds of the living, conveyed only by the spoken word. Yet there is only so much data that can be stored in oral history, and the danger is that when people die ideas are lost forever. But once committed to a physical medium, thoughts can be stored faithfully, referred back to years later, and built up over time. A culture that has developed writing can accumulate far more knowledge than could ever be cached in the collective memories of its populace.


pages: 397 words: 102,910

The Idealist: Aaron Swartz and the Rise of Free Culture on the Internet by Justin Peters


4chan, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, Brewster Kahle, buy low sell high, corporate governance, crowdsourcing, disintermediation, don't be evil, global village, Hacker Ethic, hypertext link, index card, informal economy, information retrieval, Internet Archive, invention of movable type, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, Lean Startup, Paul Buchheit, Paul Graham, profit motive, RAND corporation, Republic of Letters, Richard Stallman, semantic web, Silicon Valley, social web, Steve Jobs, Steven Levy, Stewart Brand, strikebreaker, Vannevar Bush, Whole Earth Catalog, Y Combinator

Using a Teletype terminal,27 Hart typed it up in capital letters—computers did not yet support lowercase text28—saved the document on a hard-drive pack, and informed the other network users that the Declaration of Independence was now available in computerized format.29 It was the first e-book. Years later, Hart would burnish this act into legend—the genesis of a movement that would eventually spread across the world, one that would “undoubtedly become the greatest advance to human civilization and society since the invention of writing itself.”30 At the time, though, it seemed less like an opening salvo than a misfire; just another unnoticed folk song. (According to Hart, the Declaration was accessed only six times.)31 The upload had its most profound effect on the uploader himself, Michael Hart, who was convinced that he had hit on something big, even if, or perhaps because, no one else shared his optimism. The story of the modern free culture movement essentially begins here, in the early days of digital computing, on the margins of mainstream consciousness; its first protagonists unsupervised misfits such as Michael Hart who accomplished all they did simply because there was nobody around to stop them.


pages: 396 words: 107,814

Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything by David Bellos


Clapham omnibus, Claude Shannon: information theory, Douglas Hofstadter, Etonian, European colonialism, haute cuisine, invention of the telephone, invention of writing, natural language processing, Republic of Letters, speech recognition

What we probably meant in the distant past when we asserted that something was “literally true” in order to emphasize that it was really true, true to a higher degree than just being true, was that it was among those rare things that were worthy of being “put into letters,” of being written down. All the uses of literal with respect to meaning and translation implicitly value writtenness more highly than oral speech. They are now among the surviving linguistic traces of the fantastic change in social and cultural hierarchies that the invention of writing brought about. They carry the shadow of the early stages of literacy in the Mediterranean basin between the third and first millennia B.C.E., when alphabetic scripts first arose together with the texts that through translation and retranslation have shaped and fed Western civilization ever since. This is presumably why the same words and the same terms still persist in debates about how best to translate.


pages: 287 words: 99,131

Composing a Further Life: The Age of Active Wisdom by Mary Catherine Bateson


affirmative action, Berlin Wall, Celebration, Florida, desegregation, double helix, estate planning, feminist movement, invention of writing, Ronald Reagan, Rosa Parks, Silicon Valley, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, urban renewal, War on Poverty, women in the workforce

Homo sapiens is also Homo ludens and Homo faber. Alfred Korzybski described our distinctive quality as “time binding,” a characteristic that includes the ability to recall the past and to plan for the future, as well as the capacity to recognize and analyze sequences of cause and effect, a capacity that is amplified as knowledge is developed and passed on from generation to generation.1 The invention of writing offered the possibility of time binding across millennia. Not only do human beings learn and teach but they do so across generations and across centuries. The accumulation of scientific knowledge and technological possibility, however, has created a process of accelerated change in which the challenge of keeping up from day to day has actually undermined our capacity for long-term thinking and vision even as it has increased the future costs of bad decisions taken in the present.


The Future of Money by Bernard Lietaer


agricultural Revolution, banks create money, barriers to entry, Bretton Woods, clean water, complexity theory, dematerialisation, discounted cash flows, diversification, fiat currency, financial deregulation, financial innovation, floating exchange rates, full employment, George Gilder, German hyperinflation, global reserve currency, Golden Gate Park, Howard Rheingold, informal economy, invention of the telephone, invention of writing, Lao Tzu, Mahatma Gandhi, means of production, microcredit, money: store of value / unit of account / medium of exchange, Norbert Wiener, North Sea oil, offshore financial centre, pattern recognition, post-industrial society, price stability, reserve currency, Ronald Reagan, seigniorage, Silicon Valley, South Sea Bubble, the market place, the payments system, trade route, transaction costs, trickle-down economics, working poor

They are transforming what money is, who creates it, what it means, what emotions it encourages, and how people will behave towards each other and the environment when using it. We know that the technological changes that have the most radical revolutionary impact on societies are those that change the tools by which people relate to each other. Fundamental shifts in civilisation have been traced back to the invention of writing, the alphabet and to the printing press. The breathtaking social, political and economic implications of the invention of the telephone, car, and television are classic examples of such shifts that occurred during the 20th century. Changes in the nature of money will have at least as great an impact as any of the above examples. Money is our key tool for material exchanges with people beyond our immediate intimate circle.


pages: 541 words: 146,445

Spin by Robert Charles Wilson


airport security, Colonization of Mars, invention of writing, invisible hand, John von Neumann, Mahatma Gandhi, megacity, oil shale / tar sands, rolodex, Stephen Hawking

"Stick out your arms," he'd say, "straight out at your sides," and when he had you in the appropriate cruciform position he'd say, "Left index finger to right index finger straight across your heart, that's the history of the Earth. You know what human history is? Human history is the nail on your right-hand index finger. Not even the whole nail. Just that little white part. The part you clip off when it gets too long. That's the discovery of fire and the invention of writing and Galileo and Newton and the moon landing and 9/11 and last week and this morning. Compared to evolution we're newborns. Compared to geology, we barely exist") Then the NASA voice announced, "Ignition," and Jason sucked air between his teeth and turned his head half away as nine of ten boosters, hollow tubes of explosive liquid taller than the Empire State Building, detonated skyward against all logic of gravity and inertia, burning tons of fuel to achieve the first few inches of altitude and vaporizing seawater in order to mute a sonic event that would otherwise have shaken them to pieces.


pages: 436 words: 140,256

The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee by Jared Diamond


agricultural Revolution, Atahualpa, Columbian Exchange, correlation coefficient, double helix, Drosophila, European colonialism, invention of gunpowder, invention of the wheel, invention of writing, out of africa, phenotype, Scientific racism, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, the scientific method, trade route, V2 rocket

Hence we age more slowly than do our closest relatives. Some of that slowdown may have developed recently, around the time of the Great Leap Forward, since quite a few Cro-Magnons lived into their sixties while few Neanderthals passed forty. Slow aging is crucial to the human lifestyle because the latter depends on transmitted information. As language evolved, far more information became available to us to pass on than previously. Until the invention of writing, old people acted as the repositories of that transmitted information and experience, just as they continue to do in tribal societies today. Under hunter-gatherer conditions, the knowledge possessed by even one person over the age of seventy could spell the difference between survival and starvation or defeat for a whole clan. Thus, our long lifespan was important for our rise from animal to human status.


pages: 419 words: 125,977

Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China by Leslie T. Chang


anti-communist, Deng Xiaoping, estate planning, financial independence, index card, invention of writing, job-hopping, land reform, Mason jar, new economy, risk tolerance, special economic zone

On different journeys, I saw people carrying an ancient TV set, a wicker basket of electric cables, a mud-encrusted bucket of stonemason’s tools, and a murderous-looking wrench a yard long. Once I saw a young woman with a six-foot-long broomstick handle. Bus stops were unmarked, and there were never signs showing the routes. You had to ask: Information was conveyed by word of mouth, as if we lived in ancient times before the invention of writing. Twice I bought city maps with bus schedules but both times the routes were already out of date; things were happening too quickly to be written down. The other passengers were as confused as I was, often calling out the names of stops that had already passed and making panicked departures. Wherever I went, I was asked directions. One afternoon, I puzzled over routes with a migrant woman, who asked me after a while, “Are you from Hubei?”


pages: 484 words: 120,507

The Last Lingua Franca: English Until the Return of Babel by Nicholas Ostler


barriers to entry, BRICs, British Empire, call centre,, European colonialism, Internet Archive, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, Machine translation of "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." to Russian and back, open economy, Republic of Letters, Scramble for Africa, statistical model, trade route, upwardly mobile

But the British and their kin are only the latest nations to distinguish themselves, and potentially their language, for links with international (and cross-linguistic) trade. By now, the historical record has enough such nations to form a few judgments about the careers and likely destinies of lingua-franca communities grown on this basis, the voluntary exchange of goods for profit. The recording of commercial transactions is accepted as one of the fundamental uses of literacy—even perhaps the original motive for the invention of writing— so in principle one might expect the history of such languages to be well documented. In practice, the rec ords of such languages—which would include Phoenician, Aramaic, Greek, Sabir (the eponymous Lingua Franca of the Mediterranean), Sogdian, Persian, Portuguese, Malay, Nahuatl, Mobile Trade Language, Chinook Jargon, Tupi (Lingua Geral do Brasil), Swahili, as well as French and English— if they were ever written down, have only tended to survive if they were noncommercial.


pages: 511 words: 148,310

Winning the War on War: The Decline of Armed Conflict Worldwide by Joshua S. Goldstein


Albert Einstein, Ayatollah Khomeini, Bartolomé de las Casas, Berlin Wall, Black Swan, colonial rule, cuban missile crisis, Doomsday Clock, failed state, immigration reform, income inequality, invention of writing, invisible hand, land reform, microcredit, Mikhail Gorbachev, purchasing power parity, RAND corporation, Steven Pinker, Tobin tax, unemployed young men, Winter of Discontent, Y2K

These Australians, an estimated 300,000 people, pursued an extremely simple hunting-gathering way of life, and were so isolated until Europeans arrived in the late eighteenth century that they did not even have bows and arrows. But “warfare, with spear, club, stone knife, and wooden shield (unlike the others, clearly a specialized fighting rather than a hunting device) had been widespread. . . .” Dating of fortifications at Jericho (6000 B.C.) and Catal Huyuk in Anatolia (7000 B.C.) show “that Neolithic men were waging organized warfare centuries before the invention of writing or the discovery of how to work metal.” Going back further, to Neanderthals who lived more than thirty thousand years ago, “more than 5 percent of . . . burials show violence of one form or another. This is about as high a rate of evidence for violent deaths as is found for much more recent skeletal samples from around the world. Since many violent deaths do not leave skeletal evidence, one can surmise that Neandertal deaths from warfare were about the same as the 5 to 25 percent for more recent foragers. . . .”


pages: 481 words: 125,946

What to Think About Machines That Think: Today's Leading Thinkers on the Age of Machine Intelligence by John Brockman


3D printing, agricultural Revolution, AI winter, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, algorithmic trading, artificial general intelligence, augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, bitcoin, blockchain, clean water, cognitive dissonance, Colonization of Mars, complexity theory, computer age, computer vision, constrained optimization, corporate personhood, cosmological principle, cryptocurrency, cuban missile crisis, Danny Hillis, dark matter, discrete time, Elon Musk, Emanuel Derman, endowment effect, epigenetics, Ernest Rutherford, experimental economics, Flash crash, friendly AI, Google Glasses, hive mind, income inequality, information trail, Internet of things, invention of writing, iterative process, Jaron Lanier, job automation, John von Neumann, Kevin Kelly, knowledge worker, loose coupling, microbiome, Moneyball by Michael Lewis explains big data, natural language processing, Network effects, Norbert Wiener, pattern recognition, Peter Singer: altruism, phenotype, planetary scale, Ray Kurzweil, recommendation engine, Republic of Letters, RFID, Richard Thaler, Rory Sutherland, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, self-driving car, sharing economy, Silicon Valley, Skype, smart contracts, speech recognition, statistical model, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, strong AI, Stuxnet, superintelligent machines, supervolcano, the scientific method, The Wisdom of Crowds, theory of mind, Thorstein Veblen, too big to fail, Turing machine, Turing test, Von Neumann architecture, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, Y2K

Such objects, however powerfully they may be enabled to elicit unmediated responses from us, will remain automata. The truly significant developments in thought will arise, as they always have, in a biotechnical symbiosis. This distinctively human story is easy to follow in the body (wheeled transport is one of many mechanical inventions that have enabled human skeletons to become lighter) but is probably just as present in the brain (the invention of writing as a form of external intellectual storage may have reduced selection pressure on some forms of innate memory capacity while stimulating others). In any case, the separate terms human and machine produce their own Denkraumverlust—a loss of thinking space encouraging us to accept as real an unreal dualism. Practically, it’s only the long-term evolution of information technology, from the earliest representations and symbolic constructs to the most advanced current artificial brain, that allows the advancement of thought.


pages: 286 words: 94,017

Future Shock by Alvin Toffler


Albert Einstein, Brownian motion, Buckminster Fuller, cognitive dissonance, Colonization of Mars, corporate governance, East Village, global village, Haight Ashbury, information retrieval, invention of agriculture, invention of movable type, invention of writing, Marshall McLuhan, Menlo Park, New Urbanism, post-industrial society, RAND corporation, the market place, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, urban renewal, Whole Earth Catalog

If technology, however, is to be regarded as a great engine, a mighty accelerator, then knowledge must be regarded as its fuel. And we thus come to the crux of the accelerative process in society, for the engine is being fed a richer and richer fuel every day. KNOWLEDGE AS FUEL The rate at which man has been storing up useful knowledge about himself and the universe has been spiraling upward for 10,000 years. The rate took a sharp upward leap with the invention of writing, but even so it remained painfully slow over centuries of time. The next great leap forward in knowledge—acquisition did not occur until the invention of movable type in the fifteenth century by Gutenberg and others. Prior to 1500, by the most optimistic estimates, Europe was producing books at a rate of 1000 titles per year. This means, give or take a bit, that it would take a full century to produce a library of 100,000 titles.


pages: 1,205 words: 308,891

Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World by Deirdre N. McCloskey


Admiral Zheng, agricultural Revolution, Albert Einstein, BRICs, British Empire, butterfly effect, Carmen Reinhart, clockwork universe, computer age, Corn Laws, dark matter, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, Donald Trump, Edward Lorenz: Chaos theory, European colonialism, experimental economics, financial innovation, Fractional reserve banking, full employment, George Akerlof, germ theory of disease, Gini coefficient, greed is good, Howard Zinn, income per capita, interchangeable parts, invention of agriculture, invention of air conditioning, invention of writing, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, James Watt: steam engine, John Maynard Keynes: technological unemployment, John Snow's cholera map, joint-stock company, Joseph Schumpeter, Kenneth Rogoff, knowledge economy, means of production, Naomi Klein, New Economic Geography, New Urbanism, purchasing power parity, rent-seeking, road to serfdom, Robert Gordon, Ronald Coase, Ronald Reagan, Scientific racism, Scramble for Africa, Shenzhen was a fishing village, Simon Kuznets, Slavoj Žižek, spinning jenny, Steven Pinker, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thorstein Veblen, too big to fail, total factor productivity, transaction costs, tulip mania, union organizing, Upton Sinclair, urban renewal, V2 rocket, very high income, working poor, World Values Survey, Yogi Berra

“We” need to persuade each other to take advantage of modern enrichment for something other than watching television and eating more Fritos and strutting about in a world of status-confirming consumption. We are ensnared, admittedly. But we want the ensnaring to be worthy of the best versions of our humanness, ensnared by Mozart or by the celebration of the mass or by a test match for the Ashes at Lord’s on a perfect London day in June. But that advice, to be nobly ensnared, has been a staple of world literature since the invention of writing. It has nothing much to do with the Great (and Liberating) Fact of modern growth, except that thanks to the Fact a vastly larger percentage of humanity is open to the advice. Which raises another, humanistic criticism of the recent literature on “happiness.” The literature pays no attention to reflections on happiness that are non-quantitative or non-mathematical. 64 (“Quantitative” and “mathematical,” by the way, are not the same thing; and often in the recent literature the two have no scientific connection, though trotted out separately to give an air of verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing tale).


The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology by Ray Kurzweil


additive manufacturing, AI winter, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, Albert Einstein, anthropic principle, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, artificial general intelligence, augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, Benoit Mandelbrot, Bill Joy: nanobots, bioinformatics, brain emulation, Brewster Kahle, Brownian motion, business intelligence,, call centre, carbon-based life, cellular automata, Claude Shannon: information theory, complexity theory, conceptual framework, Conway's Game of Life, cosmological constant, cosmological principle, cuban missile crisis, data acquisition, Dava Sobel, David Brooks, Dean Kamen, disintermediation, double helix, Douglas Hofstadter,, epigenetics, factory automation, friendly AI, George Gilder, Gödel, Escher, Bach, informal economy, information retrieval, invention of the telephone, invention of the telescope, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, iterative process, Jaron Lanier, Jeff Bezos, job automation, job satisfaction, John von Neumann, Kevin Kelly, Law of Accelerating Returns, life extension, linked data, Loebner Prize, Louis Pasteur, mandelbrot fractal, Mikhail Gorbachev, mouse model, Murray Gell-Mann, mutually assured destruction, natural language processing, Network effects, new economy, Norbert Wiener, oil shale / tar sands, optical character recognition, pattern recognition, phenotype, premature optimization, randomized controlled trial, Ray Kurzweil, remote working, reversible computing, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Rodney Brooks, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, semantic web, Silicon Valley, Singularitarianism, speech recognition, statistical model, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Stewart Brand, strong AI, superintelligent machines, technological singularity, Ted Kaczynski, telepresence, The Coming Technological Singularity, transaction costs, Turing machine, Turing test, Vernor Vinge, Y2K, Yogi Berra

That is one of many profound limitations of the biological paradigm we now use for our thinking, a limitation we will overcome in the Singularity. . . . on Work If every instrument could accomplish its own work, obeying or anticipating the will of others, if the shuttle could weave, and the pick touch the lyre, without a hand to guide them, chief workmen would not need servants, nor masters slaves. —ARISTOTLE Before the invention of writing, almost every insight was happening for the first time (at least to the knowledge of the small groups of humans involved). When you are at the beginning, everything is new. In our era, almost everything we do in the arts is done with awareness of what has been done before and before. In the early post-human era, things will be new again because anything that requires greater than human ability has not already been done by Homer or da Vinci or Shakespeare.


pages: 725 words: 221,514

Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber


Admiral Zheng, anti-communist, back-to-the-land, banks create money, Bretton Woods, British Empire, carried interest, cashless society, central bank independence, colonial rule, corporate governance, David Graeber, delayed gratification, dematerialisation, double entry bookkeeping, financial innovation, full employment, George Gilder, informal economy, invention of writing, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, joint-stock company, means of production, microcredit, money: store of value / unit of account / medium of exchange, moral hazard, oil shock, payday loans, place-making, Ponzi scheme, price stability, profit motive, reserve currency, Ronald Reagan, seigniorage, short selling, Silicon Valley, South Sea Bubble, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, too big to fail, transaction costs, transatlantic slave trade, transatlantic slave trade, tulip mania, upwardly mobile, urban decay, working poor

Promissory notes usually circulated within merchant guilds, or between inhabitants of the relatively well-off urban neighborhoods where people knew one another well enough to trust them to be accountable, but not so well that they could rely on one another for more traditional forms of mutual aid.6 We know even less about the marketplaces frequented by ordinary Mesopotamians, except that tavern-keepers operated on credit, and hawkers and operators of market stalls probably did as well.7 The origins of interest will forever remain obscure, since they preceded the invention of writing. The terminology for interest in most ancient languages is derived from some word for “offspring,” causing some to speculate that it originates in loans of livestock, but this seems a bit literal-minded. More likely, the first widespread interest-bearing loans were commercial: temples and palaces would forward wares to merchants and commercial agents, who would then trade them in nearby mountain kingdoms or on trading expeditions overseas.8 The practice is significant because it implies a fundamental lack of trust.


pages: 685 words: 203,949

The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by Daniel J. Levitin


airport security, Albert Einstein, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Anton Chekhov, big-box store, business process, call centre, Claude Shannon: information theory, cloud computing, cognitive bias, complexity theory, computer vision, conceptual framework, correlation does not imply causation, crowdsourcing, cuban missile crisis, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, delayed gratification, Donald Trump,, epigenetics, Eratosthenes, Exxon Valdez, framing effect, friendly fire, fundamental attribution error, Golden Gate Park, Google Glasses, haute cuisine, impulse control, index card, indoor plumbing, information retrieval, invention of writing, iterative process, jimmy wales, job satisfaction, Kickstarter, life extension, meta analysis, meta-analysis, more computing power than Apollo, Network effects, new economy, Nicholas Carr, optical character recognition, pattern recognition, phenotype, placebo effect, pre–internet, profit motive, randomized controlled trial, Skype, Snapchat, statistical model, Steve Jobs, supply-chain management, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, The Wisdom of Crowds, theory of mind, Turing test, ultimatum game

It was around 3000 BCE that our ancestors began to trade nomadic lifestyles for urban ones, setting up increasingly large cities and centers of commerce. The increased trade in these cities put a strain on individual merchants’ memories and so early writing became an important component of recording business transactions. Poetry, histories, war tactics, and instructions for building complex construction projects came later. Prior to the invention of writing, our ancestors had to rely on memory, sketches, or music to encode and preserve important information. Memory is fallible, of course, but not because of storage limitations so much as retrieval limitations. Some neuroscientists believe that nearly every conscious experience is stored somewhere in your brain; the hard part is finding it and pulling it out again. Sometimes the information that comes out is incomplete, distorted, or misleading.


When Cultures Collide: Leading Across Cultures by Richard D. Lewis


Ayatollah Khomeini, British Empire, business climate, business process, colonial exploitation, corporate governance, global village, haute cuisine, hiring and firing, invention of writing, Mahatma Gandhi, new economy, oil shale / tar sands, open borders, profit maximization, profit motive, Scramble for Africa, Silicon Valley, trade route, transaction costs, upwardly mobile, urban sprawl, women in the workforce

., the stability engendered by the development of agriculture led to the emergence of mud-brick dwellings constituting, in effect, the world’s first farming villages. These became in time the world’s first city–states. Wood, stone and metal were all rare or entirely absent in Mesopotamia; the raw material that epitomizes Mesopotamian civilization is clay. It is visible in the almost exclusively mud-brick architecture, and in the number and variety of clay figurines and pottery artifacts, none more important than the clay tablets that led to the invention of writing. 424 WHEN CULTURES COLLIDE Mesopotamia was inventive: the potter’s wheel, architectural techniques, irrigation, elaborate drainage and, above all, writing gave the region superiority over neighbors in terms of power and advantageous trade. The Sumerians, the original owners of writing, set up large, compact social organizations. Cuneiform spread to influence the writing systems of Egypt, Crete and the Indus Valley.


pages: 661 words: 169,298

Coming of Age in the Milky Way by Timothy Ferris


Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, Alfred Russel Wallace, anthropic principle, Arthur Eddington, Atahualpa, Cepheid variable, Chance favours the prepared mind, Commentariolus, cosmic abundance, cosmic microwave background, cosmological constant, cosmological principle, dark matter, delayed gratification, Edmond Halley, Eratosthenes, Ernest Rutherford, Gary Taubes, Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, Harvard Computers: women astronomers, Henri Poincaré, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, John Harrison: Longitude, Karl Jansky, Lao Tzu, Louis Pasteur, Magellanic Cloud, mandelbrot fractal, Menlo Park, Murray Gell-Mann, music of the spheres, planetary scale, retrograde motion, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Searching for Interstellar Communications, Solar eclipse in 1919, Stephen Hawking, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Thomas Malthus, Wilhelm Olbers

Also located is the remnant of the Vela supernova, which blazed forth in the southern skies some six to eight thousand years ago, casting long shadows across the plains of Eden. (The word Eden is Sumerian for “flatland,” and is thought to refer to the fertile, rock-free plains of the Tigris-Euphrates.) The Sumerians identified that supernova with the god Ea (in Egypt, Seshat), whom they credited with the invention of writing and agriculture. The Ea myth thus suggests that the creation of agriculture and the written word were attributed by the ancients to the incentive provided by the sight of an exploding star. 5 THE WORLD IN RETROGRADE Pure logical thinking cannot yield us any knowledge of the empirical world; all knowledge of reality starts from experience and ends in it…. Because Galileo saw this, and particularly because he drummed it into the scientific world, he is the father of modern physics—indeed, of modern science altogether.


pages: 846 words: 232,630

Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life by Daniel C. Dennett


Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, anthropic principle, buy low sell high, cellular automata, combinatorial explosion, complexity theory, computer age, conceptual framework, Conway's Game of Life, Danny Hillis, double helix, Douglas Hofstadter, Drosophila, finite state, Gödel, Escher, Bach, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, John von Neumann, Murray Gell-Mann, New Journalism, non-fiction novel, Peter Singer: altruism, phenotype, price mechanism, prisoner's dilemma, QWERTY keyboard, random walk, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Rodney Brooks, Schrödinger's Cat, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, strong AI, the scientific method, theory of mind, Thomas Malthus, Turing machine, Turing test

The peculiarities of human psychology (and human digestion, for that matter, as the Mornay-sauce example shows) are important eventually, but they don't stand in the way of a scientific analysis of the phenomenon in question. In fact, as Sperber himself has persuasively argued, we can use higher-level principles as levers to pry open lower-level secrets. Sperber points to the importance of the invention of writing, which initiated major changes in cultural evolution. He shows how to reason from facts about preliterate culture to facts about human psychology. (He prefers to think of cultural transmission along the lines of epidemiology rather than genetics, but the direction of his theory is very much the same as Dawkins' — to the point of near-indistinguishability when you think of what the Darwinian treatment of epidemiology looks like; see Williams and Nesse 1991) Here is Sperber's "Law of the Epidemiology of Representations": In an oral tradition, all cultural representations are easily remembered ones; hard to remember representations are forgotten, or transformed into more easily remembered ones, before reaching a cultural level of distribution.


pages: 743 words: 201,651

Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World by Timothy Garton Ash


A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, Affordable Care Act / Obamacare, Andrew Keen, Apple II, Ayatollah Khomeini, battle of ideas, Berlin Wall, bitcoin, British Empire, Cass Sunstein, Chelsea Manning, citizen journalism, Clapham omnibus, colonial rule, crowdsourcing, David Attenborough, don't be evil, Edward Snowden, Etonian, European colonialism, eurozone crisis, failed state, Fall of the Berlin Wall, Ferguson, Missouri, Filter Bubble, financial independence, Firefox, Galaxy Zoo, global village, index card, Internet Archive, invention of movable type, invention of writing, Jaron Lanier, jimmy wales, Julian Assange, Mark Zuckerberg, Marshall McLuhan, megacity, mutually assured destruction, national security letter, Netflix Prize, Nicholas Carr, obamacare, Peace of Westphalia, Peter Thiel, pre–internet, profit motive, RAND corporation, Ray Kurzweil, Ronald Reagan, semantic web, Silicon Valley, Simon Singh, Snapchat, social graph, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, The Wisdom of Crowds, Turing test, We are Anonymous. We are Legion, WikiLeaks, World Values Survey, Yom Kippur War

Key advances in the history of one individual communicating with another include the development of postal services, the telegraph, the telephone, the mobile phone, email and the smartphone. The smartphone has given access to the ‘mobile internet’, where one-to-one converges with one-to-many and all other variants, including many-to-many and many-to-one. One-to-many has a long prehistory in the invention of writing, inscribed on tablets of stone or clay (as were, for example, the edicts of the third-century-B.C.E. Indian emperor Ashoka), on paper (in China, around the second century C.E.), the handwritten scroll and, by the third century C.E., the codex—a handwritten book with pages you turn. A great leap forward along this line was the development of printing with movable type, which was originally invented in China in the eleventh century, using ceramic type, with metal type being developed in Korea some two centuries later.