Re: retrograde technologies?

Chuck Kuecker (
Sat, 29 May 1999 08:23:47 -0500

At 10:58 PM 5/28/99 -0700, you wrote:
>> Lee Daniel Crocker wrote: ... It is idle fantasy to
>> imagine that (1) technology can move backwards, ...
>The latest Star Wars episode made me wonder: can technology
>go backwards? They seemed to imply technology was going
>violently aft. Can anyone think of an example, now or in any time
>past, where a society had it and later didn't? Descended from
>enlightenment to superstition? Would dark ages Europe qualify? spike

Pre-Christian societies (Greeks) had knowledge of steam power, (Babylonians?) electricity (old electroplating plating batteries found in ruins) and that the Earth was round and not the center of the universe. Most of this was lost in the rise of Western civilization and the Dark Ages. Does it matter that the technology was used primarily as special effects in temples?

If we were to suffer a planetary disaster that killed off most of our technicians and scientists, modern mass production and microelectronics would become tales of a lost civilization, as no one person could resurrect, for instance, even a small semiconductor fab by himself. Our civilization is only robust when you consider the pool of resources made available by the billions of people out there, and the thousands of different companies competing to make product. A few ill-placed meteor strikes could indeed send us back twenty or thirty years, effectively.

This does not imply that the actual knowledge is lost - just that the know-how to make the knowledge into product is missing. The field-effect transistor was known in the early years of the 20th century as a possibility, to physicists, as was nuclear fission, but until the infrastructure developed to make either viable, they remained dreams.

Chuck Kuecker