Tag Archives: history

Thinking up the wheel

Pierre Menard is a French writer who tackles the writing of Don Quixote well over the beginning of the 20th century. He could have simply adapted the work to his ongoing reality, but he did differently. His work copies exactly a number of pages of the original book. That is absolutely amazing, since the Cervantes’s Quixote was written around 1600, while the Menard’s one was written in modern times. The meaning of his words is, thus, another.

This fiction was made up by Jorge Luis Borges, and it illustrates how a particular invention can take different applications along the history. Sometimes the humans have forsaken inventions because the society had found disadvantages or incoherencies on them. There are a lot of examples, namely the banning of firearms in Medieval Japan, although they had attained an important development within the archipelago. However, when Japan readopted the fire weapons later they still served as a way to kill people, and there was not another issue involved in their running.

Let’s go back to Pierre Menard’s Quixote. Have there ever been inventions which have been retrieved for completely different applications? The answer is yes, and the best example I can find is the wheel. I figure out that both the ancient Mesopotamian craftsmen who made pottery and their warrior colleagues who used to fight with chariots wouldn’t have imagined the current usages of the wheel. Neither the clocks mechanism nor the wheelchairs were original uses of the wheel, let alone the weights we insert into the barbells. Similarly, some eggheads were overwhelmed by the naked architecture of Le Corbusier and they blamed him for forgetting the teachings of the Ancient Times. They couldn’t compare the Greek’s Parthenon with his buildings, although the temple has served as a model to them. The architectural elements have been reinvented. Hence, the whole meaning was another.

Along the centuries, the academic architecture has copied the same models among a not too wide range of styles. However, societies have created a lot of different elements and devices which were useful to solve common problems. For instance, mud bricks were useful where there was a lack of stone blocks. Nowadays we can order stone almost wherever we want to due to the globalization, so the initial drawback doesn’t exist anymore.

Incidentally, we are talking about thinking up the wheel again and writing Don Quixote one more time. Regarding mud bricks, certainly they aren’t needed to build houses in the first world, but now we know they own an astonishing quirk as for keeping thermal comfort. This fact could have not been primordial centuries ago, since there were more important problems to deal with. Lots of traditional solutions are awaiting their rediscovery. Probably, we can’t even imagine how valuable most of them could be in the current world.