Unrecognized Nobels in days of yore

The Nobel prize is highly regarded as a mark of achievement in the sciences and with good reason.  Some of the winners have found the most remarkable powers, forces and elements in our world and universe.  From physics to biology the singular new ideas have been hailed by all mankind.   Mr. Nobel you recall made his fortune that allowed him to fund the entire program from the weapons industry.  He invented TNT which caused a tremendous uptick in the destructive power of cannon, mines and the explosives used for mining.  Mining was the original inspiration for a more powerful explosive to allow for quicker and more thorough excavation using the explosives.  But as always there are the unintended consequences and it didn’t take more than a wink of the eye for the obvious military use of such a product to become evident.   We have been applauding the winners of the coveted prizes for more than a century regardless of its provenance.

Going back in time there are a number of geniuses that we will never know about but we reap the benefits of their advances to this day.  I am talking about going way back in history.  Back to when we were the crudest of animals and our folks probably grabbed any bird or small rodent they could catch with their hands and ate it raw.   Learning to control fire must have been the most significant advance.  Fire was around on occasion if only from lightening strikes.  Using that fire probably came from enjoying the warmth it produced.  But learning how to make fire when you wanted it, ah, that was spectacular!   Who was that first fellow who figured out you could create a fire with friction and some pieces of wood?  How did that idea strike him in the first place.   Really put yourself back in time.  You haven ‘t been to pre school or learned your numbers or ABC’s.  You have lived in squalor and only occasionally seen a fire.   What sparked that inspiration to test the wood with rubbing.  Later someone made a huge advance by using a bow with a loose string of leather wrapped around it and bowed it back and forth on another piece of wood as a base and that quickened the process substantially.  Would you have thought of that?  Would you have visualized how to engineer that bow?   Who would have ever thought you could take two rocks (flint) and bang them together and produce a spark that would ignite a fire?   It wouldn’t work with just any rock.  Those guys who tamed fire and made it portable sure deserve the Nobel.

My next contender would be in medicine.  Who figured out that meat would spoil and could make you sick?   Sometimes you could even die.  Someone learned that the cold would preserve the meat.  If you killed an animal in summer you couldn’t eat the meat after only a day or so but if the kill was made in the middle of winter it would last for days or perhaps even weeks.   How did he figure that out?   Much later some else developed the method of salting the meat to keep it and another soul learned to preserve the meat by smoking it.    Who would have thought of that?   Whoever they were they were damn bright in my book.

In the field of botany who first learned you could eat some plants but not others.  Someone had to try the first bite.  I doubt they all did it at the same time or else it might have been poisonous and we would have become extinct then and there.   Someone knew to test the plant with only a small portion first and watch the reaction.   They were primitive but not stupid.   Which berry to pick and when?   How about learning to move the plant and make your own garden.  That was a giant leap forward for mankind whoever that fellow was.   Give him his check.

I think that using a stick or rock as a weapon was probably instinctual.  I don’t think having a club was a particular mark of genius but going to the next level of weaponry surely was.  It is one thing to strike with a club but quite another intellectual exercise to build the first spear.  That takes imagination and engineering.  Especially the first guy who added a thrower to the mix to add power and distance to the throw and spear.   Simply adding a spearhead to the shaft was quite the engineering feat.  Why did he even think of that and then to make it work is remarkable.  He didn’t go to the Home Depot for his saw, planer, hammer, wire, pliers and other tools to rig his spear head to the shaft.   He first had to have the idea and the design in his head.   To imagine something you have never seen or heard of or could even envision is a stunning leap forward in thinking anytime.  Give him the plaque.

Some terrific engineer invented the bow and arrow.  It must have been like inventing the A bomb at the time.  You could stand off farther from your prey and thus protect yourself more from injury and still bring down the animal.   It took some engineering for sure but also an understanding of basic  laws of physics.   Imagine your mind if all you had even seen was a crude spear.   What sparked the idea of attaching a length of sinew to a stick and then using another stick as a projectile?    That was as bold at the time as believing a man could fly to the moon.

We owe much to our ancestors.   They crossed paths and endured hardships we can’t even imagine and through it all they improved.  I don’t have any idea how they would have measured on a modern IQ test but they rate on my appreciation scale.   So to those unknown benefactors I tip my hat and say “Well done”.

Ok, the Big Three are vital to our economy.  They have costs that are too high and are non-competitive.  They require and have already received a portion of a Federal bailout with much more to come.   The Government is controlling them in everything but name and now the same Government decrees that they must build new cars that are even more expensive and that any survey will  tell you the average consumer doesn’t want.   The average Joe could tell Congress now that they need to be building cheaper cars if they want to compete and survive.   Is a more expensive car the right direction for that industry?   Of course, not to worry, YOU won’t have to pay for it, the money will come from the Government!   There are those who still don’t get it that the Government only gets it dough from us.

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Filed under Culture, government, history

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