Notes

This book is aimed at general readers. For those who happen to be deeply knowledgeable in any of the many fields that I vastly oversimplify to write it, I can only imagine the sharp intakes of breath, the arched eyebrows, the tapping fingers. In Reflections on the Revolution in France, Edmund Burke wrote that, “The less inquiring receive [their opinions] from an authority, which those whom Providence dooms to live on trust need not be ashamed to rely on.” For those who choose not to live on trust, the following notes may suffice as guides into the literature and to suggest some of the nuances that had to be elided in the interests of a smoother story for general readers. G. J. E. R.

In the book, measures are American-style not metric, number names are American-style not European (a billion is a thousand million; a trillion is a million million), names are Americanized (for example, corn not maize, railroad not railway, gasoline not petrol, and so on), and complexities are glossed. But here in the notes, everything follows scientific convention.

Preface: Seeing the Swarm


[Mandeville and Smith]
The Fable of the Bees, or Private Vices, Publick Benefits, Bernard de Mandeville, 1714, edited by Phillip Harth, Pelican, 1970. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith, Edwin Cannan Edition, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1952.

Today, Smith may be the most famous to broach such ideas, but he wasn’t the first, although today he’s recognized as the first to set them in the context of an economic theory. Also, Mandeville was not Smith’s only precursor. Others, particularly those involved in the Scottish Enlightenment, added various insights before, or around the same time as Smith, notably: David Hume, Adam Ferguson, Josiah Tucker, Dugald Stewart, Joseph Butler (Bishop of Durham), Anthony Ashley-Cooper (third Earl of Shaftesbury), and Francis Hutcheson.

For example, in 1767 Ferguson wrote that, “Mankind, in following the present sense of their minds, in striving to remove inconveniencies, or to gain apparent and contiguous advantages, arrive at ends which even their imagination could not anticipate; and pass on, like other animals, in the track of their nature, without perceiving its end. He who first said, ‘I will appropriate this field: I will leave it to my heirs;’ did not perceive, that he was laying the foundation of civil laws and political establishments. He who first ranged himself under a leader, did not perceive, that he was setting the example of a permanent subordination, under the pretence of which, the rapacious were to seize his possessions, and the arrogant to lay claim to his service.

Men, in general, are sufficiently disposed to occupy themselves in forming projects and schemes: but he who would scheme and project for others, will find an opponent in every person who is disposed to scheme for himself. Like the winds, that come we know not whence, and blow whithersoever they list, the forms of society are derived from an obscure and distant origin; they arise, long before the date of philosophy, from the instincts, not from the speculations, of men. The croud of mankind, are directed in their establishments and measures, by the circumstances in which they are placed; and seldom are turned from their way, to follow the plan of any single projector.

Every step and every movement of the multitude, even in what are termed enlightened ages, are made with equal blindness to the future; and nations stumble upon establishments, which are indeed the result of human action, but not the execution of any human design.”

An Essay on the History of Civil Society, Adam Ferguson, 1767, Duncan Forbes (editor), Edinburgh University Press, 1966, page 122.

Ferguson’s last line is a secular reformulation of an age-old religious thought (that is, ‘divine providence,’ which goes back at least as far as five centuries before, to Thomas Aquinas). His later paragraphs expand on that. In essence, he argued that to explain the human equation, we need not introduce the divine. Then, if that was accepted, he argued that we also didn’t need the next level down proxies of the divine: Great Heroes who can foresee all possible outcomes and force a design that will lead to the ‘best’ outcome far into the future. In essence, he argued that nobody can foretell the future—the contingency of events is too complex—however, after the fact we inevitably look back and assume that at the beginning of things someone must have done so, because how else could things have worked out the way they did?

Thus in some serious sense, the name ‘spontaneous order’ is wrong, because there’s nothing ‘spontaneous’ about it. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. The core idea is this: Every human practice, whether it be in language, or law, or politics, or economics, or whatever, grew over very long periods, in very small steps, as each of us gradually changed what we did, and others copied us, discarding anything that didn’t seem to work. But we didn’t, or couldn’t, copy exactly, nor could we forsee what would happen after enough of us copied some new thing. The resulting structure resists change not because we planned it so but because many of its parts would support each other. Anything that didn’t would get whittled away over time. We call the structure ‘spontaneous order’ only when we’re look at whatever resulted long after all that has happened and, surprised by the result because we can’t name any particular originator, we’re trying to figure out where that order came from. Thus, ‘spontaneous order’ really means ‘unplanned order.’ It is in no wise ‘spontaneous.’

The idea of spontaneous order amounts to saying that just because something is intricate needn’t mean that it must have been designed. A century before Darwin, that was a disquieting idea—it was disquieting even in Darwin’s time—and, apparently, even today. Broadly speaking: Ferguson applied the idea of spontaneous order to language, Smith to economics, Hume to law, but they all applied it to politics and government. Nor can it be said that any of those writers had today’s notions of spontaneous network order in mind. Mandeville, for example, wasn’t seriously arguing that we are like bees, but more that our usual explanations of why we do what we do are highly questionable. For instance, see: “The Role of Mandeville’s Bee Analogy in ‘The Grumbling Hive’,” W. J. Farrell, Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, 25(3):511-527, 1985.

Their focus (and the focus, even today, of nearly all economists) is that of ‘betterment.’ Mandeville was more satiric and pessimistic than Smith or other Enlightenment philosophers, who were more usually sanguine and theistic. Mandeville was attacked strongly, primarily because he argued that ‘betterment’ happened largely because of selfish reasons. Many writers, particularly clergy, didn’t like that—for example, William Law, Richard Fiddes, John Dennis, George Bluet, George Berkeley, Alexander Pope, Samuel Richardson, and Henry Fielding. However, the Englightenment idea of ‘betterment’ still persists today. (It’s related to, and descended from, Aristotle’s ‘Great Chain of Being.’) These days it’s primarily used as justification for the ‘free market.’

For example, here’s a Nobel prize-winning proponent of the idea of spontaneous order in economics: “To understand our civilisation, one must appreciate that the extended order resulted not from human design or intention but spontaneously: it arose from unintentionally conforming to certain traditional and largely moral practices.” The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism, F. A Hayek, University of Chicago Press, 1988, page 6.

The text, however, states no assumption that all spontaneous order is necessarily ‘good,’ ‘beneficial,’ ‘progressive,’ ‘civilizing,’ or any of the other words that we often use to say that we approve of something. The text’s main purpose is to show that spontaneous order exists in our species, and that it appears to be becoming more dominant, and then to explain some of the network mechanisms by which it comes to exist and by which it seems to be becoming more dominant. Whether those group arrangements are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ aren’t part of this book.

The following paper extract states this book’s position well: “[This paper asks] why the implications of new goods have not more extensively been explored, especially given that the basic economic issues were identified 150 years ago. The mathematical difficulty of modeling new goods has no doubt been part of the problem. An equally, if not more important stumbling block has been the deep philosophical resistance that humans feel toward the unavoidable logical consequence of assuming that genuinely new things can happen and could have happened at every date in the past. We are forced to admit that the world as we know it is the result of a long string of chance outcomes....

Once we admit that there is room for newness—that there are vastly more conceivable possibilites than realized outcomes—we must confront the fact that there is no special logic behind the world we inhabit, no particular justification for why things are the way they are. Any number of arbitrarily small peturbations along the way could have made the world as we know it turn out very differently.”

“New goods, old theory, and the welfare costs of trade restrictions,” P. Romer, Journal of Development Economics, 43(1):5-38, 1994. Paul Romer is the author of seminal work on new growth theory in economics. For example: “Endogenous Technological Change,” P. M. Romer, Journal of Political Economy, 98(5-2):S71-S102, 1990.

[traffic jams]
From the point of view of physics, a traffic clot is similar to a shockwave (like if we pinch then release a garden hose while watering something, a shockwave propagates backward up the hose). “Three-phase traffic theory and two-phase models with a fundamental diagram in the light of empirical stylized facts,” M. Treiber, A. Kesting, D. Helbing, Transportation Research Part B, 44(8-9):983-1000, 2010. “Self-sustained nonlinear waves in traffic flow,” M. R. Flynn, A. R. Kasimov, J.-C. Nave, R. R. Rosales, B. Seibold, Physical Review E, 79(5):056113, 2009. “Derivation of non-local macroscopic traffic equations and consistent traffic pressures from microscopic car-following models,” D. Helbing, European Physical Journal B, 69(4):539-548, 2009. “Traffic jams without bottlenecks--—experimental evidence for the physical mechanism of the formation of a jam,” Y. Sugiyama, M. Fukui, M. Kikuchi, K. Hasebe, A. Nakayama, K. Nishinari, S. Tadaki, S. Yukawa, New Journal of Physics, 10(3), 033001, 2008. DOI:10.1088/1367-2630/10/3/033001. “Traffic Flow Theory,” S. Maerivoet, B. De Moor, Traffic, 81(2):301-390, 2005. The Physics of Traffic: Empirical Freeway Pattern Features, Engineering Applications, and Theory, Boris S. Kerner, Springer, 2004. Turtles, Termites, and Traffic Jams: Explorations in Massively Parallel Microworlds, Mitchel Resnick, MIT press, 1994, pages 68-74.
[some termite nests can live for decades]
Principally that’s those termite species that don’t live in their food (like the wood-dwelling termites, which live inside a piece of wood), such as Mastotermitidae, most Rhinotermitidae, Serritermitidae, and Termitidae, which build nests. “The ecology of social evolution in termites,” J. Korb, in Ecology of Social Evolution, Judith Korb and Jürgen Heinze (editors), Springer-Verlag, 2008, pages 151-174.
[complex networks]
In economics, that notion grew into the idea of spontaneous order; in biology, it grew into the idea of a superorganism; in computer science, it grew into complex adaptive systems; in physics it grew into complex systems; in planning, it grew into system dynamics; in philosophy, it grew into emergence. All amount to saying that the whole needn’t be the sum of its parts. That can happen when many small things, each following their own rules, interact over time. It might then make sense to talk about a single large thing as opposed to the several small things that compose it, even if the large thing is unintended, perhaps even unnoticed. But what happens if those small things are us?

The study of complex networks is both very old and very new. It’s very old in that many early thinkers have pointed out that gestalts don’t always work the way we expect. It’s very new in that the field studying it formally, complex systems theory, is only about 30 years old. Today it goes by many names (for example: complex adaptive systems, complexity theory, complex network science, self-organizing systems, non-linear dynamical systems theory). It studies how relationships between parts of a system give rise to the system’s self-organizing behaviors. It’s interdisciplinary, with influences from economics, physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, computer science, and mathematics, as well as more specialized fields like entomology, climatology, geology, ecology, neuroscience, molecular biology, immunology, game theory, control theory, cognitive science, artificial intelligence, and artificial life.

It’s growing now because our computers have finally grown strong enough for us to use them to see macroscale patterns that were too big for us to see before. It’s also growing now because we finally know enough to realize that understanding how the parts of a complex network interact is just as important as understanding the parts themselves. And it’s growing now that we realize that an entomologist studying termites may have something to say to a molecular biologist studying mitochondria, who may have something to say to a climatologist studying tornadoes, who may have something to say to a sociologist studying city planning.

It’s still a magpie of a science. It steals ideas from condensed matter physics, biochemistry, molecular biology, embryology, entomology, ecology, evolutionary theory, neuroscience, mathematics, and economics. It feathers its nest with that hodge-podge of ideas, trying to find what’s common among them. It’s hoping to answer just one central question: how does order arise out of chaos? It assumes that there’s similarity of origin regardless of whether that order is in cities or crayfish or economies or railway companies. It’s still flailing around in the dark, but the vague outlines of a coherent theory may not be far off. And that theory, if proven true, may one day imply testable things about our future. However, today even the very definition of the word ‘complex’ is unresolved. We don’t yet have a widely accepted way to measure the ‘complexity’ of a system. So we still don’t have a uniform definition of a ‘complex system.’ So it’s still far from a real science.

Our knowledge base is now growing so fast that in recent decades every new scientific field goes through the same cycle. First a few explorers find something of interest. Then there’s a feeding frenzy as many prospectors join the gold rush. After a while, interest wanes as the same prospectors see that the pot of gold is still distant. That speed-up is a side-effect of our growing knowledge base, but the cycle itself is very old. It doesn’t much matter whether it’s in mining or science, finance or the stock market. We behave exactly the same way, everywhere and everywhen. In the last century that cycle has played out in systems theory, cybernetics, information theory, game theory, catastrophe theory, fractal geometry, and chaos theory. It’s now playing out in complex systems. Each wave washes up some new and pretty shell on the shoreline of our knowledge, but it’s hard to build those shells into a coherent picture. Too much is still missing.

For some background, see: “Quantifying Self-Organization with Optimal Predictors,” C. R. Shalizi, K. L. Shalizi, R. Haslinger, Physical Review Letters, 93(11):118701, 2004. Emergence: From Chaos to Order, John Holland, Perseus Books Group, 1999. Hierarchical Structures and Scaling in Physics, Remo Badii and Antonio Politi, Cambridge University Press, 1997. Hidden Order: How Adaptation Builds Complexity, John Holland, Addison-Wesley, 1996. Emergent Evolution: Qualitative Novelty and the Levels of Reality, David Blitz, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1992.

[humanity as an organism]
That’s hardly an original thought, at least for subgroups of our species. For example, Herbert Spencer wrote the following in 1876:

“Thus we consistently regard a society as an entity, because, though formed of discrete units, a certain concreteness in the aggregate of them is implied by the general persistence of the arrangements among them throughout the area occupied. And it is this trait which yields our idea of a society. For, withholding the name from an ever-changing cluster such as primitive men form, we apply it only where some constancy in the distribution of parts has resulted from settled life.

But now, regarding a society as a thing, what kind of thing must we call it? It seems totally unlike every object with which our senses acquaint us. Any likeness it may possibly have to other objects, cannot be manifest to perception, but can be discerned only by reason. If the constant relations among its parts make it an entity; the question arises whether these constant relations among its parts are akin to the constant relations among the parts of other entities. Between a society and anything else, the only conceivable resemblance must be one due to parallelism of principle in the arrangement of components.

The Principles of Sociology, Volume I: Herbert Spencer, 1885, D. Appleton and Company, Third Edition, 1916, page 448.

Then followed an entire chapter examining the question (Volume I, Part II, Chapter 2). Spencer primarily saw his ‘super-organism’ as an analogy. He intended to point out that a ‘society’ is different from a set of random individuals, but also different from a single organic entity.

Chapter 1. Seeds of the Future: Food


[Brecht quote]
The Threepenny Opera. Act II, Scene VI.

Autocatalytic Runaway

[hunting and gathering at least 1.8 million years old]
Evidence dates the combination back at least to Homo ergaster, via its use of various hand-axes and cleavers, and the presence of charred animal bones, strongly suggesting hunting, or at least butchery, followed by roasting, in Africa during the late Pliocene. “Human Evolution,” H. M. McHenry, in Evolution: The First Four Billion Years, Michael Ruse (editor), Harvard University Press, 2009, pages 256-280.
[why choose 11,600 years ago as a trigger point?]
The story is far more complicated than the text makes it seem. For example, precursors to settlement and farming occurred during the last interglacial stadial before the true end of the ice age, with the Natufian culture, starting around 14,300 years ago. Then came a sharp cooling period called the Younger Dryas. It lasted from around 12,800 years ago to about 11,600 years ago. It may have been caused by the sudden release of a huge ice-pent lake of freshwater in North America into the North Atlantic, thereby slowing the Gulf Stream, and temporarily cooling the planet for a millennium or so. The subsequent warming trend, peaking about six millennia ago, is called the Holocene Maximum, the hottest we’ve been in our recent history. After the Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000-5,000 BC, Steven Mithen, Harvard University Press, 2003, Chapter 5. For some of the collapses known to be linked to climate change, see: “What Drives Societal Collapse?,” H. Weiss, R. S. Bradley, Science, 291(5504):609-610, 2001. See also: “Climate and the collapse of Mayan civilization,” G. H. Haug, D. Günther, L. C. Peterson, D. M. Sigman, K. A. Hughen, B. Aeschlimann, Science, 299(5613):1731-1735, 2003.

The Younger Dryas is important both because it shows that earth’s climate can sometimes change suddenly (in geologic terms) and because we started farming sometime within it, at least as far as the domestication of emmer wheat in southwest Asia is concerned. Such so-called ‘D-O events’ (named by Wallace Broecker after the Danish climatologist Willi Dansgaard and the Swiss geophysicist Hans Oeschger, who pioneered the research into the phenomenon in the early 1980s) are now garnering increased attention in climatology. A Brain for all Seasons: Human Evolution and Abrupt Climate Change, William H. Calvin University of Chicago Press, 2002, page 228. “Sudden climate transitions during the Quaternary,” J. Adams, M. Maslin, E. Thomas, Progress in Physical Geography, 23(1):1-36, 1999. “Evidence for General Instability of Past Climate From a 250-kyr Ice Core,” W. Dansgaard, S. J. Johnsen, H. B. Clausen, D. Dahl-Jensen, N. S. Gundestrup, C. U. Hammer, C. S. Hvidberg, J. P. Steffensen, A. E. Sveinbjörnsdottir, J. Jouzel, G. Bond, Nature, 364(6434):218-220, 1993. “One thousand centuries of climatic record from Camp Century on the Greenland ice sheet,” W. Dansgaard, S. J. Johnsen, J. Moller, C. C. Langway, Jr., Science, 166(3903):377-381, 1969.

[for some unknown reason...]
We don’t know why our first bands decided to settle. That may have to do with our slowly rising population, the end of the last ice age, and, perhaps (but unlikely), changes in our brain. Likely it was a complex process taking millennia. Perhaps as the ice retreated the drying climate forced us to stay near rivers. Or perhaps the reverse happened since the melting ice raised sea level by 90 meters (about 300 feet), which would have drowned our lowlying camps and forced our tribes into the hills. Or maybe there was especially good wood or stone or game, and an excellent cave, thereabouts. Or perhaps the geography was especially good in relation to the roaming ranges of other nomad tribes. Or maybe a plague forced some of us to stop roaming. Or perhaps a severe drought drove most game away. It’s even possible that our slowly rising population led to overhunting until things got so bad that we started eating grass all the time. It’s tantalizing, for example, that by 11,000 years ago we’d already colonized most of the world that we could reach. So maybe our population had by then maximized, given our technology of the time, and food competition was thus growing. We don’t know. We’re also, likely, still missing a lot of data. For instance, our first cultivations may have happened millennia before the ones we’ve found so far, but they may have been in low-lying regions. If so, they would today be lost to us as the oceans rose with the melting ice. Perhaps, though, it was because the mutant grass seeds were so easy to harvest, and (at least in the Levant) so densely concentrated. “Yield stability: an agronomic perspective on the origin of Near Eastern agriculture,” S. Abbo, S. Lev-Yadun, A. Gopher, Vegetation History and Archaeobotany, 19(2):143-150, 2010. “From Foraging To Farming: Explaining The Neolithic Revolution,” J. L. Weisdorf, Journal of Economic Surveys, 19(4):561-586, 2005. First Farmers: The Origins of Agricultural Societies, Peter Bellwood, Blackwell Publishing, 2005. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond, W. W. Norton, 1997. The Origins and Spread of Agriculture and Pastoralism in Eurasia, David R. Harris (editor), Smithsonian Books, 1996. Last Hunters, First Farmers: New Perspectives on the Prehistoric Transition to Agriculture, T. Douglas Price and Anne Birgitte Gebauer (editors), School of American Research, 1995.
[ice-age settlements]
Our first known structures predate the end of the ice age by about 3,000 years. At that time the earth briefly warmed out of its latest long cold spell and we started to settle, but we abandoned those settlements when the climate chilled again. In general, before farming, we had some relatively large settlements, but all occurred near coasts or along rivers with large and regular food supplies—oyster beds or salmon runs are typical. But sedentism (staying in one place in large numbers) is not the same as farming (long-term cultivation of the land or oceans). Also, recent excavations have found large sites that probably weren’t settlements, but were some form of communal gathering places, which weren’t near large food supplies. One very important one is Göbekli Tepe, in south-eastern Turkey. Another one is ’Wadi Faynan 16 in southern Jordan. At least one site, Jerf el Ahmar in norther Syria, is extra-special, in that it both started in the ice age and continued into the Holocene, and it gave rise to monumental structures (although they were mainly settlements). “The role of cult and feasting in the emergence of Neolithic communities. New evidence from Göbekli Tepe, south-eastern Turkey,” O. Dietrich, M. Heun, J. Notroff, K. Schmidt, M. Zarnkow, Antiquity, 86(333):674–695, 2012. “An 11 600 year-old communal structure from the Neolithic of southern Jordan,” S. J. Mithen, W. Finlayson, S. Smith, E. Jenkins, M. Najjar, D. Maričević, Antiquity, 85(328):350-364, 2011. “New light on Neolithic revolution in south-west Asia,” T. Watkins, Antiquity, 84(325):621-634, 2010. The Agricultural Revolution in Prehistory: Why Did Foragers Become Farmers? Graeme Barker, Oxford University Press, 2009. First Farmers: The Origins of Agricultural Societies, Peter S. Bellwood, Wiley-Blackwell, 2005. After the Ice: a Global Human History 20,000-5000 BC, Steven Mithen, Harvard University Press, 2003. Neanderthals, Bandits & Farmers: How Agriculture Really Began, Colin Tudge, Yale University Press, 1998. “Jerf el-Ahmar, un nouveau site de l’horizon PPNA sur le moyen Eurprate Syriean,” D. Stordeur, D. Helmer, G. Wilcox, Bulletin de la Société Préhistorique Française, 94(2):282—285, 1997.
[timing of early farming]
Debate continues about the exact timing and length of various stages of our neolithic revolution. Currently, the most divisive period is the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA), a period of about a millennium where it’s not clear whether we continued our previous hunter-gatherer habits except with more reliance on wild grasses, or whether we settled down but only harvested wild grass varieties. Some recent papers propose a theory of, at least, Near East obligate farming as a result of a mixing of trade routes and early settlement, with subsequent spreading of both in a viable ‘neolithic package’ of technologies and lifestyles and trade arrangements. (The term ‘neolithic package’ originated with Gordon Childe.) Another question is about the purpose of cereals themselves. Instead of cultivating (or at least simply harvesting) them for bread, some argue that we may have been doing so for beer. One reason being that barley naturally ferments. Another possible reason might be that consuming alcohol might be part of ritual, which might be an aid to tribal bonding. It’s clear, though, that certainly by 10,400 years ago we had settled down in at least a few mountain villages in today’s Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, Syria, Turkey, and Cyprus, and had begun actively cultivating cereals. “The Roots of Cultivation in Southwestern Asia,” G. Willcox, Science, 341(6141):39-40, 2013. “Emergence of Agriculture in the Foothills of the Zagros Mountains of Iran,” S. Riehl, M. Zeidi, N. J. Conard, Science, 341(6141):65-67, 2013. “Searching for the origins of arable weeds in the Near East,” G. Willcox, Vegetation History and Archaeobotany, 21(2):163-167, 2012. “Large-scale cereal processing before domestication during the tenth millennium BC cal. in northern Syria,” G. Willcox, D. Stordeur, Antiquity, 86(331):99-114, 2012. Origins and Spread of Agriculture in SW Asia and Europe: Archaeobotanical Investigations of Neolithic Plant Economies, W. S. Colledge, J. Conolly, and S. J. Shennnan (editors), University College London Press, 2005.
[disease killed all the goats]
That’s just a guess, however perhaps not an entirely silly one. Hard evidence places goat domestication first at Ganj Dareh, in the Zagros mountains of today’s Iran, only a millennium or so into the future from 11,600 years ago. “The Initial Domestication of Goats (Capra hircus) in the Zagros Mountains 10,000 years ago.” M. A. Zeder, B. Hesse, Science, 287(5461):2254-2257, 2000. “Age, Sex, and Old Goats,” C. W. Marean, Science, 287(5461):2174-2175, 2000.

It’s not impossible that some goats were domesticated much earlier. Mitochrondrial evidence suggests that domestication events for goats were complex and geographically spread out. It seems likely that goats traveled great distances, perhaps by being herded, yet still intermixed with local populations. “Multiple Maternal Origins and Weak Phylogeographic Structure in Domestic Goats,” G. Luikart, L. Gielly, L. Excoffier, J.-D. Vigne, J. Bouvet, P. Taberlet, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 98(10):5927-5932, 2001. “Livestock genetic origins: Goats buck the trend,” D. E. MacHugh, D. G. Bradley, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 98(10):5382-5384, 2001.

[first alcohol]
It’s a stretch to imagine that we had beer as early as 11 millennia ago, but we probably did have it by 10 millennia ago in Turkey, and wine by nine millennia ago in at least China and in Iran. We almost surely had other brain-altering substances well before that as well. “The role of cult and feasting in the emergence of Neolithic communities. New evidence from Göbekli Tepe, south-eastern Turkey,” O. Dietrich, M. Heun, J. Notroff, K. Schmidt, M. Zarnkow, Antiquity, 86(333):674–695, 2012. “Genetic characterization and relationships of traditional grape cultivars from Transcaucasia and Anatolia,” J. F. Vouillamoz, P. E. McGovern, A. Ergul, G. Söylemezoglu, G. Tevzadze, M. S. Grando, Plant Genetic Resources: Characterization & Utilization, 4(2):144-158, 2006. “Fermented Beverages of Pre- and Proto-Historic China,” P. E. McGovern, J. Zhang, J. Tang, Z. Zhang, G. R. Hall, R. A. Moreau, A. Nuñez, E. D. Butrym, M. P. Richards, C.-S. Wang, G. Cheng, Z. Zhao, C. Wang, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 101(51):17593-17598, 2004.
[submerged camp]
The camp is now called Ohalo II. “The broad spectrum revisited: Evidence from plant remains,” E. Weiss, W. Wetterstrom, D. Nadel, O. Bar-Yosef, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 101(26):9551-9555, 2004.
[Dhra’]
Description of its early and later granaries is here: “Evidence for food storage and predomestication granaries 11,000 years ago in the Jordan Valley,” I. Kuijta, W. Finlayson, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 106(27):10966-10970, 2009. Its population estimates are given here: “Demography and Storage Systems During the Southern Levantine Neolithic Demographic Transition,” I. Kuijta, in The Neolithic Demographic Transition and Its Consequences, Jean-Pierre Bocquet-Appel and Ofer Bar-Yosef (editors), Springer, 2008, pages 287-313.
[Cyprus]
“First wave of cultivators spread to Cyprus at least 10,600 y ago,” J. D. Vigne, F. Briois, A. Zazzo, G. Willcox, T. Cucchi, S. Thiébault, I. Carrère, Y. Franel, R. Touquet, C. Martin, C. Moreau, C. Comby, J. Guilaine, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 109(22):8445-8449, 2012.
[Jarmo]
Prehistoric Archeology Along the Zagros Flanks, Linda S. Braidwood, Robert J. Braidwood, Bruce howe, Charles A. Reed, and Patty Jo Watson (editors), The University of Chicago Oriental Institute Publications, 1983.
[Shanidar Cave]
The Proto-Neolithic Cemetery in Shanidar Cave, Ralph S. Solecki, Rose L. Solecki, and Anagnostis P. Agelarakis, Texas A&M University Press, 2004.
[Çatal Höyük]
“The early management of cattle (Bos taurus) in Neolithic central Anatolia,” B. S. Arbuckle, C. A. Makarewicz, Antiquity< 83(321):669–686, 2009. The Leopard’s Tale: Revealing the Mysteries of Çatalhöyük, Ian Hodder, Thames & Hudson, 2006. After the Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000-5,000 BC, Steven Mithen, Harvard University Press, 2003, Chapter 11. “Subsistence economy in Central Anatolia during the Neolithic: the archaeobotanical evidence,” E. Asouti, A. Fairbairn, and “Animal Remains from the Central Anatolian Neolithic,” L. Martin, N. Russell, D. Carruthers, in The Neolithic of Central Anatolia: Internal Developments and External Relations during the 9th-6th Millennia cal. BC, Frédéric Gérard and Laurens Thissen (editors), Ege Yayinlari, pages 181-192 and pages 193-216, 2002.
[it’s only a sketch...]
The text’s sketch of a possible path to farming is dramatized for brevity and clarity. But there are many unanswered questions. Why then, and not a millennium earlier? Why not somewhere else and ten millennia earlier? Or later? There’s so much that we today don’t know about those particular 2,600 or so years and what must have mattered to us across that particular stretch of time. But there’s one thing that may have mattered a great deal—genetic changes in wheat.

Step back once again to 11,600 years ago. Unlike in the dramatized sketch in the text, we’re intimately familiar with everything that we see in our foraging cycle, for we eat nearly anything that can’t eat us first. The wheat variant we come across is rare around the planet, but in this time and place, it would be no surprise to us. What’s new is that for some reason we start storing its seeds. Why we choose to store anything at all at this particular time is unknown. But of all the seeds that we could have chosen, we probably choose these particular ones because their seeds happen to be a little bigger than other grass seeds. It would make sense for us to gather them rather than other seeds. Also, although most of their stalks shatter as they ripen—so that their seeds fall to the ground, ready to sprout—the stalks of a few mutant wheat plants fail to shatter. Normally that strain would be rare. It can’t make new plants, so from the plant’s point of view, it’s a dead end. But from our point of view, as the ice age ended, those few mutants might have saved some of our lives.

We would probably ignore wheat stalks that had done the right thing and shattered. Picking up their scattered seeds would take more energy than eating them would give—something we only do when we’re truly starving. But the few mutant plants would still have their ripe seeds on the stalk. That would leave them in the perfect position for us to harvest cheaply.

Then, over time, we built more permanent seasonal shelters where they grew. Then, over time, we spent more and more time there. After a while, we started planting some of the mutant seeds that we didn’t eat. That gave those mutants an edge over their normal cousins, so they spread. As we kept selecting among them, they grew taller, too, which made them easier to harvest, and their seeds grew bigger, which made them more worthwhile to harvest, and easier to store. With that, we hadn’t merely settled, we had also begun to farm. What kept driving us all that time?

[wheat mutants]
Normal wild cereals have dehiscent ears, which shatter at maturity into dispersal units called spikelets. The mutants in question have indehiscent ears with spikelets that do not shatter but separate only when threshed. Our earliest known settlements were in the Fertile Crescent, a zone of grassland and woodland beginning at the eastern edge of the Mediterranean (the bottom of the Levant) and arching north and east to the Zagros Mountains in today’s Iran. Sites primarily cluster in the Zagros, Taurus, and Pontic Mountains of Iraq, Iran, and Turkey, and the Levant, on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean (primarily Israel and Jordan). (So roughly: today’s Iraq, Iran, Israel, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.) From DNA analysis, einkorn wheat probably originated near the Karacadâg mountains in today’s Turkey. The seven primary domesticates of the Fertile Crescent were: barley, emmer wheat, einkorn wheat, and sheep, goats, cattle, and pigs. Of the 56 known species of large-seeded grasses, 32 grow wild in the Mediterranean region. “AFLP Analysis of a Collection of Tetraploid Wheats Indicates the Origin of Emmer and Hard Wheat Domestication in Southeast Turkey,” H. Özkan, A. Brandolini, R. Schâfer-Pregl, F. Salamini, Molecular Biology and Evolution, 19(10):1797-1801, 2002. “Site of Einkorn Wheat Domestication Identified by DNA Fingerprinting,” M. Heun, R. Schäfer-Pregl, D. Klawan, R. Castagna, M. Accerbi, B. Borghi, F. Salamini, Science, 278(5341):1312-1314, 1997. The Emergence of Agriculture, Bruce D. Smith, Scientific American Library, 1995. Seed To Civilization: The Story of Food, Charles B. Heiser, Harvard University Press, New Edition, 1990. Forces of Change: An Unorthodox View of History, Henry Hobhouse, Arcade, 1989.

Domestication probably took at least a millennium or so given that early farmers had no idea what they were really up to. A mathematical model of how long it might take for genetic change to spread in wild-type versus artificial selection grasses estimates that it might take 3,000 years for our selection to really change a plant. “The genetic expectations of a protracted model for the origins of domesticated crops,” R. G. Allaby, D. Q. Fuller, T. A. Brown, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 105(37):13982-13986, 2008. “How fast was wild wheat domesticated?” K. Tanno, G. Willcox, Science, 311(5769):1886, 2006.

Finally, cereals needn’t necessarily be one of the first plants we tamed. “Early domesticated fig in the Jordan Valley,” M. E. Kislev, A. Hartmann, O. Bar-Yosef, Science, 312(5778):1372-1374, 2006.

[squash in the Americas]
Until recently, archaeologists thought that Mesoamerica lagged behind Eurasia in its neolithic transition by about 5,000 years. That’s no longer so certain. It now appears that squash was domesticated in what is today southern Mexico around 7,920 (calibrated) years ago. Maize came much later, then beans. It’s possible that Mesoamerican populations domesticated plants long before settling, unlike Eurasian populations. “Reassessing Coxcatlan Cave and the early history of domesticated plants in Mesoamerica,” B. D. Smith, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 102(27):9438-9445, 2005. “Documenting Plant Domestication: The Consilience of Biological and Archaeological Approaches,” B. D. Smith, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 98(4):1324-1326, 2001. “The Initial Domestication of Cucurbita pepo in the Americas 10,000 Years Ago,” B. D. Smith, Science, 276(5314):932-934, 1997.
[domesticating maize]
Maize may have been domesticated as much as 9,000 years ago. “Directly dated starch residues document early formative maize (Zea mays L.) in tropical Ecuador,” S. Zarrillo, D. M. Pearsall, J. S. Raymond, M. A. Tisdale, D. J. Quon, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 105(13):5006-5011, 2008. “Microfossil evidence for pre-Columbian maize dispersals in the neotropics from San Andrés Tabasco, Mexico,” M. E. D. Pohl, D. R. Piperno, K. O. Pope, J. G. Jones, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 104(16):6870-6875, 2007. Prehistory of the Americas, Stuart J. Fiedel, Cambridge University Press, Second Edition, 1992, page 175.
[spread of maize by 1492]
Columbus’ original log is lost, but in 1514 Bartolome de Las Casas summarized it on his first visit to Cuba. On Tuesday, 6th November, 1492, Rodrigo de Jerez and Luis de Torres returned from an exploration in Cuba noting that, “The land is very fertile and is cultivated with yams and several kinds of beans different from ours, as well as corn.” Quoted in: “Journal of the First Voyage of Columbus,” The Northmen, Columbus, and Cabot, 985-1503, Original Narratives of Early American History, Julius E. Olson and Edward Gaylord Bourne (editors), Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1906, page 142.

For Europeans in North America, maize came to be called ‘Indian corn,’ then simply ‘corn.’ In 1539, Garcilaso de la Vega, part of Hernan de Soto’s expedition in northern Florida and the Carolinas, wrote that, “[We] marched on through some great fields of corn, beans, and squash and other vegetables which had been sown on both sides of the road and were spread out as far as the eye could see across two leagues of plain.” The Florida of the Inca, John and Jeannette Varner (translators and editors), University of Texas Press, 1988.

[watermelon and cow ancestors]
“Diversity and origin of cultivated and citron type watermelon (Citrullus lanatus),” F. Dane, J. Liu, Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution, 54(6):1255-1265(11), 2007. Retracing the Aurochs: History, Morphology and Ecology of an Extinct Wild Ox, Cis van Vuure, Pensoft Publishers, 2005.
[birth of bulldogs]
“Proportion of litters of purebred dogs born by caesarean section,” K. Evans, V. Adams, The Journal of Small Animal Practice, 51(2):113–118, 2010.
[domesticating animals]
Data on domestication is still fuzzy, but we seem to have domesticated our fellow animals in roughly the following order: dogs while we were still hunter-gatherers in the mesolithic, then cats and sheep and goats once we entered the neolithic, then pigs and cows soon after, then, millennia later, horses, donkeys, llamas, alpacas, and camels, then rabbits, chickens, and turkeys. (Cats are especially interesting as they appear to have domesticated not in the way we had thought until recently but because they followed mice, which followed grain, which followed settlement, not farming, in hunter-gatherer times.) “First wave of cultivators spread to Cyprus at least 10,600 y ago,” J. D. Vigne, F. Briois, A. Zazzo, G. Willcox, T. Cucchi, S. Thiébault, I. Carrère, Y. Franel, R. Touquet, C. Martin, C. Moreau, C. Comby, J. Guilaine, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 109(22):8445-8449, 2012. “The taming of the cat,” C. A. Driscoll, J. Clutton-Brock, A. C. Kitchener, S. J. O’Brien, Scientific American, 300(6):68-75, 2009. “From wild animals to domestic pets, an evolutionary view of domestication,” C. A. Driscoll, D. W. Macdonald, S. J. O’Brien, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(1):9971-9978, 2009. Documenting Domestication: New Genetic and Archaeological Paradigms, Melinda A. Zeder, Daniel G. Bradley, Eve Emswiller, and Bruce D. Smith (editors), University of California Press, 2006.

Pigs and cattle were each domesticated about 10,000 years ago. Horse domestication seems to date to about 6,000 years, and donkeys to about 5,000 years ago. “Reconstructing the origin and spread of horse domestication in the Eurasian steppe,” V. Warmuth, A. Eriksson, M. A. Bower, G. Barker, E. Barrett, B. K. Hanks, S. Li, D. Lomitashvili, M. Ochir-Goryaeva, G. V. Sizonov, V. Soyonov, A. Manica, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(21):8202-8206, 2012. “Patterns of East Asian pig domestication, migration, and turnover revealed by modern and ancient DNA,” G. Larson, R. Liu, X. Zhao, J. Yuan, D. Fuller, L. Barton, K. Dobney, Q. Fan, Z. Gu, X.-H. Liu, Y. Luo, P. Lv, L. Andersson, N. Li, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(17):7686-7691, 2010. “A Complete Mitochondrial Genome Sequence from a Mesolithic Wild Aurochs (Bos primigenius,),” C. J. Edwards, D. A. Magee, S. D. Park, P. A. McGettigan, A. J. Lohan, A. Murphy, E. K. Finlay, B. Shapiro, A. T. Chamberlain, M. B. Richards, D. G. Bradley, B. J. Loftus, D. E. Machugh, Public Library of Science, One, 5(2):e9255, 2010. “The Earliest Horse Harnessing and Milking,” A. K. Outram, N. A. Stear, R. Bendrey, S. Olsen, A. Kasparov, V. Zaibert, N. Thorpe, R. P. Evershed, Science, 323(5919):1332-1335, 2009. “Domestication of the donkey: Timing, processes, and indicators,” S. Rossel, F. Marshall, J. Peters, T. Pilgram, M. D. Adams, D. O’Connor, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(10):3715-3720, 2008.

Today all those species can still reproduce on their own, but none of them would exist in the numbers they do without our intervention. Our planet now supports ten thousand million chickens, 1,500 million cows, over a thousand million sheep, 700 million goats, and over 500 million pigs. All those populations are perhaps a thousand times as large as they would be without us. (Of course, they exist in such numbers at the expense of other species.) Today we control their reproduction with selective breeding, hormones, and spaying, and one day, to make them even more suitable as food or pets, we may genetically remove their reproductive ability entirely, just as we in some sense have already done with maize and wheat and seedless grapes. The Archaeology of Animals, Simon J. M. Davis, Yale University Press, 1987.

[rise of slavery]
For a simple economic model of possible incentives for slavery, see: “The Roads To and From Serfdom,” N.-P. Lagerlöf, Economics Working Paper, Concordia University, 2002. See also: “Slavery and Other Property Rights,” N.-P. Lagerlöf, Review of Economic Studies, 76(1):319-342, 2008. Capitalism, Socialism, and Serfdom, Evsey D. Domar, Cambridge University Press, 1989, especially chapter 12, which appeared earlier as: “The Causes of Slavery or Serfdom: A Hypothesis,” E. D. Domar, Economic History Review, 30(1):18-32, 1970.

Slavery can arise even among foragers: if they’re sedentary and have access to a rich food source that rewards intensive labor. One such example is the coastal tribes in the northwest of North America. Their subsistence was based on hunting, gathering, and fishing. They all had a tradition of potlatch. Slavery among them was economically valuable not for primary activities (like fishing) but secondary activities—like drying the fish for storage. Aboriginal slavery on the Northwest Coast of North America, Leland Donald, University of California Press, 1997.

These days it’s popular to believe that when we were foragers we likely didn’t take slaves because we were ‘nice’ or just meek and thus didn’t have large wars. Not so. “Anthropology, Archaeology, and the Origin of Warfare,” I. J. N. Thorpe, World Archaeology, 35(1):145-165, 2003. Troubled Times: Violence and Warfare in the Past, Debra L. Martin and David W. Freyer (editors), Routledge, 1998. Killing or exploiting each other is ancient. It’s simply that it didn’t pay as well when we were foragers.

[female fertility]
This analysis assumes that our early hunter-gatherer lives were similar to today’s hunter-gatherers. The Foraging Spectrum: Diversity in Hunter-Gatherer Lifeways, Robert L. Kelly, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995. The biology itself is now beginning to be fairly well understood, though. “Adaptive changes in life history and survival following a new guppy introduction,” S. P. Gordon, D. N. Reznick, M. T. Kinnison, M. J. Bryant, D. J. Weese, K. Räsänen, N. P. Millar, A. P. Hendry, The American Naturalist, 174(1):34-45, 2009. “Human Ovarian Function and Reproductive Ecology: New Hypotheses,” P. Ellison, American Anthropologist, 92(4):933-52, 1990. From Foraging to Agriculture: The Levant and the End of the Ice Age, Donald Henry, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989.

Changing Phase

[termites have been farmers for 50 million years]
The particular subfamily that the text indirectly refers to here is the fungus-farmers, Macrotermitinae. The Insect Societies, Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University Press, 1971. See also: The Extended Organism: The Physiology of Animal-Built Structures, J. Scott Turner, Harvard University Press, 2000, page 179. Turner reports an estimate of 75 to 150 million years, but that may be for termite genera as a whole, not for Macrotermitinae specifically. At least one termite species has been mutualist (that is, carrying and depending on stomach protozoa to digest cellulose) for at least 97 to 110 million years. “Description of an early Cretaceous termite (Isoptera: Kalotermitidae) and its associated intestinal protozoa, with comments on their co-evolution,” G. O. Poinar, Jr., Parasites & Vectors, 2(1):12, 2009.
[farming is rare among animal species]
Besides our own species, only a few genera in three animal orders (termites, ants, and ambrosia beetles) farm. “High symbiont relatedness stabilizes mutualistic cooperation in fungus-growing termites,” D. K. Aanen, H. H. De Fine Licht, A. J. M. Debets, N. G. Kerstes, R. F. Hoekstra, J. J. Boomsma, Science, 326(5956):1103-1106, 2009. “Major Evolutionary Transitions In Ant Agriculture,” T. R. Schultz, S. G. Brady, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(14):5435-5440, 2008. “The evolution of agriculture in insects,” U. G. Mueller, N. M. Gerardo, D. K. Aanen, D. L. Six, T. R. Schultz, Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, 36(1):563-595, 2005. “Fungus-farming insects: Multiple origins and diverse evolutionary histories,” U. G. Mueller, N. Gerardo, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 99(24):15247-15249, 2002.
[most human genetic change is slow]
“The Role of Geography in Human Adaptation,” G. Coop, J. K. Pickrell, J. Novembre, S. Kudaravalli, J. Li, D. Absher, R. M. Myers, L. L. Cavalli-Sforza, M. W. Feldman, J. K. Pritchard, Public Library of Science, Genetics, 5(6):e1000500, 2009. Of course, that’s only true for humans (based on the genes we’ve sequenced so far). Different species have different adaptation rates. For example, for guppies, significant adaptation can happen in as litle as 10 years (30 guppy generations), although it’s not yet clear how much of that is genetic rather than epigenetic (that is a non-genetic change in the protein compositions of the cells the genes express themselves in). “Adaptive changes in life history and survival following a new guppy introduction,” S. P. Gordon, D. N. Reznick, M. T. Kinnison, M. J. Bryant, D. J. Weese, K. Räsänen, N. P. Millar, A. P. Hendry, The American Naturalist, 174(1):34-45, 2009.

While most human genetic change is very slow, some recent human genetic change—where ‘recent’ means the last 80,000 years or so—that is, the recent past—aren’t. “Recent acceleration of human adaptive evolution,” J. Hawks, E. T. Wang, G. M. Cochran, H. C. Harpending, R. K. Moyzis, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(52):20753-20758, 2007. “Genome-wide detection and characterization of positive selection in human populations,” P. C. Sabeti, P. Varilly, B. Fry, J. Lohmueller, E. Hostetter, C. Cotsapas, X. Xie, E. H. Byrne, S. A. McCarroll, R. Gaudet, S. F. Schaffner, E. S. Lander, The International HapMap Consortium, Nature, 449(7164):913-918, 2007.

For an example of very recent (last few millennia) change, see low-oxygen adaptation in Tibet: “Sequencing of 50 Human Exomes Reveals Adaptation to High Altitude,” X. Yi, Y. Liang, E. Huerta-Sanchez, X. Jin, Z. X. Cuo, J. E. Pool, X. Xu, H. Jiang, N. Vinckenbosch, T. S. Korneliussen, H. Zheng, T. Liu, W. He, K. Li, R. Luo, X. Nie, H. Wu, M. Zhao, H. Cao, J. Zou, Y. Shan, S. Li, Q. Yang, Asan, P. Ni, G. Tian, J. Xu, X. Liu, T. Jiang, R. Wu, G. Zhou, M. Tang, J. Qin, T. Wang, S. Feng, G. Li, Huasang, J. Luosang, W. Wang, F. Chen, Y. Wang, X. Zheng, Z. Li, Z. Bianba, G. Yang, X. Wang, S. Tang, G. Gao, Y. Chen, X. Luo, L. Gusang, Z. Cao, Q. Zhang, W. Ouyang, X. Ren, H. Liang, H. Zheng, Y. Huang, J. Li, L. Bolund, K. Kristiansen, Y. Li, Y. Zhang, X. Zhang, R. Li, S. Li, H. Yang, R. Nielsen, J. Wang, J. Wang, Science, 329(5987):75-78, 2010.

Further, at least two genes that appear to be involved in determining our brain size have undergone strong positive selection recently, and (here’s the politically volatile bit) only among some of our populations. One haplotype of Microcephalin was strongly selected for starting about 37,000 years ago (confidence limit from 14,000 to 60,000 years ago), and a haplotype of ASPM about 5,800 years ago (confidence limit between 500 and 14,100 years). These are extremely recent haplotypes. Neither have spread very far in our African population yet. “Microcephalin, a Gene Regulating Brain Size, Continues to Evolve Adaptively in Humans,” P. D. Evans, S. L. Gilbert, N. Mekel-Bobrov, E. J. Vallender, J. R. Anderson, L. M. Vaez-Azizi, S. A. Tishkoff, R. R. Hudson, B. T. Lahn, Science, 309(5741):1717-1720, 2005. “Ongoing Adaptive Evolution of ASPM, a Brain Size Determinant in Homo sapiens,” N. Mekel-Bobrov, S. L. Gilbert, P. D. Evans, E. J. Vallender, J. R. Anderson, R. R. Hudson, S. A. Tishkoff, B. T. Lahn, Science, 309(5741):1720-1722, 2005. “Reconstructing the evolutionary history of microcephalin, a gene controlling human brain size,” P. D. Evans, J. R. Anderson, E. J. Vallender, S. S. Choi, B. T. Lahn, Human Molecular Genetics, 13(11):1139-1145, 2004.

On a related note, see also: Pandora’s Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization, Spencer Wells, Random House, 2010. Survival of the Sickest: The Surprising Connections Between Disease and Longevity, Sharon Moalem and Jonathan Prince, Harper Perennial, 2008.

The text tries to give the considered view of many geneticists. For a contrary view from the popular science world, however, see: The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution, Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending, Basic Books, 2009.

[our genes haven’t yet caught up with our dependence on grain]
“Cereal Grains: Humanity’s Double-Edged Sword,” L. Cordain, in Evolutionary Aspects of Nutrition and Health: Diet, Exercise, Genetics, and Chronic Disease, A. P. Simopoulos (editor), Karger, 1999, pages 19-73.
[we today the same anatomically and behaviorally as we were perhaps 50Kya]
“Why did modern human populations disperse from Africa ca. 60,000 years ago? A new model,” P. Mellars, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103(25):9381–9386, 2006.
[a sketch of possible paleolithic life]
We probably didn’t get into farming because we somehow suddenly got smarter. When we today think of our past hunter-gatherer life, it’s common to imagine that we were dressed in rough-cut hides wandering through desolate, virgin, landscapes. That’s the picture that movies often paint for us. It may be reasonable if 11 millennia ago we were naked apes with bad haircuts and heavy jawlines hefting stone tools while we grunted at each other about how nasty, brutish, and short our lives were. But genetic change is slow, so we likely weren’t any stupider then than we are now. Plus we had lots of spare time since we hadn’t started farming. Plus we had well over a million years to fine-tune our clothes and tools. So it seems more reasonable to assume that back then we wore well-tailored clothes and intricate tattoos and body paint—literally dressed to kill. We may also have carved totems of our passing into any rock faces, hillsides, riverbanks, and trees that we camped nearby, like dogs marking our terrain. Over the millennia, our bodies, and such unsheltered signs would have weathered away, leaving only a few bodnes and some remains of cave art. Adorning ourselves or adorning our territory—both may also have helped us keep the peace. Finally, for millennia we were on foot, so weight was the enemy, so, likely, we probably mostly made grass shoes, net and leather bags, string or strap baby slings, light-weight weapons, and lots of ornaments—not lots of stone axes. Chipped rock from that time may well be the main relic today only because it outlives bone, wood, grass, paint, ink, and leather. So calling that era of prehistory the ‘Stone Age’ (by analogy with the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, and so on) may be misleading. Later ages are named based on what brought the most change to what came before; it’s not at all clear that stone is what brought the most change to what came before—it, however, is the thing that lasts the longest of whatever happened then.

The backhanded reference to naked apes is to: The Naked Ape: A Zoologist’s Study of the Human Animal, Desmond Morris, Jonathan Cape, 1967.

Woven clothing in the paleolithic is a guess. However, that we had woven clothing (as opposed to the typical image we carry of paleolithic hunters dressed only in hides) is not unlikely since their remote ancestors had cordage and nets, and thus some kind of weaving. The Pavlovian variant of the Gravettian people—who lived scattered over a region stretching from Spain to southern Russia about 29,000 to 22,000 years ago—apparently at least had nets. “Ice Age Communities May Be Earliest Known Net Hunters,” H. Pringle, Science, 277(5330):1203-1204, 1997.

Actual twisted fibers dating to about 18,000 years ago have been found in caves in France. The earliest known evidence of woven fabrics might be Venus figurines carved about 26,000 years ago. Some of them have incised representations of what may be skimpy string skirts, presumably for some symbolic purpose. So twining and plaiting may go back 26 millennia. Of course, there’s argument about this particular extrapolation. Findings: The Material Culture of Needlework and Sewing, Mary C. Beaudry, Yale University Press, 2006, pages 45-46 and 90. “Archaeological Textiles: A Review of Current Research,” I. Good, Annual Review of Anthropology, 30:209-226, 2001. “Perishable Technologies and Invisible People: Nets, Baskets, and ‘Venus’ Wear ca. 26,000 B.P.,” O. Soffer, J. M. Adovasio, D. C. Hyland, Enduring Records: The Environmental and Cultural Heritage of Wetlands, Barbara Purdy (editor), Oxbow Books, 2001, pages 233-245. “Upper Palaeolithic fibre technology: interlaced woven finds from Pavlov I, Czech Republic, c. 26,000 years ago,” J. M. Adovasio, O. Soffer, B. Klíma, Antiquity, 70(269):526-34, 1996. Prehistoric Textiles: The Development of Cloth in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages with special reference to the Aegean, E. J. W. Barber, Princeton University Press, 1991.

Tattoos in the neolithic are a total guess. However, a tattooed man existed in the Ötztal Alps 5,300 years ago. There seems to be no reason we couldn’t have tattooed, or scarred, ourselves 11,000 years ago, or even 50,000 years ago, or more. “Origin and Migration of the Alpine Iceman,” W. Müller, H. Fricke, A. N. Halliday, M. T. McCulloch, J.-A. Wartho, Science, 302(5646):862-866, 2003. The Man in the Ice: The Discovery of a 5,000-year-old Body Reveals the Secrets of the Stone Age, Konrad Spindler, translated by Ewald Osers, Harmony Books, 1994. Incidentally, that particular find has ramified into a murder mystery with new, and so far unpublished, DNA and forensic analysis of the body and its artifacts by Thomas Loy of the University of Queensland. For the same sort of forensics, see: “Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchí, the first ancient body of a man from a North American glacier: reconstructing his last days by intestinal and biomolecular analyses,” J. H. Dickson, M. P. Richards, R. J. Hebda, P. J. Mudie, O. Beattie, S. Ramsay, N. J. Turner, B. J. Leighton, J. M. Webster, N. R. Hobischak, G. S. Anderson, P. M. Troffe, R. J. Wigen, The Holocene, 14(4):481-486, 2004.

Paleolithic ornaments, shoes, and tools: Our earliest probable ornaments may go back at least 82,000 years (and perhaps 110,000 years in the latest unpublished research). “82,000-year-old shell beads from North Africa and implications for the origins of modern human behavior,” A. Bouzouggar, N. Barton, M. Vanhaeren, F. d’Errico, S. Collcutt, T. Higham, E. Hodge, S. Parfitt, E. Rhodes, J.-L. Schwenninger, C. Stringer, E. Turner, S. Ward, A. Moutmir, A. Stambouli, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(24):9964-9969, 2007. “Middle Stone Age Shell Beads from South Africa,” C. Henshilwood, F. d’Errico, M. Vanhaeren, K. van Niekerk, Z. Jacobs, Science, 304(5669):404-404, 2004.

Our oldest known ornaments are perforated teeth or eggshell beads from Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Turkey, and Lebanon, dated between 41,000 and 43,000-years-old, and 40,000-year-old ostrich-shell beads from Kenya. Beads found in Tanzania also appear to be very old, but are so far undated. “Ornaments of the earliest Upper Paleolithic: New insights from the Levant,” S. L. Kuhn, M. C. Stiner, D. S. Reese, E. Güleç, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 98(13):7641-7646, 2001. “Chronology of the Later Stone Age and Food Production in East Africa,” S. H. Ambrose, Journal of Archaeological Science, 25(4):377-392, 1998. Bead-making may go back at least 100,000 years: “Middle Paleolithic Shell Beads in Israel and Algeria,” M. Vanhaereny, F. d’Errico, C. Stringer, S. L. James, J. A. Todd, H. K. Mienis, Science, 312(5781):1785-1788, 2006.

Our oldest known figurine is an ivory Venus dated to 35,000 years ago. “A female figurine from the basal Aurignacian of Hohle Fels Cave in southwestern Germany,” N. J. Conard, Nature, 459(7244):248-252, 2009. The oldest known musical instruments, bone and ivory flutes, are also 35,000 years old. “New flutes document the earliest musical tradition in southwestern Germany,” N. J. Conard, M. Malina, S. C. Münzel, Nature, 460(7256):737-740, 2009.

Our oldest known shoe is 5,500 years old. The oldest known sandal is 10,500-9,300 years old. “First Direct Evidence of Chalcolithic Footwear from the Near Eastern Highlands,” R. Pinhasi1, B. Gasparian, G. Areshian, D. Zardaryan, A. Smith, G. Bar-Oz, T. Higham, Public Library of Science, One, 5(6):e10984, 2010. In Search of Ancient Oregon: A Geological and Natural History, Ellen Morris Bishop, Timber Press, 2003, page 232. “Comments on "America’s Oldest Basketry,"” T. J. Connolly, W. J. Cannon, Radiocarbon, 41(3):309-313, 1999.

Chewing gum, too, is prehistoric. “Bulk stable light isotopic ratios in archaeological birch bark tars,” B. Stern, S. J. Clelland, C. C. Nordby, D. Urem-Kotsou, Applied Geochemistry, 21(10):1668-1673, 2006. “Chewing tar in the early Holocene: an archaeological and ethnographic evaluation,” E. M. Aveling, C. Heron, Antiquity, 73(281):579-584, 1999. “Chewing gum bezoars of the gastrointestinal tract,” D. E. Milov, J. M. Andres, N. A. Erhart, D. J. Bailey, Pediatrics, 102(2):e22, 1998.

[...we got about on foot]
We didn’t tame horses until about 5,000 to 6,000 years ago. Our picture is still blurry because horses haven’t speciated. There’s little difference between a wild horse, a tamed horse, and a feral horse. However an outer limit for taming of around 6,000 years ago seems safe. “Coat Color Variation at the Beginning of Horse Domestication,” A. Ludwig, M. Pruvost, M. Reissmann, N. Benecke, G. A. Brockmann, P. Castaños, M. Cieslak, S. Lippold, L. Llorente, A.-S. Malaspinas, M. Slatkin, M. Hofreiter, Science, 324(5926):485, 2009. “The Earliest Horse Harnessing and Milking,” A. K. Outram, N. A. Stear, R. Bendrey, S. Olsen, A. Kasparov, V. Zaibert, N. Thorpe, R. P. Evershed, Science, 323(5919):1332-1335, 2009. The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, David W. Anthony, Princeton University Press, 2007. Prehistoric Steppe Adaptation and the Horse, Marsha Levine, Colin Renfrew, and Katie Boyle (editors), McDonald Institute, 2003, pages 69-82.
[hunter-gatherers were fit and healthy]
That is, if today’s hunter-gatherers, like the Khoisan in southern Africa, are anything to judge by. The Foraging Spectrum: Diversity in Hunter-Gatherer Lifeways, Robert L. Kelly, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995.

At a conference in 1966, one eminent anthropologist called hunter-gatherers ‘the original affluent society’ because they (probably) had so much free time. “Notes on the Original Affluent Society,” M. Sahlins, Man the Hunter: The First Intensive Survey of a Single, Crucial Stage of Human Development—Man’s Once Universal Hunting Way of Life, Richard B. Lee and Irven Devore, Aldine Publishing Company, 1968, pages 85-89. Stone Age Economics, Marshall Sahlins, Aldine Transaction, 1972. The !Kung San: Men, Women and Work in a Foraging Society, Richard Borshay Lee, Cambridge University Press, 1979. But for more recent analyses, see: “After the ‘Affluent Society’: Cost of Living in the Papua New Guinea Highlands According to Time and Energy Expenditure-Income,” P. Sillitoe, Journal of Biosocial Science, 34(4):433-461, 2002. “The darker side of the ‘original affluent society,’ ” D. Kaplan, Journal of Anthropological Research, 56(33):301-324, 2000.

[...dogs to help with the hunt]
That’s just a guess, but not an insane one. Dogs are our oldest tamed species. They descended from gray wolves sometime before or during the last ice age (perhaps somewhere between 43,000 and 135,000 years ago). However, for all that time they would have been physically indistinguishable from gray wolves. Their breeding into the physical types that we know today as domestic dogs began happening only around 15,000 years ago. “Origins of domestic dog in southern East Asia is supported by analysis of Y-chromosome DNA,” Z. L. Ding, M. Oskarsson, A. Ardalan, H. Angleby, L. G. Dahlgren, C. Tepeli, E. Kirkness, P. Savolainen, Y. P. Zhang, Heredity, 108(5):507-514, 2012. “Genome-wide SNP and haplotype analyses reveal a rich history underlying dog domestication,” B. M. vonHoldt, J. P. Pollinger, K. E. Lohmueller, E. Han, H. G. Parker, P. Quignon, J. D. Degenhardt, A. R. Boyko, D. A. Earl, A. Auton, A. Reynolds, K. Bryc, A. Brisbin, J. C. Knowles, D. S. Mosher, T. C. Spady, A. Elkahloun, E. Geffen, M. Pilot, W. Jedrzejewski, C. Greco, E. Randi, D. Bannasch, A. Wilton, J. Shearman, M. Musiani, M. Cargill, P. G. Jones, Z. Qian, W. Huang, Z.-L. Ding, Y.-P. Zhang, C. D. Bustamante, E. A. Ostrander, J. Novembre, R. K. Wayne, Nature, 464(7290):898-902, 2010. “mtDNA Data Indicates a Single Origin for Dogs South of Yangtze River, less than 16,300 Years Ago, from Numerous Wolves,” J.-F. Pang, C. Kluetsch, X.-J. Zou, A.-B. Zhang, L.-Y. Luo, H. Angleby, A. Ardalan, C. Ekström, A. Sköllermo, J. Lundeberg, S. Matsumura, T. Leitner, Y.-P. Zhang, P. Savolainen, Molecular Biology and Evolution, 26(12):2849-2864, 2009. “Fossil dogs and wolves from Upper Palaeolithic sites in Belgium, the Ukraine and Russia: Osteometry, ancient DNA and stable isotopes,” M. Germonpré, M. V. Sabin, R. E. Stevens, R. E. M. Hedges, M. Hofreitere, M. Stiller, V. R. Despres, Journal of Archaeological Science, 36(2):473–490, 2009. “The canine genome,” E. A. Ostrander, R. K. Wayne, Genome Research, 15(12):1706-1716, 2005. “Genome sequence, comparative analysis and haplotype structure of the domestic dog,” K. Lindblad-Toh, C. M. Wade, T. S. Mikkelsen, E. K. Karlsson, D. B. Jaffe, M. Kamal, M. Clamp, J. L. Chang, E. J. Kulbokas, III, M. C. Zody, E. Mauceli, X. Xie, M. Breen, R. K. Wayne, E. A. Ostrander, C. P. Ponting, F. Galibert, D. R. Smith, P. J. deJong, E. Kirkness, P. Alvarez, T. Biagi, W. Brockman, J. Butler, C.-W. Chin, A. Cook, J. Cuff, M. J. Daly, D. DeCaprio, S. Gnerre, M. Grabherr, M. Kellis, M. Kleber, C. Bardeleben, L. Goodstadt, A. Heger, C. Hitte, L. Kim, K.-P. Koepfli, H. G. Parker, J. P. Pollinger, S. M. J. Searle, N. B. Sutter, R. Thomas, C. Webbe, E. S. Lander, Nature, 438(7069):803-819, 2005. “Genetic Evidence for an East Asian Origin of Domestic Dogs,” P. Savolainen, Y. P. Zhang, J. Luo, J. Lundeberg, T. Leitner, Science, 298(5598):1610-1613, 2002.
[Abu Hureyra lifestyle changes]
For brevity, the text collapses two occupation periods into one, entirely skipping mention of the Younger Dryas. In reality, Abu Hureyra was inhabited in two stages: first during the warm interstadial about 14,000 years ago by the Natufians, and again during the time period mentioned in the text. Emmer wheat domestication at Abu Hureyra began around 10,400 years (calibrated) before the present, but the village was already inhabited by around 11,500 years (calibrated) ago. So they spent about a millennium simply gathering, not planting. “The plant food economy of Abu Hureyra 1 and 2: Abu Hureyra 1: the Epipaleolithic,” G. C. Hillman, in Village on the Euphrates: from foraging to farming at Abu Hureyra, A. M. T. Moore, G. C. Hillman, and A. J. Legge (editors), Oxford University Press, 2000, pages 327-398.
[...hours each day to grind]
Just as it still does today for the Kababish, one surviving nomadic desert tribe in the Sudan. “The Eloquent Bones of Abu Hureyra,” T. Molleson, Scientific American, 271(2):70-75, 1994. A Desert Dies, Michael Asher, Viking, 1986.
[“sweat of thy face”]
“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” The Bible, The King James Version, Genesis 3:19.
[weaving became a female specialty]
We can deduce that because their skeletons are clustered, and separated from others. Further, their front teeth are grooved, like today’s Paiute basket-weavers, who use their mouths as a third hand when weaving. The grooves come from the continual rubbing of the strands against the teeth. “Dietary change and the effects of food preparation on microwear patterns in the Late Neolithic of Abu Hureyra, northern Syria,” T. Molleson, K. Jones, S. Jones, Journal of Human Evolution, 24(6):455-468, 1993. Today the Paiute live on reservations in Nevada, Arizona, California, Utah, and Oregon, and a few still practice basket-weaving and other traditional skills. A few other native tribes also continue or have restarted basket-weaving, notably the Jicarilla and San Carlos Apaches, the Hualapais, the Hopis, and the Papagos.
[early weaving]
The earliest known direct evidence for weaving (impressions on fired clay of two different kinds of weaves) is from Jarmo, in northeastern Iraq, around 9,000 years ago. “The Textile and Basketry Impressions from Jarmo,” J. M. Adovasio, Paleorient, 3:223-230, 1975-77.
[timing of pottery]
The text describes the archaeology of pottery as it occurred in the Fertile Crescent. However, Jomon hunter-gatherers in Japan had pottery millennia before (perhaps as much as 16,000 years ago). Ancient Jomon of Japan, Junko Habu, Cambridge University Press, 2002. Hunter-gatherers in China had pre-neolithic pottery as much as 20,000 years ago. “Early Pottery at 20,000 Years Ago in Xianrendong Cave, China,” X. Wu, C. Zhang, P. Goldberg, D. Cohen, Y. Pan, T. Arpin, O. Bar-Yosef, Science, 336(6089):1696-1700, 2012. “Radiocarbon dating of charcoal and bone collagen associated with early pottery at Yuchanyan Cave, Hunan Province, China,” E. Boaretto, X. Wu, J. Yuan, O. Bar-Yosef, V. Chu, Y. Pan, K. Liu, D. Cohen, T. Jiao, S. Li, H. Gu, P. Goldberg, S. Weiner, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(24):9595-9600, 2009.
[pottery from weaving?]
That’s just a guess, but it’s not impossible that pottery arose from weaving if we first used baskets to keep food, then one day coated a basket of food with mud to heat it in the fire. If we eventually coated the inside of the basket instead of its outside, the basket itself would burn away, leaving a pot. It’s even possible that we later painted pots with stylized patterns simply because our earliest pots, if made as above, would have come out of the fire with basket impressions. Of course, with no hard evidence this is complete guesswork (and by an amateur, too). The point, though, is that just because we today think of an artifact a certain way doesn’t mean that that’s how we thought of it millennia ago when we were inventing it, or one of its precursors.
[let’s farm!]
“The shift from foraging to farming led to a reduction in health status and well-being, an increase in physiological stress, a decline in nutrition, an increase in birthrate and population growth, and an alteration of activity types and work loads. Taken as a whole, then, the popular and scholarly perception that quality of life improved with the acquisition of agriculture is incorrect.” From: “Biological Changes in Human Populations with Agriculture,” C. S. Larsen, Annual Review of Anthropology, 24:185–213, 1995. See also: The Backbone of History: Health and Nutrition in the Western Hemisphere, Richard H. Steckel and Jerome C. Rose (editors), Cambridge University Press, 2002.
[farmers shorter than rovers]
Farming boosted our numbers enormously, but otherwise it was a terrible calamity for our health. A comprehensive study of late paleolithic, mesolithic, and neolithic skeletons in Greece and Turkey found that we lost about 100 to 150 centimeters (about 4 to 6 inches) in height for at least about 5,000 years. More recent studies for northern European settlement show similar patterns. Only today is our species recovering the heights we grew to in the paleolithic: around 1.75 meters (five feet nine inches) for males and around 1.65 meters (five feet five inches) for females. “Health as a Crucial Factor in the Changes from Hunting to Developed Farming in the Eastern Mediterranean,” L. J. Angel, in Paleopathology at the Origins of Agriculture, Mark N. Cohen and George J. Armelagos (editors), Academic Press, 1984, pages 51-73. “Stature of early Europeans,” M. Hermanussen, Hormones, 2(3):175-178, 2003.
[possible support for the numbers game hypothesis]
“When the World’s Population Took Off: The Springboard of the Neolithic Demographic Transition,” J.-P. Bocquet-Appel, Science, 333(6042):560-561, 2011. “The Expansions of Farming Societies and the Role of the Neolithic Demographic Transition,” P. Bellwood, M. Oxenham, in The Neolithic Demographic Transition and its Consequences, Jean-Pierre Bocquet-Appel and Ofer Bar-Yosef (editors), Springer, 2008, pages 13-34. “The Emerging Synthesis: The Archeogenetics of Farming/Language Dispersals amd other Spread Zones,” C. Renfrew, in Examining the farming/language dispersal hypothesis, Peter Bellwood and Colin Renfrew (editors), McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 2002, pages 3–16. “Was agriculture impossible during the Pleistocene but mandatory during the Holocene?” P. Richerson, R. Boyd, R. Bettinger, American Antiquity, 66(3):387–411, 2001.
[acreage for 25 rovers supports 1,000 farmers]
The text chooses a (conservative) 40-fold density increase. The actual figure is unknown since it depends on the efficiency of early farming technology, which we don’t know. Estimates are anything between 50 and 100 times as many farmers as rovers. A Concise History of World Population, Massimo Livi-Bacci, translated by Carl Ipsen, Third Revision, Blackwell, 1997, page 27. Archaeology and Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins, Colin Renfrew, Penguin, 1989, page 125. “Size, Density, and Growth Rate of Hunting Gathering Populations,” F. A. Hassan, in Population, Ecology, and Social Evolution, Steven Polgar (editor), Mouton & Co., 1975, pages 26-52, but especially pages 38-41.
[first farmers in central Europe]
There is controversy surrounding the conclusion that the first farmers may have swallowed the hunter-gatherers who lived there at the time. One theory, the one sketched in the book, is that male farmers fathered, and female hunter-gatherers mothered, much of today’s European population. Another is that a variety of genes spread into Europe first, then the ‘neolithic package’ of tools spread via trade routes much later without mass migrations from the south. “A Predominantly Neolithic Origin for European Paternal Lineages,” P. Balaresque, G. R. Bowden, S. M. Adams, H.-Y. Leung, T. E. King, Z. Rosser, J. Goodwin, J.-P. Moisan, C. Richard, A. Millward, A. G. Demaine, G. Barbujani, C. Previderè, I. J. Wilson, C. Tyler-Smith, M. A. Jobling, Public Library of Science, Biology, 8(1):e1000285, 2010. “A Comparison of Y-Chromosome Variation in Sardinia and Anatolia Is More Consistent with Cultural Rather than Demic Diffusion of Agriculture,” L. Morelli, D. Contu, F. Santoni, M. B. Whalen, P. Francalacci, F. Cucca, Public Library of Science, One, 5(4):e10419, 2010. “Radiocarbon evidence indicates that migrants introduced farming to Britain,” M. Collard, K. Edinborough, S. Shennan, M. G. Thomas, Journal of Archaeological Science, 37(4):866-870, 2010. “Genetic Discontinuity Between Local Hunter-Gatherers and Central Europe’s First Farmers,” B. Bramanti, M. G. Thomas, W. Haak, M. Unterlaender, P. Jores, K. Tambets, I. Antanaitis-Jacobs, M. N. Haidle, R. Jankauskas, C.-J. Kind, F. Lueth, T. Terberger, J. Hiller, S. Matsumura, P. Forster, J. Burger, Science, 326(5949):137-140, 2009. “Ancient DNA, Strontium isotopes, and osteological analyses shed light on social and kinship organization of the Later Stone Age,” W. Haak, G. Brandt, H. N. de Jong, C. Meyer, R. Ganslmeier, V. Heyd, C. Hawkesworth, A. W. G. Pike, H. Meller, K. W. Alt, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(47):18226-18231, 2008. “Isotopic Evidence for Mobility and Group Organization Among Neolithic Farmers At Talheim, Germany, 5000 BC,” T. D. Price, J. Wahl, R. A. Bentley, European Journal of Archaeology, 9(2-3):259-284, 2006. First Farmers: The Origins of Agricultural Societies, Peter S. Bellwood, Wiley-Blackwell, 2005, especially Chapter 4. “Warfare in the European Neolithic,” J. Christensen, Acta Archaeologica, 75(2):129-156, 2004. Europe’s First Farmers, T. Douglas Price (editor), Cambridge University Press, 2000. “The Spread of Farming into Europe North of the Alps,” T. D. Price, A. B. Gebauer, L. H. Keeley, in Last Hunters, First Farmers: New Perspectives on the Prehistoric Transition to Agriculture, T. Douglas Price and Anne Birgitte Gebauer (editors), School of American Research Press, 1995, pages 95-126.
[Amorites and Sumer]
Here are the Sumerians writing about one nomad tribe (or confederation of tribes), the Martu (today called the Amorites), over 4,000 years ago: “The Martu who know no grain.... The Martu who know no house nor town, the boors of the mountains.... The Martu who digs up truffles... who does not bend his knees [to cultivate the land (?)], who eats raw meat, who has no house during his lifetime, who is not buried after death.” Who Were the Babylonians? Bill T. Arnold, Society of Biblical Literature, 2004, pages 36-37. Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia, Karen Rhea Nemeth-Nejat, Greenwood Press, 1998, pages 113-116. Sumerian Epics and Myths, Edward Chiera, University of Chicago Press, 1934, Numbers 58 and 112. Incidentally, the bible refers to the (by then settled) Amorites living in Canaan as being tall. “Yet destroyed I the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars, and he was strong as the oaks; yet I destroyed his fruit from above, and his roots from beneath.” Of course, that may merely be a poetic way to say that they were hard to kill. The Bible, The King James Version, Amos 2:9. See also: Deuteronomy 3:11.
[Hyksos in Egypt]
The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Ian Shaw (editor), Oxford University Press, 2000. The Rise and Fall of the Middle Kingdom in Thebes, Herbert E. Winlock, Macmillan, 1947.
[the Bantu expansion and the Khoisan]
History of Africa, Kevin Shillington, Palgrave Macmillan, Revised Edition, 2005, especially Chapters 3 and 4.
[rovers were swallowed]
That’s assuming, of course, that the rovers didn’t simply kill everyone there. That’s rare (at least, in recorded history), but it did happen. For example, in the thirteenth century the Mongols (who were horse-riding nomads) started to ride under Genghis Khan. (Note that ‘Genghis Khan’ is more properly transliterated as ‘Chinggis Qan’). They terrorized and razed to the ground many villages, towns, and cities, killing everyone there. Then they discovered the idea of taxation. Even then, they still did it occasionally to keep the terror level up and the taxes rolling in. For example, they sacked Baghdad in 1258, taking all the women and children and killing every adult male Muslim there—perhaps 800,000 to 1 million men. Basically, it was one giant protection racket. Probably not our first. And definitely not our last. Storm from the East: From Genghis Khan to Khubilai Khan, Robert Marshall, University of California Press, 1993. Genghis Khan, R. P. Lister, Dorset, 1969.

Eat Your Heart Out

[fewer than half of us still farm]
In 2006, the figure was 45 percent (1.3 billon people). The Employment Imperative: Report on the World Social Situation 2007, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2007, page 15. In 1997, the figure was 46 percent. “A World of Farmers, But Not a Farmer’s World,” L. A. Ferleger, Journal of The Historical Society, 2(1):43-53, 2002.
[our dependence on farming today]
“Eight cereal grains: wheat, maize, rice, barley, sorghum, oats, rye, and millet provide 56% of the food energy and 50% of the protein consumed on earth. Three cereals: wheat, maize and rice together comprise at least 75% of the world’s grain production.” From: “Cereal Grains: Humanity’s Double-Edged Sword,” L. Cordain, in Evolutionary Aspects of Nutrition and Health: Diet, Exercise, Genetics, and Chronic Disease, A. P. Simopoulos (editor), Karger, 1999, pages 19-73.

Even those of us who eat a lot of meat are still grass-eaters. In total, over half of all our nutrition comes directly from plants, and the rest is indirectly dependent on them. Plus, of the roughly 400,000 plant species on this planet, we mostly eat only about 30. They give us around 95 percent of all our plant nutrition. Of those 30, 20 grow on about three-quarters of all cultivated land worldwide. They give us roughly 90 percent of all our plant nutrition. Of those 20, eight are cereals. All of them belong to the same genetic family of grasses. Just one of those, rice, feeds almost half of all of us alive today. All flesh is indeed grass.

Note though that the figure of 400,000 is a guess. We still don’t know how many plant species there are. “Documenting plant diversity: unfinished business,” P. R. Crane, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, B, 359(1444):735-737, 2004. For more recent work just on seed plants, see: “Mega-phylogeny approach for comparative biology: an alternative to supertree and supermatrix approaches,” S. A. Smith, J. Beaulieu, M. J. Donoghue, BMC Evolutionary Biology, 9:37, 2009. They quote a figure of 13,533 for seed plants.

Wheat, barley, rye, and oats belong to the subfamily Pooideae. Maize, sorghum, sugar cane, and most millets belong to the subfamily Panicoideae. Rice belongs to the subfamily Bambusoideae. All are members of the family Poaceae (that is, the true grasses).

[peasant food]
The Medieval Village, G. G. Coulton, 1925, Dover, Reprint Edition, 1989. For a more recent survey, but set only in England in the year 1000, see: The Year 1000: What Life Was Like At the Turn of the First Millennium, Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger, Little, Brown, 1999.
[English prices in 1300]
“Wheat, 6s. a quarter; oats, 3s.; a cow, 12s. 6d.; a sheep, 1s. 2d.; a fat hog, 3s. 4d.; a fat goose, 2½d.; eggs 0½d a dozen; wine, 4d. a gallon; ale, 0½d. a gallon; a labourer’s wages 1½d. a day, in harvest time 2d.; a journeyman carpenter, 2d. a day; a horse for military service, 13s. 4d.; a pair of shoes, 4d.; an English slave and his family, sold for 13s. 4d.; a bible, £33 6s. 8d; the Chancellor’s salary, £50.” The History of Bradford and Its Parish: With Additions and Continuation to the Present Time, John James, Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1866, page 60 and pages 74-75, footnote. See also: The Laborer: A Remedy for His Wrongs: Or, A Disquisition on the Usages of Society, William Dealtry, Wm. Dealtry and R. Allison & Co., 1869, pages 53-54.

For similar prices in near-contemporary Lancashire, Wiltshire, and Manchester, see: Remains, Historical and Literary, Connected with the Palatine Counties of Lancaster and Chester, Volume LVI, The Chetham Society, 1861, pages 399-400, footnote. The Parochial History of Bremhill, in the County of Wilts: Containing a Particular Account, from Authentic and Unpublished Documents, of the Cistercian Abbey of Stanley in that Parish; with Observations and Reflections on the Origin and Establishment of Parochial Clergy, and other Circumstances of General Parochial Interest, Including Illustrations of the Origin and Designation of the Stupendous Monuments of Antiquity in the Neighbourhood, Avebury, Silbury, and Wansdike, W. L. Bowles, John Murray, 1828, page 17. History, Directory, and Gazetteer, of the County Palatine of Lancaster: With a Variety of Commercial & Statistical Information in Two Volumes, Illustrated by Maps and Plans, Edward Baines and W. Parson, Wm. Wales & Co., 1824, page 24.

[bread for the rich and for the poor]
“Les labourers d’antiquité / Ne furont pas acoustummé / A manger le pain du frument, / Ainçois du feve et d’autre blé / Leur pain estoit, et abevré / De l’eaue furont ensement, / Et lors fuist leur festoiement / Formage et lait, mais rerement.” (“The laborers of olden days / were not accustomed / to eat wheaten bread. Their bread was of bean paste(?) and other grain; / and likewise they quenched their thirst with water. / And then their festive fare / was cheese and milk, but that was rare.”) Mirour de l’Omme, lines 26449-26456, John Gower (a friend of Chaucer), writing around 1376 to 1379. See: “The Function of Food in Mediaeval German Literature,” G. F. Jones, Speculum, 35(1):78-86, 1960. See also: Life in a Medieval Village, Frances and Joseph Gies, Harper & Row, 1990, pages 98 and 198. After the Black Death began decimating Europe starting in 1347, so many died that food became plentiful for a time, and surviving peasants began to eat better. But that didn’t last forever.
[salt as money]
The English word ‘salary’ descends from the Latin for ‘salt money’ (salarium argentum.) Pliny credits it as the source of the name for part of what Roman soldiers were paid: salarium. Natural History, Pliny the Elder, Book 31, part 41. Salt is still in use as money in some parts of the world today.
[Europe’s Great Famine]
Jordan estimates 30 million for the affected European population, with three million dead in the first three years. The Great Famine: Northern Europe in the Early Fourteenth Century, William Chester Jordan, Princeton University Press, 1996. Livi-Bacci, though, estimates that Europe as a whole contained that many as far back as the year 1000. However, although Livi-Bacci estimates 74 million for all Europe, it is for 1340 not 1314, and may include parts of Europe not visited by the 1314 famine. A Concise History of World Population, Massimo Livi-Bacci, translated by Carl Ipsen, Third Revision, Blackwell, 1997.

[widespread hunger after 1300]
“A mannes herte mihte blede for to here the crie / Off pore men that gradden, ‘Allas, for hungger I die / Up rihte!’ / This auhte make men aferd of Godes muchele miht.” (A man’s heart might bleed to hear the cry / Of poor men that wail, ‘Alas, for hunger I die, / Up right!’ / This ought to make men afraid of God’s great power.) The Simonie, (written in 1321) in Medieval English Political Writings, James M. Dean (editor), Western Michigan University, 1996, lines 399-402.
[price of wheat during the Great Famine]
“For tho God seih that the world was so over gart, / He sente a derthe on eorthe, and made hit ful smarte. / A busshel of whete was at foure shillinges or more.” The Simonie, (written in 1321) in Medieval English Political Writings, James M. Dean (editor), Western Michigan University, 1996, lines 391-393.
[recurrent famine in England]
England alone had suffered famine in 1257, 1272, 1277, 1283, 1292, and 1311. “In the eleventh and twelfth centuries famine [in England] is recorded every fourteen years, on an average, and the people suffered twenty years of famine in two hundred years. In the thirteenth century the list exhibits the same proportion of famine; the addition of high prices made the proportion greater. Upon the whole, scarcities decreased during the three following centuries; but the average from 1201 to 1600 is the same, namely, seven famines and ten years of famine in a century.” See: “The Influence of Scarcities and of the High Prices of Wheat on the Mortality of the People of England,” William Farr, Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, IX, page 158, February 16, 1846.

If we take grain prices as a proxy for poor harvests, then regular famine appears to have been common all over the world and for all recorded time. However, such price evidence may be good only for Western Europe in the recent past, with waves of inflation occurring in the thirteenth, sixteenth, eighteenth, and twentieth centuries. The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History, David Hackett Fischer, Oxford University Press, 1999.

[peasant bones]
“Biocultural analysis of Sex Differences in Mortality Profiles and Stress Levels in the Late Medieval Population from Nova Raca, Croatia,” M. Slaus, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 111(2):193-209, 2000. “A Biomechanical Study of Activity Patterns in a Medieval Human Skeletal Assemblage,” S. Mays, International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, 9(1):68-73, 1999. “Dry Bones: a Paleopathological Study of Skeletal Remains from a Medieval Graveyard in Dundee,” R. N. Spalding, D. J. Sinclair, A. Cox, K. D. Morley, Scottish Medical Journal, 41(2):56-59, 1996.

However, paleopathology and paleodemography are still very young fields, with many of their research agendas, tools, and methods still in flux. In particular, any studies that claim anything about disease prevalence, or overall mortality statistics for any non-provably stationary populations, needs to be approached with caution. “The Osteological Paradox: Problems of Inferring Prehistoric Health from Skeletal Samples,” J. W. Wood, G. R. Milner, H. C. Harpending, K. M Weiss, Current Anthropology, 33(4):343-370, 1992.

[rich and poor]
That list of possible possessions is from an inventory taken in 1329, upon the death of a wealthy villein named William Lene, who lived in Walsham manor, in Suffolk.

A single brass pot might cost over a pound (20 shillings)—anything that we needed fuel or special tools to make was expensive. “Manorial court roll inventories as evidence for English peasant consumption and living standards, c.1270-c.1420,” Chris Briggs, In, Antoni Furio, and Ferran Garcia-Oliver (editors), Pautes de Consum i Nivells de Vida al Món Rural Medieval, Publicacions de la Universitat de Valéncia, 2010. An Age of Transition? Economy and Society in England in the later Middle Ages, Christopher Dyer, Oxford University Press, 2005, page 26. Plantagenet England, 1225-1360, Michael Prestwich, Oxford University Press, 2005, pages 457-458.

Dyer estimates that, at least in England between 1280 and 1480, given the technology available at the time, a family needed 12-15 acres. In 1280, in the East Midlands, at least 42 percent of households didn’t have that much. In 1480, about a third still didn’t. An Age of Transition? Economy and Society in England in the later Middle Ages, Christopher Dyer, Oxford University Press, 2005, page 175. Prestwich details land holdings in Norfolk between 1220 and 1292. At Hinderclay in 1300 the average holding was seven acres. But some were as large as 30 acres while others were as small as two acres or less. Plantagenet England, 1225-1360, Michael Prestwich, Oxford University Press, 2005, pages 455-456.

Note that the practice of selling tenants along with land, or of selling families separate from land, wasn’t restricted to Europe in 1300. For example, the same thing was common in China at about the same time. The Pattern of the Chinese Past, Mark Elvin, Stanford University Press, 1973, pages 71-73.

Also, a very few of us were royal, and we always lived well. Although, in 1300, with our knowledge of disease being what it was, even princes of a royal family only lived on average around 30 years at birth. For example, here are life expectancies of princes in England in 1300: “The exact figures are: up to 1275, 35.28 years; 1276-1300, 31.30; 1301-1325, 29.84; 1326-1348, 30.22; 1348-1375, 17.33; 1376-1400, 20.53; 1401-1425, 23.78; 1426-1450, 32.76.” From: “The Generation in Medieval History,” D. Herlihy, Viator, 5:346-364, 1974, footnote 10.

[Balzac quote]
“Le secret des grandes fortunes sans cause apparente est un crime oublié, parce qu’il a été proprement fait.” (“The secret of a great fortune without obvious cause is a forgotten crime, forgotten because it was done properly.”) Le Père Goriot, Honoré de Balzac, 1835, Airmont, Reprint Edition, 1965, page 132.
[Athens and Melos]
History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides, 2.34-2.46 Thucydides made this affair famous, not for its scale or novelty or brutality, for it was none of those, but for its frankness. Ancient Siege Warfare, Paul Bentley Kern Indiana University Press, 1999, pages 148-149.
[Belgium and the Congo]
King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, Adam Hochschild, Mariner Books, 1999.
[oldest known tools]
These aren’t provably the oldest tools, nor are they necessarily tools made by members of our lineage of hominins (for a variety of reasons, one of which is that we still don’t know what our lineage is, exactly; another is that just because we find a chipped stone, and can tell that it had been purposely chipped, and can date it, we still don’t know which hominin hand dropped it). “2.6-Million-year-old stone tools and associated bones from OGS-6 and OGS-7, Gona, Afar, Ethiopia,” S. Semaw, M. J. Rogers, J. Quade, P. R. Renne, R. F. Butler, M. Domínguez-Rodrigo, D. Stout, W. S. Hart, T. Pickering, S. W. Simpson, Journal of Human Evolution, 45(2):169–177, 2003.
[we don’t plan our path]
Not only that, our path is something we discover only in hindsight. Machado said it best: “Caminante, no hay camino, / se hace camino al andar.” “Wanderer, there is no road, / The road is made by walking.” “Proverbios y cantares XXIX,” Campos de Castilla, Selected Poems of Antonio Machado, Betty Jean Craige (translator), Louisiana State University Press, 1978.
[carrying capacity and population as the main problem?]
That belief far predates Malthus, but he’s considered one of the seminal proponents since his 1798 book was the first to present a seemingly mathematically airtight argument, not just one based on how the rich had usually viewed the poor. It’s strange indeed that he articulated it just when England was phase changing into industry. An Essay on the Principle of Population, Thomas Malthus, Oxford University Press, 1999.

Seeds as Factory Embryos

[atmospheric carbon dioxide]
The concentration of carbon dioxide is less than one 25th of one percent.
[plant energy loss]
We understand a great deal about photosynthesis from a reductionist point of view: that is, think of a plant like a machine, like a car. Now imagine it completely dismantled with all its parts lying on the floor. We’ve analyzed many of those parts separately, and many in great detail. But how exactly they go together we don’t exactly know. Plants aren’t only about photosynthsis—they’re about survival and reproduction. Their photosynthetic energy conversion efficiency is determined by the interaction between all the parts of the entire systems, not by any particular part of the system. So simply giving the car more gas (more carbon dioxide, say), or replacing a spark plug (a gene for RuBisCO, say), won’t necessarily help. So when it comes to figuring out how to ladder up their overall photosythetic rate we’re still at the stage of just watching what they do in bulk. And that data is now very old (1926, 1942, 1954, and 1971 by Transeau, Lindeman, Odum and others). It took a long while for us to figure out the differences between C3, C4, and CAM vascular plants, and it took a long time to work out the detailed structure of RuBisCO and the separation of the Calvin cycle from the light reactions inside the thylakoids of the plant’s chloroplasts inside their plastids. Considering just how many millennia we’ve depended so abjectly on plants (not just for food, but also for oxygen), this ignorance for so long is amazing. Principles of Terrestrial Ecosystem Ecology, F. Stuart Chapin III, Pamela A. Matson, and Peter Vitousek, Springer, Second Edition, 2011, chapter 5, especially pages 134-147. Biology, Kenneth A. Mason, Jonathan B. Losos, Susan R. Singer, based on the work of Peter H. Raven and George B. Johnson, McGraw-Hill, Ninth Edition, 2011, chapters 38 and 39. Ecology: Principles and Applications, J. L. Chapman and M. J. Reiss, Cambridge Universty Press, Second Edition, 1999, pages 136-138. Why Big Fierce Animals Are Rare, Paul Colinvaux, Princeton University Press, 1978, chapter 4.
[crop losses before harvest]
“Crop Losses to Animal Pests, Plant Pathogens, and Weeds,” E.-C. Oerke, in Encyclopedia of Pest Management, Volume II, David Pimentel (editor), CRC Press, 2007, pages 116-120.
[...burn a further 87 percent]
In 1977, Americans got from food roughly 13 percent of the energy used to grow, process, transport, sell, and prepare it. Energy and Food: Energy used in Production, Processing, Delivery, and Marketing of Selected Food Items, Anne Pierotti, A. Keeler, and A. Fritsch, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Energy Series Number 10, 1977. Extending that figure to today may seem problematic because that would assume that world farming is comparable to farming in the United States (which it isn’t, since Americans eat so much more processed foods), and that today’s figures are comparable with 1970s figures (which it may not be, since the price of oil had spiked after 1973 and the report gives no date for its data so it could easily have been taken at the peak of the OPEC oil embargoes). However, an expert on agronomy, Richard C. Fluck, believes that it’s probably not far wrong. (Personal communication.) His argument is that although technology has improved since the 1970s, largely thanks to precision farming, pressure for improvement has also been nearly flat since then as oil prices had remained relatively low for all that time. “Energy Use in the U.S. Food System: a summary of existing research and analysis,” J. Hendricksen, Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1995. Energy in Farm Production, R. C. Fluck (editor), Elsevier, 1992.
[lost edible food]
“Weekly food waste collections can benefit the environment and save money,” News Release, March 27th, 2008, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, United Kingdom Government, 2008. “Estimating household and institutional food wastage and losses in the context of measuring food deprivation and food excess in the total population,” R. Sibri´n, J. Komorowska, J. Mernies, Working Paper Number ESS/ESSA/001e, Statistics Division, United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, 2006. “Household Refuse Food Loss,” T. Jones, S. Dahlen, K. Cisco, B. McKee, A. Bockhorst, Report to the United States Department of Agriculture, 2002. “Life Cycle-Based Sustainability Indicators for Assessment of the U.S. Food System,” M. C. Heller, G. A. Keoleian, Report Number CSS00-04, Center for Sustainable Systems, School of Natural Resources and Environment, The University of Michigan, 2000, page 37. “Estimating and Addressing America’s Food Losses,” L. Scott Kantor, K. Lipton, A. Manchester, V. Oliveira, Economic Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture, 1997. “Household food wastage in Britain,” R. W. Wenlock, D. H. Buss, B. J. Derry, E. J. Dixon, British Journal of Nutrition, 43(1):53-70, 1980.
[meat consumption in the United States]
“Food Consumption,” Briefing Room Economic Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture, 2007.
[expensive animal protein]
About 1,700,000 kilocalories of solar energy hit a square meter of earth per year. On land, just 20,810 kilocalories will be transferred to plants. Of that, 3,368 will be transferred to direct consumers, like cattle; and of that, 383 will be transferred to first level carnivores, like us. So for every 100 kilocalories of energy that hits a plant, 1.2 are available to cattle, and 0.12 are available to us. The conversion efficiencies are about 1.2 percent for converting energy to plants, 6 percent for converting plants to animals, and 10 percent for converting animals to other animals. So if we eat an animal we get 0.072 percent of the original solar energy, whereas eating a plant gives us 0.72 percent—ten times as much—of the original energy. Living in the Environment: Principles, Connections, and Solutions, G. Tyler Miller, Brooks Cole, Twelfth Edition, 2002, page 85.
[kilocalorie]
Often miscalled a ‘calorie’ in the United States (but not Europe). Also often called a ‘large calorie.’ A kilocalorie is the energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water by 1 degree Celsius. It’s 1,000 ‘small’ calories, or gram calories.
[energy cost of nitrogen fertilizer in Canada in 2001]
“Prairie Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development,” Program: Prairie Sard. Reports on Development of a Program for Research and Action Towards More Economically and Environmentally Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development for Western Canada, The Canadian Agriculture New Uses Council, CANUC, Bulletin Number 6, 2001. This particular study was about including alfalfa in rotations at Winnipeg, Manitoba, to reduce nitrogen fertilizer costs. Incidentally, to make that 80 pounds of fertilizer per acre in the first place, we needed at least 1,428 cubic feet of natural gas. That, too, costs energy to find, make, process, and transport.
[applesauce is three times more expensive than apples in Florida in 1992]
“To be more energy efficient means to get a higher return on your energy Investment. Some foods are more energy efficient than others. It takes 1,100 Btu of energy to serve one half pound of homegrown potatoes. Supermarket potatoes use 2,000 Btu of energy per half-pound to get from seed to serving dish. There are 15,000 Btu of energy invested in 8 oz (0.5 lb) of potato chips. Similarly, it takes over three times the energy to place a can of applesauce on the grocery store shelf as it does to put an equal quantity of fresh apples in the produce department.” From: “Energy Efficiency and Environmental News: Food to Energy,” July 1992. Florida Energy Extension Service newsletter, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida.
[plants don’t extract nitrogen from the air]
That’s strange because plants colonized the land at least 425 million years ago. (That’s the latest lower estimate, based on genetic evidence. Previously, the best estimate, and the one in all the texts, was between 480 to 460 million years ago, based on the earliest land plant fossils found.) That surely should have given them enough time to figure it out. Why they didn’t is a mystery. “Molecular Timescale of Evolution in the Proterozoic,” S. B. Hedges, F. U. Battistuzzi, J. E. Blair, in Neoproterozoic Geobiology and Paleobiology, Shuhai Xiao and Alan J. Kaufman (editors), Springer, 2006, pages 199-229. “The plant tree of life: an overview and some points of view,” J. D. Palmer, D. E. Soltis, M. W. Chase, American Journal of Botany, 91(10):1437-1445, 2004. “Molecular data from 27 proteins do not support a Precambrian origin of land plants,” M. J. Sanderson, American Journal of Botany, 90(6):954-956, 2003. “A methodological bias toward overestimation of molecular evolutionary time scales,” F. Rodríguez-Trelles, R. Tarrío, F. J. Ayala, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 99(12):8112-8115, 2002. “Molecular Evidence for the Early Colonization of Land by Fungi and Plants,” D. S. Heckman, D. M. Geiser, B. R. Eidell, R. L. Stauffer, N. L. Kardos, S. B. Hedges, Science, 293(5532):1129-1133, 2001.
[plants and nitrogen fixation]
Legumes—like peas, beans, soybean, peanut, lentil, alfalfa, and clover—aren’t the only plants that form symbiotic relationships with nitrogen-fixing microbes, however at present they’re the most important ones for our food supply. We don’t know why most plants aren’t rhizobia symbionts. We don’t even know why plants don’t simply fix nitrogen themselves. Perhaps it’s simple competition. Nitrogen-fixation, or simply facilitating nitrogen-fixation as symbionts do, takes energy. Perhaps plants that don’t bother grow faster or grow bigger? On the other hand, such symbionts have a huge advantage as they can grow anywhere, whereas most other plants can only grow in nitrogen-rich soil. All we know for sure right now is that the situation is complicated. “Holy alliances?” B. Osborne, New Phytologist, 175(4):602-605, 2007. “Host sanctions and the legume-rhizobium mutualism,” E. T. Kiers, R. A. Rousseau, S. A. West, R. F. Denison, Nature, 425(6953):78-81, 2003.

Rhizobia symbiosis may have arisen during a period where there was a lot of CO2 in the atmosphere (about 60 million years ago). But why it didn’t take over is unknown. “Evolving ideas of legume evolution and diversity: a taxonomic perspective on the occurrence of nodulation,” New Phytologist, J. I. Sprent, 174(1):11-25, 2007.

We now know that legumes have a gene that triggers the formation of nodules, which then encourage nitrogen-fixing bacteria to come live there. That gene can be transplanted to another legume and it too will become nitrogen-fixing. “Nodulation independent of rhizobia induced by a calcium-activated kinase lacking autoinhibition,” C. Gleason, S. Chaudhuri, T. Yang, A. Muñoz, B. W. Poovaiah, G. E. D. Oldroyd, Nature, 441(7097):1149-1152, 2006.

[herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides in plants]
Today, our perception of risk from our food is severely distorted. Each day, the average American, for example, eats about 10,000 times more plant-generated pesticides than artificial ones. One gram of roasted coffee, for instance, contains about 59 milligrams of chlorogenic acid, neochlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, and caffeine—all toxins, and all put there by the coffee plant, not us. (However, artificial pesticides are still undesirable because being sprayed on, not built-in, they run off easily and collect in aquifers.) Cooking our food adds further toxicity by producing about two grams per person per day of burnt material that contains many rodent carcinogens: polycyclic hydrocarbons, heterocyclic amines, furfural, nitrosamines, and nitroaromatics, as well as many mutagens. Further, many plant toxins are cumulative. Potatoes, for example, contain fat-soluble neurotoxins (solanine and chaconine), which are in the bloodstreams of all potato eaters. Potatoes are relatively new to our species, so our genes haven’t yet had time to evolve ways to fully detoxify them.

We don’t drop dead (usually) when we drink coffee and eat some potato chips because all plant-eaters have evolved ways to detect harmful plants and avoid them, or have evolved ways to detoxify a few plant poisons. In our case, we’ve selectively amplified only those few plant cultivars and those ways of preparing food from them that haven’t immediately killed us in the past. For example, cassava (a starchy tuber like the potato and the chief thing in tapioca) feeds over 400 million of us in the tropics, but it also contains cyanide. We’ve learned, presumably by long trial and error, how to boil it to reduce the poison to trace amounts. Rhubarb leaves, apple seeds, almonds, lima beans, potato skins, avocado skins, cherry pits—even too much nutmeg in your eggnog—all can kill. Handbook of Pesticide Toxicology: Principles, Robert Krieger, Academic Press, Second Edition, 2001, page 811. “What Do Animal Cancer Tests Tell Us About Human Cancer Risk?: Overview of Analyses of the Carcinogenic Potency Database,” L. Swirsky Gold, T. H. Slone, B. N. Ames, Drug Metabolism Reviews, 30(2):359-404, 1998. “Rodent Carcinogens: Setting Priorities,” L. Swirsky Gold, T. H. Slone, B. R. Stern, N. B. Manley, B. N. Ames, Science, 258(5080):261-265, 1992. “α-Chaconine and α-solanine content of potato products and their stability during several modes of cooking,” R. J. Bushway, R. Ponnampalam, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 29(4):814-817, 1981.

[acreage covered by smart seeds in 2005]
Of that land area, about 87 percent is in the United States. Argentina, Canada, and China make up most of the rest. “Transgenic Crops,” J. Schahczenski, K. Adam, in Biotechnology: Perspectives & Prospects, C. P. Malik, Chitra Wadhwani, and Bhavneet Kaur (editors), MD Publications, 2008. See also: ATTRA Publication Number IP189, National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, 2006. Agricultural Statistics Board National Agricultural Statistics Service Agricultural Statistics Board, United States Department of Agriculture, 2005.
[kudzu]
In the southern United States, kudzu is sometimes called ‘the vine that ate the south.’ A legume, it will grow even on eroded soils, and was imported from Japan in 1876 then, with government help, it grew like a fungus. It can grow up to 300 centimeters (about a foot) a day, and will often smother even large trees simply by outgrowing them. “Kudzu: Where did it come from? And how can we stop it?” J. H. Miller, E. Boyd, Southern Journal of Applied Forestry, 7(3):165-169, 1982.
[a new superweed]
Despite conspiracy theories about mad scientists deep in military bunkers, we likely won’t be deliberately aiming to create a superweed, but nature is too wily for us to predict precisely what will happen to any plant, transgenic or not. Unintended pollen flow has already resulted in some unduly resistant weeds. “A Field Study of Pollen-Mediated Gene Flow from Mediterranean GM rice to Conventional Rice and the Red Rice Weed,” J. Messeguer, V. Marfa, M. M. Catala, E. Guiderdoni, E. Mele, Molecular Breeding, 13(1):103-112, 2004. “Gene Flow in Commercial Fields of Herbicide-Resistant Canola (Brassica napus),” H. J. Beckie, S. I. Warwick, H. Nair, G. Séguin-Swartz, Ecological Applications, 13(5):1276-1294, 2003. “Gene Flow Between Red Rice (Oryza. sativa) and Herbicide-Resistant Rice (O. sativa): Implications for Weed Management,” D. R. Gealy, D. H. Mitten, J. N. Rutger, Weed Technology, 17(3):627-645, 2003.

Food Machines

[farming’s water use]
“Agriculture is the principal user of all water resources taken together, i.e. rainfall (so-called green water) and water in rivers, lakes and aquifers (so-called blue water). It accounts for about 70 percent of all withdrawals worldwide, with domestic use amounting to about 10 percent and industry using some 21 percent.” Unlocking the Water Potential of Agriculture, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 2003, page 7.

In its separate ‘Key Facts’ summary factsheet, it states the following: “To produce 1 kg of wheat, 1 m3 of water is needed. It takes at least 1.2 m3 of water to produce 1 kg of rice.” The text’s figures uses the usual conversion factors: 1 kilogram is 2.2 pounds and 1 cubic meter is 264 gallons. So 1 pound needs 120 gallons.

However, the global range is very wide. For more recent figures on global evapotranspiration, see: “Review of measured crop water productivity values for irrigated wheat, rice, cotton and maize,” S. J. Zwart, W. G. M. Bastiaanssen, Agricultural Water Management, 69(2):115-133, 2004.

For the figures on evaporation loss for farm irrigation, see: Challenges to International Waters; Regional Assessments in a Global Perspective, United Nations Environment Programme, 2006.

[water content of various foods]
Bowes and Church’s Food Values of Portions Commonly Used, Jean A. T. Pennington, J. B. Lippincott Co., Sixteenth Edition, 1994.
[raising a lamb is water-expensive]
The calculation is crude as it requires several approximations and conversions and over more than one country. In Ontario, average market-weight ranges for lambs are from 40 to 50 kilograms (88 to 110 pounds). Lambs are typically 5 to 8 months old at time of slaughter. “Market Lamb Nutrition: Factsheet,” C. Wand, and “Benchmarks for a Good Lamb Crop: Performance Targets for Replacement Ewe Lambs,” A. O’Brien, Food and Rural Affairs, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Government of Canada, 2003. In Britain, raising one gram of lamb needs about 15 litres of water. Future of Food, George Alagiah, BBC documentary, 2009.

For some estimates of other food animals, see: “World population, food, natural resources, and survival,” D. Pimentel, M. Pimentel, World Futures, 59(3&4):145-167, 2003.

[percentage consumption of irrigation in India and China in 1995]
“Facts and trends: Water,” World Business Council for Sustainable Development, 2005. “Global Water Crisis, the Major Issue of the 21st Century,” H. F. L. Saeijs, M. J. Van Berkel, European Water Pollution Control, 5(4):26-40, 1995. For more up-to-date and in-depth analysis, see: “Freshwater biodiversity: importance, threats, status and conservation challenges,” D. Dudgeon, A. H. Arthington, M. O. Gessner, Z. Kawabata, D. J. Knowler, C. Leveque, R. J. Naiman, A. H. Prieur-Richard, D. Soto, M. L. Stiassny, C. A. Sullivan, Biological reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, 81(2):163-82, 2006.
[global water resource use]
Factsheet on Water and Sanitation, United Nations World Health Organization, 2008. See also: Water for Life, United Nations World Health Organization, 2005, page 40.
[global landuse in 2000]
Current estimates are that in 2000 cropland took 15.3 million square kilometers (3,780 million acres), pasture took 34.3 million square kilometers (8,475 million acres), and the overall percentage of earth’s land used was 34.9 percent. “The HYDE 3.1 spatially explicit database of human-induced global land-use change over the past 12,000 years,” K. K. Goldewijk, A. Beusen, G. van Drecht, M. de Vos, Global Ecology and Biogeography, 20(1):73–86, 2011.
[15 million acres of primary forest a year]
That is, 6 million hectares annually. Global Diversity Outlook 2, Convention on Biological Diversity, United Nations Environment Programme, 2006.
[topsoil loss in 2000]
One estimate is 1,150 tons per kilometer square per year. That’s about 0.38 millimeters a year globally, with much of the loss concentrated in southeast Asia. About 60 percent of it is anthropogenic, and almost all of that is via farming. “Global potential soil erosion with reference to land use and climate changes,” D. Yang, S. Kanae, T. Oki, T. Koike, K. Musiake, Hydrological Processes, 17(14):2913-2928, 2002. “Global Soil Loss Estimate using RUSLE Model: The Use of Global Spatial Datasets on Estimating Erosive Parameters,” T. N. Pham, D. Yang, S. Kanae, T. Oki, K. Musiake, Annual Journal of Hydraulic Engineering, JSCE, 45:811-816, 2001.
[overfishing]
Estimates are that industrial fisheries typically reduce community biomass by 80 percent within 15 years. “Rebuilding Global Fisheries,” B. Worm, R. Hilborn, J. K. Baum, T. A. Branch, J. S. Collie, C. Costello, M. J. Fogarty, E. A. Fulton, J. A. Hutchings, S. Jennings, O. P. Jensen, H. K. Lotze, P. M. Mace, T. R. McClanahan, C. Minto, S. R. Palumbi, A. M. Parma, D. Ricard, A. A. Rosenberg, R. Watson, D. Zeller, Science, 325(5940):578-585, 2009. “Rapid worldwide depletion of predatory fish communities,” R. A. Myers, B. Worm, Nature, 423(6937):280-283, 2003.
[today’s mass extinctions]
A common figure of about 100 species a day is common. It’s a total guess. The Sixth Extinction: Biodiversity and its Survival, Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin, Doubleday, 1995. Leakey’s estimates have been challenged. The Ultimate Resource 2, Julian Simon, Princeton University Press, 1998. The core problem is that we don’t even know how many species are on earth now, far less how many are being lost per day. At a talk given in Cape Town in 2001, Leakey upped his estimate to “between 50,000 and 100,000 plant, insect, and animal species a year” but gave no evidence to support his claim. By some environmentalist guesstimates, about 24 percent of mammal species, 11 percent of bird species, and 3 percent of fish species are thought to be threatened. World Resources 2000-2001: People and Ecosystems: The Fraying Web of Life, World Resources Institute, 2000, pages 246-248. E. O. Wilson estimates that there are between 10 million and 100 million species on the planet. The Diversity of Life, Edward O. Wilson, W. W. Norton, Reissue Edition, 1999. The most recent comprehensive work estimates that we’re losing an unknown but perhaps large number of species. “Quantifying Uncertainty in Estimation of Tropical Arthropod Species Richness,” A. J. Hamilton, Y. Basset, K. K. Benke, P. S. Grimbacher, S. E. Miller, V. Novotný, A. Samuelson, N. E. Stork, G. D. Weiblen, J. D. L. Yen, The American Naturalist, 176(1):90-95, 2010. “Global Biodiversity: Indicators of Recent Declines,” S. H. Butchart, M. Walpole, B. Collen, A. van Strien, J. P. Scharlemann, R. E. Almond, J. E. Baillie, B. Bomhard, C. Brown, J. Bruno, K. E. Carpenter, G. M. Carr, J. Chanson, A. M. Chenery, J. Csirke, N. C. Davidson, F. Dentener, M. Foster, A. Galli, J. N. Galloway, P. Genovesi, R. D. Gregory, M. Hockings, V. Kapos, J. F. Lamarque, F. Leverington, J. Loh, M. A. McGeoch, L. McRae, A. Minasyan, M. H. Morcillo, T. E. Oldfield, D. Pauly, S. Quader, C. Revenga, J. R. Sauer, B. Skolnik, D. Spear, D. Stanwell-Smith, S. N. Stuart, A. Symes, M. Tierney, T. D. Tyrrell, J. C. Vié, R. Watson, Science, 328(5982):1164-1168, 2010.
[we’re composed of about seven or so elements]
In order, the big four are: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. Then the next five are: phosphorus, sulfur, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Other elements occur only in trace amounts in most living things. Also: sulfur, calcium, and magnesium are usually abundant in soils, so they mostly aren’t needed in plant fertilizers.
[albumin]
Strictly speaking, ‘albumin’ is really a whole family of proteins, one of which is ovalbulmin, the principal protein in egg whites.
[genes and proteins]
Figuring out proteins (‘proteomics’) is far harder than figuring out genes (‘genomics’). We have roughly 25,000 genes, but an unknown number of proteins. There’s as yet no known mapping between our genes (the description of what does stuff in our bodies) and our proteins (the things that actually do stuff in our bodies). First, genes exist in separated blocks (called exons) on the genome. Those blocks can be put together in different ways to yield different proteins. (That’s called alternative splicing.) Second, on production, some proteins can alter themselves depending on their own structure. That’s called post-translational modification, or PTM.) Third, some genes can, in concert with others, produce multiple proteins. And all of those interactions can depend on which proteins have been expressed in our cells recently, and which are being expressed now. For some background, see: Gene Regulation—A Eukaryotic Perspective, David S. latchman, Taylor & Francis, Fifth Revised Edition, 2005. We now know that even the same protein can have multiple different functions in different circumstances. For example, Glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase has many different functions, perhaps as many as nine. These are so called ‘moonlighting’ proteins. “Moonlighting proteins—an update,” C. J. Jeffery, Molecular BioSystems, 5(4):345-350, 2009.
[protein is more than half our dry weight]
Estimates for a 70-kilogram elderly male (a Caucasian cadaver) are 42 kilograms of water, 12 kilograms of fat, 12 kilograms of protein, and lesser amounts of glycogen, calcium, and phosphorus plus trace amounts of other elements, starting with potassium and sodium, then decreasing with chlorine, magnesium, iron, zinc, and copper. “Composition of the body,” J. S. Garrow, in Human Nutrition and Dietetics, J. S. Garrow, W. P. T. James, and A. Ralph (editors), Elsevier Health Sciences, 2000, pages 13-23.
[tweaking organisms]
We’re now in the early stages of synthetic biology. We’ve engineered Escherichia coli bacteria to use an artificial amino acid, to build artificial proteins that it can use to sniff out TNT, serotonin, and lactate, to build anti-malaria and anti-cancer drugs, to build itself a simple biological clock, to build itself a simple memory (a toggle switch), and to build itself simple digital circuits. We’ve also built microbes and viruses from scratch, and have created artificial DNA with six base pairs instead of four. “Creation of a Bacterial Cell Controlled by a Chemically Synthesized Genome,” D. G. Gibson, J. I. Glass, C. Lartigue, V. N. Noskov, R.-Y. Chuang, M. A. Algire, G. A. Benders, M. G. Montague, L. Ma, M. M. Moodie, Ch. Merryman, S. Vashee, R. Krishnakumar, N. Assad-Garcia, C. Andrews-Pfannkoch, E. A. Denisova, L. Young, Z.-Q. Qi, T. H. Segall-Shapiro, C. H. Calvey, P. P. Parmar, C. A. Hutchison III, H. O. Smith, J. C. Venter, Science, 329(5987):52-56, 2010. “Teaching bacteria a new language,” Y. Gerchman, R. Weiss, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 101(8):2221-2222, 2004. “Microbes Made to Order,” D. Ferber, Science, 303(5655):158-161, 2004. “Programmable cells: Interfacing natural and engineered gene networks,” H. Kobayashi, M. Kærn, M. Araki, K. Chung, T. S. Gardner, C. R. Cantor, J. J. Collins, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 101(22):8414-8419, 2004. “Development of Genetic Circuitry Exhibiting Toggle Switch or Oscillatory Behavior in Escherichia coli,” M. R. Atkinson, M. A. Savageau, J. T. Myers, A. J. Ninfa, Cell, 113(5):597-607, 2003. “Generating a synthetic genome by whole genome assembly: φX174 bacteriophage from synthetic oligonucleotides,” H. O. Smith, C. A. Hutchison, III, C. Pfannkoch, J. C. Venter, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100(26):15440-15445, 2003.
[building our own life-forms from scratch]
“Creation of a Bacterial Cell Controlled by a Chemically Synthesized Genome,” D. G. Gibson, J. I. Glass, C. Lartigue, V. N. Noskov, R.-Y. Chuang, M. A. Algire, G. A. Benders, M. G. Montague, L. Ma, M. M. Moodie, Ch. Merryman, S. Vashee, R. Krishnakumar, N. Assad-Garcia, C. Andrews-Pfannkoch, E. A. Denisova, L. Young, Z.-Q. Qi, T. H. Segall-Shapiro, C. H. Calvey, P. P. Parmar, C. A. Hutchison III, H. O. Smith, J. C. Venter, Science, 329(5987):52-56, 2010. “Template-directed synthesis of a genetic polymer in a model protocell,” S. S. Mansy, J. P. Schrum, M. Krishnamurthy, S. Tobé, D. A. Treco, J. W. Szostak, Nature, 454(7200):122-125, 2008. “Complete Chemical Synthesis, Assembly, and Cloning of a Mycoplasma genitalium Genome,” D. G. Gibson, G. A. Benders, C. Andrews-Pfannkoch, E. A. Denisova, H. Baden-Tillson, J. Zaveri, T. B. Stockwell, A. Brownley, D. W. Thomas, M. A. Algire, Ch. Merryman, L. Young, V. N. Noskov, J. I. Glass, C. J. Venter, C. A. Hutchison, III, H. O. Smith, Science, 319(5867):1215-1220, 2008. “Genome Transplantation in Bacteria: Changing One Species to Another, C. Lartigue, J. I. Glass, N. Alperovich, R. Pieper, P. P. Parmar, C. A. Hutchison, III, H. O. Smith, J. C. Venter, Science, 317(5838):632-638, 2007. “Approaches to semi-synthetic minimal cells: a review,” P. L. Luisi, F. Ferri, P. Stano, Naturwissenschaften, 93(1):1-13, 2006. “Essential genes of a minimal bacterium,” J. I. Glass, N. Assad-Garcia, N. Alperovich, S. Yooseph, M. R. Lewis, M. Maruf, C. A. Hutchison, III, H. O. Smith, J. C. Venter, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103(2):425-430, 2006. “Alive! The race to create life from scratch,” B. Holmes, New Scientist, 2486:28, 2005. “Transitions from Nonliving to Living Matter,” S. Rasmussen, L. Chen, D. Deamer, D. C. Krakauer, N. H. Packard, P. F. Stadler, M. A. Bedau, Science, 303(5660):963-965, 2004.
[microbe that squirts diesel oil]
“Microbial Biosynthesis of Alkanes,” A. Schirmer, M. A. Rude, X. Li, E. Popova, S. B. del Cardayre, Science, 329(5991):559-562, 2010.
[microbe with corporate logo]
This isn’t a fully synethetic microbe, but a stripped-down form of a pre-existing one. “Minimal bacterial genome,” The J. Craig Venter Institute, United States Patent 20070122826, issued May 31st, 2007.

Future Tense

[food insecurity]
923 million malnourished: The State of Food Insecurity in the World, SOFI 2008, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 2008, page 2. One child every five seconds (17,280 children a day, or 6.3 million a year): The State of Food Insecurity in the World, SOFI 2004, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 2004, page 4. Tietenberg estimates between 20,000 and 24,000 total hunger deaths a day. Environmental Economics and Policy, Tom Tietenberg, Addison Wesley, Fifth Edition, 2006, page 188.
[world kilocalorie average in 2001]
The State of Food Insecurity in the World, SOFI 2001, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 2001, page 6. World Agriculture: Towards 2015/2030, An F.A.O. Perspective, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 2003, page 32. World Agriculture: Towards 2010, An F.A.O. Study, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 1995, page 36.
[price of coal in 2008]
In the United States as of May 2008, Central Appalachian coal, a benchmark grade, was around $90 a short ton (2,000 pounds). Most of coal’s cost isn’t mining it, it’s transporting it. “Coal News and Markets,” May 12, 2008, Energy Information Administration, United States Department of Energy. Also, that price has stayed roughly stable since at least 1973. Monthly Energy Review, March 2013, Table 9-9, Energy Information Administration, United States Department of Energy.
[African resistance to engineered food because of European resistance since 2001]
“Feeding the famine? American food aid and the GMO debate in Southern Africa,” N. Zerbe, Food Policy, 29(6):593-608, 2004.
[human meat?]
From an idea in the science-fiction novel: Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, Samuel R. Delany, Bantam Books, 1984.
[food cost as a percentage of income in 2003]
In the United States it’s 9.9 percent. Agriculture Fact Book 2001-2002, Office of Communications, United States Department of Agriculture, 2003. But in Eritrea: “The profile of most vulnerable households has remained similar to the previous year. Poverty is still rampant. A study undertaken in 2002/03 indicates that 66 percent of the population has incomes below the poverty line (and 37 percent below the extreme poverty line). On average 66 percent of household expenditure is spent on food in urban areas, and 71 percent in rural areas.” FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission to Eritrea, United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, 2005.
[ten percent rise in 2007 in Britain]
Future of Food, George Alagiah, BBC documentary, 2009.
[overweight rates in rich countries]
Note that data for Britain and the United States are based on actual measurements. In other rich countries, data is self-reported, which tends to yield much lower figures. The figures are for both the overweight and the obese. OECD Health Data, 2007, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2007. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2003-2004 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2007.
[75 million more hungry]
The State of Food Insecurity in the World, SOFI 2008, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 2008, page 6.
[about 60 percent of deaths are from hunger]
“On average, 62 million people die each year, of whom probably 36 million (58 per cent) directly or indirectly as a result of nutritional deficiencies, infections, epidemics or diseases which attack the body when its resistance and immunity have been weakened by undernourishment and hunger.” From: “The Right to Food,” Report E/CN.4/2001/53, The Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, 2001, page 5.
[obesity a result of more food not less exercise]
“Hunter-Gatherer Energetics and Human Obesity,” H. Pontzer, D. A. Raichlen, B. M. Wood, A. Z. P. Mabulla, S. B. Racette, F. W. Marlowe, Public Library of Science, One, 7(7):e40503, 2012. “Physically Active Lifestyle Does Not Decrease the Risk of Fattening,” K. R. Westerterp, G. Plasqui, Public Library of Science, One, 4(3):e4745, 2009. “Increased food energy supply is more than sufficient to explain the US epidemic of obesity,” B. Swinburn, G. Sacks, E. Ravussin, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 90(6):1453-1456, 2009. “Physical activity energy expenditure has not declined since the 1980s and matches energy expenditures of wild mammals,” K. R. Westerterp, J. R. Speakman, International Journal of Obesity, 32(11):1256-1263, 2008. However, see also: “Trends over 5 Decades in U.S. Occupation-Related Physical Activity and Their Associations with Obesity,” T. S. Church, D. M. Thomas, C. Tudor-Locke, P. T. Katzmarzyk, C. P. Earnest, R. Q. Rodarte, C. K. Martin, S. N. Blair, C. Bouchard, Public Library of Science, One, 6(5):e19657, 2011.
[farm tariffs and subsidies]
As usual, the situation is more complicated than the simple version given in the text. Several poor nations, particularly in Africa, gain economically because several rich nations, particularly in the European Union, in effect suppress food prices on the world market by subsidizing their own domestic production. “Liberalizing Agriculture,” A. Panagariya, Foreign Affairs, 84(7):56-66, 2005.
[rich nations spend $372 thousand million U.S. a year on food subsidies]
The statistic was quoted by Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the Food and Agrculture Organization of the United Nations, in his opening speech of the Rome Summit on the Global Food Crisis, June 2008.

For comparison, our richest countries (the OECD countries), gave $103.94 thousand million in ODA (Official Development Assistance, that is, foreign aid) in 2006. OECD in Figures, 2007 Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, 2007.

[effect of food supports on West African farmers]
The State of Agricultural Commodity Markets 2004, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 2004, page 24.

Japan has a complex system in place to block as much foreign rice as possible. The markups mostly come from import duties, and can reach as high as 1,000 percent, depending on the rice variety. National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers, 2005 The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), United States Government, 2005, page 314.

[cows versus people]
The estimate of $250 million lost by West African farmers each because of protected cotton alone is from an address by Mark Malloch Brown, who was then the head of the United Nations Development Programme, His address was given at the launch of the Human Development Report 2003, to the Second Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union, in Maputo, Mozambique, July 10th, 2003.

A year before, he noted that “Every cow in Europe today is subsidised two dollars a day. That is twice as much as the per capita income of a half of Africa. It is the extraordinary distortion of global trade, where the West spends $360 billion a year on protecting its agriculture with a network of subsidies and tariffs that costs developing countries about US$50 billion in potential lost agricultural exports.”

From: “Globalization, the Transition Economies, and the IMF,” T. C. Dawson, International Monetary Fund, Joint Vienna Institute, Vienna, March 14, 2003. “The Millennium Development Goals and Africa: A new framework for a new future,” M. M. Brown, Kampala, Uganda, November 12th, 2002.
[ironmonger in Cornwall]
That’s Thomas Newcomen, who built the world’s first steam engine in 1712.
[first refrigerators in Florida]
In May, 1844, John Gorrie in Apalachicola, Florida, built the first known working refrigerator as a way to combat ‘malarial dieases’ (he meant malaria and yellow fever). The Fever Man: A Biography of Dr. John Gorrie, V. M. Sherlock, private printing, 1982.

Previously, in 1805, Oliver Evans in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, had designed the first known refrigerator, but never built it. Then, in 1834, Jacob Perkins in England had applied for a patent for a similar device. In 1846, after Gorrie, Ferdinand P. E. Carre in France produced another cooling device. In 1850, James Harrison in Scotland built one, then moved to England and built successive models in 1856 and 1857, which were used to make parrafin wax and ice. In 1856, Alexander C. Twinning in America tried another design. In 1874, Raoul Pictet in Geneva, Switzerland, produced one and it was used to make ice for a skating rink, but was otherwise not commercially successful. Finally, in 1876, Carl von Linde produced the first reliable and efficient refrigerator. It was used to let German brewers brew beer all year round. None of those inventors were first thinking of food preservation. Further, all that development ignores all the earlier chemists, physicists, amateur scientists, and inventors, like Joseph Priestly, William Cullen, Michael Faraday, Louis Paul Cailletet, Jean Charles Athanase Peltier, Sadi Carnot, and Lord Kelvin, who first separated various gases, and made the earliest observations about evaporation and thermodynamics. It also ignores the century-long story of ice harvesting, which would require a book by itself. (And one has already been written, The Frozen Water Trade: How Ice from New England Lakes Kept the World Cool, Gavin Weightman, HarperCollins, 2001.)

Few of our present-day artifacts came about simply. Most of their problems were solved piecemeal and over long periods by many hands, mostly working independently.

[first cannery in Paris]
The cook’s name was Nicolas Appert (1750-1841). He invented his boiling process before 1809, over 53 years before Pasteur invented pasteurization. Connections, James Burke, Macmillan, 1978, pages 234-235. L’art de conserver, pendant plusieurs années toutes les substances animales et végétales, Nicolas Appert, Paris, 1810.
[cheap diamonds and cheap aluminum and first fertilizer]
The French chemist was Henri Moissan. In 1893 he was trying to make artificial diamonds. The Canadian inventor was Thomas Leopold Willson, then living in the tiny town of Spray in North Carolina (the town is now merged into the town of Eden). In 1892 he was trying to make cheap aluminum, then switched to trying to make cheap calcium. Both developed the acetylene process using the new electric-arc furnace on coal and lime (calcium carbonate). Moissan received the 1906 Nobel prize for his work. Willson’s factory was eventually bought out by the company that became Union Carbide. Their use of the electric-arc furnace resulted in a lot of calcium carbide and acetylene, whose chief use at the time became oxy-acetylene welding since the use they were thinking of, gaslighting, was preempted by another invention, but only after a lot of money went into acetylene. Gaslighting then became brighter and electricity became cheaper and lightbulbs were made less fragile.

Various chemists, faced with mountains of now nearly worthless calcium carbine in both Europe and the United States, then tried various things. In 1903, two German dyers, Adolph Frank and Nikodem Caro, ran nitrogen over hot calcium carbide, accidentally producing calcium cyanamide, the world’s first artificial fertilizer. They did that not to produce fertilizer but to produce cyanides to help extract gold from its ores (which is sodium cyanide’s chief use today). They formed a company to do precisely that: the Deutsche Gold- und Silber-Scheideanstalt, now called Degussa, AG. In 1905, two more German chemists, Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch, developed a completely different, high-pressure way to make sodium nitrate, also a fertilizer. The Frank-Caro process initially nearly destroyed them commercially, though, since it was initially cheaper. Then, during World War I, Germany turned back to the Haber-Bosch process, but not to make fertilizers—to make explosives.

The Chemical Industry: 1900-1930, International Growth and Technological Change, Ludwig F. Haber, Clarendon Press, 1971. The Chemical Industry During the Nineteenth Century. A Study of the Economic Aspect of Applied Chemistry in Europe and North America, Ludwig F. Haber, Clarendon Press, 1958.

The Haber-Bosch process has its own involved backstory because fixing nitrogen and hydrogen to make ammonia wasn’t simple. By 1900, future food supplies were huge fears in Britain, Germany, the United States, and every other rapidly industrializing nation. Haber and Bosch 1909 process yielded an abundant supply of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. And seven years later they got the Nobel prize for it.

For the technical background, see: Enriching the Earth: Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch, and the Transformation of World Food Production, Vaclav Smil, MIT Press, 2001. Catalytic Ammonia Synthesis: Fundamentals and Practice, J. R. Jennings (editor), Springer, 1991.

The story is even longer, stranger, and more involved than this note suggests, containing many more blind alleys and unexpected twists, and altering the politics of many nations, including Germany, France, Britain, Chile, and the United States. Not to mention the consequences of guano, gaslight, the electric light, welding, steel, explosives, poison gas, hydroelectrics, liquid oxygen, the dynamo, famine, the Nazis, and both world wars. Someone should write a book about this. It could be told to every schoolchild as their first lesson that the world doesn’t work anything like they’ve been told.

[early food machines—quorn and meat sheets]
Were food machines to come to exist, many of us needn’t even notice them. We might continue to buy our food in grocery stores and markets, except that they might get some of their food from factories rather than farms. That’s already happened with Quorn, a fake meat made from vats of fungus that’s been selling since 1985. Today a few of us are planning to do the same with vat-grown pork from pig stem cells. But we don’t yet know how to do it cheaply, so were such meat-sheets to go on sale today they’d cost over $1,000 U.S. a pound. One day, though, that price might drop to $1 U.S. a pound. If so, such meat-makers might then hop from factories to stores. Limited use in rich homes might then be just a question of time. The word ‘homemade’ might then gain a whole new meaning. However, a meat product that might one day cost $1 a pound, but that today costs $1,000 a pound, has little chance to come to exist any time soon given that in our rich countries today beef can cost less than $3 a pound.

Quorn has been on sale since 1985, primarily to the vegetarian market. It’s made from the fungus Fusarium venenatum. As of 2006, it was only sold in Britain, the United States, the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, and Switzerland. In 2007, the average price of beef in the United States, averaged over all cuts, was $2.75 a pound. FreshLook Marketing data, for the 52 weeks ending in December, 2007. “Long-term culture of muscle explants from Sparus aurata,” B. Funkenstein, V. Balas, T. Skopal, G. Radaelli, A. Rowlerson, Tissue and Cell, 38(6):399-415, 2006. “In Vitro-Cultured Meat Production,” P. D. Edelman, D. C. McFarland, V. A. Mironov, J. G. Matheny, Tissue Engineering, 11(5/6):659-662, 2005. “In vitro Edible Muscle Protein Production System (MPPS): Stage 1, Fish,” M. A. Benjaminson, J. A. Gilchriest, M. Lorenz, Acta Astronautica, 51(12):879-889, 2002. “Industrial Scale Production of Meat from in vitro Cell Cultures,” W. F. Van Eelen, W. J. Van Kooten, W. Westerhof, Patent Number WO9931222, European Patent Office, 1999.

Interestingly, in 1931 Winston Churchill, predicted the culturing of meat (as well as many other potential things, as well as several miscalls), in “Fifty Years Hence,” an essay first published in The Strand magazine, December 1931: “Microbes, which at present convert the nitrogen of the air into the proteins by which animals live, will be fostered and made to work under controlled conditions, just as yeast is now. New strains of microbes will be developed and made to do a great deal of our chemistry for us. With a greater knowledge of what are called hormones, i.e. the chemical messengers in our blood, it will be possible to control growth. We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium. Synthetic food will, of course, also be used in the future. Nor need the pleasures of the table be banished. That gloomy Utopia of tabloid meals need never be invaded. The new foods will from the outset be practically indistinguishable from the natural products, and any changes will be so gradual as to escape observation.” See: The Fortune Sellers: The Big Business of Buying and Selling Predictions William A. Sherden, John Wiley & Sons, 1998, page 214. “Churchill and Science,” R. V. Jones, in Churchill: A Major New Assessment of His Life in Peace and War, edited by Robert Blake and Wm. Roger Louis, Oxford Universty Press, 1993, page 432. Amid These Storms: Thoughts and Adventures, Winston S. Churchill, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1932, pages 269-280.

[empty food before nutritious food]
For example, low-calorie sugar. The average American eats the equivalent of 20 teaspoons of sugar a day, and 144 million American adults regularly consume low-calorie, sugar-free products such as artificially sweetened sodas and desserts. “Sugar Substitutes: Americans Opt for Sweetness and Lite,” J. Henkel, FDA Consumer Magazine, November-December, United States Food and Drug Administration, 1999.
[over half of us were urban in 2010]
“By the middle of 2009, the number of people living in urban areas (3.42 billion) had surpassed the number living in rural areas (3.41 billion) and since then the world has become more urban than rural. However, major disparities in the level of urbanization remain among development groups. Thus, whereas the proportion urban in the more developed regions was already nearly 53 per cent in 1950, it will still take another decade for half of the population of the less developed regions to live in urban areas.

The world urban population is expected to increase by 84 per cent by 2050, from 3.4 billion in 2009 to 6.3 billion in 2050. By mid-century the world urban population will likely be the same size as the world’s total population was in 2004. Virtually all of the expected growth in the world population will be concentrated in the urban areas of the less developed regions, whose population is projected to increase from 2.5 billion in 2009 to 5.2 billion in 2050. Over the same period, the rural population of the less developed regions is expected to decline from 3.4 billion to 2.9 billion. In the more developed regions, the urban population is projected to increase modestly, from 0.9 billion in 2009 to 1.1 billion in 2050.” World Urbanization Prospects: The 2009 Revision, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2010, pages 2-4.

[world population in 2050 may be 9 thousand million]
That’s the median extrapolation as of 2004. World Population Prospects: The 2004 Revision, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2004. However, by 2011, the estimate had increased to 9.3 thousand million by 2050. State of World Population 2011: People and Possibilities in a World of 7 Billion, United Nations Population Fund, 2011, page 4. World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2011.
[per-person kilocalories in Eritrea and India versus France and Britain]
In 1998 Eritrea had 1,744 kilocalories per person. India in 1998 had 2,466 kilocalories per person. United Nations Statistical Yearbook, 2001. The figures for France in 1705 and Britain in 1850 were 1,657 and 2,362, respectively. The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100: Europe, America, and the Third World, Robert William Fogel, Cambridge University Press, 2004, page 9. Eritrea has the highest percentage of population suffering from undernourishment in the world. The State of Food Insecurity in the World, SOFI 2004, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 2004.

The text’s description of the French diet circa 1705 is actually from 1777, but it had remained mostly constant for centuries. “Our Frenchmen eat soup with a little butter and vegetables. They scarcely ever eat meat. They sometimes drink a little cider but more commonly water. Your Englishmen eat meat, and a great deal of it, and they drink beer continually in such a fashion that an Englishman spends three times more than a Frenchman [on comestibles].” Delaunay Deslandes, 1777. See: “Continental influences on the industrial revolution in Great Britain,” A. E. Musson, in Great Britain and Her World, 1750-1914: Essays in Honour of W. O. Henderson, Barrie M. Ratcliffe (editor), Manchester University Press, 1977, page 67, footnote 42.

[farming gains from 1970 to 1997]
Figures derived from the speech, “Prospects for Food Security in the 21st Century,” given on April 17th, 1997, by Alex F. McCalla, the then Director of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Department of the World Bank. The Future of World Food series, Illinois World Food and Sustainable Agriculture Program, University of Illiois, Urbana-Champaign.
[proportion starving in 1970 versus 2008]
The chronic hunger figure for 1970, that is, 25 percent of us, meant 940 million people at the time. In 2008, the number hit 963 million, compared to 923 million in 2007. The majority live in only seven countries: India, China, the Congo, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Ethiopia. The State of Food Insecurity in the World, SOFI 2008, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 2008.

Chapter 2. Rebooting Reality: Labor


[Faulkner quote]
Requiem for a Nun, Act I, Scene III.

Network Reactions

[“still a shadow”]
“But before the experiment with the wheel-engine could be tried at Soho, the financial ruin of Dr. Roebuck [who had invested £3,000 in Watt’s machine] brought matters to a crisis. He was now in the hands of his creditors, who found his affairs in inextricable confusion. He owed some £1,200 to Boulton, who, rather than claim against the estate, offered to take Roebuck’s two-thirds share in the engine patent in lieu of the debt. The creditors did not value the engine patent as worth one farthing, and were but too glad to agree to the proposal. As Watt himself said, it was only ‘paying one bad debt with another.’ Boulton wrote to Watt requesting him to act as his attorney in the matter. He confessed that he was by no means sanguine as to the success of the engine, but, being an assayer, he was willing ‘to assay it and try how much gold it contains.’ ‘The thing,’ he added, ‘is now a shadow; ’tis merely ideal, and will cost time and money to realise it. We have made no experiment yet that answers my purpose, and the times are so horrible throughout the mercantile part of Europe, that I have not had my thoughts sufficiently disengaged to think further of new schemes.’ [...]

[In May, 1774] Watt had now been occupied for about nine years in working out the details of his invention. Five of these had passed since he had taken out his patent, and he was still struggling with difficulty. Several thousand pounds had been expended on the engine, besides much study, labour, and ingenuity; yet it was still, as Boulton expressed it, ‘a shadow, as regarded its practical utility and value.’ So long as Watt’s connexion with Roebuck continued, there was indeed very little chance of getting it introduced to public notice. What it was yet to become as a working power, depended in no small degree upon the business ability, the strength of purpose, and the length of purse, of his new partner.” Lives of Boulton and Watt: Principally from the Original Soho Mss., Comprising also: A History of the Invention and Introduction of the Steam-Engine, Samuel Smiles, John Murray, 1865, pages 196-199.

[Jamie’s fire-engine]
To his friends and family, Watt was known familiarly as ‘Jamie.’ Also, at the time, what we today call ‘steam engines’ were called ‘fire engines.’ Watt’s patent for “[A] new Method of Lessening the Consumption of Steam and Fuel in Fire Engines,” was granted on January 5th, 1769, but Watt only enrolled its description at the High Court of Chancery on April 29th, 1769. It was patent number 913. Watt first worked with John Roebuck in Scotland, then Matthew Boulton in England.
[1772-1773 Scottish banking crisis]
James Watt’s investor at the time was John Roebuck, who ran the Carron iron works, one of the hardest hit by the banking crisis, in which 15 private bankers in Edinburgh failed.

At the time, Adam Smith was working on what would become his Wealth of Nations. On June 27th, 1772, David Hume wrote to Smith: “We are here in a very melancholy Situation: Continual Bankruptcies, universal Loss of Credit, and endless Suspicions. There are but two standing Houses in this Place, Mansfield’s & the Couttses: For I comprehend not Cummin, whose dealins are always very narrow. Mansfield has pay’d away 40,000 pounds in a few days; but it is apprehended, that neither he nor any of them can hold out till the End of next Week, if no Alteration happen. The Case is little better in London. It is thought, that Sir George Colebroke must soon stop; and even the Bank of England is not entirely free from Suspicion. Those of Newcastle, Norwich, and Bristol are said to be stopp’d: The Thistle Bank has been reported to be in the same Condition: The Carron Company is reeling, which is one of the greatest Calamities of the whole; as they gave Employment to near 10,000 people. Do these Events any-wise affect your Theory? Or will it occasion the Revisal of any Chapters?” The Letters of David Hume, Volume II, 1766-1776, J. Y. T. Greig (editor), Oxford University Press, 1932, page 263.

See also: “Upon Daedalian wings of paper money: Adam Smith and the crisis of 1772,” H. Rockoff, Working Paper 15594, National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), 2009. Bank of Scotland: A History, 1695-1995, Richard Saville, Edinburgh University Press, 1996, page 162. “Crises of 1763 and 1772-1773,” E. S. Schubert, in Business Cycles and Depressions, an Encyclopedia, David Glaser (editor), Garland Publishing, Inc., 1997. Scottish Banking: A History, 1695-1973, S. G. Checkland, Collins, 1975, page 237. “Scotland’s Balance of Payments Problem in 1762,” H. Hamilton, The Economic History Review, New Series, 5(3):344-357, 1953.

[an offer from Russia]
Watt had several offers from Russia, starting in April 1771, when he was invited to become “Master Founder of Iron Ordnance to her Imperial Majesty.” In 1773, his friend John Robison tried again. In 1775, the offer was for £1,000, and was for Watt a princely sum. The Lunar Men: A Story of Science, Art, Invention and Passion, Jenny Uglow, Faber & Faber, 2002, page 251. By the Banks of the Neva: Chapters from the Lives and Careers of the British in Eighteenth-century Russia, Anthony Cross, Cambridge University Press, 1997, especially page 258. Partners in Science: Letters of James Watt and Joseph Black, E. Robinson and D. McKie, page 24. See also James Watt and the Steam Engine, H. W. Dickinson and Rhys Jenkins, (London, 1927), page 35. Once Watt settled at Soho, both Russia and France also tried to bribe away his workers. They also tried to place apprentices there to learn what they could. In at least one case, they also bribed workers to sabotage the works.
[many eyes would light up...]
One short book from 1824 puts it this way: “To take away to-day from England her steam-engines would be to take away at the same time her coal and iron. It would be to dry up all her sources of wealth, to ruin all on which her prosperity depends, in short, to annihilate that colossal power. The destruction of her navy, which she considers her strongest defense, would perhaps be less fatal.” Reflections on the Motive Power of Heat, From the Original French of N.-L.-S Carnot, Graduate of the Polytechnic School, Accompanied By An Account of Carnot’s Theory by Sir William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), Sadi Carnot, translated and edited by R. H. Thurston, 1824, Second Revised Edition, 1897, page 40.

A book from 1840 sums it up this way: “That the history of invention of mechanism, and the description of its structure, operation, and uses, should be capable of being rendered the subject matter of a volume, destined not alone for the instruction of engineers or machinists, but for the information and amusement of the public in general, is a statement which at no very remote period would have been deemed extravagant and incredible.

Advanced as we are in the art of rendering knowledge popular, and cultivated as the public taste is in the appreciation of the expedients by which science ministers to the uses of life, there is still perhaps but one machine which such a proposition can be truly appreciated: it is needless to say that that machine is the STEAM ENGINE.” The Steam Engine Explained and Illustrated: With an Account of Its Invention and Progressive Improvement, and Its Application to Navigation and Railways; Including Also a Memoir of Watt, Dionysius Lardner, Taylor and Walton, 1840, pages 3-4.

The author goes on to expound at length, and start into what would become the hagiography of Watt, who was by then dead, but mainly though, in hindsight it seems clear that the reason for all the excitment was not how the steam engine worked, or what physical principles it depended on to work, but what the steam engine did—namely, by that point, mass audiences cared about it because it affected masses of people in factories and on railways and elsewhere. The same was true (and is still true) of computers in the 1980s and beyond. Interest in them will wane for the same reason that interest waned in steam engines.

[Ivan Polzunov’s steam engine]
His machine was a double-cylinder rotary atmospheric steam engine built to work in low water conditions. He built it with the aid of dozens of hired largely illiterate helpers from nearby towns for the Kolyvano-Voskresensky mines, in Barnaul, in the foothills of the Altai Mountains in southwestern Siberia. He died May 16th, 1766. His machine was first tested on May 23rd, then was built out enough to support four bellows pairs feeding three furnaces. It ran from August 7th to November 10th, then its boiler, made of thin copper sheets riveted together, sprang a leak, and the engine stopped working. (Polzunov had intended the thin sheets only for a test boiler.) It was abandoned for a decade, then dismantled in 1782 and forgotten. Russia then went back to waterwheels and forced labor for its minework. It was rediscovered in 1882 when A. N. Voyeykov accidentally stumbled over his papers in Barnual. Syny Altai͡a i Otechestva: Mekhanikus Ivan Polzunov: zhiznʹ i tvorchestvo vydai︠u︡shchegosi︠a︡ teploėnergetika XVIII veka, N. I͡A. Savelʹev, Altaĭskoe knizhnoe izd-vo, 1985. [The Sons of the Altai and Motherland: Part II: Mechanicus Ivan Polzunov: The Life and Creative Work of an Outstanding Thermal Power Engineering Specialist of the 18th Century, N. Ya. Savelyev, The Altai Publishing House, Reprint Edition, 1988.]

For English references, see: The History of the Machine, Sigvard Strandh, translated by Ann Henning, Dorset Press, 1989, pages 118-120. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, A. M. Prokhorov (editor), Macmillan, 1973-1983. The Origins of Feedback Control, Otto Mayr, MIT Press, 1970, pages 77-78. “The History of Technology in Soviet Russia and Marxist Doctrine,” D. Joravsky, Technology and Culture, 2(1):5-10, 1961.

Also, in the 1740s, a generation before Watt and Polzunov, something similar happened to Joseph Karl Hell (Jozef Karol Hell, or Höll, 1713-1789) compared to John Smeaton. Hell, in Slovakia, was mostly alone and industrial infrastructure was lacking there, while Smeaton, in England, laid foundations that Watt was to later build on. The Maze of Ingenuity: Ideas and Idealism in the Development of Technology, Arnold Pacey, MIT Press, Second Edition, 1992, pages 152-156.

[the Saint Petersburg fountains]
The steam engine powering the tsar’s fountains were built in 1717-1718 by the French-born English engineer John Desaguliers. (Who, incidentally, had been Isaac Newton’s assistant in his secret alchemical researches.) It was the first steam engine Britain ever exported. The tsar at the time, Peter I, had wanted something to compare with Louis XIV’s fountains at Versailles. He’d built his Summer Garden on the Dvortsovaya Embankment in Saint Petersburg (which he’d founded in May, 1703, in a marshy area he took from Sweden after a war).
[silver output decreasing]
By 1758, the year of Polzunov’s first trip to Saint Petersburg, the Barnaul seams were depleting. As recently as 1751 they had produced about 13,000 pounds of silver, but by 1760 they would be down to about 9,600 pounds. Catherine the Great, Russia’s empress after 1761, promised Polzunov 400 rubles to build his machine. (After his promotion, November 19th, 1763, his yearly salary was then 240 rubles.)
[Russian versus Scottish serfs and feudalism]
In Russia, about the only thing a lord couldn’t do to his serfs was kill them outright (although many still died from the lash). Russian serfs were emancipated only in 1861. Even down to the time of Tolstoy (1828-1910) Russian peasants were still basically serfs.

Not that miners in Scotland were all that better off. For example, the first colliery in Scotland that the Newcomen steam engine was sold to in 1720 was in Elphinstone (in Stirlingshire). A ‘colliery’ is a coal mine where mining is done by ‘colliers’ (coal miners) who, from 1606 until 1800, were serfs bound not to land but to coal mines. While a laird couldn’t be as brutal to a collier as a lord could be to a serf in Russia, a bound collier was a piece of property. He or she couldn’t be sold individually, but in valuing the mine, he and his family were ranked with any other article attached to the mine. Colliers could move, but once bound to a pit, they couldn’t move, and if they tried, they could be brought back and punished. Colliers were expressly excluded from the Habeas Corpus Act of 1701. Collier status was so low that other workers would refuse to marry a collier’s daughter, and a criminal might sometimes be condemned to life as a collier. These bonds were loosened only in 1775, and removed entirely only in 1800, and only because that was the only way that mine owners could entice others to come work the mines to meet rising demand for coal. And women and young children were barred from being colliers, whether in Scotland or Wales or England, only after 1842. The Coal Industry of the Eighteenth Century, T. S. Ashton and J. Sykes, Manchester University Press, 1929, chapter 5.

[James Watt’s first commercial engine]
Was for Bloomfield Colliery near Tipton, which at the time was 14 miles (22.5 kilometers) away from Birmingham, in Staffordshire. An Early Experiment in Industrial Organisation: Being a History of the Firm of Boulton and Watt, 1775-1805, Eric Roll, Longmans, 1930, pages 27-29.
[James Watt and Joseph Black]
Watt and Black were connected in several ways. Watt was an employee at Glasgow university while Black was a professor there. Black funded Watt’s first venture (and was later bought out by Roebuck). Black helped Watt with experiments. And Black explained latent heat to Watt when Watt stumbled upon one of its aspects in his own experiments while trying to improve a model of Newcomen’s machine as part of his job for the university:

In 1769, when he was 33, before he built a functioning machine and two years before he even got his first patent, and when Black was still alive, he had this to say, in some notes titled ‘A Plain Story’:

“A boiler was constructed which showed, by inspection, the quantity of water evaporated in any given time, and thereby ascertained the quantity of steam used in every stroke by the engine, which I found to be several times the full of the cylinder. Astonished at the quantity of water required for the injection, and the great heat it had acquired from the small quantity of water in the form of steam which had been used in filling the cylinder, and thinking I had made some mistake, the following experiment was tried :—-- A glass tube was bent at right angles; one end was inserted horizontally into the spout of a tea-kettle, and the other part was immersed perpendicularly in well-water contained in a cylindric glass vessel, and steam was made to pass through it until it ceased to be condensed, and the water in the glass vessel was become nearly boiling hot. The water in the glass vessel was then found to have gained an addition of about one-sixth part from the condensed steam. Consequently, water converted into steam can heat about six times its own weight of well-water to 212°, or till it can condense no more steam. Being struck with this remarkable fact, and not understanding the reason of it, I mentioned it to my friend Dr. Black, who then explained to me his doctrine of latent heat, which he had taught for some time before this period (summer 1764); but having myself been occupied with the pursuits of business, if I had heard of it I had not attended to it, when I thus stumbled upon one of the material facts by which that beautiful theory is supported.” The Life of James Watt: With Selections from His Correspondence, James Patrick Muirhead, John Murray, 1858, pages 78-79.

However, in 1814, when he was 78, highly successful and very well established, and when Black was dead, he had this to say in a letter:

“Here it was my intention to have closed this letter, but the representations of friends whose opinions I highly value, induce me to avail myself of this opportunity of noticing an error into which not only Dr. Robison, but apparently also Dr. Black, has fallen, in relation to the origin of my improvements upon the steam-engine; and which, not having been publicly controverted by me, has, I am informed, been adopted by almost every subsequent writer upon the subject of Latent Heat.

Dr. Robison, in the article ‘Steam-engine,’ after passing an encomium upon me, dictated by the partiality of friendship, qualifies me as the ‘pupil and intimate friend of Dr. Black;’ a description which not being there accompanied with any inference, did not particularly strike me at the time of its first perusal. He afterwards, in the dedication to me of his edition of Dr. Black’s ‘Lectures upon Chemistry,’ goes the length of supposing me to have professed to owe my improvements upon the steam-engine to the instructions and information I had received from that gentleman, which certainly was a misapprehension; as, although I have always felt and acknowledged my obligations to him for the information I had received from his conversation, and particularly for the knowledge of the doctrine of latent heat, I never did nor could consider my improvements as originating in those communications.”

Watt’s hagiographers were pleased to trot that particular paragraph out by the 1840s, when he was long dead, the steam engine was hugely important, and his hagiography began in earnest, but somehow loath to print the coda to it in the very same letter:

“Although Dr. Black’s theory of latent heat did not suggest my improvements on the steam-engine, yet the knowledge, upon various subjects, which he was pleased to communicate to me, and the correct modes of reasoning and of making experiments, of which he set me the example, certainly conduced very much to facilitate the progress of my inventions; and I still remember, with respect and gratitude, the notice he was pleased to take of me when I very little merited it, and which continued throughout his life.” The Life of James Watt: With Selections from His Correspondence, James Patrick Muirhead, John Murray, 1858, pages 496-497 and 500.

[Watt’s personal network]
Watt was also encouraged in his work by his personal circle. Nearly all of them were natural philosophers, inventors, merchants, or manufacturers: John Roebuck, William Murdock, Matthew Boulton, Josiah Wedgwood, Joseph Priestly, William Small, James Keir, Samuel Galton, Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles Darwin), and even Benjamin Franklin—who corresponded from British America. (The United States did not yet exist.) The Lunar Men: A Story of Science, Art, Invention and Passion, Jenny Uglow, Faber & Faber, 2002.
[networks of British industrialists]
Besides the names listed in the text, Britain also needed ever-improving steam engines (Richard Trevithick, William Murdock, Joseph Bramah, Jonathan Hornblower, Arthur Woolf). Then it needed ever-improving machine tools (Henry Maudslay, Jesse Ramsden, Joseph Bramah, Joseph Whitworth, James Nasmyth). Plus it needed ever-growing canal transport (Josiah Wedgwood, Erasmus Darwin, Matthew Boulton, William Small, Samuel Galton, Thomas Telford, John Rennies). It needed ever-expanding markets (Richard Trevithick, John Smeaton, Isambard Brunel). And it needed ever-expanding rail networks (Richard Trevithick, George Stephenson, John Wilkinson, Henry Cort).

Also, all the changes catalyzed yet another network of tools made by another network of early industrialists in Britain (Thomas Highs, John Kay, James Hargreaves, Richard Arkwright, Samuel Crompton). They built the early machines of Britain’s textile industry. That then became one of the next killer apps, outside of mining, of the new steam tech. Also, all those people needed yet another network of people (Jethro Tull, Robert Bakewell, Charles Colling, and others). Their farm innovations helped Britain raise its food supply until it could almost feed itself.

[“aversion to monopolies”]
“I do not think that we are safe a day to an end in this enterprising age. One’s thoughts seem to be stolen before one speaks them. It looks as if Nature had taken an aversion to monopolies, and put the same thing into several people’s heads at once, to prevent them; and I begin to fear that she has given over inspiring me, as it is with the utmost difficulty that I can hatch anything new.” Letter to Boulton, February 14th, 1782. “From the many opponents we are like to have, I fear that the engine business cannot be a permanent one; and I am sure that it will not in any case prove so lucrative as you have flattered yourself.” Letter to Boulton, February 20th, 1782. From: The Life of James Watt: With Selections from His Correspondence, James Patrick Muirhead, D. Appleton and Co., 1859, pages 316-317. See also: Lives of Boulton and Watt: Principally from the Original Soho Mss., Comprising also: A History of the Invention and Introduction of the Steam-Engine, Samuel Smiles, John Murray, 1865, page 300. Watt didn’t even know about Polzunov.
[Savery’s 1698 patent]
“A new invention for raising water and occasioning motion to all sorts of mill work by the impellent force of fire, which will be of great use and advantage for drayning mines, serveing houses with water, and for the working of all sorts of mills where they have not benefitt of water nor constant windes.” The Miners Friend; or an engine to raise water by fire, described, and the manner of fixing it in mines, with an account of the several uses it is applicable unto; and an answer to the objections made against it, by Thos. Savery, Gent, London, 1702.
[the history of the steam engine is long]
Early steam engines created a partial vacuum in a piston cylinder when an outside weight (the thing the steam engine is designed to move, for example, water in a mine) pulls up the piston against the weight of air surrounding the cylinder. That vacuum then fills with steam from the boiler. Injecting a little cold water condenses the steam to water vapor, which creates a partial vacuum in the piston cylinder, which collapses under the weight of the air surrounding the cylinder, which pulls down the piston, and the cycle repeats.

Before we could make a vacuum, and thus one day a steam engine, Beeckman in the Netherlands, Baliani, Galileo, Berti, Magiotti, Benedetti, Viviani, and Torricelli in Italy; Stevin in Belgium; Pascal in France; and others, first had to refute Aristotle’s argument that a vacuum couldn’t exist. Some of them built on William Gilbert in England—who, in 1600, simply guessed that outer space was a vacuum. But knowing that a vacuum could exist didn’t then mean that we could build a machine that harnessed one. Before there could be a Watt in Scotland there was a Guericke in Germany; a Papin and de Caus in France; a della Porta and Branca in Italy; a Boyle and a Hooke in England. Dressing for Altitude: U.S. Aviation Pressure Suits, Wiley Post to Space Shuttle, Dennis R. Jenkins, United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 2012, pages 15-17. Measuring the Natural Environment, Ian Strangeways, Cambridge University Press, Second Edition, 2003, pages 91-94. “Air Weight and Atmospheric Pressure from Galileo to Torricelli,” R. Zouckermann, Fundamenta Scientiae, 2(2):185-204, 1981. De Magnete magneticisique corporibus, et de magno magnete tellure; Physiologia nova, plurimis et argumentis et experimentis demonstrata, William Gilbert of Colchester, London, 1600.

Further, after all of those names came a whole slew of more names to make practical machines to do something that someone was willing to pay for—like pump water out of mines. Only long after that did it occur to anyone that maybe such machines might be useful for something other than their first use, and for that they had to be changed, which required even more gestation and thus even more names.

[early steam power]
The story of steam is largely forgotten today, but once upon a time it was all anyone talked about, and not just in Britain, or even just in Europe. That didn’t begin with James Watt. Long before him, Thomas Newcomen’s engines had been in use, and had been slowly improved, all over Britain (and elsewhere) for well over half a century. It was that kind of engine that so excited Polzunov (and Watt). They both saw that they could improve it—in theory. It seems likely that the reason why Watt is so much remembered is less to do with what he did in comparison to anyone else who worked on steam but what his engine did—it went on to be a part of mass production, so it had a direct impact on mass life. Early steam engines were far more niche—mostly for mining—and so were entirely ignorable by the general public. For example, about five hundred engines were built in 1735-1775, or 13 per yer, while another 850 were built in 1775-1800, or about 34 per year. That’s hardly that earth-shaking changes that came after 1830. The Steam Engine of Thomas Newcomen, L. T. C. Rolt and J. S. Allen, Review by: Charles K. Hyde The Journal of Economic History, 38(3):813-815, 1978.
[Newcomen’s engine]
“At the beginning of the eighteenth century every element of the modern type of steam‑engine had been separately invented and practically applied. The character of atmospheric pressure, and of the pressure of gases, had become understood. The nature of a vacuum was known, and the method of obtaining it by the displacement of the air by steam, and by the condensation of the vapor, was understood. The importance of utilizing the power of steam, and the application of condensation in the removal of atmospheric pressure, was not only recognized, but had been actually and successfully attempted by Morland, Papin, and Savery.

Mechanicians had succeeded in making steam­boilers capable of sustaining any desired or any useful pressure, and Papin had shown how to make them comparatively safe by the attachment of the safety‑valve. They had made steam‑cylinders fitted with pistons, and had used such a combination in the development of power.

It now only remained for the engineer to combine known forms of mechanism in a practical machine which should be capable of economically and conveniently utilizing the power of steam through the application of now well‑understood principles, and by the intelligent combination of physical phenomena already familiar to scientific investigators.

Every essential fact and every vital principle had been learned, and every one of the needed mechanical combinations had been successfully effected. It was only requisite that an inventor should appear, capable of perceiving that these known facts and combinations of mechanism, properly illustrated in a working machine would present to the world its greatest physical blessing.

The defects of the simple engines constructed up to this time have been noted as each has been described. None of them could be depended upon for safe, economical, and continuous work. Savery’s was the most successful of all. But the engine of Savery, even with the improvements of Desaguliers, was unsafe where most needed, because of the high pressures necessarily carried in its boilers when pumping from considerable depths; it was uneconomical, in consequence of the great loss of heat in its forcing‑cylinders when the hot steam was surrounded at its entrance by colder bodies; it was slow in operation, of great first cost, and expensive in first cost and in repairs, as well as in its operation. It could not be relied upon to do its work interruptedly, and was this in many respects a very unsatisfactory machine.

The man who finally effected a combination of the elements of the modern steam‑engine, and produced a machine which is unmistakeably a true engine—i.e., a train of mechanism consisting of several elementary pieces combined in a train capable of transmitting a force applied at one end and of communicating it to the resistance to be overcome at the other end was THOMAS NEWCOMEN, an ‘iron‑monger’ and blacksmith of Dartmouth, England. The engine invented by him, and known as the ‘Atmospheric Steam Engine,’ is the first of an entirely new type. [....]

In a very few years after the invention of Newcomen’s engine it had been introduced into nearly all large mines in Great Britain; and many new mines, which could not have been worked at all previously, were opened, when it was found that the new machine could be relied upon to raise the large quantities of water to be handled. The first engine in Scotland was erected in 1720 at Elphinstone, in Stirlingshire. One was put up in Hungary in 1723.” A History of the Growth of the Steam-Engine, Robert H. Thurston, D. Appleton and Company, 1878, pages 55-57, and 68.

However, for the practical engineering concerns and all the difficulties that Newcomen had to have faced and overcome, see: Power from Steam: A History of the Stationary Steam Engine, Richard L. Hills, Cambridge University Press, 1989, chapter 2, especially pages 22-30. His last, and most crucial, and most copied, insight—that of cold water injection—is described on page 25.

[learning from each other]
“The process by which fundamental change comes about at times has nothing to do with diligence, or careful observation, or economic stimulus, or genius, but happens entirely by accident. There were hundreds of clock-makers like Huntsman all over Europe who were equally dissatisfied with the quality of the springs in the clocks they were making. Many of them must have cast about for the answer to their dilemma, but nothing suggested itself. Everywhere, the technique for making steel at the time was the same: alternate layers of charcoal and iron were piled up, covered with a layer of fine sand, and kept red hot for several days. During this time the carbon in the charcoal diffused into the iron, forming a surface layer of steel which was then hammered off. Many of these layers were then hammered together to produce layered, laminate steel: good enough for knives, but liable to snap or deform when bent into springs. Huntsman happened to live near a glass-making community, and at a time when Abraham Darby had discovered the high temperatures that could be obtained with coke. The glass-makers were using coke to fire their ovens, and Lining the ovens with Stourbridge clay from local deposits. This clay reflected heat back into the ovens, raising their temperature even further. Huntsman also saw that the furnace men mixed their raw materials for making glass with chips of old glass, which because of the high furnace temperatures would become molten and run together with the freshly made glass.” Connections, James Burke, Macmillan, 1978, page 140.
[existence of a vacuum]
Aristotle thought (to put it in today’s terms) that a body fell in a medium at a speed proportional to its weight, and inversely proportional to the amount that the medium resists its fall. So for him, if we dropped a sperm whale and a bowl of petunias from space, the whale would hit first. (His thinking was more complex than that, but that’s the basic idea.) Perhaps he guessed that after seeing a pebble falling slowly through olive oil, faster through water, and fastest through air. He guessed that in a vacuum it would fall infinitely fast. And that, he declared, was impossible. So a vacuum couldn’t exist.

It was nonsense, of course. To see why, drop three marbles of equal weight. They hit at the same time. Now glue two together, then drop all three again. They still hit at the same time. Yet, were Aristotle right, the two that were glued together, being heavier, would hit first. But none of us back then did any such test. Otherwise, we would have laughed at him. So his guess became dogma for us—for over two millennia.

Aristotle’s physics is still intuitive for most of us today, including first-year university physics students. Newtonian physics is still counter-intuitive to most of us today. For example, most of us believe that a constant force applied to a body will produce constant velocity. That’s wrong. And Einsteinian relativity is still completely unknown, not to say counter-intuitive, to most of us today. “Intuitive Physics,” D. R. Proffitt, M. K. Kaiser, in Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science, Lynn Nadel (editor), Nature Publishing Group, 2003, pages 632-637. The Unnatural Nature of Science, Lewis Wolpert, Harvard University Press, 1993. Uncommon sense: The Heretical Nature of Science, Alan Cromer, Oxford University Press, 1993. “Common Sense Concepts about Motion,” I. Halloun, D. Hestenes, American Journal of Physics, 53(11):1056-1065, 1985.

What we take to be ’Aristotelian physics’ today is a sort of reinterpretation in mathematical terms of what Aristotle might have believed had he had any mathematical talent. For example, around 1328 Thomas of Bradwardine, an English philosopher and theologian, wrote a book on motion based on what he understood to be Aristotle’s beliefs about motion. Bradwardine showed that Aristotle’s theory of motion was inconsistent. First, Aristotle claimed that a body could be in motion only when the force acting on it exceeded the resistance to its motion through the medium. Second, Aristotle claimed that a body’s velocity was proportional to the force acting on it divided by the resistance of the medium it moved through. Bradwardine showed inconsistency between these two Aristotelian tenets by assuming an initial force and resistance, then asked what would happen if the resistance were continually increased while keeping the force constant. At some point the resistance would exceed the force so the body cannot move. But its velocity, which supposedly was its acting force divided by the resistance, could not then also be zero. Thomas of Bradwardine, his Tractus de Proportionibus: Its Significance for the Development of Mathematical Physics, H. Lamar Crosby, Jr. (editor and translator), University of Wisconsin Press, 1955.

[an efficient steam engine two millennia ago?]
Why did an efficient steam engine arise in the eighteenth century and not before?

One commonly accepted general argument in popular science books goes as follows: “[T]he slave economy of the ancient world... discouraged any association of science and technology.... With cheap slave labor in plentiful supply, there wasn’t any incentive to develop labor-saving technology.” Gravity’s Arc: The Story of Gravity, from Aristotle to Einstein and Beyond, David Darling, John Wiley and Sons, 2006, pages 29-30.

The same goes for some research papers: “in [societies] based on slavery, there was no demand for steam power.” See: “The Long-Term Evolution of Social Organization,” S. van der Leeuw, D. Lane, D. Read, in Complexity Perspectives in Innovation and Social Change, David Lane, Sander Ernst Van Der Leeuw, Denise Pumain, and Geoffrey West (editors), Springer, 2009, pages 85-116.

And even in detailed history books: “The precondition for progress was probably a reasonable balance between human labour and other sources of power. The advantage was illusory when man competed with machines inordinately, as in the ancient world and China, where mechanization was ultimately blocked by cheap labour. There were slaves in Greece and Rome, and too many highly efficient coolies in China. In fact, there is never any progress unless a higher value is placed on human labour. When man has a certain cost price as a source of energy, then it is necessary to think about aiding him or, better still, replacing him.” Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century, Volume I, The Structures of Everyday Life, Fernand Braudel, translated by Siân Reynolds, Harper & Row, 1981, page 339.

By such arguments, we didn’t have a steam engine in, for example, the early Roman Empire, because we didn’t need a steam engine—because we had a large slave pool.

Other variants of roughly the same argument go as follows: “[Peter Levi]: What technology is nowadays expected to accomplish is the concentration or the transference of energy. And we know from the raising of obelisks that the practical mathematics were quite highly developed. It’s quite clever to raise a monolithic column or an obelisk. But I take it that what went wrong with the Hellenistic rulers’ exploration of different techniques is that they had too much man power—they had too many slaves. To have slaves is, apart from being wicked, inefficient, because you may use a million men where one machine could have done the job.” [....] “[Peter Green]:... It’s not so much that slaves were available, which indeed they were. No, the ruling classes were scared, as the Puritans said, of Satan finding work for idle hands to do. One of the great things about not developing a source of energy that did not depend on muscle power was the fear of what the muscles might get up to if they weren’t kept fully employed. The sort of inventions that were taken up and used practically were the things that needed muscle power to start with, including the Archimedean screw.” From the Discussion section following: “ ‘The Base Mechanic Arts’? Some Thoughts on the Contribution of Science (Pure and Applied) to the Culture of the Hellenistic Age,” K. D. White, in Hellenistic History and Culture, Peter Green (editor), University of California Press, 1993, pages 234 and 236.

Such ideas are old but still current, and widely accepted: “[Schneider] traced the early path of the slavery/stagnation/blockage view from Diels in the 1920s through Ferrero, Rostovtzeff, and Lefebvre de Noëttes to Finley, Pleket, and Lee in the 1970s, and its perpetuation by Gille in the 1980s.” See: “Technological Innovation and Economic Progress in the Ancient World: M. I. Finley Re-Considered,” K. Greene, The Economic History Review, 53(1):29-59, 2000.

But there’s something wrong with such sorts of explanations. “[T]he importance of slavery should not be exaggerated. The ancient slave owner had at least two good reasons to want to reduce his dependence on slave labor if he possibly could, for slaves were quite expensive to feed and they could be difficult to control.” Greek Science After Aristotle, G. E. R. Lloyd, W. W. Norton & Company, 1973, page 108.

Similarly: “[S. M. Burstein]: The common wisdom that cheap slave labor inhibited the development of technology in antiquity should probably be reconsidered for two reasons. First, slaves are expensive, not cheap. Second, as the history of the antebellum American South indicates, the use of slave labor is not incompatible with the development of labor-saving technology, provided—and it is an important proviso—that the technology increases the productivity and value of the slaves.” “ ‘The Base Mechanic Arts’? Some Thoughts on the Contribution of Science (Pure and Applied) to the Culture of the Hellenistic Age,” K. D. White, in Hellenistic History and Culture, Peter Green (editor), University of California Press, 1993, pages 236-237.

Slave labor is free labor, but it’s not labor for free. Slave dealers didn’t simply give slaves away. They cost something to capture, feed, clothe, house, and guard. Further, if a plentitude of slaves or coolies is the reason we didn’t build a steam engine, why then did we ever bother to invent labor-saving tools like sails and waterwheels? Slaves would’ve sufficed, and often did suffice, for those needs as well. If the waterwheel broke, get the slaves to grind the maize. If the sea’s winds died, get the slaves to row. It seems that using such an argument is ‘just-so’ history.

Yet further, the ‘fact,’ originally stated most forcefully by M. I. Finley in 1965 (and in his widely read 1973 book, The Ancient Economy,), and so widely accepted even today, that the Roman empire didn’t make use of watermills is now debunked. “[S]ubsequent research has revealed numerous water-mills from Hadrian’s Wall to north Africa and to Palestine, and has demonstrated that Italy was not excluded from this phenomenon.” See: “Technological Innovation and Economic Progress in the Ancient World: M. I. Finley Re-Considered,” K. Greene, The Economic History Review, 53(1):29-59, 2000.

It also seems unlikely that we didn’t build a steam engine because we were idiots. For example, in the early Roman Empire we had more flexible financial tools than those we had in eighteenth-century France. So we likely weren’t any stupider then than we are today. However, those tools weren’t as flexible as those we had in eighteenth-century Britain. In Rome, we didn’t have a national debt or a central bank or paper currency, so there was a limit to how much capital we could amass for new enterprises, like building a steam engine. But such tools can’t be all we needed because the Netherlands, and Italy before it, had financial tools about as flexible as those that Britain had. “Financial Intermediation in the Early Roman Empire,” P. Temin, The Journal of Economic History, 64(3):705-733, 2004.

It thus seems unlikely that in Rome we didn’t invent a steam engine because we loved slavery, or because we couldn’t imagine living without slaves, or because we needed to keep them employed to thus avoid revolution, or because we were stupid. It seems more likely that it was because we didn’t know enough metallurgy, engineering, and physics. We didn’t know enough metallurgy to make the high-grade iron we would have needed to build one. And considering what was to happen to both Polzunov in Siberia and Watt in Scotland, we likely didn’t have the skilled machinists we would have needed to maintain a high-precision steam engine, even if an alien spaceship had simply dropped one off in the forum. In the early Roman Empire we didn’t have the tools we would have needed to make the tools we would have needed. We didn’t even have the ideas we would have needed to make the ideas we would have needed. In short, it seems likely that developing all the many tools and skills and knowledge that let us build an efficient steam engine took millennia of accident. All that came together only in the eighteenth century, and it happened first in Britain.

[digesting fructose via glycolysis]
Principles of Biochemistry and Biophysics, B. S. Chauhan, Firewall Media, 2008, Chapter 12.

Birth of a Notion

[eighteenth-century Britain stripped of usable trees]
It wasn’t that Britain, or even England alone, had no trees. Transport technology at the time limited economically usable trees to those within 15 miles (24 kilometers) of any river or coast. But too much can be made of what was more usually a fairly local problem. For example, in the time of Henry VIII, England exported wood (see Perlin, pages 163-164). “Fear of Wood Shortage and the Reality of the Woodland in Europe, c.1450-1850,” P. Warde, History Workshop Journal, 62(1):28-57, 2006. A Forest Journey: The Role of Wood in the Development of Civilization, John Perlin, W. W. Norton, 1989, epecially pages 241-245. The History of the Countryside: The full fascinating story of Britain’s Landscape, Oliver Rackham, J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., 1986, pages 90-110.
[price of wood in Britain]
The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy, Kenneth Pomeranz, Princeton University Press, 2000, page 220. A Forest Journey: The Role of Wood in the Development of Civilization, John Perlin, W. W. Norton, 1989.

The high price of grain during (and artifically propped up after) the Napoleonic wars, compounded the problem. “No doubt, a labourer, whose income was only £20 a year, would, in general, act wisely in substituting hasty-pudding, barley bread, boiled milk, and potatoes, for bread and beer; but in most parts of this county, he is debarred not more by prejudice, than by local difficulties, from using a diet that requires cooking at home. The extreme dearness of fuel in Oxfordshire, compels him to purchase his dinner at the baker’s; and, from his unavoidable consumption of bread, he has little left for cloaths, in a country where warm cloathing is most essentially wanted.” The State of the Poor: or a history of the labouring classes in England, from the Conquest to the present period; in which are particularly considered, their domestic economy, with respect to diet, dress, fuel, and habitation; and the various plans which, from time to time, have been proposed and adopted for the relief of the poor: together with parochial reports relative to the administration of work-houses, and houses of industry; the state of the Friendly Societies, and other public institutions; in several agricultural, commercial and manufacturing, districts. With a large appendix; containing a comparative and chronological table of the prices of labour, of provisions, and of other commodities; an account of the poor in Scotland; and many original documents on subjects of national importance, Frederick Morton Eden, Volume II, B. & J. White, G. & G. Robinson, T. Payne, R. Faulder, T. Egerton, J. Debrett, and D. Bremner, 1797, page 587.

None of that means that the industrial phase change was good for Britain’s trees. In fact, with the coming of the railway, then the internal combustion engine able to reach anywhere, even more trees were cut until Britain’s forestation had dropped to an all-time low of four percent by 1918. Today it is 11 percent. A Reference for the Forestry Industry, The Forestry Industry Council of Great Britain, 1998.

British (then continental Europe’s) attitudes to the natural world started changing after the scientific revolution (also, the scientific revolution was itself partly an outgrowth of changes in attitudes toward the natural world). Deforestation, rather than a calamity, increasingly came to be seen as a symptom of increased industrial change, and therefore of ‘progress.’

[coal abatement in England]
That was tried from early on, but no attempt to curtail its use lasted. As early as 1306, King Edward I tried and, by 1321, had already failed since his own palace ordered some of it. Report of the Commissioners Appointed To Inquire into the Several Matters Relating to Coal in the United Kingdom, Volume 3, George Douglas Campbell Argyll, G. E. Eyre and W. Spottiswoode for H. M. Stationery Office, 1871, page 4. “[Such] hath bene the plenty of wood in England for all uses, that within man’s memory it was held impossible to have any want of wood; but contrary to former imaginations, such hath been the great expense of timber for navigation; with infinite increase of building of houses, with the great expence of wood to make household furniture, casks, and other vessels not to be numbered, and of carts, waggons, and coaches; besides the extreame wast of wood in making iron, burning of brick and tile; that whereas in the year of our Lord God 1306, King Edward I. by proclamation prohibyted the burneing of sea-coale in London and the suburbs, to avoid the sulferous smoke and savour of the firing, and in the same proclamation commanded all persons to make their fires of wood; which was performed by all (Smith’s only excepted); yet at this present, through the great consuming of wood as aforesaid, and the neglect of planting of woods, there is so great scarcity of wood throughoute the whole kingdom, that not only the city of London, all haven townes, and in very many parts within the land, the inhabitants in general are constrained to make their fiers of sea-coale or pit coale, even in the chambers of honourable personages; and through necessitie, which is the mother of all arts, they have of very late years devised the making of iron, the making of all sorts of glass and burning of bricke with sea coal or pit coal.” From a book started by John Stow and completed by Edmond Howes, published in 1632. See: The History and Description of Fossil Fuel, the Collieries, and Coal Trade of Great Britain, John Holland, Whittaker, 1835, page 335.
[growing dependence on coal in China and elsewhere]
In parts of China we had started turning to coal perhaps four millennia before. Other of our nations had also been limited by vanishing wood supplies as our numbers slowly rose over the centuries. In France as early as the 1300s we had chopped down so much of our forests that they covered two million fewer acres than they would do by the 1970s. So we started importing coal from England and Belgium. By at least 1548, we started mining to make up the fuel shortage. By 1715, in parts of France, wood was so dear that ‘timber was not to be found.’ Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century, Volume I, The Structures of Everyday Life, Fernand Braudel, translated by Siân Reynolds, Harper & Row, 1981, page 368. The Medieval Machine: The Industrial Revolution of the Middle Ages, Jean Gimpel, Penguin, 1976, page 76.

“There is no positive information concerning the time when coal was first produced in France. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries coal was imported from Newcastle, England, and from Liege, Belgium, and traditions indicate that coal was being mined during this period in the Loire, Brassac, and Decize coal fields of France. In 1548 the first concession for coal mining of which there is any record was granted by Henry II. In 1667 Louis XIV placed an import tax on coal, which tax was increased in 1692, resulting in increased mining operations in France. In 1698 an edict was issued granting land proprietors the right to mine coal for their own profit on their lands without the permission of the sovereign, and as a result coal mining was actively carried on in France, beginning in the Loire and Brassac fields and gradually extending to the others. In 1744 Louis XV annulled the law of 1698, and required that thereafter concessions for coal mining must be obtained from the sovereign. The first concession for lignite mining was granted in 1788.” Coal Mine Labor in Europe, Carroll Davidson Wright, United States Bureau of Labor, 1905, page 183.

[in 1650 Britain produced five times as much coal...]
“Tawney’s Century, 1540–1640: The Roots of Modern Capitalist Entrepreneurship,” J. Munro, in The Invention of Enterprise: Entrepreneurship from ancient Mesopotamia to Modern Times, David S. Landes, Joel Mokyr, and William J. Baumol (editors), Princeton University Press, 2010, pages 107-155. Coal output in England, Scotland, and Wales expanded almost 12-fold from about 227,000 tons in 1560 to about 2,640,000 tons in 1700, at which time it supplied about half of England’s fuel needs. The History of the British Coal Industry, Volume I: Before 1700: Towards the Age of Coal, John Hatcher, Clarendon Press, 1993, Table 4.1, page 68.
[British patents from 1561 to 1642]
“In the period 1660-1750, 118 patents and extant applications covered water-raising devices or power sources that claimed water-raising as their main function. Twenty-five of them cited mines-drainage as their exclusive or principal application and a further 40 mentioned it as one of several functions.” Inventing the Industrial Revolution: The English Patent System, 1660-1800 Christine MacLeod, Cambridge University Press, 1988, page 101.

“[O]f the fifty-five patents granted for inventions granted during the reign of Elizabeth, 1561-99, one in seven is for the raising of water, and of the 127 patents granted between 1617 and 1642, the same proportion is observable.” A Short History of the Steam Engine, H. W. Dickinson, 1938, Frank Cass and Co., Reprint Edition, 1963, page 16.

[by 1700, mine depth in England already 360 feet]
“Among the causes which would prevent the miners from employing Savery’s engine, may be mentioned its limited range, and the danger of explosion attending its working. The greatest height to which it could raise water with safety, was not more than from 60 to 80 feet, so that for a mine of 50 or 60 fathoms [300 or 360 feet]—a depth which had already been reached in some districts at this time—no less than four or five engines would have been required, one delivering to the other. Such a complication of engines was not to be thought of. But in any case where the water was required to be raised to a considerable height, there was great danger of the boiler bursting, on account of its not being provided with any species of safety-valve.” The Steam Engine and Its Inventors; A Historical Sketch, Robert L. Galloway, Macmillan and Co., 1881, pages 66-67.
[deep mining before 1700]
Scientific American Inventions and Discoveries: All the Milestones in Ingenuity--From the Discovery of Fire to the Invention of the Microwave Oven, Rodney Carlisle, John Wiley & Sons, 2004, page 55. “Mining at Great Depths,” The Iron Age, Volume 59, March 4th 1897, page 14.
[British versus Russian experience with steam]
Thus, in the 1700s Britain had far more experience with steam engines than Russia had. That’s why, for instance, Russia gave up on homemade ones after Polzunov died and his engine failed. It’s also why, in 1753, Britain banned further export of steam engines. Russia, denied the tools, then tried to sneak the tool-makers. The £1,000 a year offer to Watt in 1775 was only one of several such efforts. (Russia wasn’t the only place that tried to do so. British America also did, but successfully, sneak a steam engine and its maker in 1753.)
[Britain exported steam engines]
The first one was built in Saint Petersburg by John Desaguliers in 1717. It was the same one that fired the imagination of Ivan Polzunov in 1758. Britain exported steam engines to Russia, then Belgium, Hungary, France, Germany, Austria, and Sweden—but by 1753 Parliament banned their further export. By then it had realized how valuable the technology was. From then on, other nations tried to steal it, or those who could make it.
[British America smuggled a steam engine in 1753]
In 1753, the colonies that were to become the United States got their first steam engine. It was smuggled from Britain to New Jersey that year. But word of it grew slowly. Folks living only two days’ walk away still hadn’t heard of it 17 years later. American Science and Invention, A Pictorial History: The Fabulous Story of How American Dreamers, Wizards, and Inspired Tinkers Converted a Wilderness into the Wonder of the World, Mitchell Wilson, Simon & Schuster, 1954, pages 48-49.

The machine was built for the Schuyler copper mines (now near Belleville, New Jersey). Benjamin Franklin mentioned a visit to the mine in a letter he wrote on February 13th, 1750: “I know of but one valuable copper mine in this country, which is that of Schuyler’s in the Jerseys. This yields good copper, and has turned out vast wealth to the owners. I was at it last fall, but they were not then at work. The water has grown too hard for them, and they waited for a fire-engine from England to drain their pits. I suppose they will have that at work next summer; it costs them one thousand pounds sterling.” The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, Volume III, 1750-1759, Albert Henry Smyth (editor), Macmillan, 1905, page 1.

The machine was smuggled in by Josiah Hornblower, of Cornwall, who brought all the parts for a Newcomen engine, which he, his brother, and their father had built by hand. He also brought many spare parts because he knew that he could not rely on the crude colonial machinists to make new ones. By 1755, the machine was in operation, pumping out the deepest mine shaft—the first time steam power was used anywhere in the colony. Five years later the machine was down for repairs, with a new brass cylinder having to be sent for all the way from London. Then, in 1761, Josiah and a partner leased the mine from its owner, John Schuyler. The next year there was a fire. By 1767 the mine was idle as wars plague the area. Another fire in 1773 closed the mine. By 1794 Nicholas Roosevelt, who, in partnership with Arent Schuyler, John’s son, had leased the mine, repaired the steam engine, then went bankrupt. The exhausted mine went on to bankrupt many partnerships for the next 50 years. However, by 1838 the new United States had over 5,000 steam engines. By then the new country had begun to turn the corner of industrialization. Josiah Hornblower and the First Steam Engine, With Some Notices of the Schuyler Copper Mines at Second River, N. J., and a Genealogy of the Hornblower Family, William Nelson, Daily Advertiser Printing House, 1883.

[English population doubled after 1520]
“Statistics of production and productivity in English agriculture 1086-1871,” M. Overton, B. M. S. Campbell, in Land productivity and agro-systems in the North Sea area (middle ages-20th century): Elements for Comparison, Bas J. P. van Bavel and Erik Thoen (editors), Brepols, 1999, pages 189-209. Christ’s Hospital of London, 1552-1598: “A Passing Deed of Pity”, Carol Kazmierczak Manzione, Associated University Presses, 1995, page 17. The Population History of England 1541-1871, A Reconstruction, E. A. Wrigley and R. S. Schofield, Cambridge University Press, 1989.
[Henry VIII started the British Navy]
Well, not really. (As usual, the text simplifies a much more complex story.) But he was the first to spend large sums on shipbuilding and dockyards and defences against naval attack. He also encouraged continental iron, glass, and ship builders to come settle in England. He was also invaded by a fleet even larger than the Spanish Armada that Elizabeth I was to face 43 years later. (In 1545, two years before he died, Francis I of France tried invading England with 30,000 soldiers in over 200 ships.) Henry had good reason to fear the continent.

Henry VIII had continued a major push to bring iron making to England, by importing foreign ironworkers. His father, Henry VII, the first Tudor king, had started the push in the 1490s, after he stole the throne. (For example, he started the first blast furnace in England in 1491.) But it was only by the 1540s, under his son, that industry in England really started to take off. The push continued under Elizabeth I, Henry VIII’s daughter, who continued the import of foreign experts in the 1570s. She increased the production of brass and glass in England. All three sovereigns lived in great fear of invasion. And iron-, brass-, glass-, and ship- production all needed massive numbers of trees. For example, a battleship might need more than 2,000 100-year-old oak trees. The Iron Industry of the Weald, Henry Cleere and David Crossley, Jeremy Hodgkinson (editor), Second Edition, Merton Priory Press, 1995. Industry before the Industrial Revolution: Incorporating a study of the Chartered Companies of the Society of Mines Royal and of Mineral and Battery Works, Volume II, William Reese, University of Wales Press, 1968. Wealdean Iron, Ernest Straker, G. Bell & Sons, 1931. Opera Mineralia Explicata: Or, The Mineral Kingdom, Within The Dominions Of Great Britain, Display’d. Being a Complete History of the Ancient Corporations of the City of London, of and for the Mines, the Mineral and the Battery works. With all the Original Grants, Leases, Instruments, Writs of Privilege and Protection, by Sea and Land, from Arrest (except in the Mineral Courts); or being Prest, or Serving Juries and Parish-Offices: as also the Records of the said Mineral Courts, from the Conquest, down to this present year, 1713. Likewise Proposals for New Settlements and Plentiful Provision for All the Industrious Poor, be their Number ever so Great. M. S. (that is, Moses Stringer), Jonas Brown, 1731, Chapter 3, pages 27 and on.

[ever since the 1540s...]
The date is somewhat arbitary. It’s chosen because 1543 was the year that the first one-piece cast-iron cannon was made in England. (It was made by a Frenchman, Peter Baude, at a foundry near Buxted, Sussex. He was employed by, or worked with, Ralph Hogge (aka Raffe Huggett), who was the servant of Rector and ironmaster William Levett, who had started the foundry, called Queenstock, with his brother John Levett.) “The lordship of Canterbury, iron-founding at Buxted, and the continental antecedents of cannon-founding in the Weald,” B. Awty, C. Whittick, Sussex Archaeological Collections, 140:71-81, 2002. Sussex Cavalcade, Arthur R. Ankers, Pond View Books, Revised Edition (with Michael Smith), 1997, pages 45-48. Industrial Biography: Iron Workers And Tool Makers, Samuel Smiles, John Murray, 1863, Chapter II.
[government bonds in Italy]
See, for example, the prestiti (forced) loans to the Venetian state, which were, at first, really a kind of tax, with no actual paper certificate, but became fungible, and thus liquid assets, and thus an exchangeable government bond. Genoa tried a variant, the luoghi. A History of Interest Rates, Sidney Homer and Richard Sylla, Wiley, Fourth Edition, 2005, pages 93-101.
[finance in Sumer 3,800 years ago]
For example, in Sumer 3,800 years ago, Dumuzi-gamil, a risk-taker, borrowed eight and a half ounces of silver, at interest, from a money-lender. He then financed a bakery, which supplied a temple of the moon god. He also lent smaller sums, at higher interest, to farmers and fishers. Meanwhile, the money-lender took the money and ran by selling on the loan to two other risk-takers. Five years later, Dumuzi-gamil repaid the loan, plus interest, to his new bond-holders and made a huge profit. So even when we were still writing on wet clay, we already had a bond market. We also already had trade networks, loans, contracts, credit, interest, deeds, and venture capital. More recently we invented other tools of finance and trade—banks, insurance, joint-stock companies, stock markets, credit cards, hedge funds, and so on—but their principles are the same. We may invent such tools for our own profit-seeking reasons, but they spread because they increase formal exchange and thus let more of us work together without us necessarily intending to do so. They’re all networking tools. “The Invention of Interest: Sumerian Loans,” M. Van De Mieroop, in The Origins of Value: The Financial Innovations that Created Modern Capital Markets, William N. Goetzmann and K. Geert Rouwenhorst (editor), Oxford University Press, 2005, page 26. The Babylonians: An Introduction, Gwendolyn Leick, Routledge, 2003, page 88. See also: The Invention of Enterprise: Entrepreneurship from Ancient Mesopotamia to Modern Times, David S. Landes, Joel Mokyr, and William J. Baumol (editors), Princeton University Press, 2010.
[By the 1670s the navy consumed over three-quarters of the national budget]
The figures actually are for the army and navy, but before the big land wars, that’s mostly the navy. “The Political Economy of British Taxation, 1660-1815,” P. K. O’Brien, The Economic History Review, New Series, 41(1):1-32, 1988.
[Dutch financial tools]
The First Modern Economy: Success, Failure, and Perseverance of the Dutch Economy, 1500-1815, Jan De Vries and A. M. van der Woude, Cambridge University Press, 1997, especially Chapter 4. Labyrinths of Prosperity: Economic Follies, Democratic Remedies, Reuven Brenner, University of Michigan Press, 1994, pages 53-61.
[England lost a year of trade goods in 1693]
The Royal Navy: A History from the Earliest Times to the Present, Volume II, Wm. Laird Clowes, assisted by Clements Markham, A. T. Mahan, H. W. Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, L. Carr Laughton, etc., Sampson Low, Marston and Company Limited, 1898, pages 357-360.
[the Bank of England]
“In effect, the Bank of England created a bond market, providing safe investment at reliable rates for investors and providing the government with a ready source of funds at low rates. It also systematized over several years the national debt. Over the long run, through the continental and world wars of the 1690s and the long eighteenth century until Waterloo, Britain had a huge financial advantage over much larger and arguably wealthier France, because its government could borrow at much lower rates, thanks to the Bank of England. The bank facilitated that borrowing and provided a ready source of currency, and the representative Parliament, which levied the taxes that provided reliable interest payments: institutions that got their beginnings in the arrangements that Parliament devised to finance the wars of William III.” Our First Revolution: The Remarkable British Upheaval That Inspired America’s Founding Fathers, Michael Barone, Random House, 2007, page 224.

The government was in such desperate need that it allowed the Bank of England to register as a joint-stock company—so unlike every other bank, its investors had no personal liability if the bank failed. Its job was to lend money to the government at eight percent, and pass on that interest to its subscribers, less overhead costs (and profit). Its capital of £1.2 million was subscribed within 12 days. Only 60 percent of it, £720,000, was called up immediately, and that was loaned to the government in installments, the first of which was on August 1st, 1694. In return the bank took the government’s promise to repay the loan, with interest (interest-bearing tallies, or bonds—in short, government debt), which essentially were backed by an Act of Parliament that amounted to earmarked taxes to be collected in future. The public then accepted the bank’s notes as good as gold. Thus for £100,000 in earmarked tax revenue, the government could drawn on £1.2 million (and the bank’s subscribers could expect £96,000 a year, and of course the bank’s proprietors could expect the difference, £4,000, every year). Overall, in the 15 years from 1688 to 1702, the government only borrowed £13 million as compared to the £59 million it raised in taxes.

The Bank of England wasn’t the first money-making scheme England tried to fund its latest war with France. Parliament first tried annuities and lotteries (which were popular) and tontines (which weren’t). Nor was the Bank of England the first national bank; it’s just one of the oldest ones still surviving (after the Bank of Sweden). Banks had been founded in Amsterdam (1609), Barcelona (1609), Middle-burg (1616), Hamburg (1619), Delft (1621), Nuremberg (1621), Rotterdam (1635), and Sweden (1656).

“How it All Began: the Monetary and Financial Architecture of Europe during the First Global Capital Markets, 1648-1815,” L. Neal, Financial History Review, 7(2):117-140, 2000. The Rise of Financial Capitalism: International Capital Markets in the Age of Reason, Larry Neal, Cambridge University Press, 1990. The Financial Revolution in England: A Study in the Development of Public Credit, 1688–1756, P. G. M. Dickson, Macmillan, 1967, page 256. The Bank of England: A History, Volume 1, 1694-1787, John Clapham, Cambridge University Press, 1944, pages 19-58.

[effect of Britain’s bond market]
Britain’s bond market didn’t do all that, but it helped all that along. It was a bet that Britain made with itself that it would not only survive but prosper. That bet didn’t have to work—like any nation, Britain was making stuff up as it went along and could have floundered at any point—nor did anyone foresee its effects; but that doesn’t matter. The bet led to a huge navy, which meant deficit spending, a huge national debt, and high taxes, which led to many scuffles in Parliament. But the bet also helped further shift Britain from farming to industry, from the countryside to the towns, from illiteracy to literacy. The effect of that cycle is part of why those of us in Britain were moving from generalizing for our home or village to specializing for some particular market in a town. It’s also part of why by 1750 one in five of us were townsfolk.
[Britain’s urban shift in the 1700s]
In England from the 1670s to the 1750s, towns with a population over 5,000 rose from around 13 percent to about 21 percent (rural agricultural population declined from over 60 percent to about 46 percent, and rural non-agricultural areas rose from about 26 percent to about 33 percent). Some specific estimates of urban growth: 1520 - 5.25 percent, 1600 - 8.00 percent, 1670 - 13.25 percent, 1700 - 16.25 percent, 1750 - 20.75 percent. Energy and the English Industrial Revolution, E. A. Wrigley, Cambridge University Press, 2010, Table 3.2 page 61 This is especially interesting given the discussion on the previous pages: “Removing English urban totals from those for Europe suggests that in continental Europe as a whole urbanisation was almost at a standstill between 1600 and 1800.” In other words, almost all new European urbanization in two entire centuries happened in England. Some of that was England playing catchup with more heavily urbanized countries—particularly Italy and the Netherlands.
[Parliament argued over the national debt and high taxes]
Britain endured quite high taxes to build its navy: “the real cost of taxation afflicting Britain’s economy and society mounted decade by decade. That burden ... surpassed by a considerable margin the real and relative levels of taxation borne with such marked reluctance by the citizens of ancien régime France and was probably in excess of the taxes imposed on the population of other European powers, with the possible exception of Holland. The central authorities of a society which had undergone a revolution, occasioned initially by revolt against the taxes of a Stuart monarch, managed to appropriate significantly higher proportions of the nation’s income than the ‘despotisms’ of continental Europe. Between the Restoration and the French Revolution that share multiplied fivefold without provoking political upheavals, except among those fiscally privileged colonials of North America.” From “The Political Economy of British Taxation, 1660-1815,” P. K. O’Brien, The Economic History Review, New Series, 41(1):1-32, 1988.

But there were many arguments over high taxes. For example, here’s part of one about increasing the size of the navy from 20,000 to 30,000 seamen in 1735. It’s part of a combined statement by Robert Walpole, Horatio Walpole, and (James?) Oglethorpe.

“To pretend to tell us, Sir, what France and Spain intended to have done last Year, or to pretend to tell us what they intend to do this next Year, with the Ships of War they have continued in Commission, is, I think, something extraordinary. We may perhaps guess at some of their Designs, but I shall always think it very imprudent, to leave the Peace and Quiet of this Nation to depend upon such Guess-work; especially when we consider, that they have no Occasion to fit out any great Fleet against any Power in Europe but ourselves; and therefore it is not to be presumed, that they would put themselves to such a great Expence, unless they were suspicious that the Measures they have resolved to pursue, may make this Nation engage in the War; and in such a Case, I think it is natural to believe, they would take the first Opportunity to invade or disturb us: They have such an absolute Command over all the Seamen of their Country, they have always such Numbers of regular Troops upon their Coasts, or within a few Days march of their Sea-Ports, that when they have their Ships ready equip’d and fit for sailing, it would be easy for them to clap Seamen and Land-Forces on Board; and they might arrive upon the Coasts of this Kingdom, before it would be possible for us to man and fit our Fleet sufficient to engage them, if we had not made some extraordinary Provision beforehand: This every Man must be convinced of, who knows the Difficulty we had to procure Seamen enough for the Squadron we fitted out last Summer, notwithstanding the long Time we had to look for them, and the Method of Pressing which we were even then obliged to make use of. Nor does it signify to tell us, that at this Rate we shall always be obliged to fit out Squadrons, and put ourselves to a great Expence, whenever any of our Neighbours begin to fit out one; for I take it to be a right Maxim, I really think we ought to prepare and fit out a Squadron, whenever we see any of our Neighbours doing so, unless we very well know the Purposes their Squadron is designed for. The Expence bestowed upon fitting out a Squadron may be an Expence to the Publick, but it is little or no Loss to the Nation; the whole is expended among our own People, and it not only improves our Seamen, by making them acquainted with the Service on Board a Man of War, but it increases their Number; for every Fleet we fit out encourages a Number of Land-Men to engage in the Sea-Service: Whereas, if by neglecting to do so, the Kingdom should be invaded, and a civil War kindled up, the Nation would in that Case suffer a real Loss, a Loss which might far surmount the Expence the Publick could be put to by the fitting out of twenty Squadrons; so that We may suffer by neglecting this Maxim, but can never suffer by observing it.

I shall readily grant, that this Nation would be more formidable, if we owed no publick Debts, and had the same Fleet and the same regular Army we have at present; but if we had no Squadron ready to put to Sea, nor any regular Troops ready to take the Field, I cannot admit that we should then be so formidable as we are at present, even tho’ we did not owe a Shilling in the World. We all know, that what now makes a Nation formidable, is not the Number nor the Riches of its Inhabitants, but the Number of Ships of War provided with able Seamen, and the Number of regular well disciplined Troops they have at Command: And, whatever Gentlemen may think of the Acceptation of his Majesty’s good Offices, I am persuaded they would not have been so readily accepted, if the Parties had not seen us preparing to do them bad Offices, in Case they had refused to accept of our good.”

“Debate in the Commons on the Number of Seamen for the Year 1735,” The Parliamentary History of England, From the Earliest Period to the Year 1803, Volume IX, A.D. 1733-1737, Hansard, 1811, pages 691-719, specifically pages 715-716.

[slavery nurtured British expansion]
A point first argued by Williams. Capitalism and Slavery, Eric Williams, 1944, Andre Deutsch, Reprint Edition, 1964.

The idea has been challenged as more quantitative and comparative data has come to light, but it’s hardly been disproved. Africans and the Industrial Revolution in England: A Study in International Trade and Economic Development, Joseph E. Inikori, Cambridge University Press, 2002. Slavery, Atlantic Trade and the British Economy, 1660-1800, Kenneth Morgan, Cambridge University Press, 2001. “The Atlantic Economy of the Eighteenth Century: Some Speculations on Economic Development in Britain America, Africa, and Elsewhere,” S. L. Engerman, Journal of European Economic History, 24(1):145-175, 1995. The Atlantic Slave Trade: Effects on Economies, Societies, and Peoples in Africa, the Americas, and Europe, Joseph E. Inikori and Stanley Engerman (editors), Duke University Press, 1992.

[...only for its lead and tin and sheep...]
As early as 1734, Voltaire was to write that: “As trade enriched the citizens in England, so it contributed to their freedom, and this freedom on the other side extended their commerce, whence arose the grandeur of the State. Trade raised by insensible degrees the naval power, which gives the English a superiority over the seas, and they now are masters of very near two hundred ships of war. Posterity will very probably be surprised to hear that an island whose only produce is a little lead, tin, fuller’s-earth, and coarse wool, should become so powerful by its commerce, as to be able to send, in 1723, three fleets at the same time to three different and far distanced parts of the globe. One before Gibraltar, conquered and still possessed by the English; a second to Porto Bello, to dispossess the King of Spain of the treasures of the West Indies; and a third into the Baltic, to prevent the Northern Powers from coming to an engagement [....]

In France the title of marquis is given gratis to any one who will accept of it; and whosoever arrives at Paris from the midst of the most remote provinces with money in his purse, and a name terminating in ac or ille, may strut about, and cry, "Such a man as I! A man of my rank and figure!" and may look down upon a trader with sovereign contempt; whilst the trader on the other side, by thus often hearing his profession treated so disdainfully, is fool enough to blush at it. However, I need not say which is most useful to a nation; a lord, powdered in the tip of the mode, who knows exactly at what o’clock the king rises and goes to bed, and who gives himself airs of grandeur and state, at the same time that he is acting the slave in the ante-chamber of a prime minister; or a merchant, who enriches his country, despatches orders from his counting-house to Surat and Grand Cairo, and contributes to the felicity of the world.”

“Letter X: On Trade,” French and English Philosophers: Descartes, Rousseau, Voltaire, Hobbes, Charles W. Eliot (editor), P. F. Collier & Son, 1910, pages 93-94.

[why Britain?]
None of that had to happen in Britain first. For example, it can’t have happened simply because Britain was an island under threat of invasion. Ireland was also an island—and was often invaded, especially by Britain. It also can’t be only because of Britain’s new financial tools, because those came from the Netherlands. Nor can it merely be because of Britain’s trade—the Netherlands also had a large trading network, and before Britain’s, but it never became the industrial powerhouse that Britain went on to become. It can’t be purely because of Britain’s fleet, either—at different times Spain and France had even larger fleets. Nor can it solely be because of Britain’s coal and iron—Belgium also had lots of coal and iron—and while the Netherlands didn’t, it had lots of peat. It can’t even be just because Britain got steam engines first—mountainous Switzerland had huge amounts of water power in place of that. However, centuries of accident, opportunity, and constraint—that is, history and geography—brought all those things, plus many others, together in Britain first.
[an unintended set of incitements in Britain]
Such a case could be made out of Mokyr’s introduction to: The British Industrial Revolution: An Economic Perspective, Joel Mokyr (editor), Second edition, Westview Press, 1999, pages 1-127.
[British religious repression in the 1660s]
The Corporation Act (1661), the Act of Uniformity (1662), the Conventicle Act (1664), the Five-Mile Act (1665), collectively known as the Clarendon Codes—named after Charles II’s chief minister Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon—and the Test Acts (1673, 1678), followed on the end of the civil war in 1651. The Enlightenment of Joseph Priestley: A Study of His Life and Work from 1733 to 1773, Robert E. Schofield, Pennsylvania State Press, 1997, pages 202-205.
[Dissenters and religious repression in Britain]
The (common) argument that religious affiliation solely, or even mostly, explains industry in Britain, is unsupported by data. See: Men of Property: The Very Wealthy in Britain since the Industrial Revolution, W. D. Rubinstein, Taylor & Francis, 1981, especially Chapter 5. However, it is indeed true that several early industrialists in Britain were Dissenters, that is, Protestants who refused to take Church of England vows—which included Quakers, Unitarians, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists, among others. Of the ones listed in the text, the hardest to pin down is John Roebuck, who is cited as an Independent in: The Industrial Revolution: A Study in Bibliography, T. S. Ashton, A. & C. Black Ltd., 1937. But his children appear to have all been baptised at the New Meeting Unitarian Church on Moor Street, Birmingham. Also, Joseph Black might have been baptized Catholic, according to his entry in: Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2008. But perhaps that’s because he was born in France (not Scotland, where his parents emigrated from), since he was buried at Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh, Scotland, which is Covenanter—a branch of Presbyterianism.

In Britain, non-Protestants, like Catholics, Jews, and Greek Orthodox, were a different matter. For example, England had kicked out its Jews entirely from 1290 to 1650. By the 1760s they were a tiny portion of the population (about 0.3 percent).

Further, Britain wasn’t unique in its religious repression. Russia was equally good at it. Russia, though, was much more of a peasant economy. It forced its religious minorities, primarily Jews, into finance, peddling, and shopkeeping instead of trade and industry—that is, when not running active pogroms against them. (A peasant uprising in 1768, during the partitioning of Poland, lead to massacres of both Jews and Catholics. Perhaps 20,000 were herded into their places of worship and killed. A century before, a Cossack idea of fun was to ride into a village and kill every male and take every female there.)

Similarly, France had slaughtered or exiled most of its Protestants, the Huguenots. (Two important steam pioneers in Britain, Denis Papin and John Desaguliers, for example, had fled France for Britain. They were Huguenots). Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria—all have poor tolerance records as well. For long periods of recent European history, only the Netherlands was tolerant of variant religious belief systems. Britain in the 1770s was then merely one of the less-intolerant nations. (Incidentally, England’s history of its treatment of Jews is also quite varied. For example, while it accepted them in the 1100s, it persecuted and ejected them in the 1200s.)

So Russia in the 1700s was still running pogroms against its Jews—and would continue to do so for another 170 years. But while that pressure forced Russia’s Jews together, they had even fewer outlets than Britain’s Dissenters did. Europe’s repression also forced much of its financial and trade expertise—largely in the form of Jews—out of Spain, Portugal, and France and into the Netherlands, and later to Britain.

Prime Movers

[Britain from 1750 to 1800]
Britain had great growing weather from 1720 to 1750, but the productivity of land in England may have more than doubled between 1700 and 1850, with a large jump coming after 1750, although the largest part of the increase came only after 1800. The Transformation of Rural England: Farming and the Landscape, 1700-1870, Tom Williamson, Exeter University Press, 2002. Agricultural Revolution in England: The Transformation of the Agrarian Economy 1500-1850, Mark Overton, Cambridge University Press, 1996.

It would be wrong, though, to assume that Britain in 1776 was already well-off, just because a larger but still tiny percentage of its population now were. Even as late as 1850 Britons only ate about as well as Indians did in 1998. In 1776 the Poor Laws were still in full force, and for good reason—most of the population were still starving, or near starvation. They were also strictly tied to the land—and not just in an farming sense, but also in a legal sense. To travel, the poor needed passes, which they rarely got.

For example, on May 28th, 1795, a bill slightly ameliorated the travel problem: “Many industrious poor persons, chargeable to the parish, township, or place where they live, merely from want of work there, would in any other place where sufficient employment is to be had, maintain themselves and families without being burthensome to any parish, township, or place; and such poor persons are for the most part compelled to live in their own parishes, townships, or places, and are not permitted to inhabit elsewhere, under pretence that they are likely to become chargeable to the parish, township, or place into which they go for the purpose of getting employment, although the labour of such poor persons might, in many instances, be very beneficial to such parish, township, or place.” Poor Removal Bill, 35 George III, Chapter 101, (To Prevent the Removal of Poor Persons, Until They Shall Become Actually Chargeable). The bill explicitly excluded pregnant females, as the law had done for centuries already—they were the least able to work and the most expensive to support.

[early waterwheels]
“A Relief of a Water-powered Stone Saw Mill on a Sarcophagus at Hierapolis and its Implications,” T. Ritti, K. Grewe, P. Kessener, Journal of Roman Archaeology, 20(1):138-163, 2007. “Water Mills in the Area of Sagalassos: A Disappearing Ancient Technology,” K. Donners, M. Waelkens, J. Deckers, Anatolian Studies, 52:1–17, 2002. Millstone and Hammer: The Origins of Water Power, M. J. T. Lewis, University of Hull Press, 1997.
[Japanese waterwheels in 610]
“Water Wheels in the Preindustrial Economy of Japan,” R. Minami, Hitotsubashi Journal of Economics, 22(2):1-15, 1982.
[English watermills a millennium ago]
“Inland Water Transport in Medieval England—the View from the Mills: a Response to Jones,” J. Langdon, Journal of Historical Geography, 26(1):75-82, 2000. The Mills of Medieval England, Richard Holt, Blackwell Publishers, 1988, pages 7-8. Stronger than a Hundred Men: A History of the Vertical Water Wheel, Terry S. Reynolds, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983. Domesday England, H. C. Darby, Cambridge University Press, 1977, page 361. “Domesday Water Mills,” M. T. Hodgen, Antiquity, 13(51):261-279, 1939.
[advantage of early steam engines]
As early as 1795, one observer wrote that: “Water is seldom convenient; wind is a feeble and precarious agent; and muscular force is very expensive and very limited; but steam is free from each of these imperfections, and is superior to all in strength and duration.” Inventing the Industrial Revolution: The English Patent System, 1660-1800 Christine MacLeod, Cambridge University Press, 1988, page 176. However, steam engines were expensive.
[problems with early steam engines]
“Patentees of steam engines concentrated instead on the major drawback of steam power—its expense. Nature provided wind and water irregularly but freely; cost-conscious manufacturers were often prepared to ignore the irregularity in order to benefit from the minimal running costs. And so patentees of steam engines feature largely among those who cited the saving of fuel as a goal of their invention; Watt’s separate condenser was but the most successful among many, prior to the compounding of steam engines (pioneered by Jonathan Hornblower and successfully resumed by Arthur Woolf early in the nineteenth century). Not that steam engines did not have reliability problems of their own: Edmund Cartwright promoted his chiefly for its fuel-saving potential, but also reckoned to have overcome a defect of other steam engines, their propensity ’without great care and attention, to be frequently out of order’. A water wheel might run foul of the weather, but it was mechanically far more dependable and quicker to repair than were early steam engines.” Inventing the Industrial Revolution: The English Patent System, 1660-1800 Christine MacLeod, Cambridge University Press, 1988, pages 176-177.
[Abraham Darby III works to keep ironmongers]
Dynasty of Iron Founders: The Darbys and Coalbrookdale, Arthur Raistrick, Longmans, Green, & Co., 1953.
[Watt had trouble]
“[Watt’s steam-engine] was so much in advance of the mechanical capability of the age that it was with the greatest difficulty it could be executed. When labouring upon his invention at Glasgow, Watt was baffled and thrown into despair by the clumsiness and incompetency of his workmen. Writing to Dr. Roebuck on one occasion, he said, “You ask what is the principal hindrance in erecting engines? It is always the smith-work.” His first cylinder was made by a whitesmith, of hammered iron soldered together, but having used quicksilver to keep the cylinder air-tight, it dropped through the inequalities into the interior, and “played the devil with the solder.” Yet, inefficient though the whitesmith was, Watt could ill spare him, and we find him writing to Dr. Roebuck almost in despair, saying, “My old white-iron man is dead!” feeling his loss to be almost irreparable. His next cylinder was cast and bored at Carron, but it was so untrue that it proved next to useless. The piston could not be kept steam tight, notwithstanding the various expedients which were adopted of stuffing it with paper, cork, putty, pasteboard, and old hat....

First-rate workmen in machinery did not as yet exist; they were only in process of education. Nearly everything had to be done by hand. The tools used were of a very imperfect kind. A few ill-constructed lathes, with some drills and boring-machines of a rude sort, constituted the principal furniture of the workshop....

Watt endeavoured to remedy the defect by keeping certain sets of workmen to special classes of work, allowing them to do nothing else. Fathers were induced to bring up their sons at the same bench with themselves, and initiate them in the dexterity which they had acquired by experience; and at Soho it was not unusual for the same precise line of work to be followed by members of the same family for three generations. In this way as great a degree of accuracy of a mechanical kind was arrived at was practicable under the circumstances. But notwithstanding all this care, accuracy of fitting could not be secured so long as the manufacture of steam-engines was conducted mainly by hand.”

Industrial Biography: Iron Workers And Tool Makers, Samuel Smiles, John Murray, 1863, Chapter X.

[steam engine improvements]
“James Watt and his rotary engines,” R. L. Hills, Transactions of the Newcomen Society, 70(1):89-108, 1999. Power from Steam: A History of the Stationary Steam Engine, Richard L. Hills, Cambridge University Press, 1989.
[one English textile factory...]
“An extensive cotton-mill is a striking instance of the application of the greatest powers to perform a prodigious quantity of light and easy work. A steam-engine of 100 horse power, which has the strength of 880 men, gives a rapid motion to 50,000 spindles, for spinning fine cotton thread: each spindle forms a separate thread; and the whole number work together, in an immense building erected on purpose, and so adapted to receive the machines that no room is lost. Seven hundred and fifty people are sufficient to attend all the operations of such a cotton-mill; and, by the assistance of the steam engine, they will be enabled to spin as much thread as 200,000 persons could do without machinery.” Treatise on the Steam Engine: Historical, Practical, and Descriptive, John Farey, Jr., 1827. See: A Statistical Account of the British Empire: Exhibiting Its Extent, Physical Capacities, Population, Industry, and Civil and Religious Institutions, Volume I, J. R. McCulloch, Charles Knight and Co., Second Edition, 1839, page 648 (footnote).
[spread of steam in Britain in 1800]
Europe, 1783-1914, William Simpson and Martin Jones, Routledge, 2000, page 99. The Industrial and Commercial Revolutions in Great Britain During the Nineteenth Century, L. C. A. Knowles, George Routledge and Sons, 1921, page 73.

A Synergetic Machine

[coke smelting in China]
“By 1078 North China was producing annually more than 114,000 tons of pig iron (700 years later England would produce only half that amount).” China: A New History, John King Fairbank and Merle Goldman, Harvard University Press, Second Edition, 2006, page 89. Why this, and similar advances, didn’t lead to a huge change in China is a puzzle. (The medieval Muslim world is also puzzling.) China had so very much so very early, but the pieces either didn’t come together in industrial synergy, or when they did they didn’t stay together long enough to break our pattern of subsistence. Why? At least one big piece of ‘network physics,’ and probably many big pieces, must still be missing. The Pattern of the Chinese Past, Mark Elvin, Stanford University Press, 1973.
[before 1830 industry couldn’t be cheap, fast, and large-scale]
The pattery story is based on Josiah Wedgwood’s 1762 petition to Parliament in support of a turnpike road because of the poor state of the roads. (This later evolved into a canal, and then later, a railway.)

“In Burslem, and its neighbourhood, are near one hundred and fifty separate Potteries, for making various kinds of stone and earthenware; which, together, find constant employment and support for near seven thousand people. The ware in these Potteries is exported in vast quantities from London, Bristol, Liverpool, Hull, and other seaports, to our several colonies in America and the West Indies, as well as to almost every port in Europe. Great quantities of flint-stones are used in making some of the ware, which are brought by sea, from different parts of the coast, to Liverpool and Hull: and the clay for the making of white ware is brought from Devonshire and Cornwall, chiefly to Liverpool; the materials from whence are brought by water, up the rivers Mersey and Weaver, to Winsford, in Cheshire; those from Hull, up the Trent, to Willington; and from Winsford and Willington, the whole are brought by land-carriage to Burslem. The ware, when made, is conveyed to Liverpool and Hull, in the same manner as the material brought from those places.

Many thousands of tons of shipping, and seamen in proportion, which in summer trade to the northern seas, are employed in winter in carrying materials for the Burslem ware: and, as much salt is consumed in glazing one species of it, as pays annually near £5,000 duty to Government. Add to these considerations the prodigious quantity of coals used in the Potteries, and the loading and freight this manufacture constantly supplies, as well for land-carriage as inland navigation, and it will appear, that the manufacturers, sailors, bargemen, carriers, colliers, men employed in the salt-works, and others who are supported by the pot trade, amount to a great many thousand people; and every shilling received for ware at foreign markets is so much clear gain to the nation, as not one foreigner is employed in, or any material imported from abroad for any branch of it; and the trade flourishes so much, as to have increased by two-thirds within the last fourteen years.

The Potters concerned in this very considerable manufacture, presuming from the above and many other reasons that might be offered, the Pot trade not unworthy the attention of Parliament, have presented a petition for leave to bring in a Bill to repair and widen the road from Red Bull, at Lawton, in Cheshire, to Cliff Bank, in Staffordshire; which runs quite through the Potteries, and falls at each end into a Turnpike road. This road, especially the northern road from Burslem to the Red Bull, is so very narrow, deep, and foundrous, as to be almost impassable for carriages; and in the winter, almost for pack-horses; for which reason, the carriages, with materials and ware, to and from Liverpool, and the salt-works in Cheshire, are obliged to go to Newcastle, and from thence to the Red Bull, which is nine miles and a half, (whereof three miles and a half, viz. from Burslem to Newcastle, are not Turnpike road), instead of five miles, which is the distance from Burslem to the Red Bull, by the road prayed to be amended.”

The Borough of Stoke-upon-Trent, in the Commencement of the Reign of Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria: Comprising Its History, Statistics, Civil Polity, & Traffic With Biographical and Geneologicial Notices of Eminent Individuals and Families; Also, the Manorial History of Newcastle-under-Lyme, and Incidental Notices of Other Neighbouring Place & Objects, John Ward, W. Lewis & Son, 1843, pages 28-29. For more general background, see also: The Wedgwoods: Being a Life of Josiah Wedgwood, With Notices of his Works and their Productions, Memoirs of the Wedgwood and other families And a History of the Early Potteries of Staffordshire, Llewellynn Jewitt, Virtue Brothers and Co., 1865, pages 162-163.

[tool change before the steam engine]
It would be as if we suddenly got nicer weather. For a while we’d eat better, but we’d also make more kids. (Or rather, in a world with no incentive to control births, it might just be that more of our kids would survive infancy because we could feed them better; or it might be that we would ease up on infanticide because we would have more food.) Then those extra mouths would eat up the surplus. That would then drag us back down to about the same amount of food per person, given the tools and trade deals we had at the time. Or conversely, if lots of us died because the weather got bad or a pest hit the crops or a plague hit, then if that sudden pressure on us ever ended we’d each end up with more land, so we’d make more kids. That would then would push us back up to about the same numbers supported by the land, given the tools and trade deals that we had at the time.
[population growth to 1800]
“The Industrial Revolution: Past and Future,” in Lectures on Economic Growth, Robert E. Lucas, Harvard University Press, 2002, pages 109–188.

See also: The World Economy: A Millennia Perspective, Angus Maddison, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2001.

[tool change speedup]
This is the proposed change that led to our break from the Malthusian world, so the discussion here analyzes some Malthusian pressures that led to rising populations driving us to larger and larger ‘carrying capacities.’
[cost of engine labor fell below cost of human labor]
The Marvels of Modern Mechanism and their relation to Social Betterment, Jerome Bruce Crabtree, The King-Richardson Company, 1901, pages 500-503. “The Animal as a Machine,” R. H. Thurston, The North American Review, Volume 163, July 1896, pages 607-619. The Animal as a Machine and a Prime Motor, and the Laws of Energetics, R. H. Thurston, John Wiley & sons, 1894. “Energy and Labour,” G. C. Cuningham, Transactions of the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers, Volume 5, Part I, January to June 1891, pages 235-261. “Black Diamonds,” F. M. Maury, Popular Science Volume 14, January 1879, pages 337-345. Fourteen Weeks in Physics: Steele’s Series in the Natural Sciences, J. Dorman Steele, A. S. Barnes & Company, 1878, page 181.
[coal reduction of steam engines from 1727 to 1860]
Power from Steam: A History of the Stationary Steam Engine, Richard L. Hills, Cambridge University Press, 1989. Steam Power and British Industrialisation to 1860, G. N. von Tunzelmann, Clarendon Press, 1978.
[steam’s contribution to growth before 1830 was small]
The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective, Robert C. Allen, Cambridge University Press, 2009. “Steam as a General Purpose Technology: A Growth Accounting Perspective,” N. Crafts, Economic Journal, 114(495):338-351, 2004.

Allen convincingly argues that in Britain, as opposed to France and China, labor was expensive and capital and energy were cheap. The substitution of capital and energy for labor was then economically forced. This is a great argument. However, it doesn’t explain why Britain was able to supply the machinery and know-how to accomplish that substitution, and why that particular substitution then went on to trigger such huge changes.

Also, see Elvin, and the even earlier Killough, for a sketch of an earlier version of the same argument: The Pattern of the Chinese Past, Mark Elvin, Stanford University Press, 1973. International Trade, Hugh Baxter Killough, McGraw-Hill, 1938, pages 83-84.

[Britain’s exploding iron production 1800-1872]
“The Output of the British Iron Industry Before 1870,” P. Riden, The Economic History Review, 30(3):442-459, 1977. Griffiths’ Guide to the Iron Trade of Great Britain, with plates and illustrations, Contains An Elaborate Review of the Iron & Coal Trades for Last Year, Addresses and Names of all Ironmasters with a list of Blast Furnaces, Iron Manufactories, and other Statistics and Information respecting Iron and Coal which may be useful to Merchants Coalowners Brokers Bankers Ironmasters and all others interested in the Iron Trade, Samuel Griffiths, 1873, page 2.

The following quote seems apropos: “This is not inappropriately called the iron age, and certainly it deserves the name of the metallic age. That men should chase wild animals, and having taken, should tame and feed them, and thus always secure a supply; that they should appropriate the spontaneous fruits of the earth, and, imitating the the processes of nature, should cast seed into the ground and become cultivators, always to have the fruits of the earth; that they should, from wrapping their limbs in the skins of animals, weave clothing to protect their bodies and become manufacturers; that they should launch a hollow tree on a stream, and end by navigating every part of the ocean, absolutely winning bread from the salt wave,— seems less surprising than that that they should find the means of subsistence and of welfare in the bowels of the earth.... [E]very step has been successive; slowly, gradually, but surely, has man been led from utter ignorance of the objects around him to use and profit by every solid thing on the surface of the earth, by the waters which surround it, by the circumambient atmosphere, and by the minerals deep hidden in its bowels.... In 1798... the make of iron [in Britain] was 125,000 tons; in 1806 it was 258,000 tons; in 1823 it was 450,000 tons; in 1830, 670,000 tons; and now it is more than five times as much. We use iron in ways that our fathers never thought of. Our palaces and our ships are built of iron. Our railways are in the main iron; our telegraphs depend on iron. From: “The British Iron Trade,” The Economist, 14(659):391-392, 1856.

[the railway in the United States]
Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, 1863-1869, Stephen E. Ambrose, Simon & Schuster, 2000. By 1916, railway mileage in United States was 254,037 miles of ‘road (first track) owned.’ By 1929, it was 249,433 miles. Statistical Abstract of the United States, United States Bureau of the Census, 1931, page 411. However, for a counterfactual economic analysis that the railway might have made little economic difference see: Railroads and American Economic Growth: Essays in Econometric History, Robert W. Fogel, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1964.
[coal and iron production in Germany]
The Spirit of Capitalism: Nationalism and Economic Growth, Liah Greenfeld, Harvard University Press, 2001, pages 216-218. The Economic Consequence of the Peace, John Maynard Keynes, Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920, page 16.
[timezones]
As a sign of just how fast the changes came, trains flew between places so fast that keeping time by the sun abruptly stopped making sense. Railroads in Britain created the idea of time zones then standardized them in 1847, just 17 years after the first commercial railroad there. Those in northern Germany standardized in 1874. Those in Sweden did the same in 1879. Those in the United States did so in 1883—just 14 years after the first transcontinental railroad there. Entire continents were now changing in a matter of decades. That was completely new.
[synergy]
The industrial dynamic sketched in the text went like this: mine coal to smelt iron to build machinery to build factories to build locomotives to power railways to move coal to fuel factories to make machinery to mine coal to fuel machinery to mine iron to build machinery—to mine yet more coal, to smelt yet more iron, and so on.

Our industrial phase change wasn’t the first time we fell into that kind of pulsing, self-propelling, synergetic cycle. In our recent past, for example, we autocatalytically cemented another: get slaves to harvest sugar to buy tobacco to buy ships to get slaves to work plantations to buy opium to buy tea to get slaves. That particular cycle changed the futures of Britain, the United States, the Caribbean, Africa, India, Indonesia, and China. We made another cycle even further back in time: make war to get slaves to grow food to feed slaves to swell armies to support kings to make war to get slaves. The industrial phase change, however, may be our first synergetic cycle that didn’t directly depend on slaves.

The text takes some liberties with the term a chemist might use for that kind of process. The word ‘synergy’ comes from the Greek synergos, which roughly means ‘working together’ or ‘combined action.’ The word is in common use but chemists don’t normally use the word (although they might sometimes use ‘synergistic’). For the same idea (of a self-stimulating reaction network) they might instead say ‘jointly catalytic’ or ‘collectively autocatalytic’ or ‘network catalytic’. But such phrases are too cumbersome for a book of popular science. For a survey of much more relaxed meanings of the word in physics, chemistry, biology, ecology, and anthropology, see: Holistic Darwinism: Synergy, Cybernetics, and the Bioeconomics of Evolution, Peter A. Corning, University of Chicago Press, 2005. “The Synergism Hypothesis: On the Concept of Synergy and Its Role in the Evolution of Complex Systems,” P. A. Corning, Journal of Social and Evolutionary Systems, 21(2):133-172, 1998.

In economics, a similar idea is called ‘agglomeration economies’ or ‘economies of agglomeration’ (also sometimes ‘economies of scope’) (to contrast it with ‘economies of scale’—also called ‘increasing returns to scale’—which is subdivided into ‘internal,’ that is, at the firm level, and ‘external,’ that is, at the industry level). It’s related to what economists from Adam Smith on call ‘division of labor’ (that is, specialization) coupled with concomitant ‘externalities,’ ‘complementarities,’ ‘spillovers,’ and ‘increasing returns.’ Paul Krugman extended that to ‘economic geography’ (or ‘geographic economics’—or sometimes ‘location theory’) then to international trade, based on Alfred Marshall’s 1890 observation of the spatial formation of reaction networks (he didn’t call it that). That is, it is division of labor when that happens across multiple nearby firms (for example, in a city) as opposed to inside one firm. Perhaps the distinctions that economists draw relate to whether the division of labor is intentioned or not, whether it pre-dates or post-dates some event (that is, whether it happens as a result of some event, or whether the event happens because of it), whether it’s within one firm or not, within one industry or not, or within one cluster, city, or country or not. But for the text’s purposes, none of that matters since attribution of invention, ownership, and income division is irrelevant from the species point of view. Agglomeration Economics, Edward L. Glaeser (editor), University of Chicago Press, 2010. World Development Report 2009: Reshaping Economic Geography, The World Bank, 2009, chapter 4. “Intra-industry Foreign Direct Investment,” L. Alfaro, A. Charlton, American Economic Review, 99(5):2096-2119, 2009. “Location, Competition and Economic Development: Local Clusters in a Global Economy,” M. Porter, Economic Development Quarterly, 14(1):15-34, 2000. “Urban Concentration: The Role of Increasing Returns and Transport Goods,” P. Krugman, International Regional Science Review, 19(1-2):5-30, 1996. Principles of Economics: An Introductory Volume, Alfred Marshall, Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1890, pages 271-272.

[synergetic biochemical networks]
Many important biochemical networks are synergetic. The Krebs cycle in our mitochondria is one such. Our body takes in food, breaks it down, then feeds the parts to our mitochondria. In them, a molecular network uses the eight synergetic steps of the Krebs cycle to take those parts and both reproduce itself and produce essentially all our body’s usable energy. The Calvin cycle in plant chloroplasts produces parts useful for everything in our body. All our sugars, fats, and proteins start inside it. All our vitamins, and all our DNA start there. For millions of years, the core molecules of the Krebs and Calvin cycles have reproduced themselves so that they, and the synergetic networks that they form, can continue to persist, keeping us all alive.

Rebirth

[“people prefer lottery tickets”]
A Capitalist Romance: Singer and the Sewing Machine, Ruth Brandon, Lippincott, 1977, page 45.
[first practical sewing machine]
Singer didn’t invent the sewing machine. As with Watt, he improved a bit of it until it became economically practical. Barthlélémy Thimonnier patented the first one in 1830. Benjamin Wilson, Walter Hunt, Elias Howe, Charles Morey and Joseph Johnson, and John Bachelder also worked on sewing machines. Charles Weisenthal, Thomas Saint, Henry Lye, women in all agrarian groups everywhere and everywhen. But to look only at agrarian groups because they represent the bulk of our groups today is to overfocus. Pastoralists (herders, like say the Hebrews before they settled in Canaan) might be different. And nomads (like the Eurasian horseclans) are different again. As are hunter-gatherers. Herders, horseclans, and hunter-gatherers lived differently since they didn’t farm.

For millennia, however, men and women had well-defined roles. In China, for example, the saying is nan geng nü zhi (men plow women weave). For millennia, agrarian synergy had forced women all over the world into baby-making. When you’re a perpetual baby-machine, the three jobs that best fit you are child watching, home food production, and home clothing production. When some of us were speaking languages like Akkadian, those jobs were spinning thread and weaving, and milling flour and cooking. But in the nineteenth century such tasks began to matter far less than before. Our new factories and industrial farms were pumping out mass-produced food and clothes in vast peristaltic waves. Clothes got so cheap that many of us could afford more than one set. Food also got cheaper and cheaper. Child watching costs also declined as cities grew and schools ballooned. All three of the traditional female occupations grew less economically valuable. Women found other things to do, things that paid money.

[Baltimore to Philadelphia cost $11]
Adams gives the following figures: $6 for the coach, $2.25 for room and board each day, and a journey of three days. History of the United States of America During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson, Henry Adams, Library of America, 1986, page 13.
[...laundress or caterer]
“Female Slave Participation in the Urban Market: Richmond, Virginia, 1780-1860,” M. Takagi, University of Memphis Working Paper 8, 1994.
[married women as property]
In English, the legal term for married women during most of European (and European colonial) history is ‘feme covert,’ and the whole institution is called ‘Coverture.’ When women married, they were covered by their husbands, in all senses of the word. In most of Europe that meant they couldn’t testify against their husbands, they couldn’t control money, or own property, or sign any legal document. Women and Gender in Medieval Europe: An Encyclopedia, Margaret Schaus (editor), CRC Press, 2006, pages 282-283.
[...many married at 15]
That was especially so in the rural south. However, the average marital age for white women in the more industrial north was about 20.
[no more guns from Europe]
In particular, Britain and Spain stopped supplying guns to the natives after losing the War of 1812. France was tied up in the tail end of the Napoleonic wars, and was soon to be defeated (in 1815, with the Battle of Waterloo). Russia was unsure that it could project its military power that far away.
[expanding frontier]
The United States jumped from 17 states to 24 just from 1812 to 1821. It added Louisiana, Indiana, Mississippi, Illinois, Alabama, Maine, and Missouri.
[guns and smallpox]
Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900, Alfred W. Crosby, Cambridge University Press, Second Edition, 2004. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond, W. W. Norton, 1997.
[no working steam engine in the United States in 1800]
Steam engine production in the United States didn’t begin until 1801. “Notes of steam engines in the United States about the year 1801, and a description of those in use at the Water-Works of the City of Philadelphia,” F. Graff, Scientific American, Supplement, 35(19):706-708, 1876. However, the Philadelphia engine wasn’t the first one to operate in the United States, it was just the first one built there. In 1753, the colonies that were to become the United States got their first steam engine. It was smuggled from Britain to New Jersey that year. American Science and Invention, A Pictorial History: The Fabulous Story of How American Dreamers, Wizards, and Inspired Tinkers Converted a Wilderness into the Wonder of the World, Mitchell Wilson, Simon & Schuster, 1954, pages 48-49.
[early steam engine production in the United States]
History of the Rise and Progress of the Iron Trade of the United States, from 1621 to 1857: With Numerous Statistical Tables, Relating to the Manufacture, Importation, Exportation, and Prices of Iron for More Than a Century, B. F. French, Wiley & Halsted, 1858, page 37. The number of Pittsburgh steam engine factories in 1830 is listed in: Pittsburgh and Allegheny in the Centennial Year, George H. Thurston, A. A. Anderson & Son, 1876, page 172. For more detailed estimates, and also for Cincinatti steam factories, see: Pittsburgh as it is: or, Facts and Figures, exhibiting the Past and Present of Pittsburgh; Its Advantages, Resources, Manufactures, and Commerce, George H. Thurston, W. S. Haven, 1857, page 118. A History of Manufactures in the Ohio Valley to the Year 1860, Isaac Lippincott, University of Chicago Press, 1914, pages 108-109.
[women in the early United States]
By 1830 in the United States, women’s lives there were still much the same as in 1800. Even with a severe labor shortage, the idea of paying most women (other than freed slaves) to work was still too alien to imagine. Nor did most women, slave or free, expect to be paid. Nor did they expect to have any control over their bodies or lives.

But that didn’t make the United States truly unusual. Britain, and the rest of Eurasia, wasn’t much different, except for being far more urban. That pattern had held for millennia. For example, in seventeenth-century England, Shakespeare could read, but neither of his daughters could. The pattern wasn’t uniform, though. Small newly rich places could be different. For instance, in fourteenth-century Florence, Dante pined for the good old days—back before rich Florentine women grew so uppity. (Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, Paradiso, Canto XV.) “Gender and Civic Authority: Sexual Control in a Medieval Italian Town,” C. Lansing, Journal of Social History, 31(1):33-59, 1997, page 42.

The resemblance between all of our agrarian groups until the coming of industrialization doesn’t mean that all such groups were exactly the same. For example, here is de Tocqueville comparing France to the United States: “In no country has such constant care been taken as in America to trace two clearly distinct lines of action for the two sexes, and to make them keep pace one with the other, but in two pathways which are always different. American women never manage the outward concerns of the family, or conduct a business, or take a part in political life; nor are they, on the other hand, ever compelled to perform the rough labor of the fields, or to make any of those laborious exertions which demand the exertion of physical strength. No families are so poor as to form an exception to this rule. If on the one hand an American woman cannot escape from the quiet circle of domestic employments, on the other hand she is never forced to go beyond it. Hence it is that the women of America, who often exhibit a masculine strength of understanding and a manly energy, generally preserve great delicacy of personal appearance and always retain the manners of women although they sometimes show that they have the hearts and minds of men.” Democracy in America: Part the Second; the Social Influence of Democracy, Alexis de Tocqueville, Henry Reeve Translation, J. & H. G. Langley, 1840, page 225.

Mostly though, wherever the plow had touched down women had fallen over, supine and silent. Thus, nineteenth-century British women were, by law, inferior to men. Married women didn’t even exist, legally. They were home-bound, unable to vote, barely allowed to trade. They also had to be widows before they could control their own property. Outside of brothels and nunneries, half of us in 1830, in the United States, Britain, and nearly everywhere else, were wards of the other half, not counting slaves and natives.

[“anything new is quickly introduced”]
That was Georg Friedrich List, a German political economist who visited in 1825. He was then in Philadelphia. Life of Friedrich List, and Selections from His Writings, Margaret E. Hirst, Charles Scribners’s Sons, 1909, page 35.
[“half-naked in mills”]
Writing of life in Cincinnati in 1831, Frances Trollope, mother of Anthony Trollope, the novelist, noted that “The greatest difficulty in organising a family establishment in Ohio is getting servants, or, as it is there called, “getting help,” for it is more than petty treason to the Republic to call a free citizen a servant. The whole class of young women, whose bread depends upon their labour, are taught to believe that the most abject poverty is preferable to domestic service. Hundreds of half-naked girls work in the paper mills, or in any other manufactory, for less than half the wages they would receive in service; but they think their equality is compromised by the latter, and nothing but the wish to obtain some particular article of finery will ever induce them to submit to it....

One of [my servants] was a pretty girl, whose natural disposition must have been gentle and kind; but her good feelings were soured, and her gentleness turned to morbid sensitiveness, by having heard a thousand and a thousand times that she was as good as any other lady, that all men were equal, and women too, and that it was a sin and a shame for a free-born American to be treated like a servant.”

Domestic Manners of the Americans, Mrs. Trollope, Whittaker, Treacher & Co., 1832, pages 61-62.

Later on (page 74) she mentioned women and religion in the United States. “The influence which the ministers of all the innumerable religious sects throughout America, have on the females of their respective congregations, approaches very nearly to what we read of in Spain, or in other strictly Roman Catholic countries. There are many causes for this peculiar influence. Where equality of rank is affectedly acknowledged by the rich, and clamourously claimed by the poor, distinction and preeminence are allowed to the clergy only. This gives them high importance in the eyes of the ladies. I think, also, that it is from the clergy only that the women of America receive that sort of attention which is so dearly valued by every female heart throughout the world. With the priests of America, the women hold that degree of influential importance which, in the countries of Europe, is allowed them throughout all orders and ranks of society, except, perhaps, the very lowest; and in return for this they seem to give their hearts and souls into their keeping. I never saw, or read, of any country where religion had so strong a hold upon the women, or a slighter hold upon the men.”

There is much more of this, including descriptions of ‘Revivals’ as a form of theater.

[new attitudes to machines and labor]
The land-rich and labor-poor United States puzzles Europe because Europe is land-poor and labor-rich. Its hereditary aristocracy holds most of the land, and its nearly hereditary artisans hold most of the skills. Landless and unskilled immigrants had fled that world to make a new life, so many of the laws of the new land work against both aristocracy and guilds. In the new land, labor is largely unskilled and unreliable.

For instance, Singer, like many boys in his time, left home at 13. He kept moving for the next 26 years. Like him, most white men were on the move, and women followed their men. The new nation was ballooning west, into an expanding native-free vacuum. But that in itself wasn’t new. The same slaughter was happening at about the same time for about the same reasons in Russia, Australia, and South America. Foragers were dying everywhere as our new transport tools carried the gun and the plow to every land.

For example, in the nineteenth century the, then small, Russian state expanded east much as the, then small, United States expanded west. Russian expansion into the Balkans was partly checked by the British and French in the Crimean War in 1854, but it continued expanding from 1856 on into the steppes of Central Asia, eventually stretching all the way to the Pacific. Although it was more conquest than outright replacement, it still led to many of the usual genocides against nomadic, or even settled, peoples, just as western expansion did in the United States starting a little earlier. Taming the Wild Field: Colonization and Empire on the Russian Steppe, Willard Sunderland, Cornell University Press, 2004.

[origin of the name Chicago]
In 1673, what was to become Chicago was selected as a portage site because it was on the continental divide between the Mississippi and the St. Lawrence (which empties into the Great Lakes). It was a marsh, with lots of skunk weed (a plant that when bruised, by stepping on, for example, smelled like garlic). “Chicagoua/Chicago: The Origin, Meaning, and Etymology of a Place Name,” J. F. Swenson, Illinois Historical Journal, 84(4):235-248, 1991.
[shifting labor options up to 1860]
For a more nuanced argument about the rapid rise in surplus labor in the eastern states of the United States up to 1860, see: The Roots of American Industrialization, David R. Meyer, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.
[massacring the natives]
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West, Dee Brown, Owl Books, 30th Anniversary Edition, 2001. The Trail of Tears: The Story of the American Indian Removals 1813-1855, Gloria Jahoda, 1975, Wings, Reprint Edition, 1995.
[immigration and steamships]
The first transatlantic service started in 1837.
[“best boon to woman in the nineteenth century”]
“To America belongs the honor of giving to the world many new inventions of great practical importance to mankind. Prominent among these are the Electric Telegraph, the Reaper and Mower, and the Sewing-Machine. What the telegraph is to the commercial world, the reaper to the agricultural, the sewing-machine is to the domestic....

No one invention has brought with it so great a relief for our mothers and daughters as these iron needle-women. Indeed, it is the only invention that can be claimed chiefly for woman’s benefit. The inventive genius of man, ever alert to furnish the world with machinery for saving labor and cheapening the cost of manufactures, seemed to regard man as the only laborer, prior to the invention of the sewing machine....

[E]verywhere that the busy needle is plied, these tireless workers have found their way, carrying relief for woman’s trembling hands and weary eyes. The swift-flying needle—this best boon to woman in the nineteenth century—has already won many victories, and soon the song of the shirt will be heard only in tradition of sufferings passed away.”

“The Story of the Sewing-Machine,” New York Times, January 7th, 1860.

[New York seamstresses employment options in 1858]
As reported by the New York Shirt Sewers’ and Seamstresses’ Union in 1858. A Capitalist Romance: Singer and the Sewing Machine, Ruth Brandon, Lippincott, 1977, pages 69-70.
[female manufacturing options in Bridgeport in 1860]
A History of American Manufactures from 1608 to 1860: Exhibiting the Origin and Growth of the Principal Mechanic Arts and Manufactures, from the earliest Colonial period to the adoption of the Constitution; and Comprising Annals of the Industry of the United States in Machinery, Manufactures and Useful Arts, with a Notice of the Important Inventions, Tariffs, and the Results of each Decennial Census. To which are added statistics of the principal manufacturing centers, and descriptions of remarkable manufactories at the present time. J. Leander Bishop, Volume II, Edward Young and Co., 1864, page 764.

In 1860, an estimated 12,106 people lived in Bridgeport. Population of the 100 largest cities and other urban places in the United States: 1790 to 1990, Population Division Working Paper Number 27, United States Bureau of the Census, 1998.

Incidentally, Bishop also lists manufactory occupations, with a breakdown by male and female, for many towns, notably Hartford, where Samuel Colt had his gun manufactory. Hartford had a much larger spread of female occupations (but then, it was a much larger town than Bridgeport), however, the top three female occupations were still clothing of one kind or another. The largest group was 595 women in clothing. Then 512 women in ‘silk, sewing.’ Then 409 in hosiery. Then 302 in paper. Philadelphia was much larger still, and so had an even wider spread of industries.

[it only took $5 to bring one home]
“The Disappearance of the Domestic Sewing Machine, 1890-1925,” M. Connolly, Winterthur Portfolio, 34(1):31-48, 1999, page 32.
[attraction of hire-purchase]
The following is from Scientific American, 51(14):217, 1884.

Anomalies of the Sewing machine

In an editorial in a recent issue of the Scientific American, under the above title, the following paragraphs appeared, to which we have received a reply from a lady subscriber from Michigan.

“A psychological fact, possibly new, which has come to light in this sewing machine business is that a woman will rather pay $50 for a machine in monthly installments of five dollars than $25 outright, although able to do so.

“The curious processes of reasoning by which the feminine mind is led to regard the lapse of time as a cheapener and a hundred per cent interest as of no consequence, have not yet, we believe, been discovered.”

Our correspondent replies: “She does it from policy, for if she says, ’Husband, I wish $25 to buy a sewing machine with.’ she expects a shrug of the shoulders, and is unable to obtain the money; but if she says, ’I can buy a sewing machine, and pay for it in monthly installments, only $5 each month," perhaps she can get the coveted machine. A psychological fact, but is it masculine or feminine?”

See also: Financing the American Dream: A Cultural History of Consumer Credit, Lendol Calder, Princeton University Press, 1999, page 164.

[half a million sewing machines a year by 1880]
Thus doubling the figure for 1870, when it sold 127,833 a year. From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932: The Development of Manufacturing Technology in the United States, David A. Hounshell, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984, page 6.
[reapers]
“Farm-making Costs and the "Safety Valve": 1850-60,” C. H. Danhof, The Journal of Political Economy, 49(3):317-359, 1941. Cyrus Hall McCormick: His Life and Work, Herbert N. Casson, A. C. McClurg & Co., 1909, page 106.
[Chicago grain shipments]
“The Agricultural Development of the West During the Civil War,” E. D. Fite, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 20(2):259-278, 1906.
[newspapers and common cause]
“The effect of a newspaper is not only to suggest the same purpose to a great number of persons, but also to furnish means for executing in common the designs which they may have singly conceived. The principal citizens who inhabit an aristocratic country discern each other from afar; and if they wish to unite their forces, they move toward each other, drawing a multitude of men after them. It frequently happens, on the contrary, in democratic countries, that a great number of men who wish or who want to combine cannot accomplish it, because as they are very insignificant and lost amid the crowd, they cannot see, and know not where to find, one another. A newspaper then takes up the notion or the feeling which had occurred simultaneously, but singly, to each of them. All are then immediately guided towards this beacon; and these wandering minds, which had long sought each other in darkness, at length meet and unite.” Democracy in America: Part the Second; the Social Influence of Democracy, Alexis de Tocqueville, Henry Reeve Translation, J. & H. G. Langley, 1840, page 119.
[reactions to the typewriter]
Women and Work in Britain since 1840, Gerry Holloway, Routledge, 2005. Unequal Opportunities: Women’s Employment in England 1800-1918, Angela V. John (editor), Blacwell, 1986. “The Cultural Work of the Type-Writer Girl,” C. Keep, Victorian Studies, 40(3):401-426, 1997.
[...handful of successful writers]
Like Harriet Beecher Stowe with Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Louisa May Alcott with Little Women.

In 1891, F. Henrietta Müller (whose penname was ‘Helena B. Temple’) commented that, “One of the things which always humiliated me very much was the way in which women’s interests and opinions were systematically excluded from the World’s Press. I was mortified too, that our cause should be represented by a little monthly leaflet, not worthy of the name of a newspaper called the Women’s Suffrage Journal. I realised of what vital importance it was that women should have a newspaper of their own through which to voice their thoughts, and I formed the daring resolve that if no one else better fitted for the work would come forward, I would try and do it myself.” “Interview,” Woman’s Herald 4(161):915-916, 1891. (November 28th, 1891, 915-916.) Quoted in: Feminist Periodicals, 1855-1984: An Annotated Critical Bibliography of British, Irish, Commonwealth and International Titles, David Doughan and Denise Sanchez (editors), New York University Press, 1987, pages 3-4.

Despite all the agitation since at least 1792, it wasn’t until 1918 that 1918 that all adult men, and all women over 30, could vote in Britain. It wasn’t until 1920 that all adult women could vote in the United States. It wasn’t until 1928 that all adult women could vote in Britain.

[“thrown into the ash-heap”]
That was Henry Adams, grandson of one President, and great-grandson of another, recalling in 1905, in old age, his early childhood in Boston in 1844, and the great upheaval of new technology on his education and outlook. “This problem of education, started in 1838, went on for three years, while the baby grew, like other babies, unconsciously, as a vegetable, the outside world working as it never had worked before, to get his new universe ready for him. Often in old age he puzzled over the question whether, on the doctrine of chances, he was at liberty to accept himself or his world as an accident. No such accident had ever happened before in human experience. For him, alone, the old universe was thrown into the ash-heap and a new one created. He and his eighteenth-century, troglodytic Boston were suddenly cut apart—separated forever—in act if not in sentiment, by the opening of the Boston and Albany Railroad; the appearance of the first Cunard steamers in the bay; and the telegraphic messages which carried from Baltimore to Washington the news that Henry Clay and James K. Polk were nominated for the Presidency. This was in May, 1844; he was six years old; his new world was ready for use, and only fragments of the old met his eyes.” The Education of Henry Adams: An Autobiography, Henry Adams, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1918, page 5.
[United States mortality and height changes, 1890-1930]
“The Use of Model Life Tables to Estimate Mortality for the United States in the Late Nineteenth Century,” M. R. Haines, Demography, 16(2):289-312, 1979.
[wheat production in 1900]
The exact figure is 599,315,000 bushels of wheat. Historical Statistics of the United States 1789-1945: A Supplement to the Statistical Abstract of the United States, Bureau of the Census, United States Department of Commerce, 1949, page 106. For background, see: “U.S. Grain Exports: A Bicentennial Overview,” H. D. Fornari, Agricultural History, 50(1):137-150, 1976. “Reorganization of American Farming: Intensive Cultivation the Goal,” H. C. Price, Scientific American, Supplement, 69(1795):339, 1910.
[...the means to prevent pregnancy]
By 1860 female labor options are changing fast, but female reproductive options, and thus constraints on female labor lives, are still much as they had been before. Then in 1861 the New York Times carries the first ad for mass-produced rubber condoms. The nation goes insane. By 1873 the government bans all birth-control ads, aids, and books—even giving them away could mean six months hard labor, or a $100 fine. The Comstock Act of 1873 (U. S. Statutes At Large, Volume XVII, page 598). United States Duties on Imports, 1877, Lewis Heyl, W. H. & O. H. Morrison, 1877, page 144.
[femals changes, United States, 1800-2004]
From 1800 to 1920, the total birth rate for white married women would plunge 58.7 percent. The rates for black and native women would also fall, but not as much. (That’s still true in 2006.) In 1900, many black and native women, whether married or single, are at work outside the home, but chiefly as servants or on the farm. With fewer opportunities outside of servile status, their options are more limited. Further, from 1890 to 1980, many more married non-white women would take paying jobs than married white ones did. Even as late as 1890, just 2.5 percent of married white women worked for money. That figure didn’t reach 20 percent until as late as 1950. By 2004 it still hadn’t reached 80 percent. Also, sex segregation remained strong. In 1900, 91 percent of all working women worked in only 12 percent of all jobs. Job specificity has declined only slowly since then. However, over the century, women’s main traditional tasks—babies, food, clothing, and daycare—all fell in financial value. In all our newly industrial countries, we started to produce faster than we needed to reproduce.
[fertility rate decline for ever-married white women, 1800-1920]
“Quantitative Aspects of Marriage, Fertility and Family Limitation in Nineteenth Century America: Another Application of the Coale Specifications,” W. C. Sanderson, Demography, 16(3):339-358, 1979.
[native and black population changes, 1492-2006]
From 1492 to 1890, native population had fallen from perhaps five million (Thornton’s 1990 estimate, although by 2005 his estimate was 1.845 million; see also Henige 1998 and also Klein 2004) to about a quarter million. Native fertility rates before 1890 are unknown; however after that date they were high, yet native mortality rates were so high that the native population barely changed. From 1890 it took 70 years, until 1960, to double. Black rates before 1850 are also unknown. After 1850, they, too, were higher than white rates, but they also fell as white rates did. However, even in 2006 they were still higher than white rates. Black infant mortality was also far higher. It too fell, but in 2006 it too was still higher than white rates. Black life expectancy also was still lower. By 2006, urban-rural differences in the United States had vanished. Black-white and native-white differences still hadn’t. “American Indian Mortality in the Late Nineteenth Century: the Impact of Federal Assimilation Policies on a Vulnerable Population,” J. D. Hacker, M. R. Haines, Working Paper 12572, National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), 2006. “Estimating Prehistoric American Indian Population Size for United States Area: Implications of the Nineteenth Century Population Decline and Nadir,” R. Thornton, J. Marsh-Thornton, American Journal of Physical Anthropology 55(1):47-53, 2005. A Population History of the United States, Herbert Klein, Cambridge University Press, 2004. A Population History of North America, Michael R. Haines and Richard H. Steckel (editors), Cambridge University Press, 2001. Numbers from Nowhere: The American Indian Contact Population Debate, David Henige, University of Oklahoma Press, 1998. “The Growing American Indian Population, 1960-1990: Beyond Demography,” J. S. Passel, in Changing Numbers, Changing Needs: American Indian Demography and Public Health, Gary D. Sandefur, Ronald R. Rindfuss, and Barney Cohen (editors), National Academies Press, 1996, pages 79-102. Statistical Abstract of the United States, United States Bureau of the Census, 1993. “American Indian Fertility Patterns: 1910 and 1940 to 1980,” R. Thornton, G. D. Sandefur, C. M. Snipp, American Indian Quarterly, 15(3):359-367, 1991. American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History since 1492, Russell Thornton, University of Oklahoma Press, 1990. “A Statistical Reconstruction of the Black Population of the United States, 1880-1970: Estimates of True Numbers by Age and Sex, Birth Rates, and Total Fertility,” A J. Coale, N. W. Rives, Population Index, 39(1):3-36, 1973.

[later female labor changes in the United States]
“Trends in labor force participation of married mothers of infants,” S. R. Cohany, E. Sok, Monthly Labor Review, 130(2):9-16, 2007. “The Quiet Revolution That Transformed Women’s Employment, Education, And Family,” C. Goldin, American Economic Review, 96(2):1-21, 2006. Women in 1900: Gateway to the Political Economy of the 20th Century, Christine E. Bose, Temple University Press, 2001, page 86.
[labor statistics for married females]
Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women, Claudia Goldin, Oxford University Press, 1990, Table 2.1 and 2.2, pages 17-18.
[percentage of women in the United States working in 2006]
“The participation rates of men and women have historically followed different trends. Until 1999, the men’s participation rate was continually decreasing, while the women’s rate was continually increasing. The men’s rate was higher not only in the aggregate, but also for every detailed age group, up until 2006. That year, the labor force participation rates of 16- to 19-year-old men and women were the same: 43.7. The labor force participation of 16- to 19-year-old women is projected to surpass that of men of the same age by 2016.” From: “Labor force projections to 2016: more workers in their golden years,” M. Toossi, Monthly Labor Review, Bureau of Labor Statistics, United States Department of Labor, 2007, page 41. See also: Women in the Labor Force: A Databook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, United States Department of Labor, 2005.
[lower pay for women]
The Economics of Gender, Joyce P. Jacobsen, Wiley-Blackwell, Third Edition, 2007, page 4.
[White House senior aides]
As of July 1st, 2005, and not counting the president or vice president, or household staff and military staff. ‘Senior aide’ means anyone titled ‘Assistant to the President.’ They earn the top salary, $161,000 a year. The second tier, anyone titled ‘Deputy Assistant to the President,’ earn from $133,000 to $144,000. The third tier is anyone titled ‘Special Assistant to the President.’ 5 of the top 19 aides are female (about 26 percent). 7 of the top 25 aides are female (about 28 percent). 34 of the top 81 aides are female (about 42 percent). Data from: “2005 White House Office Staff List,” Dan Fromkin, Washington Post, July 1st, 2005. By July 1st, 2009, in the next White House, of the 147 aides earning over $100,000 (to a maximum of $172,200, with one exception at $192,934) 65 (44 percent) were female. Of the 23 top aides, 8 are female (about 35 percent).
[female Nobelists]
Twelve in Peace, ten in Literature, seven in Physiology of Medicine, three in Chemistry, two in Physics, zero in Economics. (Marie Curie got two of them, one in Physics, one in Chemistry. Her daughter, Irène, also won one in Chemistry.)
[female billionaires]
“The World’s Billionaires,” database of The World’s Richest People. Forbes Magazine, March 9th, 2006.
[female CEOs]
In 2006, the companies were: Sara Lee, Daiei, SNCF, AREVA, Xerox, Rite Aid, and Archer Daniels Midland. Fortune Magazine, July 24th, 2006.

In the Grip of a Metal Hand

[settlement changes in the United States]
In 1800, only 6.1 percent of the population of 5,308,483, lived in towns. In 1900, 39.6 percent of the population of 76,212,168, did. United States Bureau of the Census, 1995, Table 4, Population: 1790 to 1990.
[job changes in the United States]
The job-market data below doesn’t cover 1900 to 2000 precisely. It’s from 1910 to 2000. “Occupational changes during the 20th century,” I. D. Wyatt, D. E. Hecker, Monthly Labor Review, 129(3):35-57, 2006.
[United States farmers and beauticians]
In 1900, 38.8 percent of the population, 29.5 million people, were farmers. In 2006, there were 859,000 agricultural workers. versus 825,000 personal appearance workers. (That includes barbers, cosmetologists, makeup artists, manicurists, and pedicurists.) There were 435,000 computer programmers. Also, there were 1,860,000 heavy truck and tractor-trailer drivers, and 1,051,000 light truck or delivery services drivers. Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, United States Department of Labor, 2009.
[farm income]
Farm Household Economics and Well-Being, United States Department of Agriculture, 2009.
[changes in food labor-costs in the United States]
In 1900 in the United States, a year’s worth of food for an average family there cost that family about 1,700 hours of labor. By 2000, it cost 260 hours. The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100: Europe, America, and the Third World, Robert William Fogel, Cambridge University Press, 2004, page 90.
[changes in housework costs in the United States]
In 1945, a year’s worth of housework—preparing meals, doing laundry, cleaning the house, and such—might have cost an average family there about 3,120 hours. By 1975, that time had dropped to around 1,040 hours. In 1945 in the United States, housework might have cost an average family about 60 hours a week. By 1975, that time had dropped to around 20 hours. “Assessing the ‘Engines of Liberation’: Home Appliances and Female Labor Force Participation,” T. V. de V. Cavalcanti, J. Tavares, The Review of Economics and Statistics, 90(1):81-88, 2008. “Engines of Liberation,” J. Greenwood, A. Seshadri, M. Yorukoglu, Review of Economic Studies, 72(1):109–133, 2005.
[changes in leisure and retirement in the rich world]
The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100: Europe, America, and the Third World, Robert William Fogel, Cambridge University Press, 2004, page 67.
[the pinball game]
A lot of those changes followed from a few of us trying to pump water out of coal mines in 1700. The industrial phase change that followed was a bonfire that could burn only after a lot of tinder ended up, for whatever reasons, in one place and time. That happened first in Britain, perhaps just as farming happened first in Iraq millennia ago. But if our species does indeed pile up tinder over time, that tinder has to pile up enough somewhere first. Then it’s just a question of whether it’ll be dry enough there so that a match can set it ablaze. But if it isn’t, or if there is no suitable match, maybe it’ll pile up enough somewhere else, and be dry enough there, and a match will lit it there. Or not. Carry on the pinball game of history for long enough and it seems likely that at some point the tinder will catch fire somewhere, somewhen. Steam power happened in Britain in the 1700s as a byproduct of other things, and it was made possible as a byproduct of yet other things, each of which were themselves byproducts of still other things, and so on, back through time.

If that argument makes any sense at all, it raises several questions. There are many theories about why our phase change into industry happened. It was science; it was coal; it was patent law; it was population; it was literacy; it was this; it was that. But, likely, just as when we were driven into farming millennia ago, it wasn’t supply alone, nor demand alone, that lead to phase change—if that we’re true we could phase change anytime we wanted to—it was both—they both influenced each other and both fed off each other, and they only happened to do so first in just one particular time and place. Why? Well, maybe it’s just happenstance. Had Britain not been under threat, would everything else still have happened? What if Britain hadn’t become ‘Navy, Inc.’? How about if Britain hadn’t repressed some of its people after a civil war? Had Britain been swallowed up by Spain, or later on by France, what might have become of steam power? Had a steam mine pump not been invented, but some other device, say an compressed-air canal dredger, would it too have transformed over the centuries into a multi-purpose prime mover? Or if we hadn’t stumbled over how to build vacuums first, would we perhaps have built generators first, and then go from there to motors? Or had the pinball game turned out differently, would we still be mostly farmers?

For a discussion of some of the current economic theories, see: The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry and Invention, William Rosen, University of Chicago Press, 2010, chapter 11. However, Rosen avoids mention of at least two of the most venerable and still quite popular (even today) theories, namely: genes and religion.

[tab for a fab]
Itanium Rising: Breaking Through Moore’s Second Law of Computing Power, Jim Carlson and Jerry Huck, Prentice Hall, 2002, page 54.
[talk of a global brain]
Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century, Howard Bloom, John Wiley & Sons, 2000. Metaman: The Merging of Humans and Machines into a Global Superorganism, Gregory Stock, Simon & Schuster, 1993.

Research toward what might eventually become such a thing is proceeding along several lines (although no responsible researcher says that the ultimate result might be a ‘global brain,’ or at least, nobody says so publicly). The problem is how to coordinate action by massive numbers of mobile, computational agents, each with limited knowledge, as they interact to solve various problems in a massive, distributed, global computer network. The chief areas of research are: ubiquitous computing (also called ubicomp), pervasive computing (sometimes called ambient intelligence), mobile agents, massively parallel computation, and grid computing. Security for Ubiquitous Computing, Frank Stajano, John Wiley & Sons, 2002. Swarm Intelligence: From Natural to Artificial Systems, E. Bonabeau, M. Dorigo, G. Theraulaz, F. Kluegl, Oxford University Press, 1999. The Grid: Blueprint for a New Computing Infrastructure, Ian Foster and Carl Kesselman (editors), Morgan Kaufmann, 1998. Software Agents, James E. White (editor), AAAI Press/MIT Press, 1997. The Ecology of Computation, B. A. Hubermann (editor), North-Holland, 1988.

[various glimmers of a coming Computer Age]
SETI@home, Zooniverse’s Galaxy Zoo, Foldit, EteRNA, Quantum Moves, Phylo, NASA’s Stardust@home, Clickworkers, SETILive, CosmoQuest, National Geographic’s Field Expedition: Mongolia, Amazon’s mechanical turk, recaptcha, Project Polymath, stackoverflow, wikipedia, kickstarter, craigslist http://distributedcomputing.info/ap-human.html Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science, Michael Nielsen, Princeton University Press, 2012.
[metaconcert]
The term is Julian May’s, as used in her science-fiction novel, The Saga of the Pliocene Exile, in four volumes, Julian May, Del Rey Books, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984.

Chapter 3. Dynamo: Resources


[McLuhan quote]
Not from his book of that name but from his album, The Medium is the Massage, which appeared the same year (1967). He has a child speak it on Side 2. McLuhan may have been rephrasing Winston Churchill’s line that ‘We shape our buildings and they shape us,’ which he made in his speech to the House of Commons on October 28, 1943, after it was bombed flat in 1941.

The King’s Last Argument

[urbanization]
Britain became half-urban in 1851. The United States didn’t become half-urban until 1920. The Environment in World History, Stephen Mosley, Taylor & Francis, 2010, page 92.
[British slavery around 1851]
Its overseas slavery ended (legally, at least) in 1834. Its penal slavery ended (legally, at least) in 1868. As for penal slavery, “It is truly extraordinary that European scholars have either neglected this whole aspect of the subject or defined it as something other than slavery when they recognized it.” Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study, Orlando Patterson, Harvard University Press, 1982, pages 44-45.
[press-ganging lasted until 1833]
The Press-Gang Afloat and Ashore, John R. Hutchinson, G. Bell and Sons, 1913. Note that, at least from 1776 to 1783, the numbers of men pressed-ganged on land is much smaller than the total number in the navy. Further, while the numbers pressed may have been relatively high, the desertion rate was also high. “Royal Navy Impressment During the American Revolution,” R. G. Usher, Jr., The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 37(4):673-688, 1951. The Naval Enlistment Act of 1835 (5 & 6 William IV, chapter 24) ended the practice of unlimited-time impressment. It limited impressments to at most five years. The Naval Enlistment Acts of 1853 (16 & 17 Victoria, chapter 69) and 1884 (47 & 48 Victoria, chapter 46), further changed the rules.
[Britain’s drug trade]
Some Britons may have continued the opium trade past 1917 illicitly, but officially it ended, by mutual agreement between Britain and China, in 1917. However, that wasn’t the end of opium use in China, since its government was disintegrating and warlords replaced Indian opium with local opium. The Chinese and Opium under the Republic: Worse than Floods and Wild Beasts, Alan Baumler, SUNY Press, 2007. The Opium Monopoly, Ellen Newbold La Motte, The Macmillan company, 1920.
[the Crystal Palace]
For simplicity the text gives the impression that all of Britain supported the idea of the fair, but actually the initial impetus came from Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort. However, to actually get it built he needed to rouse interest among the mercantile population to show off their wares, and so get the funding for the building. The Great Exhibition of 1851: a Nation on Display, Jeffrey A. Auerbach, Yale University Press, 1999.
[“which will kill eight times as quick”]
“The most popular and famous invention of American industry, is a pistol which will kill eight times as quick as the weapon formerly in use. It has been reported upon by committees, and sanctioned by Congress, and so keen is the national appreciation of this great discovery, that the Republican Government of Washington does not hesitate to pay about three times as much for cavalry pistols as England pays for infantry muskets.” The Times went on to sardonically call Samuel Colt ‘the American Jenner.’ “Here you may make yourself acquainted with the new method of vaccination, as performed by the practitioners of the Far West, upon the rude tribes who yet incumber the wilderness with their presence. This, in a word, is the stand of Samuel Colt, the inventor of the six barrelled revolving pistol, an arm which in all probability will supersede the fire-arms at present carried by the cavalry of every military power, and which, by the extension of the invention, might be made equally applicable to the efficiency of the foot service. The weapon is of the simplest kind, although it is clear enough that a vast amount of pains must have been bestowed upon the attainment of what seems to be a very simple result.” The Times, June 9th, 1851. See also: American Superiority at the World’s Fair; designed to accompany a chromo-lithographic picture illustrative of prizes awarded to American citizens at the Great Exhibition: a compilation of public and private sources, Charles T. Rodgers, J. J. Hawkins, 1852, page 65.
[France had lost a big war with Britain]
That was the Seven Years’ War, 1756-1763. Sometimes called the ‘first world war,’ it was the first to involve actions all over the globe. It was fought by France, Austria, Russia, Saxony, and Sweden against Britain, Prussia, and Hanover. Spain and Portugal were later drawn in. It’s part of an even larger conflict sometimes called the ‘Second Hundred Years’ War.’ That was the fight for supremacy between Britain and France, which counts from the accession of William III (in the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688) to the Battle of Waterloo (in 1815).
[France’s newest artillery engineers and science]
They were trained in the then young scientific method. “Five artillery schools, all located in garrison towns, had been started in 1720. Enrollment was expanded after 1763 and the curriculum enlarged and made more rigorous. In addition to normal military training, cadets studied geometry, mechanics, drafting, and elementary physics and chemistry. Before graduation they took an examination in mathematics set by Bézout and after his death by none other than Laplace. Over a thousand officers were thus trained in the last quarter-century of the old regime.” See: “Engineering the Revolution,” C. C. Gillispie, Technology and Culture, 39(4):733-742, 1998.
[Blanc was the first to make precision parts]
As usual, the text compresses a long and complex story into a simpler one in the interest of brevity. Christopher Polhem (1661-1751), a Swedish inventor, was actually the first known one, but his machines, which made cogwheels for clocks, didn’t trigger further change partly thanks to its rejection by the best clockmakers and partly by the difficulty of distribution in sparsely populated and largely rural Sweden. The History of the Machine, Sigvard Strandh, translated by Ann Henning, Dorset Press, 1989, pages 54-55. Nor was Polhem alone. Guillaume Deschamps, a French armorer, also made interchangeable parts in the 1720s. Plus, they were gunlocks too. “Innovation and Amnesia: Engineering Rationality and the Fate of Interchangeable Parts Manufacturing in France,” K. Alder, Technology and Culture, 38(2):273-311, 1997. For the development of mass production in the United States but outside government control, see: Ingenious Yankees: The Rise of the American System of Manufactures in the Private Sector, Donald Hoke, Columbia University Press, 1990. For an analysis of the economic versus military pressures that led to them in the early handgun business (especially revolvers), see: “Interchangeable Parts Reexamined—The Private Sector of the American Arms Industry on the Eve of the Civil War,” R. A. Howard, Technology and Culture, 19(4):633-649, 1978.
[Blanc’s second demo]
It was held five years after his first, on November 20th, 1790. By then, Jefferson was back in Washington. Blanc was part of an effort in France pushed along by Lieutenant General Jean-Baptiste de Gribeauval, the chief power behind the unformity principle after France’s 1763 defeat. He funded Blanc but died in 1789, the year of the French Revolution. Blanc then struck out on his own. From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932: The Development of Manufacturing Technology in the United States, David A. Hounshell, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984, pages 25-26.
[Brunel’s rejection by the Southampton block manufactory]
“Your brother has certainly given proofs of great ingenuity, but he certainly is not acquainted with our mode of work. What he saw at Deptford is not as we work here. I will just describe in a few words how we have made our blocks for upwards of twenty-five years — twenty years to my own knowledge. The tree of timber, from two to five loads’ measurement, is drawn by the machine under the saw, where it is cut to its proper length. It is then removed to a round saw where the piece cut off is completely shaped, and only requiring to be turned under the saw. The one, two, or three, or four mortises are cut in by hand, which wholly completes the block, except with a broad chisel cutting out the roughness of the teeth of the saw, and the scores for the strapping of the rope. Every block we make (except more than four machines can make) is done in this way, and with great truth and exactness. The shivers are wholly done by the engines, very little labour is employed about our works, except the removing the things from one place to another.

My father has spent many hundreds a year to get the best mode, and most accurate, of making the blocks, and he certainly succeeded; and so much so, that I have no hope of anything ever better being discovered, and I am convinced there cannot.Memoir of the life of Sir Marc Isambard Brunel: Civil Engineer, Vice-President of the Royal Society, corresponding member of the Institute of France, etc., Richard Beamish, Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, Second Edition, 1862, pages 50-51.

However, Southamptom’s rejection may have turned to dejection once Brunel built his factory, for: “where FIFTY MEN were necessary to complete the shells of blocks previous to the erection of Brunel’s machinery, FOUR MEN only are now required; and that, to prepare the sheaves, SIX MEN can now do the work which formerly demanded the labours of SIXTY.

So that TEN MEN, by the aid of this machinery, can accomplish with uniformity, celerity, and ease, what formerly required the uncertain labour of ONE HUNDRED AND TEN.” (pages 97-98)

[Brunel’s block manufactory]
Brunel sailed for England on January 20th, 1799. The United States and France never declared war, but fighting at sea had begun by then.

Brunel got as far as he did, despite many failures, largely because his wife’s brother was senior in the British Navy. He provided introductions.

Brunel then worked with Samuel Bentham, who was himself very inventive. Brother of Jeremy Bentham (the political radical and philosopher), Samuel was inspector general of the British Navy. They then hired Henry Maudslay to build the machines they’d need. Maudslay was one of Britain’s rising stars in precision tools. His machines for Brunel’s block-making manufactory at the Portsmouth yards were so well made that they were still in use in 1944, 141 years later. Blocks for the landing boats at Normandy on D-Day were made there. At the same Portsmouth yards, Bentham had a steam engine in use to drain the docks as early as 1799, and, by 1802, another to run mechanical saws.

The block factory paid for itself in just four years. But it suffered after the Napoleonic wars ended in 1815 and demand dried up. By 1821 Brunel was in jail for debt. The government let him, and his family, languish there until he started corresponding with the Tsar of Russia, who was interested in hiring him away. Then the government paid off his debts with the understanding that he’d remain in Britain. He then went on to invent several more machines and initiate many more building projects. His son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, did the same.

The Greater Genius? Harold Bagust, Ian Allan Publishing, 2006. Brunel: The Man Who Made the World, Steven Brindle, Sterling Publishing Company, 2005, page 37. The Portsmouth Block Mills: Bentham, Brunel and the start of the Royal Navy’s Industrial Revolution, Jonathan Coad, English Heritage, 2005. Henry Maudslay & the Pioneers of the Machine Age, John Cantrell and Gillian Cookson (editors), Tempus Publishing, 2002. “The Portsmouth System of Manufacture,” C. C. Cooper, Technology and Culture, 25(2):182-225, 1984. English and American Tool Builders, Joseph Wickham Roe, Yale University Press, 1916.

[jefferson and the development of interchangeable parts]
Jefferson probably met with Blanc in Paris on July 8th, 1785. He was then in Paris as the new ambassador to the court of King Louis XVI. Engineering the Revolution, Arms and Enlightenment in France, 1763-1815, Ken Alder, Princeton University Press, 1997. From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932: The Development of Manufacturing Technology in the United States, David A. Hounshell, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984.

Jefferson mentions the event toward the end of his letter to John Jay on August 30th as follows: “An improvement is made here in the construction of muskets, which it may be interesting to Congress to know, should they at any time propose to procure any. It consists in the making every part of them so exactly alike, that what belongs to any one, may be used for every other musket in the magazine. The government here has examined and approved the method, and is establishing a large manufactory for the purpose of putting it into execution. As yet, the inventor has only completed the lock of the musket, on this plan. He will proceed immediately to have the barrel, stock, and other parts, executed in the same way. Supposing it might be useful in the United States, I went to the workman. He presented me the parts of fifty locks taken to pieces, and arranged in compartments. I put several together myself, taking pieces at hazard as they came to hand, and they fitted in the most perfect manner. The advantages of this, when arms need repair, are evident. He effects it by tools of his own contrivance, which, at the same time, abridge the work, so that he thinks he shall be able to furnish the musket two livres cheaper than the common price. But it will be two or three years before he will be able to furnish any quantity. I mention it now, as it may have influence on the plan for furnishing our magazines with this arm.” The Writings of Thomas Jefferson: Being His Autobiography, Correspondence, Reports, Messages, Addresses, and Other Writings, Official and Private: Published by the Order of the Joint Committee of Congress on the Library, from the Original Manuscripts, Deposited in the Department of State, Volume 1, Thomas Jefferson, Taylor & Maury, 1853, pages 411-412.

[United States war with African pirates]
That was the First Barbary war. It started in 1801, when Jefferson became president. It was only the second time that United States troops were used abroad, and was also undeclared (by the United States, although it was declared by Tripoli).
[slave revolts in the United States]
In the United States, revolts were feared more than anything else and many laws governing slaves were designed to prevent them. Despite that, slaves still sometimes rebelled anyway, most recently in New York in 1741, and then in Virginia in 1800. Encyclopedia of Slave Resistance and Rebellion, Junius P. Rodriguez (editor), in two volumes, Greenwood, 2006. Gabriel’s Rebellion: The Virginia Slave Conspiracies of 1800 and 1802, Douglas R. Egerton, University of North Carolina Press, 1993. A Rumor of Revolt: The “Great Negro Plot” in Colonial New York, Thomas J. Davis, University of Massachusetts Press, 1990. Some revolts outside the United States did succeed—in Haiti for example.
[“slit the throats of their sons and wives”]
The reference is to La Marseillaise. “Entendez-vous dans les campagnes / Mugir ces féroces soldats? / Ils viennent jusque dans vos bras / Éorger vos fils, vos compagnes!”
[United States in an undeclared war with France]
The (primarily naval) actions lasted from 1798 to 1800. It was the first time that United States troops were used abroad, and was undeclared by Congress (which hardly existed at the time anyway).
[labor shortage in the United States]
The idea that labor shortage encouraged machines in the United States is hardly new. It seems to have first been stated in: American and British Technology in the Nineteenth Century: The Search for Labour Saving Inventions, H. J. Habakkuk, Cambridge University Press, 1962. See, for example: The Emergence of Industrial America: Strategic Factors in American Economic Growth Since 1870, Peter George, SUNY Press, 1982, pages 37-47. But that pressure wasn’t enough. The United States also needed the new precision machines that were only then becoming available after decades of steam engine developments in Britain, and of course the import of French ideas about part interchangeability following decades of effort in France.
[spread of mass production in the United States, then Europe]
Just as with the steam engine in Britain, mass production took a long time to develop in the United States. It depended on decades of cross-pollinating work by Samuel Slater, Simeon North, Roswell Lee, James Stubblefield, Sylvester Nash, Thomas Blanchard, John Hall, S. E. Robbins, Richard S. Lawrence, Oliver Winchester, Samuel Colt, and others. From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932: The Development of Manufacturing Technology in the United States, David A. Hounshell, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984. “Interchangeable Parts Reexamined—The Private Sector of the American Arms Industry on the Eve of the Civil War,” R. A. Howard, Technology and Culture, 19(4):633-649, 1978. Harpers Ferry Armory and the New Technology: The Challenge of Change, Merritt Roe Smith, Cornell University Press, 1977. “Technological Change in the Machine Tool Industry, 1840–1910,” N. Rosenberg, The Journal of Economic History, 23(04):414-443, 1963.

One can stand for many: Simeon North. On November 7th, 1808, he wrote to the Secretary of the Navy: “To make my contract for pistols advantageous to the United States and to myself I must go to a great proportion of the expense before I deliver any pistols. I find that by confining a workman to one particular limb of the pistol untill he has made two thousand, I save at least one quarter of his labor, to what I should provided I finishd them by small quantities; and the work will be as much better as it is quicker made.” Simeon North, First Official Pistol Maker of the United States: A Memoir, S. N. D. North and Ralph H. North, The Rumford Press, 1913, page 64.

In such ways did this group in the United States develop much the same basic production ideas as the group that James Watt and others fit into in Britain had to, since they had earlier had to do much the same sorts of things with what were initially largely unskilled workers. That more or less the same thing happened in two different countries when trying to solve difficult industrial problems in two different domains is partly attributable to some cross-fertilization (from Britain and France to the United States) but is also attributable to network forces. By 1890, Alfred Marshall was to put our drive toward the formation of reaction networks as follows:

“When an industry has thus chosen a locality for itself, it is likely to stay there long: so great are the advantages which people following the same skilled trade get from near neighbourhood to one another. The mysteries of the trade become no mysteries; but are as it were in the air, and children learn many of them unconsciously. Good work is rightly appreciated, inventions and improvements in machinery, in processes and the general organization of the business have their merits promptly discussed: if one man starts a new idea, it is taken up by others and combined with suggestions of their own; and thus it becomes the source of further new ideas. And presently subsidiary trades grow up in the neighbourhood, supplying it with implements and materials, organizing its traffic, and in many ways conducing to the economy of its material.

Again, the economic use of expensive machinery can sometimes be attained in a very high degree in a district in which there is a large aggregate production of the same kind, even though no individual capital employed in the trade be very large. For subsidiary industries devoting themselves each to one small branch of the process of production, and working it for a great many of their neighbours, are able to keep in constant use machinery of the most highly specialized character, and to make it pay its expenses, though its original cost may have been high, and its rate of depreciation very rapid.

Again, in all but the earliest stages of economic development a localized industry gains a great advantage from the fact that it offers a constant market for skill. Employers are apt to resort to any place where they are likely to find a good choice of workers with the special skill which they require; while men seeking employment naturally go to places where there are many employers who need such skill as theirs and where therefore it is likely to find a good market. The owner of an isolated factory, even if he has access to a plentiful supply of general labour, is often put to great shifts for want of some special skilled labour; and a skilled workman, when thrown out of employment in it, has no easy refuge. Social forces here co-operate with economic: there are often strong friendships between employers and employed: but neither side likes to feel that in case of any disagreeable incident happening between them, they must go on rubbing against one another: both sides like to be able easily to break off old associations should they become irksome. These difficulties are still a great obstacle to the success of any business in which special skill is needed, but which is not in the neighbourhood of others like it: they are however being diminished by the railway, the printing-press and the telegraph.” Principles of Economics: An Introductory Volume, Alfred Marshall, Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1890, pages 271-272.

By the 1851 Great Exhibition, knowledgable Britons would be writing this: “The Americans carry out the factory system, the well-planned division of labour, to a greater extent than we do. They have not more hands than are requisite to do the work which is to be done; and they have not before their minds that fear of strikes, and grumblings and discontent, which frequently deter inventors from introducing new machines in England. Among us, guns and pistols are handwork, made in pieces by artisans who use the hammer and file, and other hand-tools; but in the United States the art is regarded as a kind of engineering, in which steam-power and beautiful machines are employed.” Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal, “What Is A Revolver?” Anonymous, Number 519, December 10th, 1853. (Robert Chambers is the likely author of this piece; he often wrote anonymously to fill his journal.)

Even after 1851, mass production still took more decades to evolve and spread. For instance, in 1852 Samuel Colt started a revolver factory in London to rival his first one Hartford, Connecticut. However, the workers he hired there repeatedly sabotaged it, so he fired them and imported trained staff from his hometown. By 1854 his London factory was open for business. As with Blanc’s, and Brunel’s, it was successful—for a while. Britain and France had just declared war on Russia in the Crimea and, as usual, all of us in Europe went gun-mad. By December 1856, though, Colt closed his London factory. The war had ended. British gunsmiths were still making nearly everything by hand in their cottages and after the shooting war against Russia ended, they won the propaganda war against Colt with ‘Buy British.’ See: “Colt’s London Armoury,” H. B. Blackmore, in Technological Change: The United States and Britain in the 19th Century, S. B. Saul (editor), Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1970, pages 171-196.

By 1873, though, a respected German engineer wrote that “[T]he entirely new ideas of American machinery have tossed the English out of the satchel, and we must without hesitation attach ourselves to the new system if we do not want to fall behind.” That was Franz Reuleaux, author of the seminal Kinematics of Machinery. “Industry and Transport,” W. J. Ashworth, in A Companion to Nineteenth-Century Britain, Chris Williams (editor), Wiley-Blackwell, 2004, pages 223-237. New Profession, Old Order: Engineers and German Society, 1815-1914, Kees Gispen, Cambridge University Press, 2002, pages 115-118.

At the Vienna Exhibition in 1873, Reuleaux noted that “Upon the field of inventions and inventive genius, there are but few highly remarkable achievements present, and among these America held the highest rank. Her machine exhibition bore almost exclusively the character of originality, * * * and it contained examples of the highest order of constructive ability and perfect workmanship.” See: “American Machinery at International Exhibitions,” T. R. Pickering, Transactions of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Volume V, November 1883 and May 1884, pages 113-130.

Reuleaux was widely respected and he traveled to World Exhibitions in London (1862), Paris (1867), Vienna (1873), Philadelphia (1876), Sidney (1879), and Chicago (1893). The Machines of Leonardo da Vinci and Franz Reuleaux: Kinematics of Machines from the Renaissance to the 20th century, Francis C. Moon, Springer, 2007, page 56.

Incidentally, Moon summarizes Reuleaux’s eight-volume Book of Inventions (in 1884) this way: “He did not accept the contemporary theory of invention as resulting from scientific discovery, a view that is often expressed in popular literature on technology in the United States. Nor did he believe in the discontinuous genius theory of invention, where the ‘hero’ inventor, working alone, makes an important advance that benefits humankind. He viewed both scientific discovery and technical invention as evolving from a tension between the two, sometimes within the same man. Reuleaux viewed the development of new machine technology as one of evolution, that every invention has had a close antecedent developed further by clever inventors, new scientific ideas and the pressure of marketplace competition.” (page 57).

Reuleaux was not alone in thinking along those lines. In the 1840s, Friedrich List, a German political economist, had long been trying to figure out how the United States, and especially England, were shooting ahead so quickly. Before 1844, List wrote (in reaction to Adma Smith’s ‘division of labor’ idea) that “If we consider merely bodily labour as the cause of wealth, how can we then explain why modern nations are incomparably richer, more populous, more powerful, and prosperous than the nations of ancient times? The ancient nations employed (in proportion to the whole population) infinitely more hands, the work was much harder, each individual possessed much more land, and yet the masses were much worse fed and clothed than is the case in modern nations. In order to explain these phenomena, we must refer to the progress which has been made in the course of the last thousand years in sciences and arts, domestic and public regulations, cultivation of the mind and capabilities of production. The present state of the nations is the result of the accumulation of all discoveries, inventions, improvements, perfections, and exertion of all generations which have lived before us. They form the mental capital of the present human race, and every separate nation is productive only in the proportion in which it has known how to appropriate these attainments of former generations and to increase them by its own acquirements, in which the natural capabilities of its territory, its extent and geographical position, its population and political power, have been able to develop as completely and symmetrically as possible all sources of wealth within its boundaries, and to extend its moral, intellectual, commercial, and political influence over less advanced nations and especially over the affairs of the world.” The National System of Political Economy, Friedrich List, translated by Sampson S. Lloyd, Longmans, Green and Co., 1916, pages 113-114.

[stigmergy]
The neologism comes from two Greek words stigma (‘sting’ or ‘mark’ or ‘sign’) and ergon (‘the work’ or ‘the task’ or ‘the action’), so transliterated it would mean ‘sign of work.’ It’s usually taken as ‘incite to work’ or ‘incitement to work.’ Self-Organization in Biological Systems, Scott Camazine, Jean-Louis Deneubourg, Nigel R. Franks, James Sneyd, Guy Theraulaz, and Eric Bonabeau, Princeton University Press, 2001. For an example of human stigmergy (in an electronic landscape), see: “Group path formation,” R. L. Goldstone, A. Jones, M. Roberts, IEEE Transactions on System, Man, and Cybernetics, Part A,. 36(3):611-620, 2006. For more general discussion, and an introduction to more expansionary terms like ‘sematectonic’ (by E. O. Wilson), and how it fits in to a whole panoply of terms to do with self-organization, see Chapter 7.
[New York Times on the future of the United States in 1852]
“Everywhere, beyond our borders, on this Western Hemisphere, do we see the need of the steady, ballasting traits of Anglo-Saxonism. It will never do to argue the practicability of our system beyond the confines of the race, until the experiment has been abundantly tried. The lights now before us seem to justify the idea that such institutions as those our Fathers devised, must be sustained by the continued exercise of traits peculiar to the national character. Believing this, and both branches of the Predestinarians accepting the fact that the national influence and national force must operate together, we see nothing irrational in the hope of a more dazzling future for the race than imagination has yet ventured to outline. Not a continent, a half-globe, but the world—shall be ours. Through what vista into the future shall we look to see a more splendid destiny?” See: “The Science of Manifest Destiny,” New York Times, September 9th, 1852. The New York Times was then one year old.
[the second Crystal Palace]
Art and Industry as Represented in the Exhibition at the Crystal Palace, New York—1853-4, Showing the Progress and State of the Various Useful and Esthetic Pursuits, Horace Greely, Redfield, 1853.

Amalthea’s Recursive Horn

[impact of machines—volume increases, price drops]
As machines entered manufactories, costs headed down and volume and variety headed up. For instance, for millennia, spinning 100 pounds of cotton into thread took one of us about 50,000 hours. In Britain by the 1790s, thanks to new machines, like the spinning jenny, that time had plummeted to 300 hours. By the 1830s, it fell to 175 hours. The Lever of Riches: Technology, Creativity, and Economic Progress, Joel Mokyr, Oxford University Press, 1990, page 99. The Cotton Industry: An Essay in American Economic History; Part I: The Cotton Culture and the Cotton Trade, M. B. Hammond, Macmillan, 1897, page 171. Also, by 1873 in the United States, the cost of shipping that same 100 pounds of cotton from New Orleans to New York was 60 cents U.S. By 1880, it was to 45 cents. By 1892, it was 32 cents. However, there was a long-term price deflation in the United States from the 1870s on as the government withdrew the greenbacks it had printed during the civil war (the greenbacks were inflationary). That essentially brought a return to a gold standard. So as primary producers continued to increase production, and markets continued to integrate, more produce chased roughly the same amount of money, so prices fell.
[Fanuc’s first automated robot factory]
The factory in Oshino-mura, Yamanashi, at the base of Mount Fuji, has to be visited once a month to replenish supplies and retrieve product. It runs lights-out, air conditioner-out, and heat-out. “Direct input and output system: another secret underlying Fanuc’s unmanned factory,” Y. Kusuda, Assembly Automation, 28(2):115-119, 2008. “Long-time unattended manufacturing system with intelligent robot,” K. Hariki, K. Yamaguchi, K. Yamanashi, M. Oda, 36th International Symposium on Robotics, 2005, page 138. At the 2005 World Expo, held in Japan, about 100,000 of the 22 million visitors were greeted by what appeared to be four Japanese women, who each spoke phrases from four languages. They were fembots; an unthinkable idea at our first world’s fair in 1851. Now that robots are beginning to make more robots, who knows what our recursive production network will be making by 2051.

For an overview of the various technical problems that had to be solved (especially tool steel in 1899) before true mass production could happen, see: “Mr. Taylor, Mr. Ford, and the Advent of High-Volume Mass Production: 1900-1912,” J. Paxton, Economics & Business Journal: Inquiries & Perspectives, 4(1):74-90, 2012.

[ideas behind mass production]
All of those ideas weren’t new. Using some sort of mold or form or template to make things in bulk is old. That’s how we made coins, pots, cannon balls, buttons, and such. A factory, meaning someplace with a power source where several of us might work together, is also old. Well over a millennium ago, a mill might use a waterwheel—or slaves, oxen, horses, or asses on a treadmill or capstan—to drive several machines. Dividing our labor so that we could specialize our skills is even older. It dates back at least as far as our first cities and armies, perhaps seven millennia ago. Its use in factories goes at least as far back as the 1600s. However, those ideas didn’t come together in synergy until we figured out the last two ideas—precision parts and assembly lines—and then meshed them all together.

The ideas are old. It was bringing them together that was new. For example, we had manufactories in China around 1,000 years ago: Science and Civilization in China: Volume 5, Chemistry and Chemical Technology, Part 1, Paper and Printing, Joseph Needham, Caves Books, Ltd., 1986, page 48.

We had grain mills in the Roman Empire over 1,000 years ago: “Technological Innovation and Economic Progress in the Ancient World: M. I. Finley Re-Considered,” K. Greene, The Economic History Review, 53(1):29-59, 2000. Division of labor is also old. For example, Xenophon explained 2,400 years ago why Greek artisans specialize in cities. The Ancient Economy, M. I. Finley, University of California Press, 1973, page 135. Moreover, any large mass of us will specialize—for example, in armies. Probably the idea is so old that it’s impossible to date.

Division of labor in manufactories is also old. Around 1676 William Petty noted that “Cloth must be cheaper made, when one Cards, another Spins, another Weaves, another Draws, another Dresses, another Presses and Packs; than when all the Operations above-mentioned, were clumsily performed by the same hand.” Political Arithmetick, OR A DISCOURSE Concerning, The Extent and Value of Lands, People, Buildings: Husbandry, Manufacture, Commerce, Fishery, Artizans, Seamen, Soldiers; Publick Revenues, Interest, Taxes, Superlucration, Registries, Banks Valuation of Men, Increasing of Seamen, of Militia’s, Harbours, Situation, Shipping, Power at Sea, &c. As the same relates to every Country in general, but more particularly to the Territories of His Majesty of Great Britain, and his Neighbours of Holland, Zealand, and France, William Petty, Robert Clavel and Hen. Mortlock, 1690, page 19.

A century later, in 1776, Adam Smith noted that “[A pin-maker] could scarce, perhaps, with his utmost industry, make one pin in a day, and certainly could not make twenty. But in the way in which this business is now carried on, not only the whole work is a peculiar trade, but it is divided into a number of branches, of which the greater part are likewise peculiar trades. One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving, the head; to make the head requires two or three distinct operations; to put it on is a peculiar business, to whiten the pins is another; it is even a trade by itself to put them into the paper; and the important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations, which, in some factories, are all performed by distinct hands, though in others the same man will sometimes perform two or three of them. I have seen a small manufactory of this kind where ten men only were employed, and where some of them consequently performed two or three distinct operations. But though they were very poor, and therefore but indifferently accommodated with the necessary machinery, they could, when they exerted themselves, make among them about twelve pounds of pins in a day. There are in a pound upwards of four thousand pins of a middling size. Those ten persons, therefore, could make among them upwards of forty-eight thousand pins in a day. Each person, therefore, making a tenth part of forty-eight thousand pins, might be considered as making four thousand eight hundred pins in a day.” An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith, Edwin Cannan Edition, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1952, Book I, Chapter I, page 3.

In other words, pin-makers specialized and together they formed a reaction network. Before that, a pin-maker could only make about one pin a day. Now, the same pin-maker could average around 5,000 pins a day. The price of pins dropped like a rock. It’s widely accepted that Smith based his example of division of labor on the Henri-Louis Duhamel du Monceau’s 1761 introduction to L’Art de l’Epinglier.

By dividing labor we could thus make an assembly line. By adding a steam engine we could also power all the tools on that line. That alone was a huge change, but mass production also involves yet another idea—precision parts. While we could divide our labor in factories to make pins in volume, those pins needn’t be precision-made. Conversely, we could make precision pins in low volume in factories without dividing our labor—painstakingly and by hand.

Also, mass production isn’t just volume: For example, Abraham Darby’s brass castings for cast iron, or Josiah Wedgwood’s pottery molds for kiln pottery, or Christopher Polhem’s cogwheels milling machine, or any number of other such items (bootlaces, buttons, coins, cannon balls, and so on), all were in volume, yet none were ‘mass produced.’ In 1452, Gutenberg had made the lead type for his printing press in bulk, but that wasn’t ‘mass production’ either.

Mass production is thus a form of volume production in which we divide both the making of, and the putting together of, standard parts into a series of steps so simple that we can make tools do them. We can then divide the labor of making and putting together the parts for those tools, thus closing the recursive loop. For efficiency sake, modern forms of mass production extend the assembly line to a conveyor belt.

[Blanc’s parts were the first to do that on a mass scale]
Not strictly true. As noted, Polhem in Sweden and Deschamps in France preceded Blanc, and following Blanc there was Eli Terry in the United States (in 1806), who did something similar (by hand) with wooden parts for clocks. But none of these attempts lead to machine tools, either because of where they were or perhaps because they worked in wood. Blanc happened to have Jefferson in his audience.

However, as Hounshell notes, the wooden clock industry did contribute to the marketing strategies later used by the sewing machine industry. Ingenious Yankees: The Rise of the American System of Manufactures in the Private Sector, Donald Hoke, Columbia University Press, 1990. From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932: The Development of Manufacturing Technology in the United States, David A. Hounshell, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984, page 51.

[recursion]
Recursion is a tricky idea, and even math and computer science students have trouble with it. The essence of their problem is this: if a process depends on itself, how do you define it? And how can it ever stop? For example, when you stand between two mirrors facing each other what you see is a recursive image: it contains a reflection of you, a smaller reflection of that reflection of you, a yet smaller reflection of that, and so on. The recursion doesn’t go to infinity because after some number of reflections, the next reflection is either too small or too dim for you to see. Every recursion eventually ‘bottoms out’ sometime, so if we were to start at its bottom and work our way out we’d have a more easily understood operation. (For instance: imagine that the mirror starts with a just barely discernible image of your reflection, then the second mirror magnifies that, and so on, until the reflected image occupies the whole mirror’s surface). However expressing the operation recursively (going the other way) is more compact and, almost always, more powerfully expressive.
[mass labor leaving the farm for the factories]
In Arthur Lewis’s seminal work in economics in 1954, poor economies have two sectors: farming and manufacturing. Farming is low-productivity with much excess labor because, at first, farm hands have nowhere else to go. However, at first, manufacturing is high-productivity. Because farming has surplus labor, wages are low, so manufacturing can remain profitable yet can still grow rapidly by absorbing surplus labor off the farm at low wages. Also, since there is much surplus labor on the farm, drawing off labor from the farm will not affect productivity there. Because the productivity of manufacturing can increase faster than the wages in manufacturing, manufacturing is more profitable than it would be if the economy were at full employment. That profitability encourages higher capital formation, which encourages reinvestment, so manufacturing can grow rapidly. However, as the number of surplus workers dwindles, manufacturing wages begin to rise, so profits there fall, so investment there falls. At that point, the economy is said to have crossed the Lewis Turning Point. For this work, Lewis started development economics and got the Nobel prize in 1979. “Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour,” W. A. Lewis, Manchester School of Economic and Social Studies, XXII, 139-191, 1954.
[...guns germinate steel foundries]
An homage to Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond, W. W. Norton, 1997.
[banning of spinning wheels in Europe from the 1200s on]
Use of the spinning wheel, sometimes called in Europe the ‘Hindustan Wheel,’ for woolen manufacture was either banned outright or forbidden for warp-spinning, beginning in Italy: in Venice (1224), Bologna (1256), Paris (1268), Speyer (1280), Abbeville (1288), Siena (1292), and Douai (1305), then grew from there as the spinning wheel spread. Bans remained in effect in some places until the sixteenth century. The Cambridge History of Western Textiles, Volume I, David Jenkins (editor), Cambridge University Press, 2003, page 201.
[in Venice in 1454 fleeing craftsmen were to be hunted down and killed]
“[T]he Venetian government passed stern laws to prevent these esoteric subtleties from becoming known in other lands. In 1454 the Council of Ten decreed that

If a workman carry into another country any art or craft to the detriment of the Republic, he will be ordered to return; if he disobeys, his nearest relatives will be imprisoned, in order that the solidarity of the family persuade him to return; if he persists in his disobedience, secret measures will be taken to have him killed wherever he may be.” The Story of Civilization 5: The Renaissance; A History of Civilization in Italy from 1304-1576 A.D. Will Durant, Simon and Schuster, 1953, page 313. Apparently one actually had to be assassinated, in the 1700s.

This, though, is a sign that when skilled workers decided to flee there was really nothing that could keep them. Or as Cipolla says of another case: “Decrees forbidding the emigration of skilled workers were quite common in the late Middle Ages as well as in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. [...] Typically enough, impotence bred ferocity. In 1545 and 1559 the Grand Duke of Florence decreed that workers in the brocade trade who had left the town should return to it. Special favors were announced for those who would comply with the order and penalties were threatened for those who did not. But in all likelihood the results were unsatisfactory: in 1575 the Grand Duke authorized ‘any person to kill with impunity any of the above-mentioned expatriates’ and posted a reward of 200 scudi for each expatriate craftsman who could be brought back ‘dead or alive.’ ” Before the Industrial Revolution: European Society and Economy, 1000-1700, Carlo M. Cipolla, W. W. Norton & Company, Third Edition 1993, page 157.

[medieval guilds and innovation]
Institutions and European Trade: Merchant Guilds, 1000-1800, Sheilagh Ogilvie, Cambridge University Press, 2011. Guilds, Innovation, and the European Economy, 1400–1800, S. R. Epstein and Maarten Prak (editors), Cambridge University Press, 2008.
[Daniel Defoe on the calico buyer]
“Every Woman whether rich or poor, that is seen in a Gown or Dress of printed Callico or Linnen shall be reputed an enemy to her Country.... We should soon see the ladies leave the Callicoes, and the callicoes, by Consequence, leave the Nation.” The Manufacturer, Daniel Defoe, 1719. Quoted in: Reading the East India Company, 1720-1840: Colonial Currencies of Gender, Betty Joseph, The University of Chicago Press, 2004, page 44.

Here is a longer extract on the calico question: “It is, without doubt, the just Concern, of our Representatives, to study the Interest and the Circumstances of the People who they represent. If these Gentlemen please but to look round them, they must of Necessity see that the Manufactures decline, that Trade languishes, and the Poor stretch our their Hands to them for Help. They must needs also see the Causes of it, even at their own Doors, while they cannot but see a wilfully-possess’d Nation, dress’d up in the Manufactures of Foreigners, and despising the Workmanship of their own People: Madly sending their Money to India and China, to feed and support Heathens and Savages; and neglecting, nay, I may say, Rejecting the Manufactures of their own Country, tho’ they see the poor Families starving for want of Work.” A Brief State of the Question, Between the Printed and Painted CALLICOES and the Woollen and Silk Manfacture, As far as it relates to the Wearing and Using of Printed and Painted CALLICOES in Great-Britain, Daniel Defoe, W. Boreham, 1719, pages 38-39.

[reactions to calico from the 1690s on]
Cotton, Beverly Lemire, Berg, 2011, pages 51-60. “ ‘Callico Madams’: Servants, Consumption, and the Calico Crisis,” C. W. Smith, Eighteenth-Century Life, 31(2):29-55, 2007. Governance, Growth and Global Leadership: The Rise of the State in Technological Progress, 1750-2000, Espen Moe, Ashgate Publishing, 2007, pages 61-63. A History of London, Stephen Inwood, Avalon Publishing Group, 1998, pages 395-396. The London Weavers’ Company, 1600-1970, Alfred Plummer, Routledge, 1972, chapter 14, pages 292-314. “The East India Company, 1600-1740,” W. Foster, in The Cambridge History of the British Empire: Volume IV, British India 1497-1858, H. H. Dodwell (editor), Cambridge University Press, 1929, pages 76-116. England and the English in the Eighteenth Century: Chapters in the Social History of the Times, Volume II, William Connor Sydney, Ward & Downey, Second Edition, 1891, pages 195-196.

Incidentally, the story of calico is part of Britain circuitous and largely unplanned path to industrial leadership in cotton, which was itself part of its rise to industrial leadership in general.

“The cotton textile industry itself is valid proof that the British Parliament functioned as a better check on vested interests than the French controller general. The story of cotton textiles is among other things a story of lobbying and vested interests. One cannot credibly claim that the British state consciously promoted or encouraged cotton textiles. And yet, indirectly, it still did so, by discontinuing industrial policies that were very clearly a product of vested interests. By ceasing its meddling in industrial politics, the British state removed the very explicit barriers that existed against cotton textiles. Add to this an odd fortuitous element: Banning Indian calicoes made it possible for domestic cotton weaving to gain a foothold in the market. Between 1696 and 1774, pressure group activity led to the passing of British laws conducive (sometimes by accident, sometimes not) to the development of the cotton industry....

This had been about politics, not economics: Concern with riots in the Celtic lands made Parliament support the linen industry. The growth of linens created a loophole for domestic cotton manufacture, sheltered by the very same act against competition from Asia....

Britain’s success at preventing pressure groups from stifling the implementation of new technology was essential. But regional British difference are also instructive. Cotton did not have strong pressure groups, much unlike wool, which had a long tradition of organization and regulation. As a consequence of pressure groups resisting new technology, a major shift took place in British textiles production.... In Yorkshire, technological innovations like the spinning jenny were rapidly diffused and incorporated, without much local resistance. The West Country on the other hand, saw major worker opposition, with strong resistance against machinery, strengthened by traditions of solidarity and collective action among the workers from earlier industrial and food riots. The result was a West Country that faded into industrial irrelevance, whereas Yorkshire grew to become the center of British wool production. British regions that opposed new technology rapidly lost out to the regions that embraced it.”

Governance, Growth and Global Leadership: The Rise of the State in Technological Progress, 1750-2000, Espen Moe, Ashgate Publishing, 2007, pages 61-63.

[some reactions to new devices]
“Machine-Breaking in England and France during the Age of Revolution,” J. Horn, Labour / Le Travail, 55(2):143-166, 2005. The Industrial Windmill in Britain, Roy Gregory, Phillmore & Co., Ltd., 2005, page 105. Masters and Journeymen: A Prehistory of Industrial Relations, 1717-1800, C. R. Dobson, Croom Helm Ltd., 1980, pages 115-116. London Memories: Social, Historical, and Topographical, Charles William Heckethorn, Chatto & Windus, 1900, pages 144-145. A History of Inventions and Discoveries, Volume I, Johann Beckmann, translated by William Johnston, Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, Third Edition, 1817, pages 375-376.
[new silk-weaving loom in 1745]
The inventor was Jacques de Vaucanson. As usual, he was building on top of other inventors work, primarily that of Basile Bouchon and Jean-Baptiste Falcon, and his work would be built upon in its turn by Joseph-Marie Jacquard 55 years later. Also as usual, the text compresses a much more involved and interesting story into a few words. In fact, Lyonnaise silk-weavers first rioted because Vaucanson had been made inspector of silk weaving and it was his job to enforce unpopular reforms. Men were threatened with death, and several were killed. Vaucanson himself was stoned, and almost killed. He escaped by disguising himself as a monk and fleeing Lyon by night. The Bourgeois Revolution in France, 1789-1815, Henry Heller, Berghahn Books, 2006, pages 37-38. Science and Polity in France: The End of the Old Regime, Charles Coulston Gillispie, Princeton University Press, 2004, pages 414-418. Edison’s Eve: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life, Gaby Wood, Alfred A. Knopf, 2002, pages 40-43. Copying Machines: Taking Notes for the Automaton, Catherine Liu, University of Minnesota Press, 2000, pages 97-98.
[new Lyon fork-maker in 1789]
The innovator was Jacques Sauvade. The Path not Taken: French Industrialization in the Age of Revolution, 1750-1830, Jeff Horn, MIT Press, 2006, page 112. Engineering the Revolution, Arms and Enlightenment in France, 1763-1815, Ken Alder, Princeton University Press, 1997, page 215. Saint-Étienne et son district pendant la Révolution, Volume I, J.-B. Galley, Imprimerie de La Loire Républicaine, 1903, pages 74-77.
[pastor against innovation in 1803]
Even as late as June 6th, 1803, a pastor in the United States put our age-old attitude thus: “Let us guard against the insidious encroachments of innovation, that evil and beguiling spirit which is now stalking to and for through the earth, seeking whom he may destroy.” That was Jedidiah Morse, a pastor in Charlestown, Massachusetts, and the father of Samuel F. B. Morse, who later invented the telegraph’s Morse Code. History of the United States of America During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson, Henry Adams, 1891, Library of America, Reprint Edition, 1986, page 56.
[fulminating against innovation]
Morse was hardly the last holdout against change. For example, here is Emerson in 1847: “Things are in the saddle, / and ride mankind.” (However, although this has been taking by many humanists along with his line: “law for man and law for thing” as including him in the Luddite camp, others disagree and see it as much more historically specific.) Aside from the whole Luddite movement, much of which might be taken as working-class reaction, there were strong reactions within the religious, literary, and even patrician classes (for example, Lord Byron). One writer in particular is worth quoting here, and that is the fulminator (over many issues, not just this one), Thomas Carlyle. Here he is, writing in 1829, on the evils of mechanization, in terms quite similar to Karl Marx’s writings in 1844: “Were we required to characterise this age of ours by any single epithet, we should be tempted to call it, not an Heroical, Devotional, Philosophical, or Moral Age, but, above all others, the Mechanical Age. It is the Age of Machinery, in every outward and inward sense of that word; the age which, with its whole undivided might, forwards, teaches and practises the great art of adapting means to ends. Nothing is now done directly, or by hand; all is by rule and calculated contrivance. For the simplest operation, some helps and accompaniments, some cunning abbreviating process is in readiness. Our old modes of exertion are all discredited, and thrown aside. On every hand, the living artisan is driven from his workshop, to make room for a speedier, inanimate one. The shuttle drops from the fingers of the weaver, and falls into iron fingers that ply it faster. The sailor furls his sail, and lays down his oar; and bids a strong, unwearied servant, on vaporous wings, bear him through the waters. Men have crossed oceans by steam; the Birmingham Fire-king has visited the fabulous East; and the genius of the Cape were there any Camoens now to sing it, has again been alarmed, and with far stranger thunders than Gamas. There is no end to machinery. Even the horse is stripped of his harness, and finds a fleet fire-horse invoked in his stead. Nay, we have an artist that hatches chickens by steam; the very brood-hen is to be superseded! For all earthly, and for some unearthly purposes, we have machines and mechanic furtherances; for mincing our cabbages; for casting us into magnetic sleep. We remove mountains, and make seas our smooth highways; nothing can resist us. We war with rude Nature; and, by our resistless engines, come off always victorious, and loaded with spoils.” The Collected Works of Thomas Carlyle, Thomas Carlyle, Volume Three, Chapman and Hall, 1858, pages 100-101. See also: Against the Machine: The Hidden Luddite Tradition in Literature, Art, and Individual Lives, Nicols Fox, Island Press, 2002, especially chapter 4. The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America, Leo Marx, Oxford University Press, 1964, especially chapter 4. “Emerson’s ‘Ode Inscribed to W. H. Channing,’ G. Arms, College English, 22(6):407-409, 1961.
[‘childhood’ in nineteenth-century Britain]
In Britain until the 1840s over 400 crimes carried the death penalty. Cutting down a sapling, damaging Westminster Bridge, being a very malicious child, stealing a letter—all were hanging offenses. Children weren’t excepted. At the time, many crimes in Britain had only one punishment—hanging. Spending a month in the company of gypsies, stealing goods worth five shillings, impersonating a Chelsea Pensioner, blacking up at night, being a runaway sailor—all were hanging offenses.

Criminal penalties were so severe that in practice few convicts were actually hanged, so transportation (essentially penal slavery) was a popular alternative. Also, pregnant women, young children, clergymen, anyone who could read (or pretend to) well enough to pass muster, and—of course—anyone who was rich, often received pardons or reduced penalties, like whipping or branding or pillorying. The laws were beginning to be softened by the 1830s—after huge postwar political unrest from 1816 on, largely having to do with the way the rich treated the poor—but many such laws were still in force by the 1850s. Crime and Punishment in England: A Sourcebook, Andrew Barrett and Christopher Harrison (editors), Routledge, 2001. “London Crime and the Making of the ‘Bloody Code,’ 1689-1718,” J. M. Beattie, in Stilling the Grumbling Hive: The Response to Social and Economic Problems in England, 1689-1750, Lee Davison, Tim Hitchcock, Tim Keirn, and Robert B. Shoemaker (editors), St. Martin’s Press, 1992, pages 39-76. The London Hanged: Crime and Civil Society in the Eighteenth Century, Peter Linebaugh, Penguin, 1991. Crime and Punishment in Eighteenth-century England, Frank McLynn, Routledge, 1989.

[transported children]
For example, two children in Birmingham were sentenced to be transported to Australia on January 5th, 1844. John Locksmith (also known as William Joach), aged 14, got 14 years, and George Wort, aged 15, got seven years. Home Office 11/15: Convict Transportation Registers, 1846-1848, pages 190 and 225. The National Archives, Kew, England. Transportation didn’t legally end until 1867, but emigration of delinquent children continued past that point. Remember, though, that at the time, marriageable age was 14 for boys and 12 for girls, and many would be dead by 20, so ‘children’ is a somewhat misleading term.
[“little depraved felons”]
Said by Governor Arthur, of Port Arthur, in Australia. The Fatal Shore, Robert Hughes, Knopf, 1986, page 408.
[21 umbrellas and three boxes of toys]
James Gavagan, an 11 year-old, stole 21 umbrellas. He arrived at Point Puer in Tasmania in 1835. James Lynch, a nine year-old, was a London laborer and he could read a little. Previously he’d stolen stockings, for which he got 10 days in jail, then two bonnets, for which he got six months in jail. For stealing three boxes of toys he got transportation and seven years at the Surrey Quarter Sessions, Newington, on September 11th, 1843. He sailed with 289 other convicts on board the Equestrian and arrived in Hobart in Tasmania on May 2nd, 1844. “Transportation, Penal Ideology and the Experience of Juvenile Offenders in England and Australia in the Early Nineteenth Century,” H. Shore, Crime, Histoire, Sociétés, 6(2):81-102, 2002. Pack of Thieves? 52 Port Arthur Lives, Hamish Maxwell-Stewart and Susan Hood, Port Arthur, Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority, 2001. The Village Labourer 1760-1832: A Study in the Government of England Before the Reform Bill, J. L. and Barbara Hammond, 1911, 1913, Augustus M. Kelley Publishers, Reprint Edition, 1967.

In 1857, Britain had the following numbers of child committments: 29,949 who were between 16 and 21, 10,624 between 12 and 16, and 1,877 under 12 years old. “Crime, Pauperism, and Education in Great Britain,” The American Journal of Education, 6(16):311, 1859. For far more detail, see: “A Survey of Indictable and Summary Jurisdiction Offences in England and Wales, from 1857 to 1876, in Quinquennial Periods, and in 1877 and 1878,” L. Levi, Journal of the Statistical Society of London, 43(3):423-461, 1880.

[London’s child vagrants]
The Seven Curses of London, James Greenwood, Stanley River, 1869. See also: Artful Dodgers: Youth and Crime in Early Nineteenth Century London, Heather Shore, Boydell Press, 1999. “Histories of Crime and Modernity,” Andrew Davies and Geoffrey Pearson (editors), special issue of the British Journal of Criminology, 39(1), 1999.
[baby-farmers]
A typical baby-farmer ad read: “NURSE CHILD WANTED, OR TO ADOPT — The Advertiser, a Widow with a little family of her own, and moderate allowance from her late husband’s friends, would be glad to accept the charge of a young child. Age no object. If sickly would receive a parent’s care. Terms, Fifteen Shillings a month; or would adopt entirely if under two months for the small sum of Twelve pounds.” The Seven Curses of London, James Greenwood, Stanley River, 1869, page 23.

In Britain, after passage of the new Poor Law in 1834, an unwed mother bore the sole financial responsibility until her child turned 16. Many a poor and unwed mother couldn’t support her offspring, especially if she was young and had been impregnated by the master of the house or shop or factory in which she worked. Then, too, there was the stigma of having an illegitimate child. So what many mothers wanted was to make the child disappear. But it was illegal to kill your children (or at least, to be caught at it). Baby farmers existed for those (many) mothers who couldn’t bring themselves to kill their own children, or who didn’t want to risk it, or who chose to believe that their children would be raised properly, albeit very cheaply. Child Abuse and Moral Reform in England 1870-1908, George K. Behlmer, Stanford University Press, 1982.

Baby farming also existed in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States until at least 1917. One Chicago ‘farmer’s slogan was: “It’s cheaper and easier to buy a baby for $100.00 than to have one of your own.” Baby Farms in Chicago: An Investigation Made for the Juvenile Protective Association, Arthur Alden Guild, Juvenile Protective Association of Chicago, 1917.

[children sent to school]
In Britain, reformers like Mary Carpenter, Sydney Turner, and Matthew Davenport Hill campaigned for better schools—or even for just less useless, destructive, and harsh schools—but against stiff opposition. The idea was that poor children, and their parents, and essentially all paupers, were lost to sin, so there was no point trying to educate them.

Mandeville’s 1723 satiric comment below suggests something of England’s more usual attitude to the children of its laboring classes, prior to mass production: “Few Children make any Progress at School, but at the same time they are capable of being employ’d in some Business or other, so that every Hour those of poor People spend at their Book is so much time lost to the Society. Going to School in comparison to Working is Idleness, and the longer Boys continue in this easy sort of Life, the more unfit they’ll be when grown up for downright Labour, both as to Strength and Inclination. Men who are to remain and end their Days in a Laborious, Tiresome and Painful Station of Life, the sooner they are put upon it at first, the more patiently they’ll submit to it for ever after. Hard Labour and the coarsest Diet are a proper Punishment to several kinds of Malefactors, but to impose either on those that have not been used and brought up to both is the greatest Cruelty, when there is no Crime you can charge them with.” The Fable of the Bees, or Private Vices, Publick Benefits, “An Essay on Charity and Charity Schools,” Bernard de Mandeville, edited by Phillip Harth, Pelican, 1970.

Similar attitudes prevailed in the United States. The Underground History of American Education: An Intimate Investigation Into the Problem of Modern Schooling, John Taylor Gatto, Oxford Village Press, 2001.

[the normal view of the poor]
“If you talk of the interests of trade and manufactures, every one but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor or they will never be industrious; I do not mean, that the poor in England are to be kept like the poor of France, but, the state of the country considered, they must (like all mankind) be in poverty or they will not work.” The Farmer’s Tour through the East of England; Being The Register of a Journey through Various Counties of this Kingdom, to Enquire into the State of Agriculture, &c., Arthur Young, Volume IV, W. Strahan; W. Nicoll; B. Collins; and J. Balfour, 1771, page 361.

Here’s another, of many pronouncements of the same stripe: “It seems to be a law of nature, that the poor should be to a certain degree improvident, that there may always be some to fulfil the most servile, the most sordid, and the most ignoble offices in the community. The stock of human happiness is thereby much increased, whilst the more delicate are not only relieved from drudgery, and freed from those occasional employments which would make them miserable, but are left at liberty, without interruption, to pursue those callings which are suited to their various dispositions, and most useful to the state. As for the lowest of the poor, by custom they are reconciled to the meanest occupations, to the most laborious works, and to the most hazardous pursuits; whilst the hope of their reward makes them chearful in the midst of all their dangers and their toils. The fleets and armies of a state would soon be in want of soldiers and of sailors, if sobriety and diligence universally prevailed: for what is it but distress and poverty which can prevail upon the lower classes of the people to encounter all the horrors which await them on the tempestuous ocean, or in the field of battle? Men who are easy in their circumstances are not among the foremost to engage in a seafaring or military life. There must be a degree of pressure, and that which is attended with the least violence will be the best. When hunger is either felt or feared, the desire of obtaining bread will quietly dispose the mind to undergo the greatest hardships, and will sweeten the severest labours. The peasant with a sickle in his hand is happier than the prince upon his throne.” A Dissertation on the Poor Laws by a Well-Wisher to Mankind, Joseph Townsend, Section VII, page 35, 1786, University of California Press, 1971.

Nor was that attitude rare earlier in England (or, probably, anywhere else). Compare the same thought from about 1388, four centuries prior: “And gif laboreris weren not, boþe prestis and knyȝtis mosten bicome acremen and heerdis, and ellis þey sholde for defaute of bodily sustenaunce deie.” [If laborers didn’t exist, both priests and knights must become farmers and herders, or else they would, for lack of bodily sustenance, die.] “Thomas Wimbledon’s Sermon: ‘Redde racionem villicacionis tue,’ ” N. H. Owen, Mediaeval Studies, 28:176-197, 1966.

That idea extended to slavery itself. The notion that many of us just have to be enslaved so that the few can have decent lives is very old. For example, Aristotle, 2,300 years ago, wrote: “But is there any one thus intended by nature to be a slave, and for whom such a condition is expedient and right, or rather is not all slavery a violation of nature? There is no difficulty in answering this question, on grounds both of reason and of fact. For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.... Again, the male is by nature superior, and the female inferior; and the one rules, and the other is ruled; this principle, of necessity, extends to all mankind.... It is clear, then, that some men are by nature free, and others slaves, and that for these latter slavery is both expedient and right.” Politics, Aristotle, Book I, Chapters iii-vii, Benjamin Jowett Translation, 1885, Dover, Reprint Edition, 2000, pages 32-34.

Trigger Effect

[spread of inventions from 1860 to 1910]
Some of the inventions, or precursors to them, listed in the text predated the period 1860-1910, but that’s when they really started to spread across several countries. For example, China had toilet paper 1,500 years ago, but its use didn’t spread out of China until the nineteenth century. Science and Civilization in China: Volume 5, Chemistry and Chemical Technology, Part 1, Paper and Printing, Joseph Needham, Caves Books, Ltd., 1986.
[petroleum in history]
In Hassuna and Mattarah in northern and eastern Iraq, we used bitumen to water-proof our grain bins at least 7,500 years ago. Encyclopedia of Prehistory: Volume 8: South and Southwest Asia, Peter N. Peregrine and Melvin Ember (editors), Springer, 2002, pages 50-52. Noah used it to caulk his ark. “Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch.” The Bible, The King James Version, Genesis 6:14. Ditto for Gilgamesh before that. The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic: Introduction, Critical Edition and Cuneiform Texts, Volume I, A. R. George Oxford University Press, 2006, page 513. See also: The Chemistry and Technology of Petroleum, James G. Speight, CRC Press, Fourth Edition, 2006, pages 3-10. But our hydrocarbon use started exploding only in the late nineteenth century. That’s when, through our usual bumbling, we developed practical versions of both the internal combustion engine and the dynamo.
[heroin]
Opium use goes back at least 5,400 years. But heroin, made by what is today the Bayer pharmaceutical company, was originally used to treat tuberculosis in the 1890s. It was also used for coughs.
[increasing food production]
The single biggest first step was the Haber-Bosch process for synthetic fertilizer starting in 1909.
[United States maize productivity rose nearly 800 percent]
The increase is for maize yields per hectare. “Biomass as Feedstock for Bioenergy and Bioproducts Industry: The Technical Feasibility of a Billion-Ton Annual Supply,” R. D. Perlack, L. L. Wright, A. Turhollow, R. L. Graham, B. Stokes, D. C. Urbach, 2005, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, ORNL/TM-2005/66, 2005.
[increasing nitrogen-fixation]
That was the Green Revolution. The Man Who Fed the World: Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug and His Battle to End World Hunger, Leon Hesser, Durban House, 2006. The Doubly Green Revolution: Food for All in the Twenty-First Century, Gordon Conway, Cornell University Press, 1998, especially chapter 4. Feeding the Ten Billion: Plants and Population Growth, L. T. Evans, Cambridge University Press, 1998.
[rice yields almost tripled from 1967 to 2002]
“Rice-based production systems for food security and poverty alleviation in Latin America and the Caribbean,” L. R. Sanint, Proceedings of the FAO Rice Conference, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 2004, pages 97-101.
[meat production tripled from 1980 to 2002]
Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options, H. Steinfeld, P. Gerber, T. Wassenaar, V. Castel, M. Rosales, C. de Haan, Animal Production and Health Division, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 2006, page 15.
[oil and food]
“In total, providing the 3800 kilocalories of food energy available per capita per day in the United States is estimated to consume 10.2 quadrillion BTUs annually. This represents about 10% of the total energy consumed in the United States. By our estimates, therefore, it takes about 7.3 units of (primarily) fossil energy to produce one unit of food energy in the U.S. food system. This estimate is somewhat lower than others presented. Pimentel and Hall both put the ratio of output food energy to input energy at 1:10.” From: “Life Cycle-Based Sustainability Indicators for Assessment of the U.S. Food System,” M. C. Heller, G. A. Keoleian, Report Number CSS00-04, Center for Sustainable Systems, School of Natural Resources and Environment, The University of Michigan, 2000, page 42.
[plastic computer screens]
The leading research center in this technology is the Flexible Display Center at Arizona State University.
[oil consumption, 1900-2000]
Energy for the 21st Century: A Comprehensive Guide to Conventional and Alternative Sources, Roy L. Nersesian, M. E. Sharpe, 2006, pages 146-147.
[world population, 1800 to 2050]
State of World Population 2011: People and Possibilities in a World of 7 Billion, United Nations Population Fund, 2011, pages 2-3. It estimates that the one thousand million mark was hit in 1804, the two thousand million mark in 1927, the four thousand million mark in 1974, and the six thousand million mark in 1999.
[oil from coal in World War II]
Wartime Germany made 56 percent of its oil that way by 1943. But by 1944 its enemies began bombing the new plants, thus starving its war machine. The Second World War, 1939-45: A Strategical and Tactical History, J. F. C. Fuller, Da Capo Press, 1993, pages 314-316. “Technology Transfer as War Booty: The U.S. Technical Oil Mission to Europe, 1945,” A. Krammer, Technology and Culture, 22(1):68-103, 1981. “The Role of Synthetic Fuel in World War II Germany,” P. W. Becker, Air University Review, 32(5):45-53, 1981. “Synthetic Fuels in Germany: 1. Introduction,” B. Orchard Lisle, Petroleum, 9(4):74-93, 1946.
[oil from coal in 2009]
More recent synthetic oil processes are far better than earlier synthetic oil processes. They can also work with biomass instead of coal as feedstock. “Producing Transportation Fuels with Less Work,” D. Hildebrandt, D. Glasser, B. Hausberger, B. Patel, B. J. Glasser, Science, 323(5922):1680-1681, 2009. “Sustainable fuel for the transportation sector,” R. Agrawal, N. R. Singh, F. H. Ribeiro, W. N. Delgass, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(12):4828-4833, 2007. “Catalytic Alkane Metathesis by Tandem Alkane-Dehydrogenation-Olefin-Metathesis,” A. S. Goldman, A. H. Roy, Z. Huang, R. Ahuja, W. Schinski, M. Brookhart, Science, 312(5771):257-261, 2006. Synthetic Fuels, Ronald F. Probstien and R. Edwin Hicks, McGraw-Hill, 1982.
[oil is running out... soon?]
Clearly crude oil is running out. It’s hard, though, to say when the real crunch will hit. Some argue that oil has already peaked, or will soon. Others argue that oil hasn’t peaked and won’t anytime soon. Given that everything is ultimately limited, the second side would be easy to dismiss, except that the figures come from the United States Geological Survey. The differences between the two positions are huge. Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert’s Peak, Kennet S. Deffeyes, Hill and Wang, 2005. The Party’s Over: Oil, War, and the Fate of Industrial Societies, Richard Heinberg, New Society Publishers, 2003. Hubbert’s Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage, Kenneth S. Deffeyes, Princeton University Press, 2001. “World Energy Assessment 2000,” United States Geological Survey. Are We Running Out of Oil? Edward D. Porter, American Petroleum Institute, Policy Analysis and Strategic Planning Department, Discussion Paper Number 81, 1995.

Recently, consensus seems to be forming that no matter when the peak is, economic and political decisions taken within two decades of it will make a huge difference on its mitigation. One new study predicts the peak as early as 2014. “Forecasting World Crude Oil Production Using Multicyclic Hubbert Model,” I. S. Nashawi, A. Malallah, M. Al-Bisharah, Energy Fuels, 24(3):1788-1800, 2010. “Uncertainty about Future Oil Supply Makes It Important to Develop a Strategy for Addressing a Peak and Decline in Oil Production,” United States Government Accountability Office, GAO-07-283, 2007. “Peaking of World Oil Production: Recent forecasts,” R. L. Hirsch, World Oil, 228(4), 2007. “Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation & Risk Management,” R. L. Hirsch, R. Bezdek, R. Wendling, United States Department of Energy, National Energy Technology Laboratory, 2005. “Long Term World Oil Supply Scenarios - the future is neither as bleak or as rosy as some assert,” J. H. Wood, G. R. Long, D. F. Morehouse, Energy Information Administration, United States Department of Energy, 2004.

Both sides of today’s debate about oil depletion and alternative energy have clear political agendas. They each see the same amount of future oil in the ground in two completely different ways. Huge amounts of power and money—not to mention strong feelings of guilt and shame—depend on what policies each of our countries adopt. So the urge to sway those policy choices one way or the other is strong. However, the data on which such policies might be based is poor—and may even be deliberately distorted in some cases. When giants clash, amateurs can only watch and try to come to as reasonable a conclusion as possible. Those who say that oil production has peaked, or will soon, seem right. Physics favors them. But that still means that we have as much oil left as we’ve used until now. So those who say that we’ll likely invent our way out of disaster also seem right. Economics favors them. That seems to be roughly what those who are most informed seem to be saying on our oil futures markets. That’s where we place long-term public bets about future oil supplies and consumption patterns. There at least, hard data is in constant demand and continuous evaluation. Also, politics matters less there. Futures traders are betting thousands of millions of dollars on being right. Maybe they’re wrong, but so far it doesn’t seem so.

[reserves of oil, natural gas, and coal]
In 2011, BP stated that the proven reserves were 46.2 years, 58.6 years, and 118 years. BP Statistical Review of World Energy, June 2011 British Petroleum, 2011, pages 7, 21, and 31.

We, the Cheapskates

[economy of the United States and the world in 2010]
In 2011, the International Monetary Fund’s database figures for GDP PPP (that is, purchasing power parity) from 2009 to 2011 were: $15,064.816 thousand million for the United States, $15,788.584 thousand million for the European Union, and $19,819.335 thousand million for East Asia (now classified as ‘Developing Asia’). With a world total GDP (PPP) of $78,852.864 thousand million, that means 19% for the U.S., 20% for the E.U., and 25% for Developing Asia. However, nominal GDP figures are different. Market measures are also different. World Economic Outlook Database, International Monetary Fund, 2011.
[California fuel usage in 2006]
California’s roadways use about 20 thousand million gallons of gas and diesel fuel a year. State Alternative Fuels Plan, AB 1007 Report, California Energy Commission, 2007, page 14.
[United States retail electricity price in 2006]
In 2006 it was 10.6 cents averaged over all residences, but 8.64 cents averaged over all users and all states. “Average Retail Price of Electricity to Ultimate Customers by End-Use Sector, by State,” Electric Power Monthly with data for May 2006, Energy Information Administration, United States Department of Energy, 2006.
[solar panel efficiencies in 2008]
Solar energy is politically popular today. It’s clean. It’s unlimited. It’s free. None of that is true. Gathering solar energy is one thing but getting it to do work—that is, solar power—is another. Solar power isn’t clean—no power system can be because it needs factories to make its parts. Nor is it unlimited—the energy it produces isn’t yet cheap to store. (Various prototype fuel cells, and lead-acid, sodium-sulfur, and flow batteries, are all still expensive and limited.) Most of all though, it isn’t free. It isn’t even cheap.

In 2008, energy from solar panels costs at least 25 to 30 cents per kilowatt-hour. That’s about three times as much as retail electricity, even in a sunny region. Solar panel efficiency is measured as a percentage of the energy hitting it. Today’s commodity solar panels have energy efficiencies around 10 to 15 percent. Some research versions are now up to about 40 percent, but they’re expensive since they need exotic materials and delicate production processes. Cheap versions are around 8 percent, or less. It takes about 20 years for a solar installation to pay for itself.

The following abstract summarizes where experts think the technology is going over the next four decades: “Subjective probabilistic judgments about future module prices of 26 current and emerging photovoltaic (PV) technologies were obtained from 18 PV technology experts. Fourteen experts provided detailed assessments, including likely future efficiencies and prices under four policy scenarios. While there is considerable dispersion among the judgments, the results suggest a high likelihood that some PV technology will achieve a price of $1.20/Wp by 2030. Only 7 of 18 experts assess a better-than-even chance that any PV technology will achieve $0.30/Wp by 2030; 10 of 18 experts give this assessment by 2050. Given these odds, and the wide dispersion in results, we conclude that PV may have difficulty becoming economically competitive with other options for large-scale, low-carbon bulk electricity in the next 40 years. If $0.30/Wp is not reached, then PV will likely continue to expand in markets other than bulk power. In assessing different policy mechanisms, a majority of experts judged that R&D would most increase efficiency, while deployment incentives would most decrease price. This implies a possible disconnect between research and policy goals. Governments should be cautious about large subsidies for deployment of present PV technology while continuing to invest in R&D to lower cost and reduce uncertainty.” From: “Expert Assessments of Future Photovoltaic Technologies,” A. E. Curtright, M. G. Morgan, D. W. Keith, Environmental Science and Technology, 42(24):9031-9038, 2008. (Note: ‘Wp’ means ’peak Watts,’ that is the wattage that a panel can produce on a bright sunny day. So a price of ‘$1.20/Wp’ means that the panel costs $1.20 for ever watt pumped out on the panel’s best day. Also note that over the past decade, good ratings for panels are in the $4.50/Wp to $5.50/Wp range.)

[United States energy use in 2006]
Annual Energy Review 2005, Report No. DOE/EIA-0384(2005), Energy Information Administration, United States Department of Energy, July 2006. Power Plant Report, 2004, Form EIA-906, Energy Information Administration, United States Department of Energy, November 2005. Annual Energy Review 2004, Report DOE/EIA-0384(2004), Energy Information Administration, United States Department of Energy, August 2005. Annual Energy Outlook 2003 with Projections to 2025, Energy Information Administration, United States Department of Energy, 2003.
[a quarter-billion cars, trucks, and buses in 2006]
National Transportation Statistics, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Research and Innovative Technology Administration, United States Department of Transportation, 2008, Table 1-11, Number of U.S. Aircraft, Vehicles, Vessels, and Other Conveyances. See also: Transportation Energy Data Book: Edition 30, Stacy C. Davis, Susan W. Diegel, and Robert G. Boundy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, United States Department of Energy, 2011. In 2010, the figures were 235,034,000 cars and light trucks and 10,973,000 heavy trucks.
[United States transport fuel use by sector in 2006]
Transportation Energy Data Book: Edition 26, Engineering Science & Technology Division, Center for Transportation Analysis, United States Department of Energy, 2007, Table 2.6, Transportation Energy Use by Mode, 2004-2005.
[ten largest companies worldwide in 2010]
According to Fortune magazine, in 2006 they were, in order: Exxon Mobil, Wal-Mart Stores, Royal Dutch Shell, British Petroleum, General Motors, Chevron, DaimlerChrysler, Toyota Motor, Ford Motor, and ConocoPhillips. Only Wal-Mart isn’t a transport company. According to Fortune magazine, in 2010 they were, in order: Wal-Mart Stores, Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil, British Petroleum, Toyota Motor, Japan Post Holdings, Sinopec, State Grid, AXA, and China National Petroleum. Besides Wal-Mart, there’s now AXA (French), State Grid (Chinese), and Japan Post (Japanese) as non-transport companies.
[“too cheap to meter”]
“Our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter.” Lewis Lichtenstein Strauss, then Chairman of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, in a speech before the National Association of Science Writers, September 16th, 1954. New York Times, September 17th, 1954. However, when committing his thoughts to paper four years later, Strauss was more pragmatic: “It is a hard economic fact that before nuclear power can begin to be commercially competitive in the United States, its cost must be brought down to levels well below those acceptable in Western Europe and other areas where conventional fuels are in short supply.... There is confidence that these targets can be reached, but it is clear that a highly developed technology will be required.” Atoms for Peace: U.S.A. 1958, United States Atomic Energy Commission, 1958.
[price of uranium versus coal]
In the United States as of May 2008, spot prices for uranium oxide (U3O8) were around $60 a pound and Central Appalachian coal, a benchmark grade, were around $90 a short ton (2,000 pounds). Most of coal’s cost isn’t mining it, it’s transporting it. “Coal News and Markets,” May 12, 2008, Energy Information Administration, United States Department of Energy. “Ux Weekly,” May 12, 2008, The Ux Consulting Company, LLC.

Incidentally, radioactivity is a source of great fear and also of great fearmongering. Most of the radiation one of us recieves over a lifetime (about 82 percent, in the United States) comes from natural sources, including food, no matter how ‘organic.’ About 55 percent comes from radon in the home (and other structures). And nuclear power plants release far less radiation than coal-fired plants do. Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy, Gwyneth Cravens, Knopf, 2007. “Radioactive Elements in Coal and Fly Ash: Abundance, Forms, and Environmental Significance,” Fact Sheet FS-163-97, United States Geological Survey, 1997. Environmental Aspects of Trace Elements in Coal, D. J. Swaine and F. Goodarzi (editors), Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1995. “Ionizing radiation exposure of the population of the United States,” National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements, Report 93, 1987.

[inertia and replacement costs of heavy equipment]
“Path Dependence in Spatial Networks: The Standardization of Railway Track Gauge,” D. J. Puffert, Explorations in Economic History, 39(3):282-314, 2002.
[oldest generating units in the United States]
The oldest still existing generating unit (note, not a power plant) dates back to 1924. "Existing Generating Units in the United States by State and Energy Source, 2010,” Energy Information Administration, United States Department of Energy.
[bizarre subsurface fire]
That’s not completely insane. Oil fires are common only at the surface but it’s not uncommon for coal mines to burn for decades. One has been on fire since 1916. Parts of subsurface India today, for example, are on fire. “Detection of coal mine fires in the Jharia coal field using NOAA/AVHRR data,” R. Agarwal, D. Singh, D. S. Chauhan, K. P. Singh, Journal of Geophysics and Engineering, 3(3):212-218, 2006. So is part of Pennsylvania. Unseen Danger: A Tragedy of People, Government, and the Centralia Mine Fire, David DeKok, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986.
[1970s attempts to control the value of dollars, oil, and gold]
In 1970, and for the first time in the twentieth century, the United States, after spending too much for too long on both guns and butter, had both a budget deficit and a trade deficit. As those rose, other rich countries, like France, who exported goods to the United States and got paid in U.S. dollars, saw those dollars dwindling in value relative to the gold that backed them. So they started demanding gold for the dollars they held. The United States, its gold reserves shrinking, panicked. It then tried to compensate by taking the dollar off the gold standard and devaluing it relative to gold. Oil exporters, like Saudi Arabia, then lost money since their oil was priced in U.S. dollars, not gold. Also, for decades they’d been losing money to rich countries, like the United States, who had gotten them to sell their oil cheap, then turned it into wheat (or sugar or cement or other products), then sold that back to them at vastly higher prices. Having earlier formed a trade bloc, they then jacked up their oil’s dollar price. That then triggered inflation around the globe. The United States panicked. It then tried to compensate by raising domestic interest rates. But that then triggered a recession there, then both unemployment and inflation spiked. By 1974 the United States had tumbled into a wholly new state, stagflation, which put an end to its 30-year post-war economic boom. The Oil Kings: How the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East, Andrew Scott Cooper, Simon & Schuster, 2011, pages 138-141, and pages 189-190. The Age of Deficits: Presidents and Unbalanced Budgets from Jimmy Carter to George W. Bush, Iwan Morgan, University of Kansas, 2009. “Oil Market Power and United States National Security,” R. Stern Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103(5):1650-1655, 2006. Gold, Dollars, and Power: The Politics of International Monetary Relations, 1958-1971, Francis J. Gavin, University of North Carolina Press, 2004. The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power, Daniel Yergin, Simon & Schuster, 1991. Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country, William Greider, Simon & Schuster, 1987, pages 336-343.
[oil-price sensitivity]
In 2007-2008 in the United States, the price of gasoline at the pump suddenly jumped by about a third. Road travel then fell by 3.3 percent (67.2 thousand million fewer vehicle-miles a year.) August 2008 Traffic Volume Trends, Federal Highway Administration, United States Department of Transportation. “Pain at the Pump: The Differential Effect of Gasoline Prices on New and Used Automobile Markets,” M. R. Busse, C. R. Knittel, F. Zettelmeyer, Working Paper 15590, National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), 2009.

Further, a global economic slump in 2008 halved the growth rate of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. Emissions from burning fossil fuels and from making cement rose 1.7 percent in 2008, as against 3.3 percent in 2007. “Global CO2 emissions: annual increase halves in 2008,” Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), 2009.

On the other hand, the rising price of oil in 2007-2008 helped increase food cost. That then led to riots and other unrest in 22 countries—all of them poor. Poor countries feel even more of a pinch than rich countries do.

[renewables are a small part of world energy]
Estimates vary between 7 percent and 13 percent. The EIA estimated that it was about 7 percent as of 2003 (the latest data available as of 2006). International Energy Outlook 2006, Report DOE/EIA-0484(2006), Energy Information Administration, United States Department of Energy, June 2006, Tables A2 and A8 in the Reference Case Projections Tables (1990-2030). However, the IAE’s estimate for 2003 was about twice as large (13.3 percent). Renewables in Global Energy Supply — An IEA Fact Sheet, International Energy Agency, 2006. Why the difference? For the IAE, about 80 percent of the 13.3 percent estimate comes from biomass (which it calls “combustible renewables and renewable waste”). Hydro accounts for a further 16 percent or so of the same 13.3 percent. The principal difference in estimates may be that the EIA only counts commercial sources of energy, whereas the IAE includes sources like gathered firewood.

Some Assembly Required

[14 terawatts in 2006]
Overall energy consumption in 2006 was around 448 exajoules, thus giving a burn rate per second of about 14.2 terawatts. Report of the Energy Research Council, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2006, page 6.
[solar satellites]
Entering Space: Creating a Spacefaring Civilization, Robert Zubrin, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1999, pages 70-84. Solar Power Satellites, Peter E. Glaser, Frank P. Davidson, and Katinka Csigi, John Wiley & Sons, 1998.
[gold and platinum prices]
As of March 26th, 2007, platinum cost $39,674 U.S. a kilogram ($19,744 a pound) and gold cost $21,344 a kilogram—$10,608 a pound. As of June 1st, 2012, platinum cost $22,931 a pound and gold cost $25,953 a pound. On May 10th 2014, gold cost $18,809.15 a pound.
[space shuttle’s costs]
The United States space shuttle program was originally designed to be cost-effective when shuttles flew hundreds of times a year. But for political reasons, the shuttle was scaled back, and thus the program was changed, so there were never more than nine shuttle flights a year. The public relations cost of failure was just too high. “Shuttle programme lifetime cost,” R. Pielke, Jr., R. Byerly, Nature, 472(7341):38, 2011. “A Reappraisal of the Space Shuttle Program,” R. A. Pielke, Jr., Space Policy, May, 1993, pages 133-157. “The Space Shuttle Program: Performance versus Promise,” R. A. Pielke, Jr., R. Byerly, Jr., in Space Policy Alternatives, Radford Byerly, Jr., (editor), Westview Press, 1992, pages 223-245.
[worldwide launches per year]
The Space Launch Industry Recent Trends and Near-Term Outlook, Futron Corporation, 2004. “Space Launch Vehicle Reliability,” I-S. Chang, Crosslink, 2(1), 2001.
[Atlanta flights]
As of 2006, Atlanta International Airport was the world’s busiest, counting by number of landings and takeoffs of a single aircraft per year. In 2006, it handled 976,447 such landings and takeoffs. That averages to 115 turnarounds per hour. Airports Council International, March 16th, 2007.
[satellite losses]
“Insurance for Space Systems,” S. Fordyce, IEEE Journal on Selected Areas in Communications, 3(1):211-214, 1985.
[cost of a one-gigawatt power plant on earth in 2010]
On earth, new coal plants might cost around $1 thousand million per gigawatt. Natural gas, $1.2 thousand million. Hydroelectric, $1.3 thousand million. Nuclear, $2 thousand million. (Solar would be $5.1 thousand million—except that none yet exist in the gigawatt range.) Of course, those figures are very approximate. In reality, they vary depending on the plant’s scale, on what technology it uses, on the country it’s sited in, and on overall energy demand. The figures also don’t count various government subsidies (for example, Germany heavily subsidizes solar power plants), nor does it count maintenance costs, various lawsuit costs, taxes, and so on.

The nuclear estimate comes from China’s project of building four of the latest Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactors, which produce 1.117 gigawatts, for $8 thousand million U.S. for operation starting in 2013 to 2015.

The coal estimate comes from India’s project of building a 4-gigawatt coal plant for $4 thousand million. It expects to build at least five over five years.

Both China and India’s projects are using the same steam generator technology, supplied by Doosan Heavy Industries and Toshiba.

The hydroelectric estimate comes from China’s Three Gorges Dam project, In 2011 it expected to produce 22.5 gigawatts at a cost of $30 thousand million. It’s using turbines made by a consortium that includes General Electric.

The natural gas estimate comes from the proposed Eastshore Energy Center, in Hayward, California. Originally expected to go onstream in 2009, it application was denied in 2008. It was to produce 115.5 megawatts and cost $140 million.

The photovoltaic power plant estimate comes from the €130 million ($204 million U.S.) cost of the 40-megawatt Waldpolenz project in Germany. In 2007 it was the world’s biggest photovoltaic power plant.

[France and its oak forest plan]
Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century, Volume II, The Wheels of Commerce, Fernand Braudel, translated by Siân Reynolds, Harper & Row, 1982, page 240.
[Hubble space telescope superseded]
The particular instrument referenced in the text is the new Large Binocular Telescope atop Mount Graham in Arizona. However, as adaptive optics and lucky-imaging techniques spread, all large earth-based telescopes are being upgraded. In 2009, at least ten were about twice as good as Hubble in many wavelengths. Hubble was still useful, however, particularly for deep-field and ultraviolet (and higher) observations. In general, our best telescopes have doubled in size every 30 years over the last century. Science with the VLT in the ELT Era, Alan Moorwood (editor), Springer, 2009. The Universe in a Mirror: The Saga of the Hubble Telescope and the Visionaries Who Built It, Robert Zimmerman, Princeton University Press, 2008. “Is the broken Hubble Telescope worth saving?” C. Moskowitz, USA Today, October 10th, 2008.
[many satellite-phone companies died]
Iridium, OrbComm, GlobalStar, New ICO, Celestri, and Teledesic. But while the companies died, the satellites they’d put up didn’t. After bankruptcy, those satellites changed hands. The effect is that the first wave of companies all lost money, but companies based on the same satellites, like Iridium, GlobalStar, and Orbcomm, still exist. “Tele-Communications,” H. Smith, R. E. Sheriff, in Spacecraft Systems Engineering, Peter Fortescue, Graham Swinerd, and John Stark (editors), Wiley, Third Edition, 2003.
[British Petroleum and Exxon Mobil]
In 2002, Exxon Mobil partnered with General Electric, Schlumberger, and Toyota to fund a research effort at Stanford University called the Stanford Global Climate and Energy Project. Exxon is contributing $100 million out of $225 million in total. However, such figures are a tiny fraction of its profits. Its average net income from 2005 to 2010 was $35.2 billion U.S., so over those six years it made an average of $96.4 million a day. 2009 Financial & Operating Review, Exxon Mobil Corporation, 2009, page 28. Oil companies seem to be presenting one public face but by their (less public) exploration and investment decisions are presenting another face. “BP Tripled Its Ad Budget After Oil Spill,” Wall Street Journal, T. Tracy, September 1st, 2010. “BP to Invest $500 Million on Biofuels at a Research Center,” J. Mouawad, New York Times, June 14th, 2006.
[solar power in Germany]
Renewables: Global Status Report, 2009 Update, Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, 2009.
[solar power in Spain]
“Spain’s Solar-Power Collapse Dims Subsidy Model,” A. Gonzalez, K. Johnson, The Wall Street Journal, September 8th, 2009.
[spacebots]
Nobody really knows what the cost of humans versus robots in space is, but a possible figure might be between a 10- to 100-fold difference, but that’s just a guess. Estimates of the cost differential vary widely since the missions that each get sent on are so very different. Robots are far less flexible, but humans are vastly inferior in terms of endurance, weight, consumables, cost, and risk.

Space robotics is still in the covered-wagon stage, but there have already been a few in-space experiments (Germany’s ROTEX in 1993, Japan’s ETS-VII in 1997, and Germany’s ROKVISS in 2005). “Ground verification of the feasibility of telepresent on-orbit servicing,” E. Stoll, U. Walter, J. Artigas, C. Preusche, P. Kremer, G. Hirzinger, J. Letschnik, H. Pongrac, Journal of Field Robotics, 26(3):287-307, 2009. Advances in Telerobotics, Manuel Ferre, Martin Buss, Rafael Aracil, Claudio Melchiorri, Carlos Balaguer (editors), Springer, 2007. The Moon: Resources, Future Development and Settlement, David Schrunk, Burton Sharpe, Bonnie L. Cooper, Madhu Thangavelu, Springer Praxis, Second Edition, 2007. “Robotics Component Verification on ISS ROKVISS - Preliminary Results for Telepresence,” C. Preusche, D. Reintsema, K. Landzettel, G. Hirzinger, 2006 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, 9-15 October, 2006, pages 4595-4601. “Space Robotics—DLR’s Telerobotic Concepts, Lightweight Arms and Articulated Hands,” G. Hirzinger, B. Brunner, K. Landzettel, N. Sporer, J. Butterfaß, M. Schedl, Autonomous Robots, 14(2-3):127-145, 2003.

[possible future orbital transport]
Although launch costs are high today, the energy needed to reach orbit is in fact low. If energy could be converted directly into propulsion, it would only take at most a few hundred kilowatt-hours for a human being weighing around 200 pounds to achieve escape velocity and thus get into orbit, not counting the costs of overhead for the transport system. At present energy prices, that would only cost a few hundred dollars. The Exploration of Space, Arthur C. Clarke, Harper, 1951.

“[T]he energy cost of going to the Moon is less than a hundred dollars in terms of kilowatt hours of electricity [per human passenger]. The fact that the Apollo round tickets cost about two billion dollars per passenger is a measure of the chemically-fueled rocket’s inefficiency.” “2001: The Coming Age of Hydrogen Power,” A. C. Clarke, Infinite Energy Magazine, Issue 22, 1998. The problem is figuring out how to do that.

We have various proposals to reduce launch costs today. One startup, the Space Island Group, has a clever way to reduce costs even if we use today’s launch technology: namely, instead of jettisoning the main fuel tanks once in orbit, outfit those tanks as space habitats. They also propose launching to low-earth orbit, then boosting to high-earth orbit (geostationary orbit) using specialized ion-drive tugs that would remain in orbit. PowerSat Corporation has similar plans. They also plan to split up their powersat into hundreds of micropowersats then gang them together in a phased array. Other companies in this domain include Space Energy, Inc., and Solaren, Inc. NASA is presently studying a plan by Masten Space Systems that argues for smaller but more robust rockets to put fuel stations in orbit and thus reduce costs and risks of later flights. “Depot-Centric Human Spaceflight: Strengthening American Industry, Creating a Robust Beyond-LEO Exploration Program, and Enabling the Commercial Development of Space,” J. Goff, S. Traugott, A. Oesterle, unpublished manuscript, 2009.

There are other, more far-out, ideas: Perhaps we could build cheap and reliable suborbital hypersonic scramjets or rocketplanes. We might also use nukes in orbit-changing spacecraft. Or, one day, we might replace rockets with superconducting mass drivers and free-electron launch lasers. We might even figure out how to build a space elevator. Costs would also lower if we already had moon colonists and got them to build satellite parts. Or if we already had an orbital power satellite. (Its power could reduce the cost of lunar mining and manufacture so the next one would be cheaper.)

For a survey of powersat technology, see: Laying the Foundation for Space Solar Power: An Assessment of NASA’s Space Solar Power Investment Strategy, Committee for the Assessment of NASA’s Space Solar Power Investment Strategy, United States National Research Council, National Academies Press, 2001. Much of scramjet research is classified so it’s hard to say anything definitive. Here’s a report giving a good overview of what little is known publically: “A Comparison of Propulsion Concepts for SSTO Reusable Launchers,” R. Varvill, A. Bond, Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, 56(3/4):108-117, 2003. Mass drivers and launch lasers are even more speculative: “Preliminary Feasibility Assessment for Earth-To-Space Electromagnetic (Railgun) Launchers,” E. E. Rice, L. A. Miller, R. W. Earhart, NASA Report Number CR-167886, United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1982. For something a lot more speculative, but even bigger-picture, see: The Millennial Project: Colonizing the Galaxy in Eight Easy Steps, Marshall T. Savage, Little Brown, 1994, pages 103-123. The Space Elevator: A Revolutionary Earth-to-Space Transportation System, Bradley C. Edwards and Eric A. Westling, BC Edwards, 2003.

In the more immediate future though, the private company, SpaceX, became suborbital on March 21st, 2007. Its rocket then achieved orbit on September 28th, 2008. However, its rocket is not the first privately owned orbital rocket; it’s the first private liquid-fueled rocket to achieve orbit. Orbital Sciences Corporation was the first company to orbit its own (sold-fuel) rocket (in 1990). The private company, Blue Origin, is also developing its own rocket (but for suborbital flight).

[future energy alternatives?]
There are many experiments today. For example, the oceans are huge batteries. They hold about three terawatts of recoverable power. The sun warms the ocean’s upper layers more than its lower layers and we can use that temperature difference to extract energy. One way is to sink a deep pipe and place another in the surface layer. Then we pump warm surface water into a low-pressure chamber, where it boils. The steam drives a turbine. Then we pump up cold water and use it to condense the steam for the next cycle, just as if we were running a giant refrigerator in reverse. As a byproduct, we can use the nutrients in the deep ocean water to make metric tons (literally) of high-protein food from algae. Or we can use that to grow metric tons of seafood. And we can use the same power plant to also make hundreds of litres of distilled water. Just its use as a desalination plant alone is valuable. But seawater is also highly corrosive. And it contains living things that grow fast and thus quickly foul equipment. Although small-scale experimental plants exist, we don’t yet know how to cheaply scale them from kilowatts to gigawatts. We also don’t yet know how to put them anywhere cheaply. And we don’t know what their effect might be on deep-ocean ecology. “An Order-of-Magnitude Estimate of Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion Resources,” G. C. Nihous, Journal of Energy Resources Technology, 127(4):328-333, 2005. Renewable Energy from the Ocean: A Guide to OTEC, William H. Avery and Chih Wu, Oxford University Press, 1994. Ocean Energies: Environmental, Economic and Technological Aspects of Alternative Power Sources, R. H. Charlier and J. R. Justus, Elsevier, 1993.

We have other possible energy options, too. In the nearer term, we might find more efficient ways to mine oil from shale or oil sands, or from methane clathrates on the ocean floor. Then there’s bioreactors that extract energy from waste. We can also tailor life-forms for use in such bioreactors using artificial evolution. We’ve already evolved bacteria to extract heavy metals and sulfur and nitrogen compounds from coal or oil. “Biochemical technology for the detoxification of geothermal brines and the recovery of trace metals,” E. T. Premuzic, M. S. Lin, H. Lian, in Heavy Metals in the Environment, Volume 2, R.-D. Wilken, U. Förstner, and A. Knöchel (editors), CEP Consultants Ltd., 1995, pages 321-324. We might, for example, grow hydrothermal bacteria in their normal nutrient bath mixed with small amounts of oil. Then, in stages, grow the survivors with ever higher proportions of oil, until they eat only oil. Then we add coal in the same staged way. We might end with bacteria that can eat coal at high temperatures and pressures.

A similar scheme might make bacteria that could leech oil from shalesands. That might lower the mining price for oil sands and shale oil enough to compete with liquid oil. Or it might even be used to convert our planet’s vast coal reserves into oil. Other research efforts to make genetically modified bacteria (or wholly synthetic cells) that make biofuels (like ethanol) are already underway. We can also make oil—it just costs more than digging it out of the ground. We can thermally depolymerize biomass into light crudes, water, and minerals. We can even grow plants to get fuels like ethanol and biodiesel. We can burn waste to make syngas (which is mostly carbon monoxide and hydrogen), then make diesel fuel from that. A new company, Synthetic Genomics, has gotten funding from Exxon Mobile on the hundred-million dollar scale to investigate making biofuels directly from genetically engineered algae. We can also simply burn biomass to make electricity. Plasma processing can convert municipal solid waste (or farm wastes like corn stover or rice straw) into syngas. Then we can steam-reform the syngas to make nearly pure hydrogen.

Hydrogen might be a good byproduct because we could use it to fuel cars and trucks. It’s also clean-burning and can be handled safely. But making it via electrolysis is currently three times more expensive than gasoline, and ten times more expensive than natural gas. Also, converting all our gas stations and cars and trucks and motorbikes to use hydrogen would be costly. Rich countries have a huge investment in cars and trucks powered by petroleum (whether gasoline or diesel). If they do it slowly enough to avoid severe economic disruption, and if they only have today’s science and technology to do it with, it’ll take decades for them to move from gasoline to hydrogen. On the other hand, hydrogen might be an easier choice for industrializing countries like China and India and Brazil. They don’t yet have as many cars per person. Also, new and relatively cheap pebble-bed nuclear reactors make both hydrogen and electricity. So such countries may convert to hydrogen sooner than rich ones.

Making cheap hydrogen might also be useful if we ever decide to do something about climate change. We’ve just recently learned that, unlike animals, a plant’s metabolism is almost solely governed by its nitrogen supply. If we could change that, we could change a lot of things. “Universal scaling of respiratory metabolism, size and nitrogen in plants,” P. B. Reich, M. G. Tjoelker, J.-L. Machado, J. Oleksyn, Nature, 439(7075):457-461, 2006. “Dark respiration rate increases with plant size in saplings of three temperate tree species despite decreasing tissue nitrogen and nonstructural carbohydrates,” J. L. Machado, P. B. Reich, Tree Physiology, 26(7):915-923, 2006.

Spirits from the Vasty Deep

[“the vasty deep”]
“Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep. / Hotspur: Why, so can I; or so can any man: / But will they come, when you do call for them?” Henry IV, William Shakespeare, Part I, Act III, Scene I.
[Washington Monument aluminum]
“The Point of a Monument: A History of the Aluminum Cap of the Washington Monument,” G. J. Binczewski, JOM, (formely the Journal of Metals), 47(11):20-25, 1995.

[...a laborer might get 10 cents an hour]
In 1884 in the United States, a laborer got about $1 for a day’s work of ten or more hours. A highly skilled artisan might get $2. A well-paid clerk might get $3. In 2008, the United United States minimum hourly wage was $6.55. In 2009, it was $7.25. (In 1938 it was $0.25.) “Federal Minimum Wage Rates under the Fair Labor Standards Act,” United States Department of Labor, 2010.
[price of aluminum in 2008]
Over the 15 years from 1995 to 2008, the cost of a pound of aluminum has mostly bounced between 50 cents and $1 U.S. From 2006 to 2007 it was a bit over $1 but never more than $1.50. As of January, 2007, it cost about $1.16 a pound. As of November, 2008, it cost about $1 a pound.

Aluminum makes up 8.2 percent of the earth’s crust. It’s the most abundant metal, and the third most abundant element, on earth (after oxygen and silicon). Worldwide, from 1884 to today, our yearly aluminum supply rose from around 200 metric tons to around 22 million. About five million of that is recycled. So our species as a whole now has at least 100,000 times as much aluminum as we did before. And we have it at about 1,000th the price. We now make more aluminum than any other metal, save iron. It’s now so plentiful and cheap that we make throw-away cans and tin-foil with it. That price drop comes through better infrastructure and knowledge. We now know more about the cosmos than we did in 1884. We also now have more tools than in 1884. We have more trained people, and they’re more highly trained. We also have more and bigger and faster and cheaper mines, railways, ships, smelters, and the like. Education, exploration, mining, shipping, and processing costs—they’ve all have fallen for a good chunk of our species. Lastly, though, the price of aluminum has fallen because of our new energy supplies.

[labor-price collapses]
It’s the same for copper, zinc, tin, lead, iron, tungsten, titanium, chromium, sodium, sulfur, chlorine, and so on. Even some relatively price-stable commodities, like diamonds, sometimes retain their pricepoints partly by being artificially limited, both on supply and for resale. But the price of diamonds, both for industrial use and for jewelry, is soon about to collapse, as industrial diamond production ramps up.
[coal tar]
Today we know that coal tar contains over 10,000 different hydrocarbons. So far we’ve found uses for less than half of them. Coal tar’s value might well double as we learn more about it. Chemistry, Society and Environment: a New History of the British Chemical Industry, Colin A. Russell (editor), Royal Society of Chemistry, 2000, pages 217-270.
[nylons]
DuPont developed the first nylon in 1935, and showed it off at two World’s Fairs in San Francisco and New York in 1939. When nylons first went on sale in 1940, millions of pairs sold out in days. World War II shifted production away from stockings to parachutes and such but by 1945 they were back on sale. There were riots until production could ramp up enough to satisfy demand. Popular Ideologies: Mass Culture at Mid-Century, Susan Smulyan, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007, pages 41-71. American Plastic: A Cultural History, Jeffrey L. Meikle. Rutgers University Press, 1995, pages 142-152.
[early mining of uranium and pitchblende]
“Uranium Mining and Milling: Navajo Experiences in the American Southwest,” B. R. Johnston, S. Dawson, G. Madsen, in The Energy Reader, Laura Nader, John Wiley and Sons, 2010, page 132. Guide to Assessing Historic Radium, Uranium and Vanadium Mining Resources in Montrose and San Miguel Counties, Colorado, United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, 2008. Uranium Frenzy: Saga of the Nuclear West, Raye C. Ringholz, Utah State University Press, 2002, page 5. Report of the Industrial Commission, of Utah, Period July 1, 1917-June 20, 1918, page 359. “The occurrence and preparation of radium and associated metals,” C. L. Parsons, Proceedings of the Second Pan American Scientific Congress, Section VII: Mining, Metallurgy, Economic Geology, and Applied Chemistry, Volume VIII, Government Printing Office, 1917, pages 310-321. “Carnotite—I,” T. F. V. Curran, Engineering and Mining Journal, 96(25):1165-1167, 1913. “On Carnotite and Associated Vanadiferous Minerals in Western Colorado,” W. F. Hillebrand, F. L. Ransome, American Journal of Science, Series 4, 10(56):120-144, 1900.
[using earth’s resources in old ways]
Once upon a time, we would shape stone and wood and sinew into tools and weapons, but we today don’t bother. Few of us today even know how. We could turn hides and bones into clothes, shoes, knives, flutes. We could make fire with a stick, a cord, and dried moss. We could build homes with brushwood and clay. We could render fat to make ointments, lamps, torches. We could turn barley into beer, grapes into wine, honey into mead, milk into kumiss, rice into sake. We could find aspirin in willow trees, scopolamine in henbane, opium in poppies. We could abort with pennyroyal, and control menopause with black cohosh. Practicing Primitive: A Handbook of Aboriginal Skills, Steven M. Watts, Gibbs Smith Publishing, 2005. Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year, Susun S. Weed, Ash Tree Publishing, 2002. Economic Botany: Plants in our World, Beryl Simpson and Molly Ogorzaly, McGraw-Hill Science/Engineering/Math, Third Edition, 2000. Primitive Technology: A Book of Earth Skills, David Westcott (editor), The Society of Primitive Technology, 1999.
[even our bodies make resources...]
Gunpowder: Alchemy, Bombards, and Pyrotechnics: The History of the Explosive That Changed the World, Basic Books, 2004.
[molecular manufacturing]
John von Neumann first sketched the idea of machine self-replication in the 1940s. Richard Feynman first presented the idea of building on the atomic scale in 1959. K. Eric Drexler carried those ideas forward in his 1991 doctoral thesis at MIT (Molecular Machinery and Manufacturing with Applications to Computation,), publishing a paper in 1981 and books in 1987 and 1992. Springer Handbook of Nanotechnology, Bharat Bhushan (editor), Springer, Second Edition, 2006. Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing and Computation, K. Eric Drexler, John Wiley & Sons, 1992. Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology, K. Eric Drexler, Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1986. “Molecular engineering: An approach to the development of general capabilities for molecular manipulation,” K. E. Drexler, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 78(9):5275-5278, 1981. Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata, John von Neumann and Arthur W. Burks, University of Illinois Press, 1966. “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom,” R. P. Feynman, Engineering and Science, 23(5):22-36, 1960.
[artificial plants]
We’re still in the basic science phase of artificial plants. We have much to learn about biophysics, biochemistry, synthetic chemistry, and physical chemistry before we can build our own cheap and efficient plant-substitutes. We’ve also only just recently learned exactly how photosynthesis works. But today we’re beginning to duplicate it. One day we might have huge bioreactors that function as plants do. They might take in water and carbon dioxide (the single largest greenhouse gas), and make fuels, or oxygen plus edible starches. We might also have versions that split water to make cheap hydrogen. We could then use that hydrogen as fuel. That might then solve two problems at once—reducing greenhouse gases and making fuel. Right now, though, cheap artificial photosynthesis might be as far as three decades ahead. We have little idea of the best chemistry to make such devices, and even less idea of their various costs. “Biologically templated photocatalytic nanostructures for sustained light-driven water oxidation,” Y. S. Nam, A. P. Magyar, D. Lee, J.-W. Kim, D. S. Yun, H. Park, T. S. Pollom, Jr., D. A. Weitz, A. M. Belcher, Nature Nanotechnology, 5(5):340-344, 2010. “Design and analysis of synthetic carbon fixation pathways,” A. Bar-Even, E. Noor, N. Lewis, R. Milo, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(16): 107(19):8889–8894, 2010. “Artificial Inorganic Leafs for Efficient Photochemical Hydrogen Production Inspired by Natural Photosynthesis,” H. Zhou, X. Li, T. Fan, F. E. Osterloh, J. Ding, E. M. Sabio, D. Zhang, Q. Guo, Advanced Materials, 22(9):951-956, 2009. “Direct photosynthetic recycling of carbon dioxide to isobutyraldehyde,” S. Atsumi, W. Higashide, J. C. Liao, Nature Biotechnology, 27(12):1177-1180, 2009. “In Situ Formation of an Oxygen-Evolving Catalyst in Neutral Water Containing Phosphate and Co2+,” M. W. Kanan, D. G. Nocera, Science, 321(5892):1072-1075, 2008. “Light harvesting in photosystem I supercomplexes,” A. N. Melkozernov, J. Barber, R. E. Blankenship, Biochemistry, 45(2):331-345, 2006. Artificial Photosynthesis: From Basic Biology to Industrial Application, Anthony F. Collings and Christa Critchley (editors), Wiley-VCH, 2005. “Towards complete cofactor arrangement in the 3.0 Å resolution structure of photosystem II,” B. Loll, J. Kern, W. Saenger, A. Zouni, J. Biesiadka, Nature, 438(7070):1040-1044, 2005. “Architecture of the photosynthetic oxygen-evolving center,” K. N. Ferreira, T. M. Iverson, K. Maghlaoui, J. Barber, S. Iwata, Science, 303(5665):1831-1838, 2004. “Water Photolysis in Biology,” A. W. Rutherford, A. Boussac, Science, 303(5665):1782-1784, 2004. “Reduction of CO2 with H2O Using Highly Efficient Titanium Oxide-based Photocatalysts,” M. Anpo, in Carbon Dioxide Utilization for Global Sustainability, Sang-Eon Park, Jong-San Chang, and Kyu-Wan Lee (editors), Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Carbon Dioxide Utilization, Seoul, Korea, October 12-16, 2003, Elsevier, 2004.
[climate change]
We now accept anthropogenic explanations of at least some global warming (at least over the last 50 years). But we still haven’t decided what we might do about it that’s also politically and economically acceptable. So far, natural forcing—mainly volcanic aerosols and solar irradiance—doesn’t account for a temperature rise for the latter half of the twentieth century of about 0.25 degrees Celsius, so that portion of the rise is almost surely due to our actions. On the other hand, there’s still something wrong with our models, since what they predict isn’t exactly what’s happening. “Recent Antarctic Peninsula warming relative to Holocene climate and ice-shelf history,” R. Mulvaney, N. J. Abram, R. C. A. Hindmarsh, C. Arrowsmith, L. Fleet, J. Triest, L. C. Sime, O. Alemany, S. Foord, Nature, 489(7414):141-144, 2012. “Why Hasn’t Earth Warmed as Much as Expected?” S. E. Schwartz, R. J. Charlson, R. A. Kahn, J. A. Ogren, H. Rodhe, Journal of Climate, 23(10):2453–2464, 2010. “Is the airborne fraction of anthropogenic CO2 emissions increasing?” W. Knorr, Geophysical Research Letters, 36(21):L21710, 2009. “Carbon dioxide forcing alone insufficient to explain Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum warming,” R. E. Zeebe, J. C. Zachos, G. R. Dickens, Nature Geoscience, 2(8):576-580, 2009. Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years, Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), National Academies Press, 2006.
[plastic waste]
The World Without Us, Alan Weisman, St. Martin’s Press, 2007, page 126.
[impact of biofuels]
For instance, suppose some biochemists walk out of the lab tomorrow with a new way to make fuel from corn. Maybe we’ll stuff Nobel prizes in their pockets then some of us snatch their idea and turn it into a way to make money. Suppose it needs only a small tool change. Suppose it doesn’t need huge start-up costs, nor huge state subsidies. Suppose it’s easy to add to our fuel supply chain (tankers, gasoline stations, cars). Also suppose that our oil companies forget where their wallets are and don’t interfere. Wonderful. But now corn farmers switch from corn-as-food to corn-as-fuel. So the price of corn-as-food rises. Soybean farmers then switch to corn. Ranchers then lose both fodder and pasture for their cattle. So they cut down more forest and spread out into more grassland. Result: the prices of corn, soybean, and meat go up; the amount of wildland goes down. For that not to happen, next suppose that the new fuel’s process is so magical that it somehow doesn’t effect land use. But it will still affect water use. Suppose we somehow finesse that as well. What might happen? Within a decade, the new magic fuel might displace perhaps five percent of our gasoline usage worldwide. Great. But gasoline prices would then fall, so what would we do? We’d use more of it. Our overall energy use would then rise. The result: the ratio of our use of gasoline to all other fuels would drop—but we’d still be burning about as much gasoline as before.

Such a chain of consequences isn’t too long for most of us to think about ahead of time, but even if we bother to do so, our conclusion usually doesn’t come out that way. It comes out to be whatever political reality presently demands it to be. It doesn’t matter if that’s likely to correct in the long run or not. As long as it sways enough of us now, it takes root.

“Land Clearing and the Biofuel Carbon Debt,” J. Fargione, J. Hill, D. Tilman, S. Polasky, P. Hawthorne, Science, 319(5867):1235-1238, 2008. “Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases Through Emissions from Land-Use Change,” T. Searchinger, R. Heimlich, R. A. Houghton, F. Dong, A. Elobeid, J. Fabiosa, S. Tokgoz, D. Hayes, T.-H. Yu, Science, 319(5867):1238-1240, 2008.

[U.S. government spending on clean energy research versus defense]
Those figures are in constant 2005 U.S. dollars. Catalyzing American Ingenuity: The Role of Government in Energy Innovation, American Energy Innovation Council, 2011, page 12. Average expenditure from 1978 to 2007 was $5 billion U.S. (again, constant 2005 dollars): A Business Plan for American’s Energy Future, American Energy Innovation Council, 2010, page 20.
[world oil consumption]
A Thousand Barrels a Second: The Coming Oil Break Point and the Challenges Facing an Energy Dependent World, Peter Tertzakian, McGraw-Hill, 2007.
[oil company aggregate investment]
This is an alleged figure because the figure of ‘a trillion dollars a decade’ is given, without citation, in “A Space Roadmap: Mine the Sky, Defend the Earth, Settle the Universe,” L. Valentine, Aerospace Technology Working Group, Space Infrastructure Development: Near Earth meeting in Phoeniz, Arizona, May 2002.
[the trigger of our industrial phase change]
A lot of those changes followed from a few of us trying to pump water out of coal mines in Britain in 1700. To put that in termite terms: by the 1700s, after millennia of work, random decisions, and sheer chaos, termites in just one part of our planetary nest happened to have all the right pieces to build something that could have gone on to trigger a phase change into large-scale industry. But that wasn’t something that we were looking for, for we couldn’t begin to imagine what the phase change would mean. So we termites still had to bring those pieces together in the right way—without knowing that we had all the right pieces, nor how to bring them together in the right way. Further, there were lots of other pieces that might have done the same trick, had we, or some other group of termites elsewhere in the nest, had different opportunities or been under different pressures. But, had that happened, it probably would have happened at some other time—or maybe not even happened at all. We today happen to know how the phase change started in one particular way at one particular time, but the coalescence of forces that brought it about could be sheer happenstance, just as it may have more or less been for how our first settlements happened in or around Iraq millennia ago. If that’s so, what matters is the forces, not the happenstance.
[spread of economic acceleration]
The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100: Europe, America, and the Third World, Robert William Fogel, Cambridge University Press, 2004, page 50.
[Prospero]
“[...] graves at my command / Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let ’em forth / By my so potent art. But this rough magic / I here abjure, and, when I have required / Some heavenly music, which even now I do, / To work mine end upon their senses that / This airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff, / Bury it certain fathoms in the earth, / And deeper than did ever plummet sound / I’ll drown my book.” The Tempest, William Shakespeare, Act V, Scene I.

Chapter 4. Sweat of the Sun God: Wealth


[Lewis quote]
“There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the ‘wisdom’ of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique; and both, in the practice of this technique, are ready to do things hitherto regarded as disgusting and impious—such as digging up and mutilating the dead.

If we compare the chief trumpeter of the new era (Bacon) with Marlowe’s Faustus, the similarity is striking. You will read in some critics that Faustus has a thirst for knowledge. In reality, he hardly mentions it. It is not truth he wants from the devils, but gold and guns and girls. ‘All things that move between the quiet poles shall be at his command’ and ‘a sound magician is a mighty god’. In the same spirit Bacon condemns those who value knowledge as an end in itself: this, for him, is to use as a mistress for pleasure what ought to be a spouse for fruit. The true object is to extend Man’s power to the performance of all things possible. He rejects magic because it does not work; but his goal is that of the magician.”

The Abolition of Man: Or Reflections on Education With Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools, C. S. Lewis, Macmillian, 1947, page 88.

Wolf in the Fold

[Viking pillage of Saxons]
The text takes a little artistic license with the scene-setting, but everything in the text is based on what we know about what happened that night. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, on January 6th, 793, (not June 8th, as is often reported), they raided Saint Cuthbert’s monastery in Lindisfarne, off England’s northeast coast. The History and Antiquities of the Anglo-Saxon Church; Containing an Account of its Origin, Government, Doctrines, Worship, Revenues, and Clerical and Monastic Institutions, John Lingard, Volume II, C. Dolman, 1845, pages 220-223. “Lo, it is nearly 350 years that we and our fathers have inhabited this most lovely land, and never before has such terror appeared in Britain as we have now suffered from a pagan race, nor was it thought that such an inroad from the sea could be made. Behold, the church of St. Cuthbert spattered with the blood of the priests of God, despoiled of all its ornaments; a place more venerable than all in Britain is given as a prey to pagan peoples.” Alcuin, Letter to Ethelred, King of Northumbria. A History of the Vikings, Gwyn Jones, Oxford University Press, Second Edition, 1984.
[Saxons bribed the Vikings]
In 991, after the Saxon armies were defeated at Maldon, the Saxon king of England, Aethelred II, paid the Danes 10,000 pounds of silver to go away. Then he paid 16,000 in 994 and 24,000 in 1002, in which year he tried to massacre all the Danes then living in England. Then he paid 30,000 in 1007, 3,000 for East Kent alone in 1009, and 48,000 in 1012. A year later, Swegn Forkbeard (a Dane) attacked in force and soon his son, Cnut (Canute), was on the English throne. In 1018, Cnut took a danegeld of 82,500 pounds of silver (11,000 paid by London alone). And so on. In all, from 991 to 1018 they extorted 186,500 pounds of silver. Domesday Book and Beyond: Three Essays in the Early History of England, F. W. Maitland, 1897, New Edition, 1907.
[“so powerful with God’s consent...”]
“Base laws and scandalous extortions are common among us, and many mishaps happen to this nation time after time because of the wrath of God, let him acknowledge it who will. This nation has not been successful for a long time either here or abroad, but there has been devastation and hatred in pretty well every district again and again; and now for a long time the English have been utterly defeated and much disheartened because of God’s wrath. And the Vikings have been so powerful with God’s consent that often in battle one of them puts 10 to flight, sometimes more sometimes less, all because of our sins. And often 10 or 12, one after the other, offer disgraceful insult to the wife of a thane, or sometimes his daughter, or close kinswoman, while he looks on—one who considered himself important and powerful and brave enough before that happened.” Vikings: Fear and Faith, Paul Cavill, HarperCollinsPublishers, 2001, pages 254-255. From a homily by Wulfstan II, Archbishop of York and Bishop of Worcester, written around 1014. For an annotated version of the original Old English version, see: Sermo Lupi ad Anglos, Dorothy Whitelock (editor), University of Exeter Press, 1977, page 59.
[Norse loan words in English]
“Norse-derived Terms and Structures in The Battle of Maldon,” S. M. Pons-Sanz, The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 107(4):421-444, 2008.
[predation and rent-seeking]
For a view from anthroplogy, see: “The emergence of status inequality in intermediate scale societies: A demographic and socio-economic history of the Keatley Creek site, British Columbia,” A. M. Prentiss, N. Lyons, L. E. Harris, M. R. P. Burns, T. M. Godin, Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 26(2):299-327, 2007. For a view from political science, see: Prosperity and Violence: The Political Economy of Development, Robert H. Bates, W. W. Norton & Company, 2001. For a view from economics, see: Power and Prosperity: Outgrowing Communist and Capitalist Dictatorships, Mancur Olson, Basic Books, 2000.
[ecogenesis]
That’s a neologism, although it appears to be first used in 1904 by Carl Detto, a University of Jena botanist, to a different purpose. More recently, it’s also been used in landscape design by the Brazilian Fernando Chacel. It pops up occasionally in the ecology literature. Of the semantically obvious choices, this word seemed the most euphonious. The possibilities involving Greek roots for ‘self-changing’ or ‘self-evolving’ sound bad. (For example, one possibility for ‘self-evolutionary’ might be ‘autoexelixic.’ However, ‘autoallagic,’ to mean ‘self-changing,’ might be a reasonable possibility.) Another problem was how to keep the distinction between ‘self-assembling’ and ‘self-evolving’ (and later concepts in the book like ‘self-maintaining’) clear to the reader. An ecogenetic network is a self-assembling one, but not necessarily a self-evolving one. It relies on a fixed set of parts that have already evolved and it’s merely ‘choosing’ among various random assortments of them to see which ones ‘fit together.’ (In short, it self-evolves as a network, but its parts themselves don’t need to evolve.)

Botanists and ecologists mostly don’t use the word ‘ecogenesis.’ They do however have several related concepts, principally ‘seral succession,’ ‘community assembly,’ ‘pedogenesis,’ and ‘demutation.’ There are also various biome-specific cases, like xerosere, lithosere, and so on. These were either too specific, too technical, or too colorless for a popular science book. Assembly Rules and Restoration Ecology: Bridging the Gap Between Theory and Practice, Vicky M. Temperton, Richard J. Hobbs, Tim Nuttle, and Stefan Halle (editors), Island Press, 2004. A Theory of Forest Dynamics: The Ecological Implications of Forest Succession Models, Herman H. Shugart, Blackburn Press, 2003. Ecological Assembly Rules: Perspectives, Advances, Retreats, Evan Weiher and Paul Keddy (editors), Cambridge University Press, 2001. Plant Succession: Theory and Prediction, David C. Glenn-Lewin, Robert K. Peet, and Thomas T. Veblen (editors), Springer, 1992. “A study of the ecology of pioneer lichens, mosses, and algae on recent Hawaiian lava flows,” T. A. Jackson, Pacific Science, 25(1):22-32, 1971.

The idea of succession is old in some ways, young in others. Early forms of it trace back to Theophrastus, a student of Aristotle. “Ecology today: Beyonds the Bounds of Science,” Nature and Resources, 35(2):38-50, 1999. Traces on the Rhodian Shore: Nature and Culture in Western Thought from Ancient Times to the End of the Eighteenth Century, Clarence J. Glacken, University of California Press, 1976, pages 129-130.

[leaf litter alters soil chemistry]
“Leaf litter fall and soil acidity during half a century of secondary succession in a temperate deciduous forest,” S. Persson, N. Malmer, B. Wallén, Plant Ecology, 73(1):31-45, 1987.
[earliest Norse longships]
The Earliest Ships: The Evolution of Boats Into Ships, Robert Gardiner and Arne E. Christensen (editors), Naval Institute Press, 1996.

See. Want. Take

[herdsman and slavery]
The accounting tablet was deciphered by Doctor Robert K. Englund (personal communication). The herdsman’s name was Ur-Kanara. The tablet in question is MVN 10, 155. It dates Ur-Kanara’s death to the 32nd year of Šulgi, which was a little over 4,000 years ago. On his death he owed 140 litres of clarified butter and 180 litres of cheese, assuming the usual Uruk measures (1 sìla = 1 litre, 1 bán = 10 litres, 1 barig = 60 litres). “Hard Work-Where Will It Get You? Labor Management in Ur III Mesopotamia,” R. K. Englund, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 50(4):255-280, 1991. Archaic Bookkeeping: Early Writing and Techniques of Economic Administration in the Ancient Near East, Hans J. Nissen, Peter Damerow, and Robert K. Englund, translated by Paul Jansen, University of Chicago Press, 1993, page 82. The Beginnings of Accounting and Accounting Thought: Accounting Practice in the Middle East (8000 B.C to 2000 B.C.) and Accounting Thought in India (300 B.C. and the Middle Ages), Richard Mattessich, Taylor & Francis, 2000, page 112, footnote. For another case, that of Nin-dada, see: The Ancient Mesopotamian City, Marc Van de Mieroop, Oxford University Press, 1999, page 122. History Begins at Sumer: Thirty-Nine Firsts in Recorded History, Samuel Noah Kramer, University of Pennsylvania Press, Third Edition, 1981, pages 56-59.
[the idea of law]
Law is very old. The idea of restitution, of graduated punishment, of a difference between intentional versus accidental causation, and so on, all go back to our oldest written laws. The Code of Ur-Nammu (in Mesopotamia) is the oldest known, and is not yet fully deciphered, but it goes back 4,000 years (or more). It deals with divorce, adultery by a married woman, the defloration of someone else’s female slave, the escape of slaves, bodily injury, and false accusation, among others.
[Norse prices]
The wergild, or man’s price murdered, was common among Germanic peoples, not just the Norse. The Saxons in England had a similar scheme: a noble was worth 1,200 shillings; a thane, 300; a churl, 200; a serf, nothing. Technically, Norse thralls had no wergild, but it was still often customary in Iceland to pay something for killing them. (Unless you owned them, in which case you could do what you liked—unless you killed them during a festival, or during Lent—and that last only applied after Christianity began to spread among the Norse.) Also, prices fluctuated over time. The figures given in the text are from Friedman. Law’s Order: What Economics Has to Do with Law and Why It Matters, David D. Friedman, Princeton University Press, 2000.
[the Thing]
In Iceland a millennium ago we had a legislature, a judiciary, one part-time government employee (the law-speaker), but no executive branch: no prosecutors, no police, no army, no king. All prosecution and enforcement was private. We had no offenses against all of us (that is, ‘crimes’). We only had offenses against specific free men. Viking Age Iceland, Jesse Byock, Penguin, 2001. A History of the Vikings, Gwyn Jones, Oxford University Press, Revised Edition, 1984.
[...worth 1,000 cows]
A thousand cows back then would be worth at least $6 million U.S. in 1979. “Private Creation and Enforcement of Law: A Historical Case,” D. D. Friedman, Journal of Legal Studies, 8(2):399-415, 1979.
[Icelanders had no jails]
Saxons had no jails either, and for the same reason—they couldn’t afford them. Feeding a man was too costly if he couldn’t work for his keep. Thus, England at least wouldn’t have its first jail until 1166. Even then, most jails were temporary holding places until punishment could be decided and meted out. The idea of using mere imprisoment as a punishment in itself spread only when we grew rich enough to afford it—in the nineteenth century in Britain, and then elsewhere later on.
[violence in history]
When we were hunter-gatherers we may have had little war as we understand the term today, but that doesn’t mean that we were meek. The Origins of War: Violence in Prehistory, Jean Guilaine and Jean Zammit, translated by Melanie Hersey, Wiley-Blackwell, 2005. Constant Battles: Why We Fight, Steven Le Blanc and Katherine E. Register, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2004. War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage, Lawrence H. Keeley, Oxford University Press, 1996. Primitive War: Its Practices and Concepts, H. H. Turney-High, Second Edition, University of South Carolina Press, 1971.
[long-term decline in violence]
“Explaining the Long-Term Trend in Violent Crime: A Heuristic Scheme and Some Methodological Considerations,” H. Thome, International Journal of Conflict and Violence, 1(2):185-202, 2007. “The Long-Term Development of Violence: Empirical Findings and Theoretical Approaches to Interpretation,” M. Eisner, in International Handbook of Violence Research, in 2 volumes, Wilhelm Heitmeyer and John Hagan (editors), Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2003, pages 41-59. “Long-term Historical Trends in Violent Crime,” M. Eisner, in Crime and Justice: A Review of Research, M. Tonry (editor), volume 30, pages 84-142, University of Chicago Press, 2003. “Modernization, Self-Control and Lethal Violence: The Long-term Dynamics of European Homicide Rates in Theoretical Perspective,” M. Eisner, The British Journal of Criminology, 41(4):618-638, 2001.
[murder and suicide in the United States in 2004]
National Vital Statistics Reports, United States Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, 54(1), 2006, Table 2, page 19. See also: “Democracy and Crime: A Multilevel Analysis of Homicide Trends in Forty-Four Countries, 1950-2000,” G. Lafree, A. Tseloni, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 605(1):25-49, 2006.

Weaving the Web

[ninth-century northern Europe was poor]
Perhaps part of that had to do with climate and geography, which limited populations, which limited trade. For example, 1,200 years ago, in the ninth century, Charlemagne, who styled himself Europe’s Emperor, ruled maybe 15 million of us. At the same time, China’s emperor ruled perhaps 80 million of us. China: A New History, John King Fairbank and Merle Goldman, Second Edition, Harvard University Press, 2006, page 106. At the time, Paris was the largest European city. It supported perhaps 50,000. Even as late as the fifteenth century, Cologne, the largest city in Germania, only supported 20,000, and London only 50,000. London in 1086, the year of the Domesday book, may have had between 10,000 and 15,000 people. London: A Social History, Roy Porter, Harvard University Press, 1994, page 26.

Northern Europe’s trade was low, too. For one thing, the Catholic Church, threatened by Islam’s expansion, had banned contact with Muslims. That had different outcomes for different parts of Europe. Merchants in Venice and Genoa simply ignored the ban. Other parts of southern Europe only half-ignored it. Merchants there still traded with Muslims, but then paid up to a quarter of their profits to the Church to buy penance for their sin. Southeastern Europeans (mostly the Byzantines, the last survivors of the Roman empire) traded in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. They ignored Rome—just as Rome ignored them. Northern Europeans though were too far from either the Mediterranean or the Black Sea. Besides, they didn’t have much to trade that anyone wanted—except slaves and furs. Instead of trade, they had Vikings.

As climate warmed in the ninth and tenth centuries, Norse longships had appeared in the newly ice-free north seas. They sailed south to harry coasts and rivers in today’s Britain, Ireland, France, Spain, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Russia, and Lithuania. They both traded and raided. In some cases, they even settled. In England, for example, they pushed the Saxons into the south and west, raping, pillaging, killing, enslaving. Centuries before, the Saxons had conquered their way into England the same way. The Norse were just another instance of the same ecogenetic process. Nor were the Saxons strangers to slavery either. Like the Norse, they were too poor to have jails, so they enslaved each other for some crimes—incest, for instance. Or they enslaved for debt, or after wars among themselves or with the Celts (who had invaded centuries before them). Or they did it just for fun.

“It is shaming to talk about what has occurred far too widely, and terrible to know what far too many people do who practise the crime: these people club together and buy a woman for themselves out of the common fund, and one after the other, practise disgusting sin with that one woman, taking turns like dogs, disregarding the filth. And then for the right price they sell God’s creature, the purchase which he bought so dearly, out of the country into the hands of enemies. We also know well enough where the crime has been committed that a father sold his son for a price into the hands of strangers, and a son his mother, and a brother his brother.” Vikings: Fear and Faith, Paul Cavill, HarperCollinsPublishers, 2001, page 254. At the time, Bristol was a major slave port. Dublin was the largest slave market in western Europe.

The Norse also colonized Iceland by 870, then Greenland by 986, then pushed all the way to ‘Vinland’ by 1002, five centuries before Columbus. They were traders as well as raiders. In fact, often they raided one place on the coast and sold the proceeds further down the same coast.

Writing in 922, an Arab diplomat tells us of other Scandinavians, perhaps Swedish traders (but they might also have been Slavs), on the banks of the Volga in what would one day become Russia: “They arrive from their territory and moor their boats by the Ātil (a large river), building on its banks large wooden houses. They gather in the one house in their tens and twenties, sometimes more, sometimes less. Each of them has a couch on which he sits. They are accompanied by beautiful slave girls for trading. One man will have intercourse with his slave-girl while his companion looks on. Sometimes a group of them comes together to do this, each in front of the other. Sometimes indeed the merchant will come in to buy a slave-girl from one of them and he will chance upon him having intercourse with her, but [he] will not leave her alone until he has satisfied his urge.” “Ibn Faḍlān and the Rūsiyyah,” J. E. Montgomery. Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies, 3(1):1-25, 2000.

[sables and slave-girls]
“Ibn Faḍlān and the Rūsiyyah,” J. E. Montgomery. Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies, 3(1):1-25, 2000.

[eleventh-century Cordoba]
The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain, Maria Rosa Menocal, Little, Brown, 2002. “The Historical Context of Arabic Translation, Learning, and The Libraries of Medieval Andalusia,” C. Price, Library History, 18(2):73-88, 2002. The Encyclopedia of World History, Peter N. Stearns (editor), Houghton-Mifflin, Sixth Edition, 2001, page 179.

Further, Cordoba was linked by trade and post to other great centers of learning. For example, in 1004 the library at Cairo, Dar al-Hikma, was public and was said to house 1.6 million books. The Story of Libraries: From the Invention of Writing to the Computer Age, Fred Lerner, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2001, pages 71-72. The Medieval Library, James W. Thompson, Hafner, Reprint Edition, 1957, pages 348-350.

As a general rule, Muslim treatment of colonized Christians was less harsh than Christian treatment of colonized Muslims, but that doesn’t make either treatment even close to mild. Muslim tolerance certainly broke down in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The Dhimmi: Jews and Christians Under Islam, Bat Ye’or and David Maisel, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, Revised Edition, 1985.

[Godric]
The text narrative is partly made-up (especially his early trading activity) since we don’t know much about his early life, but the details and the settings are real. Words for occupations present special problems. For example, the text uses ‘earthling’ (yrðlicg) over the usual gebúr as the more colorful word. (In any case, a gebúr was likely richer than Godric’s parents were, but we really don’t know.)

Here are the Old English names and today’s English cognates used in this section: Engla-lond - England; earthling - farmer; thane - baron; thorp - hamlet; widuwe - widow; madm - palfrey, that is, a placid horse; webbestre - web-maker, that is, weaver; isenwyrhta - iron-worker, that is, blacksmith; gleeman - minstrel and storyteller; scop - poet and storyteller; chapman - merchant; gemot - law court.

Here is an extract from Reginald of Durham’s writings on Godric: “[I]n his beginnings, he was wont to wander with small wares around the villages and farmsteads of his own neighborhood; but, in process of time, he gradually associated himself by compact with city merchants. Hence, within a brief space of time, the youth who had trudged for many weary hours from village to village, from farm to farm, did so profit by his increase of age and wisdom as to travel with associates of his own age through towns and boroughs, fortresses and cities, to fairs and to all the various booths of the market-place, in pursuit of his public chaffer.... [T]hen he travelled abroad, first to St. Andrews in Scotland and then for the first time to Rome. On his return, having formed a familiar friendship with certain other young men who were eager for merchandise, he began to launch upon bolder courses, and to coast frequently by sea to the foreign lands that lay around him. Thus, sailing often to and for between Scotland and Britain, he traded in many divers wares and, amid these occupations, learned much worldly wisdom.... [A]t length his great labours and cares bore much fruit of worldly gain. For he laboured not only as a merchant but also as a shipman... to Denmark and Flanders and Scotland; in all which lands he found certain rare, and therefore more precious, wares, which he carried to other parts wherein he knew them to be least familiar, and coveted by the inhabitants beyond the price of gold itself; wherefore he exchanged these wares for others coveted by men of other lands; and thus he chaffered [haggled] most freely and assiduously. Hence he made great profit in all his bargains, and gathered much wealth in the sweat of his brow; for he sold dear in one place the wares which he had bought elsewhere at a small price.” From: Life of Saint Godric of Finchale, Reginald of Durham, in Social Life in Britain from the Conquest to the Reformation, G. G. Coulton (editor), Cambridge University Press, 1918, pages 415-420. See also: “The Benedictines, the Cistercians and the acquisition of a hermitage in twelfth-century Durham,” T. Licence, Journal of Medieval History, 29(4):315-329, 2003. “Durham Priory and its Hermits in the Twelfth Century,” V. Tudor, in Anglo-Norman Durham, David Rollason, Margaret Harvey, and Michael Prestwich (editors), Boydell & Brewer, 1998, pages 67-79. St Cuthbert and the Normans: The Church of Durham, 1071-1153, William M. Aird, Boydell & Brewer, 1998. From Memory to Written Record, England 1066-1307, M. T. Clanchy, Wiley-Blackwell, Second Edition, 1993, pages 237-240. The Hermits, Charles Kingsley, Macmillan, 1913, pages 309-328. Libellus de Vita et Miraculis S. Godrici, Heremitæ de Finchale, Reginaldo Monacho Dunelmensi (Reginald of Durham), Joseph Stevenson (editor), J. B. Nichols and Son, 1847.

[eleventh-century England had hares (but not rabbits)]
Food and Drink in Britain: From the Stone Age to the 19th Century, C. Anne Wilson, Academy Chicago Publishers, 1991.
[shod horse worth twice an unshod one]
Living in the Tenth Century: Mentalities and Social Orders, Heinrich Fichtenau, translated by Patrick J. Geary, University of Chicago Press, 1991, page 337.
[marriage at 13]
Minimum legal ages for marriage in Europe until recent times were 12 for girls and 14 for boys. “Marriage and the Law in the Eighteenth Century: Hardwicke’s Marriage Act of 1753,” D. Lemmings, The Historical Journal, 39(2):339-60, 1996. In 1457, for example, Lady Margaret Beaufort was 13 when she gave birth to the future Henry VII, England’s first Tudor king.
[trade creates wealth]
A trade shares economic benefit among two parties, but not necessarily equally. For example, economists are fond of the following scenario: Alice has an apple, which she values at one dollar, and Bob wants an apple, which he values at two dollars. Alice and Bob bargain for a mutually acceptable price for the apple, then the apple and money change hands and both parties benefit. This must be so as long as neither Alice nor Bob has a gun, because Bob will have paid less than two dollars and Alice will have received more than one dollar. The agreed upon price might be $1.50, sharing the benefit equally, but it could just as easily be closer to Bob’s ceiling of $2.00 than Alice’s floor of $1.00 because Alice as the seller might well have many more things to sell. She might also well have more experience with bargaining, and she might well have more disposable income than Bob does. To a millionaire, a dollar is worth less than a penny is worth to a pauper. Further, the more experience Alice has, the better she is at gauging a potential buyer’s commitment to acquiring the apple in question. And the larger a supplier she is, the more likely it will be for her to have other people competing to buy her apple, so demand for Alice might be more uniform than supply is for Bob.

On the other hand, buyers can sometimes have the upper hand as well. For example, when a multinational goes looking for a city to build a shopping center in, many cities want the increased development, so the corporation can cherry-pick to find the best deal. Publishers versus authors, commodity brokers versus farmers, insurance companies versus homeowners, multinationals versus cities, rich nations versus poor ones, often the usual simplifying neoclassical assumptions that there is perfect symmetry, perfect competition, and perfect knowledge on all sides is false.

Of course, economists know all that, but lacking more detailed yet still mathematically tractable models, neoclassical economics seems to be the best we can do at present.

[division of labor is old]
The idea is surely far, far older than Plato. However, in the Republic we see him making Socrates say that a city comes about because no one is self-sufficient. We all need things that we can’t supply by ourselves, and we each are good at some things and bad at others. “[A]ll things are produced more plentifully and easily and of a better quality when one man does one thing which is natural to him and does it at the right time, and leaves other things.... Suppose now that a husbandman, or an artisan, brings some production to market, and he comes at a time when there is no one to exchange with him, —is he to leave his calling and sit idle in the market-place? Not at all; he will find people there who, seeing the want, undertake the office of salesmen. In well-ordered states they are commonly those who are the weakest in bodily strength, and therefore of little use for any other purpose; their duty is to be in the market, and to give money in exchange for goods to those who desire to sell and to take money from those who desire to buy.” The Dialogues of Plato, Volume III, The Republic, Plato, Book II, 371, Benjamin Jowett Translation, Clarendon Press, 1875, pages 241-242.
[no more than seven miles from home]
For a sketch of the time, see: The Day the Universe Changed, James Burke, Little, Brown, 1986, pages 91-96. A more comprehensive, but less likely, figure than seven miles a day might be 12 miles (about 20 kilometers), since 25 miles (about 40 kilometers) is about as far as a fit person can walk in a day, but that assumes no stopover at the destination and no heavy luggage. Also, high speed used to be about 90 miles (about 140 kilometers) a day—and that was only for the few and expensive couriers—the king’s, or those of a rich banking family like the Fuggers or the Medicis—traveling fairly short distances on safe and well-maintained roads in good weather with fit horses and changing horses on each leg of their journey. Pony Express riders in the United States in 1860-1861 averaged about 75 miles (120 kilometers) a day. Although in the thirteenth century, with numerous horses and riders, Genghis Khan’s messages often covered 180 miles (290 kilometers) a day across the steppes of Central Asia, and by the time of his grandson, Khubilai Khan, messages could cover 300 miles (480 kilometers) per day in emergencies. The Travels of Marco Polo, translated by William Marsden, edited by Thomas Wright, Orion Press, 1958.
[“Norman spoon in English dish”]
Ivanhoe, Walter Scott, 1825, American Book Company, Reprint Edition, 1904, page 276.
[Norman slaughter of rebels]
The Normans fought for nearly 30 years to bring rebellions to an end. They only truly conquered England by 1093. “[T]he English were groaning under the Norman yoke and suffering oppressions from the proud lords who ignored the king’s injunctions. The petty lords who were guarding the castles oppressed all the native inhabitants of high and low degree, and heaped shameful burdens on them. For Bishop Odo and William fitz Osbern, the king’s viceregents, were so swollen with pride that they would not deign to hear the reasonable plea of the English or give them impartial judgement. When their men-at-arms were guilty of plunder and rape they protected them by force, and wreaked their wrath all the more violently upon those who complained of the cruel wrongs they suffered.” Historia Ecclesiastica, Orderic (Ordericus Vitalis), Book IV, written around 1125, The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis, Volume II, Marjorie Chibnall (translator and editor), Oxford University Press, 1969, page 203. Orderic, born in 1075 near Shrewsbury, was of the first generation of Normans to follow William the Bastard’s invasion of 1066, although he spent nearly all his life (after age 10) in a French monastery, so much of his work is second- or third-hand.
[‘just price’ theory is old]
As with many statements in the text, this is a simplification. From Aristotle on to medieval times, several European philosophers and clerics, including Aquinas, recognized that there is a subjective aspect to prices, that both supply and demand mattered. Medieval Economic Thought, Diana Wood, Cambridge University Press, 2002, Chapter 6. “The Concept of the Just Price: Theory and Economic Policy,” R. de Roover, Journal of Economic History, 18(4):418-434, 1958. However, it wasn’t until the sixteenth century and the enormous inflation and price differentials brought about by Europe’s conquest of the Americas that Europe began to develop a more sophisticated price theory. Diego de Covarrubias y Leiva, soon to be Archbishop of Santo Domingo, put it into words in 1554: “The value of an article does not depend on its essential nature but on the estimation of men, even if that estimation be foolish. Thus in the Indies, wheat is dearer than in Spain because men esteem it more highly, though the nature of the wheat is the same in both places.” The School of Salamanca: Readings in Spanish Monetary Theory 1544-1605, Marjorie Grice-Hutchinson, Clarendon Press, 1952, page 48.
[demise of Islam in Europe]
Toledo fell in 1095. Other Islamic cities fell soon after, most before 1200. But don’t come away with the belief that Europeans copied everything they found, consider this. In Granada in 1499, Francisco Ximénes de Cisneros, Archbishop of Toledo, father-confessor of Queen Isabella, and soon to be head of the growing Spanish Inquisition, had about five thousand Arabic books burnt in a great public bonfire. He saved about 30 or 40 medical books. “Cisneros y la Quema de los Manuscritos Granadinos,” D. Eisenberg, Journal of Hispanic Philology, 16(2):107-124, 1992.
[European warming]
By Godric’s time, Europe’s weather had been warming for over two centuries in a climate phase we now call the Medieval Warm Period. It lasted from about 800 to about 1200, giving way to the Little Ice Age, which then brought on Europe’s Great Famine in 1314. “Climate over past millennia,” P. D. Jones, M. E. Mann, Reviews of Geophysics, 42(RG2002):404-405, 2004.

The time period coincides with the Viking incursions into the rest of Europe. So perhaps the Vikings were marauding then because of northern Europe’s warming climate. That warming kept the north seas ice-free all year round, but it also changed northern Europe’s farming.

[The horse collar and nailed horseshoe increased crop yields]
Since Roman times, horse collars choked horses when pulling heavy loads. The new horse collar took the weight off the horse’s neck and put it on the horses’s shoulders, thus relieving it of the threat of strangulation. Since a horse can work for about 3 hours more per day than an ox, animal power no longer was the limiting factor in food production. Land was. The word ‘acre’ originates from that time; it’s the amount of land a horse can plow in one day. The Medieval Machine: The Industrial Revolution of the Middle Ages, Jean Gimpel, Penguin, 1976. The nailed horseshoe is itself also an important technology, necessary because horses evolved on the steppes, not the heavy wet soils they found themselves on under domestication in northern Europe. The hoof, instead of wearing properly to a hard nub, grew and split, which led to bleeding and unstable footing.
[medieval silver strikes]
Money and its Use in Medieval Europe, Peter Spufford, Cambridge University Press, 1988, particularly pages 119-125.
[minted silver in medieval England and Europe]
“The Volume of the English Currency, 1158-1470,” M. Allen, The Economic History Review, 54(4):595-611, 2001. “The English Inflation of 1180-1220 Reconsidered,” P. Latimer, Past and Present, 171(1):3-29, 2001. A New History of the Royal Mint, C. E. Challis (editor), Cambridge University Press, 1993, especially Chapter 2. Money and its Use in Medieval Europe, Peter Spufford, Cambridge University Press, 1988, especially Chapter 5.
[twelfth-century technology]
Over the past century Europe had built up its arms enough to deter the Vikings raiding from the north and to attack the Muslims settled in the south. By 1100, the Vikings had mostly stopped making pests of themselves and turned into taxpayers. By 1200, the Muslims had lost most of their grip on southern Spain. To Europe’s east, the Magyars settled in and stopped pillaging. Then the Mongols also called it a day for a bit. (Though they came back for more fun in 1241.) A new textile tool also came to Europe around then (again via the Muslims): the horizontal loom. Then came the spinning wheel (yet again via the Muslims). Both came all the way from China, where all our best high-tech was.

With Europe’s new books, weather, currency, tools, food, numbers—and safety—machinery grew. Europe began to put the old Roman waterwheel to new uses—running furnaces and forges, beating textile fibers, fulling cloth, making beer and wine and glass. It even had a few windmills already in use (in Normandy and England). Towns grew. So did trade. Fat new ships plied fat new trade routes. New roads and bridges appeared. And in rich monasteries like Canterbury, huge new Gothic cathedrals soared. Europe began to phase change into industry. But it wasn’t industry based on the steam engine—that was still five centuries into the future. It was based on the waterwheel.

Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages, Frances and Joseph Gies, HarperCollins, 1996. The Maze of Ingenuity: Ideas and Idealism in the Development of Technology, Arnold Pacey, Second Edition, MIT press, 1992. The Medieval Machine: The Industrial Revolution of the Middle Ages, Jean Gimpel, Penguin, 1976.

[the ‘just price’ idea in New England]
The Boston shopkeeper was named Robert Keayne. “Why is There a Conflict Between Business and Religion? A Historical Perspective,” K. E. Schmiesing, in Business And Religion: A Clash of Civilizations? Nicholas Capaldi (editor), M & M Scrivener Press, 2005, pages 90-99, especially pages 91-94. The Journal of John Winthrop, 1630-1649, John Winthrop, Richard S. Dunn and Laetitia Yeandle (editors), Harvard University Press, 1996, pages 305-309.

Bright Lights, Big Cities

[two can live as cheaply as 1.4]
The figure of 1.4 wasn’t plucked out of the air. It’s the current Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimate for couples living in rich countries. Pensions at a Glance 2009: Retirement-Income Systems in OECD Countries, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2009, page 56.
[city highway growth]
The number of highways in a city rises slower than does the city’s surface area (it scales roughly as the 3/4th power of the surface area). However, the number of highway exits rises faster than does the city’s surface area (it scales roughly as the 9/8th power of the surface area). That data is empirical and was taken from a study of cities in the United States varying in size from about 10 thousand to about 10 million. “Common scaling laws for city highway systems and the mammalian neocortex,” M. A. Changizi, M. Destefano, Complexity, 15(3):11-18, 2009.
[growth dynamics of entrepreneurs and firms in cities]
This study belongs to a new branch of economics sometimes dubbed ‘geographic economics’ or sometimes ‘economic geography.’ It deals with the spatial effects of economic activity and the effects of location on economic activity. “Rethinking human capital, creativity and urban growth,” M. Storper, A. J. Scott, Journal of Economic Geography, 9(2):147-167, 2009. “Why So Many Local Entrepreneurs?” C. Michelacci, O. Silva, Review of Economics & Statistics, 89(4):615-633, 2007. “Homegrown Solutions: Fostering Cluster Formation,” M. P. Feldman, J. L. Francis, Economic Development Quarterly, 18(2):127-137, 2004. “Scale Economies and the Geographic Concentration of Industry,” G. H. Hanson, Journal of Economic Geography, 1(3):255-276, 2001. “Space: The Final Frontier,” P. Krugman, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 12(2):161-174, 1998. “How the Economy Organizes Itself in Space: A Survey of the New Economic Geography,” P. Krugman, in The Economy As an Evolving Complex System II, Proceedings Volume XXVII, W. Brian Arthur, Steven R. Durlauf, and David A. Lane (editors), Addison-Wesley, 1997, pages 239-262. “Complex Landscapes in Economic Geography,” P. Krugman, American Economic Review, 84(2):412-16, 1994.
[city wealth grows faster than linearly]
Some potential measures of wealth, like number of patents, personal income, and spending on research and development, seem to grow faster then linearly with city size. “Similar increases apply to almost every socioeconomic quantity, from innovation rates and rhythms of human behavior to incidence of crime and infectious diseases. They express a continuous and systematic acceleration of socioeconomic processes with increasing numbers of people, so that larger cities produce and spend wealth faster, create new ideas more frequently and suffer from greater incidence of crime all approximately to the same degree.” From: “Urban Scaling and Its Deviations: Revealing the Structure of Wealth, Innovation and Crime across Cities,” L. M. A. Bettencourt, J. Lobo, D. Strumsky, G. B. West, Public Library of Science, One, 5(11):e13541, 2010. See also: “The Self Similarity of Human Social Organization and Dynamics in Cities,” L. M. A. Bettencourt, J. Lobo, G. B. West, and “Innovation Cycles and Urban Dynamics,” D. Pumain, F. Paulus, C. Vacchiani-Marcuzzo, in Complexity Perspectives in Innovation and Social Change, David Lane, Sander Ernst Van Der Leeuw, Denise Pumain, and Geoffrey West (editors), Springer, 2009, pages 221-236 and 237-262. “The Size, Scale, and Shape of Cities,” M. Batty, Science, 319(5864):769-771, 2008. “Growth, innovation, scaling, and the pace of life in cities,” L. M. A. Bettencourt, J. Lobo, D. Helbing, C. Kühnert, G. B. West, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(17):7301-7306, 2007. “Urban Land Area and Population Growth: A New Scaling Relationship for Metropolitan Expansion,” J. D. Marshall, Urban Studies, 44(10):1889-1904, 2007.
[moving to a city is equal to jacking into the world grid]
Hardly a new idea. For example: “If to prevent trade were to stimulate industry and promote prosperity, then the localities where he was most isolated would show the first advances of man. The natural protection to home industry afforded by rugged mountain chains, by burning deserts, or by seas too wide and tempestuous for the frail bark of the early mariner, would have given us the first glimmerings of civilization and shown its most rapid growth. But, in fact, it is where trade could best be carried on that we find wealth first accumulating and civilization beginning. It is on accessible harbors, by navigable rivers and much traveled highways that we find cities arising and the arts and sciences developing. And as trade becomes free and extensive—as roads are made and navigation improved; as pirates and robbers are extirpated and treaties of peace put an end to chronic warfare—so does wealth augment and civilization grow. All our great labor saving inventions, from that of money to that of the steam engine, spring from trade and promote its extension. Trade has ever been the extinguisher of war, the eradicator of prejudice, the diffuser of knowledge. It is by trade that useful seeds and animals, useful arts and inventions, have been carried over the world, and that men in one place have been enabled not only to obtain the products, but to profit by the observations, discoveries and inventions of men in other places.” Protection or Free Trade: An Examination of the Tariff Question, with especial regard to the Interests of Labor, Henry George, Henry George, 1887, pages 56-57.
[over a billion squatters]
Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World, Robert Newuwirth, Routledge, 2005.
[infant mortality in Brazil]
World Development Report 2006: Equity and Development, The World Bank, 2005, page 55.
[subway stops don’t cause poverty, they attract poverty]
“Why Do the Poor Live in Cities? The role of public transportation,” E. L. Glaeser, M. E. Kahn, J. Rappaport, Journal of Urban Economics, 63(1):1-24, 2008.
[rich metropolitan areas in the United States versus countries in 2012]
U.S. Metro Economies: Outlook – Gross Metropolitan Product, with Metro Employment Projections, Including International and State Comparisons, November 2013 IHS Global Insight (USA), Inc., 2013, page 9.
[the pull of city life]
Urban dwellers have different opportunities and different consumption patterns than rural dwellers. Regardless of income level, urban dwellers have fewer kids, eat more and better food, and consume more energy and durable goods. Of course, all that demand has costs as well. World Development Report 2009: Reshaping Economic Geography, The World Bank, 2009, pages 48-72. “Consumption Patterns: The Driving Force of Environmental Stress,” J. K. Parikh, S. Gokam, J. P. Painuly, B. Saha, V. Shukla, The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, 1991. “Impact of Trends in Resources, Environment and Development on Demographic Prospects,” N. Keyfitz, in Population and Resources in a Changing World, Kingsley Davis, Mikhail S. Bernstam, and Helen M. Sellers (editors), Stanford University Press, 1989. For example, in the 1980s, China’s urban households compared to rural households were twice as likely to have a TV; they were eight times more likely to have a washing machine; and 25 times more likely to have a fridge. Consumer Demand in China: A Statistical Factbook, Jeffrey R. Taylor and Karen A. Hardee, Westview Press, 1986. See also: Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier, Edward Glaeser, Penguin, 2011. Cities Transformed: Demographic Change and its Implications in the Developing World, National Research Council, National Academies Press, 2003.
[urban proportion of GDP]
“[M]ost of the growth in economic activities in all regions of the world over the last 50–100 years has been in urban centres. Today, around 97 per cent of the world’s GDP is generated by industry and services and around 65 per cent of the world’s economically active population works in industry and services – and a very high proportion of all industry and services are in urban areas. For low- and middle-income nations, around 90 per cent of GDP is from industry and services – and around half the labour force works in industry and services.” From: “The Transition to a Predominantly Urban World and its Underpinnings,” D. Satterthwaite, Working Paper Series Urban Change Number 4, International Institute for Environment and Development, 2007, page 28.

“Flows of capital, labour, technology and information have supported the growth of world trade from US$579 billion in 1980 to US$6.272 trillion in 2004, an increase of 11 times. Trade in goods has become an increasing share of the GDPs of national economies, rising from 32.5 per cent in 1990 to 40 per cent in 2001.... the location of infrastructure investment is an important determinant in the quality of housing, education and other services. A study of infrastructure investment in Buenos Aires from 1991 to 1997 concluded that 11.5 per cent of the population received 68 per cent of investment, leading to the observation that the city is, in fact, five cities, each with different levels and quality of infrastructure and public services.” State of the World’s Cities 2004/5, Globalization and Urban Culture, UN-Habitat (The United Nations Human Settlement Programme), 2004.

Of course, no city can get arbitrarily rich. Suppose a crazy billionaire comes to a city to start a company and decides to pay every new hire a million dollars a month. What would happen? The cost of high-end housing would jump to about half a million dollars a month. The cost of exotic food, of, um, entertainment, of expensive transport would jump (or imports of them would jump), and so on. Rents for everything would jump. The city as a whole would get richer, but the cost of living there would also rise. We know this because that’s just what has happened time after time, whenever there was a gold rush, silver strike, oil boom, or anything like that, anywhere and anywhen. The crazy billionaire would just be yet another gold mine.

[size of earlier big cities]
Size of eleventh-century Baghdad: World Cities: -3000 to 2000, George Modelski, Faros, 2003. Size of seventeenth-century Edo (today’s Tokyo): The Origins of Japanese Trade Supremacy: Development and Technology in Asia from 1540 to the Pacific War, Christopher Howe, Hurst, 1996, page 55. Size of eighth-century Chang’an (today’s Xi’an): Encyclopedia of Asian History, Volume I, Ainslee T. Embree, Robin J. Lewis, Richard W. Bulliet, Edward L. Farmer, Marius B. Jansen, David S. Lelyveld, and David K. Wyatt (editors), Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1988, page 320.
[8,000 London migrants in 1700]
1700: Scenes from London Life, Maureen Waller, Hodder & Stoughton, 2000. Some of those migrants were foreign: Immigrants and the Industries of London, 1500-1700, Liên Luu, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2005, page 34.
[Roman life expectancy]
Structure & Scale in the Roman Economy, Richard Duncan-Jones, Cambridge University Press, 2002, Chapter 6, especially page 103. “Roman Demography,” B. W. Frier, in Life, death, and entertainment in the Roman Empire, D. S. Potter and D. J. Mattingly (editors), University of Michigan Press, 1999, pages 85-109. The Ancient Roman City, John E. Stambaugh, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988, page 337, footnote 3.
[urbanization, 1800 to 2050]
State of World Population 2011: People and Possibilities in a World of 7 Billion, United Nations Population Fund, 2011, pages 2-3. World Urbanization Prospects: The 2009 Revision, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2010. In 1800, around a thousand million of us were alive but only 2 percent of us were urban. In 1950, nearly three thousand million of us were alive and about 30 percent of us were urban. In 2010, almost seven thousand million of us were alive with over half of us urban. By 2035, over 8.57 thousand million of us will likely be alive and over six in ten of us will likely be urban. By 2045, nearly nine thousand million of us will likely be alive and over two in three of us will likely be urban. Urbanization data is imprecise because the definition of ‘urban’ varies from place to place. However, in 2010 in the Americas and the Caribbean, about 80 percent of us were urban. In Oceania and Europe, about 70 percent of us were. In Asia and Africa, about 40 percent, and rising, of us were. (More precisely: Africa - 40 percent; Asia - 42.2 percent; Oceania - 70.2 percent; Europe - 72.8 percent; Latin America and the Caribbean - 79.6; Northern America - 82.1 percent.)
[rising urbanization, 1950 to 2009]
World Urbanization Prospects: The 2009 Revision, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2010, page 3.

Nor is that because we spawned more in cities than in the countryside. We’re fleeing the countryside. From 1950 to 2009, our numbers rose 2.7-fold while our urban numbers rose 4.7-fold. In 2000, more of us lived in Greater Tokyo than lived in all of Kenya, even though Kenya was 42 times larger. Nor was that just because Japan was rich, or an archipelago. Mongolia was poor, land-locked, and over half a million square miles wide—yet two in every five of us there crowded into its capital, Ulan Bator. Since 1960, over 40 percent of our urban growth has not been because of rising urban birth rates but via rural flight to urban areas. “People Who Move: New Reproductive Health Focus,” R. Gardner, R. Blackburn, Population Reports, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Population Information Program, 24(3):1-27, 1996. “Fertility and Family Planning in African Cities: The Impact of Female Migration,” M. Brockerhoff, Journal of Biosocial Science, 27(3):347-358, 1995.

Greater Tokyo versus Kenya in 2000: The area ratio with Kenya takes the Metro definition of Greater Tokyo, which is its largest extent. The Kenya population figures for 1999 are from: Kenya Census 2009, Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, 2010. Population of Ulan Bator and Mongolia: World Population Prospects: The 2008 Revision, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2008, Table A.1. “Ulan Bator Statistic Bulletin,” December, 2008.

[Tokyo and Delhi in 2009]
World Urbanization Prospects: The 2009 Revision, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2010, page 6.
[Hong Kong-Shenhzen-Guangzhou region home to about 120 million in 2008]
State of the World’s Cities 2008/2009: Harmonious Cities, UN-Habitat (The United Nations Human Settlement Programme), 2008.
[distribution of city sizes]
Greater Tokyo and Delhi are large, but not all big cities are that large. The distribution of city sizes follows Zipf’s law (in economics it’s more often called a Pareto distribution; in bibliometrics, it’s called Bradford’s law), which in mathematics is called a power law. (It’s called a power law because element frequency is determined by some power of a variable.) Power law distributions are highly skewed. The most frequent elements are far more frequent than the next most frequent elements, and so on down to the least frequent. “Zipf’s law for cities: An explanation,” X. Gabaix, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 114(3):739-767, 1999.

The distribution of the firm sizes also follows Zipf’s law. “Zipf Distribution of U.S. Firm Sizes,” Science, 293(5536):1818-1820, 2001.

National incomes also obey a power law: “Power Law Scaling in the World Income Distribution,” C. Di Guilmi, E. Gaffeo, M. Gallegati, Economics Bulletin, 15(6):1-7, 2003. In the paper, ‘middle-income’ means countries with GDP between the 30th and the 85th percentiles. That is, all countries but the very richest (which mostly means North America, Japan, and Europe) and very poorest (which mostly means African countries).

There’s a related scaling result, called Kleiber’s law, when it comes to living organisms, but it was recently shown, after almost 80 years, to be in doubt. It predicted a power law with an exponent of about 3/4 for homeotherms (like mammals and birds) but the exponent may be closer to 2/3rds. This has led to a fair amount of feather-ruffling among theorists. But whatever the real exponent, it’s still a power law. “Optimal Form of Branching Supply and Collection Networks,” P. S. Dodds, Physical Review Letters, 104(4):048702, 2010.

For a more general result (perhaps applicable to anything with a metabolism, which might be said to include nations, cities, firms, and such), see: “The Self Similarity of Human Social Organization and Dynamics in Cities,” L. M. A. Bettencourt, J. Lobo, G. B. West, in Complexity Perspectives in Innovation and Social Change, David Lane, Sander Ernst Van Der Leeuw, Denise Pumain, and Geoffrey West (editors), Springer, 2009, pages 221-236. “Sizing Up Allometric Scaling Theory,” V. M. Savage, E. J. Deeds, W. Fontana, Public Library of Science, Computational Biology, 4(9):e1000171, 2008. “Growth, innovation, and the pace of life in cities,” L. M. A. Bettencourt, J. Lobo, D. Helbing, C. Kühnert, G. B. West, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(17):7301-7306, 2007. The key conjecture is the following from the original paper: “We conjecture that organisms have been selected to maximize fitness by maximizing metabolic capacity, namely, the rate at which energy and material resources are taken up from the environment and allocated to some combination of survival and reproduction. This is equivalent to maximizing the scaling of whole-organism metabolic rate, B. It follows that B is limited by the geometry and scaling behavior of the total effective surface area, a, across which nutrients and energy are exchanged with the external or internal environment. Examples include the total leaf area of plants, the area of absorptive gut or capillary surface area of animals, and the total area of mitochondrial inner membranes within cells.” “The Fourth Dimension of Life: Fractal Geometry and Allometric Scaling of Organisms,” G. B. West, J. H. Brown, B. J. Enquist, Science, 284(5420):1677-1679, 1999.

But before rushing off into la-la land, scientists need to be cautious. Ecology as a whole might be moving toward a unifying theory, the so-called metabolic theory of ecology. The idea is to try to establish that metabolism is to ecology roughly as genetics is to evolution. This has great potential, but also potential pitfalls. “Testing the metabolic theory of ecology,” C. A. Price, J. S. Weitz, V. M. Savage, J. Stegen, A. Clarke, D. A. Coomes, P. S. Dodds, R. S. Etienne, A. J. Kerkhoff, K. McCulloh, K. J. Niklas, H. Olff, N. G. Swenson, J. Chave, Ecology Letters, 15(12):1465-1474, 2012. “Testing the Metabolic Theory of Ecology: Allometric Scaling Exponents in Mammals,” R. P. Duncan, D. M. Forsyth, J. Hone, Ecology, 88(2):324–333, 2007. “Allometric scaling laws of metabolism,” J. K. Leal da Silva, G. J. M. Garcia, L. A. Barbosa, Physics of Life Reviews, 3(4):229-261, 2006. “The origin of allometric scaling laws in biology from genomes to ecosystems: towards a quantitative unifying theory of biological structure and organization,” G. B. West, J. H. Brown, Journal of Experimental Biology, 208(9):1575-1592, 2005. “Ecology’s Big, Hot Idea,” J. Whitfield, Public Library of Science, Biology, 2(12):e440, 2004. “A General Model for the Origin of Allometric Scaling Laws in Biology,” G. B. West, J. H. Brown, B. J. Enquist, Science, 276(5309):122-126, 1997.

[London as an organism]
Seeing a city as an organism is hardly an original idea. Aristotle, among others (including Plato, his tutor), saw the city as an organism. Near the beginning of Aristotle’s Politics he observes that: “He who thus considers things in their first growth and origin, whether a state or anything else, will obtain the clearest view of them.” Politics, Aristotle, Book I, Part II, Benjamin Jowett Translation, 1885, Dover, Reprint Edition, 2000, page 26.
[London statistics as of 2000]
These statistics are hard to come by. Only recently has anyone even thought to compile them in one place and that effort is not yet complete. There’s lots of data on a per-person or per-country basis, but very little on a per-city basis (and even less on a per-region basis). Plus, while there’s a lot of data, getting current data, and getting it all together in one place, is hard. Also, whole sectors are unmeasured (or under-reported) by city government, although the Greater London Authority is one of the first to make a stab at this. The figures in the text are thus intended to give a rough idea only. They are accurate to within an order of magnitude though. No other city in the world has yet undertaken this effort. City Limits: A Resource Flow and Ecological Footprint Analysis of Greater London, Best Foot Forward Limited, 2002. For explanations about why so many figures are missing or proxied and for warnings about using the above booklet as a basis for policy, see: London’s Ecological Footprint: A review, Greater London Authority, June 2003.

See also data from other reports that gave such data without citation. Monthly Digest of Statistics, Office of National Statistics, July 2009. Britain from Above, Ian Harrison and Andrew Marr, (a BBC documentary that aired in August, 2008), Pavilion, 2008. Focus on London 2007, Office of National Statistics, 2007. The Urban Environment, Twenty-Sixth Report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, The Stationery Office, 2007. Drought in London, July 2006, Health and Public Services Committee, London Assembly, 2006. The London Plan: Spatial Development Strategy for Greater London, Greater London Authority, 2004. Access to Primary Care, A Joint London Assembly and Mayor of London Scrutiny Report, The Access to Primary Care Advisory Committee, 2003. Planning for London’s Growth, Greater London Authority, 2002. 1992-2002 Annual Abstract of Statistics, Bank of England, 2002.

For lack of London-specific data in some areas, the text proxies it based on total British figures (for example, for the number of British Telecom phone calls per hour, or the cash flow per day, or the M0 of the Bank of England) then divides that by the ratio of London’s population to Britain’s total population. That is almost surely aa serious underestimate of the actual figures since London is richer and denser and more business-oriented than most of the rest of Britain.

Finally, the figures are for a spread of dates over about a decade, roughly from 1997 to 2008.

[first fresh milk in New York in decades]
Thomas Selleck began the railway import of fresh Orange County milk into New York City in 1841, just six months after the New York and Erie Railroad opened. At the time, the city lived principally on ‘swill milk’ (also called ‘still-slop milk’), the highly adulterated and watered-down product of sickly, and often diseased, cows fed on slops produced by beer and whiskey distilleries in the city. There were only about 18,000 such cows. All others had vanished from the city long before. Swill milk was so weak it wouldn’t make butter or cheese. And when boiled, it smelled of beer. It was also often blue, so the distillers added things like starch, flour, or even chalk to whiten it. They also added water to make up volume. They sold it as ‘Pure Country Milk.’ But it was cheap, so the business stayed profitable for decades after real milk was available. In the 1890s, certified country milk might cost 25 cents a quart. Swill milk cost between 6 and 9 cents a quart. (At the time, a day laborer might make $1 a day. A clerk might make $2 to $3.33 a day.) So perhaps 6,000 distillery cows still existed as late as 1904. The business only ended in 1930. Other cities, like Chicago, were similar. Pure Food: Securing the Federal Food and Drugs Act of 1906, James Harvey Young, Princeton University Press, 1989, pages 35-39. “A History of the Purification of Milk in New York: or, ‘How Now Brown Cow,’ ” N. Shaftel, New York State Journal of Medicine, 58(6):911-928, 1958. Between the Ocean and the Lakes: The Story of Erie, Edward Harold Mott, Collins, 1899, pages 406-409. Memorial of Robert Milham Hartley, Isaac Smithson Hartley, Curtiss & Childs, 1882, Ayer Publishing, Reprint Edition, 1976, Chapter 9. An Historical, Scientific, and Practical Essay on Milk, as an article of Human Sustenance; with a consideration of the Effects consequent upon the present Unnatural Methods of producing it for the Supply of Large Cities, Robert M. Hartley, J. Leavitt, 1842, Arno Press, Reprint Edition, 1977.
[urban technology]
“Growth, innovation, and the pace of life in cities,” L. M. A. Bettencourt, J. Lobo, D. Helbing, C. Kühnert, G. B. West, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(17):7301-7306, 2007. “Gig@city: The Rise of Technological Networks in Daily Life,” D. Lorrain, in Sustaining Urban Networks: The Social Diffusion of Large Technical Systems, Olivier Coutard, Richard E. Hanley, and Rae Zimmerman (editors), Routledge, 2005, pages 15-31. American Cities & Technology: Wilderness to Wired City, Gerrylynn K. Roberts and Philip Steadman (editors), Routledge, 1999, pages 104-124. Cities and Their Vital Systems: Infrastructure Past, Present, and Future, Jesse H. Ausubel and Robert Herman (editors), National Academies Press, 1988.

Lawyers and judges also matter. So does road congestion and external trade. Smog, schools, jobs, all matter too. Many other factors—rivers, available land area, the cost and tensile strength of steel and concrete, and so on—all matter. And they all interact. Plus, we can always argue about definitions and the various purely political ways that a city can grow (for instance, by annexation). But despite all our urban planning, our mayors, our city councils, our earnest debates, our cities grow more like unruly ecosystems than like anything planned. The same is true of our other corporate bodies—our neighborhoods, universities, countries, regions, firms, institutions, governments, markets. They all grow or shrink ecogenetically. As new tools or new lives enter them, they act like ecosystems with new species invading.

[energy and land footprints of London and Hong Kong in 2000]
Making London a Sustainable City: Reducing London’s Ecological Footprint, LondonFirst and London Remade, 2005, page 1. Green Light to Clean Power: The Mayor’s Energy Strategy, Greater London Auhority, 2004, page 8. City Limits: A Resource Flow and Ecological Footprint Analysis of Greater London, Best Foot Forward Limited, 2002, page 6. “Ecosystem appropriation by Hong Kong and its implications for sustainable development,” K. Warren-Rhodes, A. Koenig, Ecological Economics, 39(3):347-359, 2001.
[urban landuse]
“Cities concentrate populations in ways that usually reduce the demand for land relative to population. Valuable agricultural land might be lost to urban expansion, but in most nations the area taken up by cities and towns is less than 1 per cent of their total surface area.” “The Transition to a Predominantly Urban World and its Underpinnings,” D. Satterthwaite, Working Paper Series Urban Change Number 4, International Institute for Environment and Development, 2007, page 61.

Although the overall percentage of land being used by cities and industry is tiny compared to farm use, cities grow where we first settled, which originally meant the most arable land. So although cities consume far less land than farms, they still cover a significant fraction of arable farmland. How much exactly is unknown. “Assessing the Impact of Urban Sprawl on Soil Resources in the United States Using Nighttime ‘City Lights’ Satellite Images and Digital Soils Maps,” M. L. Imhoff, W. T. Lawrence, D. Stutzer, C. Elvidge, Perspectives on the Land-Use History of North America: a Context for Understanding our Changing Environment, T. D. Sisk (editor), United States Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division, Biological Science Report USGS/BRD/BSR 1998-0003, Revised 1999.

In Britain, however, paving covers only a small proportion of the land. “More than 6.8% of the UK’s land area is now classified as urban” (a definition of ‘urban’ that includes rural development and roads). The UK National Ecosystem Assessment: Synthesis of the Key Findings UK National Ecosystem Assessment, 2011, page 75.

[cities as slime molds]
That’s only a metaphor, but not a completely idle one. It can be literally true at least for cities and transportation networks (roads and railways). “Road planning with slime mould: If Physarum built motorways it would route M6/M74 through Newcastle,” A. Adamatzky, J. Jones, International Journal of Bifurcation and Chaos, 20(10):3065–3084, 2010. “Rules for Biologically Inspired Adaptive Network Design,” A. Tero, S. Takagi, T. Saigusa, K. Ito, D. P. Bebber, M. D. Fricker, K. Yumiki, R. Kobayashi, T. Nakagaki, Science, 327(5964):439-442, 2010. The Social Amoebae: The Biology of Cellular Slime Molds, John Tyler Bonner, Princeton University Press, 2009.
[future gigacities?]
Our attitudes to the future matter, so altering the price of children was one of the key changes for us both in our phase change from foraging to farming, and then from farming to industry. Is yet another phase change based on yet another change in the price of children ahead for us? Perhaps. One possible cause of future change might be a new kind of city that’s taking shape right now. It’s not a megacity with a few million of us in one place, but a gigacity with a couple thousand million of us in one ‘space.’ Half of us are now urban, but not all of us living in cities are yet rich enough to live in such a digital gigacity. However our digital tools are dropping in price by the hour. Not too long from now, perhaps three thousand million of us may work and play in that digital gigacity. And given our current population distribution, half that three thousand million may be children. A new kind of workforce might well be coming if we lower legal working ages as a result. If so, our children’s economic costs and benefits may again change. Maybe we’ll start making lots of them again, even in our rich world.
[London congestion]
As of 2003, drivers had to pay £5 (£8 since 2005) to enter Central London, then parts of West London. The number of entering cars dropped by 14 to 21 percent. But congestion is now back to where it was before. Central London Congestion Charging: Impacts Monitoring, Sixth Annual Report, July 2008, Transport for London, 2008.

For Braess’s Paradox, and other failures of otherwise seemingly intuitively obvious network traffic congestion reduction in general, see: “How Bad Is Selfish Routing?” T. Roughgarden, E. Tardos, Journal of the ACM, 49(2):236–259, 2002.

The Non-Elephant in the Living Room

[trying to save downtown]
Unintended consequences from temporarily freezing rents, or the more serious use of complete rent control, is well-known in urban planning (for example, the case of New York and of California). But more generally, Forrester, who started the field of system dynamics (and who also invented the flight simulator in 1944), below reports on a model of urban housing that showed several counter-intuitive results, all of them completely sensible when the real variables and feedback loops are understood. But most of us either don’t see them or don’t understand them or don’t wish to understand them. He notes that “It is my basic theme that the human mind is not adapted to interpreting how social systems behave. Our social systems belong to the class called multi-loop nonlinear feedback systems. In the long history of evolution it has not been necessary for man to understand these systems until very recent historical times. Evolutionary processes have not given us the mental skill needed to properly interpret the dynamic behavior of the systems of which we have now become a part.” “Counterintuitive Behavior of Social Systems,” J. W. Forrester, Technology Review, 73(3):53-68, 1971. See also: “System Dynamics and the Lessons of 35 Years,” J. W. Forrester, in A Systems-Based Approach to Policy Making, Kenyon B. De Greene (editor), Springer (originally Kluwer), 1993, pages 199-240.

For another example, a German city once decided to do something about the problem of noise and air pollution in its downtown shopping area. The mayor and city councillors reduced speed limits and added speedbumps to ensure compliance. Citizens applauded. But drivers spent more time negotiating downtown, so noise and air pollution increase. Aggravated by the new problems, shoppers started going to suburban malls. Downtown businesses went bankrupt. City taxes plummeted. And, thanks to the new speedbumps, noise and air pollution remained downtown. The original problem had grown worse. The Logic of Failure: Why Things Go Wrong and What We Can Do To Make Them Right, Dietrich Dörner, translated by Rita and Robert Kimber, Henry Holt and Company, 1996.

See also: Wicked Problems - Social Messes: Decision Support Modelling With Morphological Analysis, Tom Ritchey, Springer, 2011. How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities, John Cassidy, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009. Thinking in Systems: A Primer, Donella H. Meadows, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Random House, 2007. Why Most things Fail: Evolution, Extinction and Economics, Paul Ormerod, Pantheon Books, 2005. Dialogue Mapping: Building Shared Understanding of Wicked Problems, Jeff Conklin, Wiley, 2005. Business Dynamics: Systems Thinking and Modeling for a Complex World, John D. Sterman, McGraw-Hill, 2000. System Effects: Complexity in Political and Social Life, Robert Jervis, Princeton University Press, 1997. Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences, Edward Tenner, Knopf, 1996.

[the bullwhip effect in supply chains]
Also called the whiplash or whipsaw effect in supply chain management. “Network-induced oscillatory behavior in material flow networks and irregular business cycles,” D. Helbing, U. Witt, S. Lämmer, T. Brenner, Physical Review E, 70(5):056118, 2004. “The Bullwhip Effect in Supply Chains,” H. L. Lee, V. Padmanabhan, S. Whang, MIT Sloan Management Review, 38(3):93-102, 1997.
[use of the word ‘non-elephant’]
We inherited the terms ‘linear’ and ‘non-linear’ from math and physics because until computers existed, those fields mostly only studied linear equations, linear differential equations, and linearly separable systems. Everything else was too hard. Today, though, our computers are helping us simulate and analyze more complex reaction networks. Almost all of them are non-linear. But there is no clear definition of just what ‘non-linear’ means.

The term ‘non-linear’ originates with a mathematician, Stanislaw Ulam, circa 1950. He’s reported to have said that using the term ‘non-linear science’ was like calling the bulk of zoology ‘the study of non-elephants.’ “Experimental Mathematics: The Role of Computation in Nonlinear Science,” D. Campbell, D. Farmer, J. Crutchfield, E. Jen, Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery, 28(4):374-384, 1985.

When we think about the world around us, we often assume ceteris paribus, Latin for ‘all else being the same.’ In reality, though, it’s cetera desunt, ‘all else is missing.’ In non-linear networks, ceteris is never paribus. Ecologists have long had to face this chasm separating what we think will happen and what actually happens.

[large bailouts can encourage capital flight]
In July 1998 the International Monetary Fund began a bailout of Russia with a first tranche bond sale valued at $4.8 thousand million U.S. Within days, the money appeared in offshore banks in Cyprus and Switzerland. Russia’s currency collapsed, and a banking crisis followed. Globalization and its Discontents, Joseph E. Stiglitz, W. W. Norton & Company, 2003, page 150.
[layers of meaning of a bailout]
The last layer is called ‘moral hazard’ in insurance (and now economics). “Moral Hazard: A Question of Morality?” A. E. Dembe, L. I. Boden, New Solutions, 10(3):257-279, 2000. Essentially, if something is insured against failure, we sometimes act so as to increase the chance of failure, thereby either negating the extra protection or passing on extra risk to someone else. An example might be antilock brakes. Drivers of cars with them alter their driving behavior in such a way that overall they don’t significantly increase safety.
[...the long-term result might be world war]
For instance, in 1917 the United States, with its newly large middle class, started selling government bonds to fund its entry into World War I. By 1921, the public had grown used to buying government bonds. So why not try to sell them corporate stocks? Exciting new tech was spreading—cars, planes, radios, fridges, movies—why not buy stock in the firms that made them? Combine a new mass urban populace, with both new wealth and vast financial ignorance, and a decade later you get a massive stock market crash. A liquidity crisis followed. Banks failed. Capital markets shrank. Industry stalled. World trade halved. Jobs fled. Currencies collapsed. Whole countries went bankrupt. World War II followed.

[susceptibility to scams and bubbles]
This reasoning style (‘I’ll do it because others are doing it’) normally is an excellent computational shortcut. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert B. Cialdini, Quill, Revised Edition, 1993. It works well for a lot of things—foraging, for example, or choosing a restaurant, doctor, or dentist—but it doesn’t serve us well in non-linear situations. How Con Games Work, M. Allen Henderson, Citadel Press, 1985. Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns and other Delusions, James Randi, Prometheus Books, 1982. Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, Charles Mackay, 1841, Harmony Book, Reprint Edition, 1980.

Many of us don’t like uncertainty and will do nearly anything to remove it as a possibility. Reasoning and Decision Making, P. N. Johnson-Laird and Eldat Shafir (editors), Blackwell, 1994. Minimal Rationality, Christopher Cherniak, MIT Press, 1986. Decision-Making: A Psychological Analysis of Conflict, Choice, and Commitment, Irving L. Janis and Leon Mann, Free Press, 1977.

In the stock market it’s called ‘The Greater Fool Theory,’ and it goes something like this: ‘I may be a fool, but since I’m induced to buy this stock now, there should be greater fools out there I can sell it to later.’ For some of the extremes this style of reasoning can drive us to see: When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management, Roger Lowenstein, Random House, 2001. Inventing Money: The story of Long-Term Capital Management and the legends behind it, Nicholas Dunbar, John Wiley & Sons, 2000.

Scientists fall for such mental shortcuts, too. Should We Risk It? Exploring Environmental, Health and Technology Problem Solving, Kammen and Hassenzahl, Princeton University Press, 1999. Uncertainty: A Guide to Dealing with Uncertainty in Quantitative Risk and Policy Analysis, M. Granger Morgan and Max Henrion, Cambridge University Press, 1990. “Assessing uncertainty in physical constants,” M. Henrion, B. Fischoff, American Journal of Physics, 54(9):791-797, 1986.

[boom-bust cycles in particular markets]
In essence, the text gives a simplified version of Minsky’s financial instability hypothesis. The essence of it is that the problem is systemic, not individual. Can "It" Happen Again? Essays on Instability and Finance, Hyman P. Minsky, M. E. Sharpe, 1982.

Detractors might argue that the hypothesis is an unholy cross of Austrian economics with Keynesian economics. But the basic idea is very old. See, for example: This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly, Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, Princeton University Press, 2009. The Land that Never Was: Sir Gregor MacGregor and the Most Audacious Fraud in History, David Sinclair, Da Capo Press, 2004. Manias, Panics, and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises, Charles P. Kindleberger, Wiley, Fourth Edition, 2001. Devil Take the Hindmost A History of Financial Speculation, Edward Chancellor, Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1999. Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, Charles Mackay, 1841, Harmony Book, Reprint Edition, 1980.

The same idea (of the mix of strategies changing simply because organisms in the food web get used to and then begin to depend on the stability of the current mix of strategies) is common in ecosystem thinking. “In Quest of a Theory of Adaptive Change,” C. S. Holling, L. Gunderson, D. Ludwig, in Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems, L. H. Gunderson and C. S. Holling (editors), Island Press, 2002, pages 3-24. The idea is also familiar in game theory, and more recently in adaptive algorithms for complex systems: “Evolutionary Stable Strategies: A review of basic theory,” W. G. S. Hines, Theoretical Population Biology, 31(2):195-272, 1987.

[the blame stage]
Then comes the blame stage. If it’s a big enough crash, many of us say that the mess must have been caused by a few greedy, dishonest, insensitive, shortsighted, self-absorbed clods. We’re sure that to be safe next time all we have to do is line them up and shoot them. But adjectives like ‘greedy’ reflect blame, not reality. Anyone can be greedy for anything at any time. So what matters isn’t why someone accepted something, but why someone else offered it. Of course, whenever our latest game of musical chairs inevitably ends, we can always spread blame around based on whoever ends up with really big bags of money, because some of us will and most of us won’t. It might please us to attach words to it, anywhere from ‘negligence’ to ‘malfeasance’ to ‘corruption’ to ‘fraud,’ and there will for sure be a lot of that, but that isn’t why the vast majority of us don’t profit. We don’t profit because we don’t understand the system. However, our core problem isn’t stupidity about finance but ignorance about networks.
[fiscal mismanagement in China 900 years ago]
Of all our nations, China has had, by far, our longest experience with paper money. In 1111 it issued a new paper currency to combat inflation and counterfeiting. But after losing a war in 1127, the state lost most of its bronze reserves. (Bronze coins were the basis of currency in China at the time.) In China, our confidence in the new paper cash began to fall. Then the mints began to fail, so the state began debasing its coins. Our confidence fell further. With coinage debased, counterfeiting rose, so confidence fell yet further. As confidence fell, prices rocketed up. We were in full monetary crisis. In response, moneychangers began issuing their own paper money. Coin began to disapper under mattresses. By 1150 a coin famine was in full swing. Trade then fell, and grain prices fell with it. As peasants, we were caught between deflation on the one hand and mounting taxes on the other. By 1159, the state, trying to combat the cash famine, made hoarding cash a crime. Many moneychangers then went out of business. The state then tried a new issue of paper money, which drove all private paper money out of circulation. But the state, needing money for its army, then printed so much that by 1166 hyperinflation struck. Our money was worthless again. “The Origins of Paper Money in China,” R. Von Glah, in The Origins of Value: The Financial Innovations that Created Modern Capital Markets, William N. Goetzmann and K. Geert Rouwenhorst (editor), Oxford University Press, 2005, pages 71-75.
[forest fires]
The Ecology of Fire, Robert J. Whelan, Cambridge University Press, 1995. See especially pages 128-130. Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences, Edward Tenner, Knopf, 1996, pages 79-82. “Smokey’s Revenge,” C. E. Little, American Forests, 99(5-6):24-25,58-60, 1993.
[hedging financial risk]
A future is a contract to buy or sell something later at a price agreed on today. An option is a contract to buy or sell the right to buy or sell something at a price agreed on today. Both belong to the class of derivatives, so called because they are securities that derive their value from the value of other securities. There can also be options on futures, various kinds of futures swaps, and so on. All derivatives can have huge consequences for economies today as they can leverage vast amounts of economic output with one bet.

For something of the mathematics of Black-Scholes expectation of the valuation of derivatives, see: Traders, Guns & Money: Knowns and unknowns in the dazzling world of derivatives, Satyajit Das, Pearson Education Ltd., 2006. Inventing Money: The Story of Long-Term Capital Management and the Legends Behind It, Nicholas Dunbar, John Wiley & Sons, 2000. Financial Derivatives, Robert W. Kolb, NYIF, 1993.

For an example of how derivatives can destroy even well-established financial institutions, see: When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management, Roger Lowenstein, Random House, 2001. Total Risk: Nick Leeson and the Fall of Barings Bank, Judith H. Rawnsley, HarperBusiness, 1995.

For an amusing book that briefly discusses futures, among other financial matters, see: Eat the Rich: A Treatise on Economics, P. J. O’Rourke, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1998.

The Price of Life

[South Korea about as poor as Ghana in 1963]
Korea’s per capita income level in 1961 is given as $82 U.S. versus Ghana’s $179 U.S. in: Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism, Ha-Joon Chang, Bloomsbury Press, 2007, page 3. However, their rough equality in 1963 per capita income levels is stated in several other references. Cultural Liberty in Today’s Diverse World, Human Development Report, 2004, United Nations Development Programme, 2004, especially page 19. “Ghana and South Korea: Explaining Development Disparities—An Essay in Honor of Carl Rosberg,” H. H. Werlin, Journal of Asian and African Studies, 29(3-4):205-225, 1994. “Third World Economic Development,” C. Crook, in The Fortune Encyclopedia of Economics, David Henderson (editor), Warner Books, 1993. “Ghana and South Korea: Lessons from world bank case studies,” H. Werlin, Public Administration and Development, 11(3):245–255, 1991.
[South Korea about as rich as Canada in 2007]
In 2007, the International Monetary Fund estimated that GDP (PPP) in Canada was $1,265,838, while in South Korea it was $1,200,879, making them 13th and 14th in the world. The United States Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook estimated Canada at $1,266,000 and South Korea at $1,201,000, again making them 13th and 14th in world ranking. The World Bank reversed that order, but its estimates were about the same: South Korea at $1,199,270 and Canada at $1,178,205. South Korea is a big exporter of cars and computers. Its per-person income is about that of Israel’s. And like Israel, it has military and geopolitical significance, and thus investment, that Ghana lacks.
[changes in South Korea]
For an analysis from the firm level of the economy, see: Emergent Economies, Divergent Paths: Economic Organization and International Trade in South Korea and Taiwan, Robert C. Feenstra and Gary G. Hamilton, Cambridge University Press, 2006. The introduction of the shipping container also mattered. See: The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger, Marc Levinson, Princeton University Press, 2006.
[South Korea’s fear of invasion]
“[T]he governments of most other developing countries know that they can fail economically and not risk invasion, the governments and elites of these countries [Taiwan and South Korea] knew that without fast economic growth and social stability this could well happen. This led them to make an unusually close coupling of national security and economic strength.” Governing the Market, Robert Wade, Princeton University Press, 1992, page 314.
[South Korea versus Ghana]
For urbanization data, see: “Urban Growth in Korea, 1970-1980: An Application of the Human Ecological Perspective,” S. H. Ko, Korea Journal of Population and Development, 23(1):1-18, 1994. For other data on growth (like life expectancy), see: The Transformation of South Korea: Reform and Reconstitution in the Sixth Republic under Roh Tae Woo, 1987-1992, Robert E. Bedeski, Routledge, 1994, especially pages 79-81.

[other comparative case studies]
Another interesting comparative case is South Korea versus the Philippines: Lectures on Economic Growth, Robert E. Lucas, Jr., Harvard University Press, 2002, especially Chapter 3. And Ghana versus Malaysia: “An Economic Development of Two Countries: Ghana and Malaysia,” B. Asare, A. Wong, West Africa Review, 5(1), 2004. And of course, South Korea versus North Korea.
[population of North and South Korea]
World Population Prospects: The 2008 Revision, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2008, Table A.1.
[differences in heights and weights between North and South Korea]
“Height and weight differences between North and South Korea,” D. Schwekendiek, Journal of Biosocial Science, 41(1):51-55, 2009. “Recent growth of children in the two Koreas: a meta-analysis,” D. Schwekendiek, S. Pak, Economics and Human Biology, 7(1):109-112, 2009. “Doors closing for North Korean defectors,” T. Johnson, The Seattle Times, September 30th, 2007. By comparing 1,075 North Korean defectors to the South Korean population, in 2005 the Korean Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that North Korean males between 20 and 39 are 165.6 centimeters tall (5’ 4.5”), while South Korean males are 172.5 centimeters (5’ 8.5”). For females, the values were 154.9 centimeters (5’ 1.0”) and 159.1 centimeters (5’ 3.5”).
[why compare South Korea and Ghana—the question of ‘culture’]
The text chooses the particular example of South Korea and Ghana partly because it was earlier used to a different end: “... How could this extraordinary difference in development be explained? Undoubtedly, many factors played a role, but it seemed to me that culture had to be a large part of the explanation. South Koreans valued thrift, investment, hard work, education, organization, and discipline. Ghanians had different values. In short, cultures count.” From: “Cultures count,” L. E. Harrison, in Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress, Lawrence E. Harrison and Samuel P. Huntington (editors), Basic Books, 2000, pages xiii-xvi.

The idea that ‘culture’ is mostly all that counts is old and widely accepted. For example: “If we learn anything from the history of economic development it is that culture makes all the difference... what counts is work, thrift, honesty, patience, tenacity,” Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor, David S. Landes, W. W. Norton, 1998, page 516. See also: Conquests and Cultures: An International History, Thomas Sowell, Basic Books, 1998, especially pages 86, 97, and 166.

On the other hand, a few scholars, like Andre Gunder Frank, (in ReORIENT: Global Economy in the Asian Age, University of California Press, 1998) see a more chaotic picture—however, they, too, ascribe basically everything to ‘culture’ and ideology, specifically with respect to Europe. So, one side, the more dominant one in Anglo-American academia, essentially says that Europeans are the best. The other side, a much smaller iconoclastic side of the same Anglo-American academia, says that Europeans are the worst. Both assume that ‘culture’ and ideology are the main things that matter.

That seems wrong. For a summary of why that’s so, at least in the case of South Korea and Ghana, see: Cultural Liberty in Today’s Diverse World, Human Development Report, 2004, United Nations Development Programme, 2004, especially pages 18-19 and 38-44 in Chapters 1 and 2. See also: Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism, Ha-Joon Chang, Bloomsbury Press, 2007, especially Chapter 9.

For other examples of what’s wrong with the ‘culture counts’ argument, consider the following quote: “Scholars often used to offer cultural explanations for economic growth, and even today it is common to hear that China and Japan are booming because of the intuitive capitalist spirit or ingrained industriousness of the Chinese and Japanese peoples. But explanations based on immutable culture have been discredited, because the enthusiasts could not get their story straight. Confucianism used to be seen as an obstacle to economic growth, because it looked down on commerce; now it is praised as a great boon to growth. Chinese are now seen as industrious; just a decade ago, at least within Chinese factories, they were ridiculed for spending all their time on tea breaks and taking naps. Tamils are an exceptionally enterprising and hard-working people in Sri Lanka, but if this is ingrained in Tamil culture, then what happened to the Tamils in southern India?

Japan is a good example of the problems with explanations based on immutable culture. The Japanese are renowned today for their high savings rates, for their discipline and commitment to hard work and high quality. But a century ago, Japan’s savings rates were far lower than in the West. Likewise, foreigners used to be firmly agreed on the laziness and incompetence of Japanese workers. In 1881, a foreigner wrote in a Yokohama newspaper: “The Japanese are a happy race, and being content with little, are not likely to achieve much.” As late as 1915, an Australian expert told the Japanese government: “My impression as to your cheap labor was soon disillusioned when I saw your people at work. No doubt they are lowly paid, but the return is equally so; to see your men at work made me feel that you are a very satisfied, easygoing race who reckon time is no object. When I spoke to some managers they informed me that it was impossible to change the habits of national heritage.” ”

Thunder from the East, Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Alfred A. Knopf, 2000, pages 131-132.

See also: The Lever of Riches: Technology, Creativity, and Economic Progress, Joel Mokyr, Oxford University Press, 1990. Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance, Douglass North, Cambridge University Press, 1990. How the West Grew Rich: The Economic Transformation of the Industrial World, Nathan Rosenberg and L. E. Birdzell, Jr., Basic Books, 1982.

The problem with the word ‘culture’ is that it is too vague. There are hundreds of definitions of the word ‘culture’ going back to at least the 1750s. Culture: A critical review of concepts and definitions, A. L Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn, Vintage, 1952. Boyd and Richerson give one popular recent meaning that is in the style of both Harrison and Landes above. “Culture is information capable of affecting individuals’ behavior that they acquire from other members of their species through teaching, imitation, and other forms of social transmission.” Not By Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution, Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd, University Of Chicago Press, 2004, page 5.

But such attempts to ignore artifacts and other aspects of material life seem unnecessarily restrictive. Ogburn gives an older and more encompassing definition that includes material things.

“A group of new-born infants on an island uninhabited by man would be without a social heritage, although, like the lower animals, they would be born into a natural environment. The social heritage is therefore not coextensive with environment. The environment of man may be said to consist of two parts: natural environment, including air, heat, land, water, soil, moisture, vegetation and minerals; and the social heritage, consisting of buildings, technological equipment, social organization, language, the arts, philosophies, science, religions, morals and customs.

The social heritage is very similar in meaning to the word, culture, as used by sociologists and anthropologists. Culture has been defined by Tylor as ‘that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.’ In this definition of culture the use of material objects is not particularly emphasized, and there is a tendency to think of culture as somewhat removed from material objects. However, the use of material things is a very important part of the culture of any people. A special term, material culture, is frequently used, giving particular emphasis to the material features of culture. The word, culture, properly includes, as does the term, social heritage, both the material culture and also such parts of culture as knowledge, belief, morals, law, and custom.”

Social Change with respect to Culture and Original Nature, William Fielding Ogburn, B. W. Huebsch, Inc., 1922, pages 3-4.

[effect of distance on trade]
A ten percent reduction in ocean distance between two of our countries means roughly a five percent increase in trade between them. “Distance, Trade, and Income: The 1967 to 1975 Closing of the Suez Canal as a Natural Experiment,” J. Feyrer, Working Paper 15557, National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), 2009.
[Australia’s trading partners]
Year Book Australia, 2007, Australian Bureau of Statistics.
[other trade networks in ‘trade space’]
There are several other trade networks. For instance, Switzerland is tiny and has few resources. (Salt mines and fast rivers are about all.) Nigeria is over 20 times bigger, and almost 20 times as many of us live there. Plus, it’s chock-full of oil and other goodies. Yet in Switzerland we’re 25 times richer. Why? Even if Switzerland had no other edge, it gains from the European trade network it’s a part of. If we were to extract Switzerland and plop it down in the middle of Africa it would immediately get much poorer.

Similarly, Turkey joined the European Union in 2005. To fit in, it had to change much of its red tape on banking, investment, and trade. As it did so from the 1990s to 2005, foreign investment quintupled. Greece and Portugal have had similar experiences, although they, like Italy, have had more recent upsets. Ditto for Spain and Ireland. (They have more recently been all joined together into the ‘PIIGS,’ especially since the collapse of Greece.) The change in foreign direct investment in Turkey to 2005 is from: “Why Doesn’t Capital Flow from Rich to Poor Countries? An Empirical Investigation,” L. Alfaro, S. Kalemli-Ozcan, V. Volosovych, The Review of Economics and Statistics, 90(2):347-368, 2008.

The United States, Canada, and Mexico entered free trade agreements in 1994 that have so far been more economically mixed than experience in the European Union. The agreements in question are the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement (CUSFTA) signed in 1989 and the North American free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) signed in 1994. Briefly, the combined North American economy has doubled in a decade, however it’s still not clear how much of that is a result of NAFTA and how much is better technology. Also, as of 2004, there were many points of friction between the three countries. It does seem to have benefited Mexico, though. NAFTA’s Impact On North America: The First Decade, Sidney Weintraub (editor), Center for Strategic & International Studies, 2004. NAFTA Revisited: Achievements and Challenges, Gary Clyde Hufbauer, Jeffrey J. Schott, Paul L. E. Grieco, and Yee Wong, Institute for International Economics, 2005.

[rural hand-to-mouth life]
The argument in the text includes what seems like the top three variables affecting rural family size, but it’s missing something, however it’s not clear what. The reason is that aristocrats also had large families until just a bit before the industrial phase change. There are variations (at least in Europe, between east and west Europe, and between north and south Europe) but in general, aristocratic family sizes dropped before peasant family sizes, and both dropped before mass-produced contraceptives were widespread. So it can’t simply be because of new tools to prevent pregnancy, nor can it simply be that the wealth of a family was all that mattered, nor just the growth of cities, nor the spread of schooling, and so on.

The missing factor may may well include something to do with female options, whether rich or poor—although rich females started to change before poor females, so wealth does matter. There are probably several other relevant variables: for example, the rise of the wage-earning woman coupled with the decline of the three-generation family alone may have put pressure that led to fertility decline. Of course, there are many confounds. For example, even when aristocratic family size was low, that didn’t mean that all aristocrats had fewer children than average; it merely meant that aristocratic women did. Aristocratic males may still have procreated a great deal and produced a lot of illegitimate children, who weren’t counted. The Black Death may also have played a part.

For some exploratory references on the issue of aristocratic family size, see: A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World, Gregory Clark, Princeton University Press, 2007. The Household and the Making of History: A Subversive View of the Western Past, Mary S. Hartman, Cambridge University Press, 2004. Fertility, Class and Gender in Britain, 1860-1940, Simon Szreter, Cambridge University Press, 2002, pages 45-50. Fertility Control, Stephen L. Corson, Richard J. Derman, and Louise B. Tyrer (editors), Taylor & Francis, Second Edition, 1994, pages 396-398.

[working-age ratios worldwide in 1996]
Beyond Economic Growth: An Introduction to Sustainable Development, Tatyana P. Soubbotina, The World Bank, Second Edition, 2004, page 131.
[phase change into wealth as a demographic transition]
Economists call that phase change a ‘demographic transition.’ We can stigmergically react to tool and trade changes around us to then change our attitudes and that internal change alone can itself lead to further changes. But that phase change isn’t guaranteed because it depends on our initial state. Demographic Transition Theory, John C. Caldwell (editor), Springer, 2006. “Public infrastructure and growth: new channels and policy implications,” P.-R. Agénor, B. Moreno-Dodson, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 4064, 2006, Appendix A. Health and Development: A Compilation of articles from Finance & Development, International Monetary Fund Washington, 2004, page 12. The Demographic Dividend: A New Perspective on the Economic Consequences of Population Change, David E. Bloom, David Canning, and Jaypee Sevilla, RAND Corporation, 2003, pages 44-45. “The Health and Wealth of Nations,” D. E. Bloom, D. Canning, Science, 287(5456):1207-1209, 2000. “Economic Development and the Demographic Transition: The Role of Cumulative Causality,” D. E. Bloom, D. Canning, the United States Agency for International Development under CAER II, (Consulting Assistance on Economic Reform), Harvard Institute for International Development, September, 1999. “Demographic Transitions and Economic Miracles in Emerging Asia,” D. E. Bloom, J. G. Williamson, World Bank Economic Review, 12(3):419–455, 1998.
[dependence on history]
Economists call that ‘path dependence.’ “Increasing returns and economic progress,” A. A. Young, Economic Journal, 38(152):527-542, 1928. Mathematically speaking, though, it’s more strictly any non-ergodic stochastic process. That is, any process whose asymptotic distribution is at least partly a consequence of its history. Increasing Returns and Path Dependency in the Economy, W. Brian Arthur, University of Michigan Press, 1994. Arthur’s models have been challenged, particularly for VHS versus Betamax and for the Dvorak versus the QWERTY keyboards. That challenge in turn led to further argument. “Path dependence, Its Critics and the Quest for ‘Historical Economics,’ P. A. David, in Evolution and Path Dependence in Economic Ideas: Past and Present, P. Garrouste and S. Ioannidis (editors), Edward Elgar Publishing, 2001, pages 15-40. “Path Dependence, Lock-in, and History,” S. J. Liebowitz, S. E. Margolis, Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, 11(1):205-226, 1995. “Defending the Concept of Network Externalities: A Discussion of Liebowitz and Margolis,” P. Regibeau, Research in Law and Economics, 17:33-39, 1995. In economics, the argument revolves around whether path dependence (stigmergy, in the text) can force fixable free market errors. That is, whether the history of an innovation can lock a free market into choices that are economically inefficient even when more efficient choices exist. In general, that seems unlikely (in a free market). However, that’s not the point being made in the text. It argues that whether or not our choices are economically efficient, stigmergy does affect which options we choose, can choose, or are forced to choose.
[London’s growth]
London grew from around 50,000 in 1500 to 200,000 in 1600, to half a million in 1700, to a million in 1800. By 1900 it was 6.5 million. Britain’s urbanization rate jumped from perhaps seven percent in 1500, to 25 percent in 1800, to 50 percent by 1850. By 1900 it was 77 percent.

Chapter 5. Economic War: Poverty


[Heller quote]
“The economists here, including the theorists, seemed well aware that their profession has much to be humble about these days. Self-mockery abounded, perhaps best summed up by Walter W. Heller, a top economic adviser to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. “An economist,” he averred while moderating a panel discussion, “is a person who, when he finds something that works in practice, wonders if it will work in theory.” ” From: “A Fed Camp in the Rockies,” R. D. Hershey Jr., New York Times, August 26th, 1985.

Insolubles

[the dead donkey...]
This is a composite story based on an eyewitness report in July, 1985, plus several Egyptian government white papers, and conversations with Egyptian friends. Adoption of Community Water Systems: An Area Study in Three Villages in Muhafzat Kofr-Shaykh, Egypt, David Berton Belasco, doctoral thesis, University of Denver, 1989. For more recent ethnographic background on Delta problems, see also: Agrarian Transformation in Egypt: Conflict Dynamics and the Politics of Power from a Micro Perspective, Caroline Laetitia Tingay, doctoral thesis, Freie Universität Berlin, 2005.
[child deaths in Egypt]
During the 1980s in Egypt, two-thirds of all deaths of infants and children under five were from diarrhea and associated dehydration. The proportion of water-related child deaths was highest in the Nile Delta. Egypt: A Country Study, Helen Chapin Metz (editor), Fifth Edition, Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1991.
[half the hospital beds...]
“Poor water and sanitation produce nonfatal chronic conditions at all stages of the lifecycle. At any given time close to half the people in the developing world are suffering from one or more of the main diseases associated with inadequate provision of water and sanitation such as diarrhoea, guinea worm, trachoma and schistosomiasis. These diseases fill half the hospital beds in developing countries.” Human Development Report, 2006, United Nations Development Programme, 2007, page 45.
[over a billion of us lacked access to safe water in 1990]
In 1990, the United Nations World Health Organization reported that 1,015 million of us, almost one sixth of everyone alive, had to drink contaminated surface water, and 1,764 million, almost a quarter of us, were without adequate sanitation. Despite huge gains over the next decade, an additional 800 million of us made the situation much the same ten years later. “The percentage of people served with some form of improved water supply rose from 79 percent (4.1 billion) in 1990 to 82 percent (4.9 billion) in 2000. Over the same period the proportion of the world’s population with access to excreta disposal facilities increased from 55 percent (2.9 billion people served) to 60 percent (3.6 billion). At the beginning of 2000 one-sixth (1.1 billion people) of the world’s population was without access to improved water supply and two-fifths (2.4 billion people) lacked access to improved sanitation. The majority of these people live in Asia and Africa, where fewer than one-half of all Asians have access to improved sanitation and two out of five Africans lack improved water supply. Moreover, rural services still lag far behind urban services. Sanitation coverage in rural areas, for example, is less than half that in urban settings, even though 80 percent of those lacking adequate sanitation (2 billion people) live in rural areas - some 1.3 billion in China and India alone.” Global Water Supply and Sanitation Assessment 2000 Report, WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation, 2000.
[dirty water was the largest single cause of disease and death in 2004]
“Even though the percentage of the world’s population with access to improved water supply rose from 78 to 82 per cent between 1990 and 2000, and the percentage with access to improved sanitation rose from 51 to 61 per cent during this same period, contaminated water remains the greatest single cause of human sickness and death on a global scale.” Global Environment Outlook, GEO-4, United Nations Environment Programme, 2007, page 151.

“Some 1.8 million child deaths each year as a result of diarrhoea—4,900 deaths each day or an under-five population equivalent in size to that for London and New York combined. Together, unclean water and poor sanitation are the world’s second biggest killer of children. Deaths from diarrhoea in 2004 were some six times greater than the average annual deaths in armed conflict for the 1990s.” Human Development Report, 2006, United Nations Development Programme, 2007, page 6.

“10.7 million children every year do not live to see their fifth birthday.” Human Development Report, 2005, United Nations Development Programme, 2006, page 3.

[age-old belief that Nile water was fecund]
The belief goes back at least two millennia, long before Islam. Natural History, Pliny the Elder, Book 7, part 3. See also: Water in the cultic worship of Isis and Sarapis, Robert A. Wild, Brill Academic, 1981.
[water problems and the Aswan High Dam in Egypt]
“The Artificial Nile: The Aswan High Dam destroyed a fishery, but human activities may have revived it,” S. Nixon, American Scientist, 92(part 2):158-165, 2004. “The Imperiled Nile Delta,” P. Theroux, National Geographic, 191(1):2-35, 1997. “Nile delta: extreme case of sediment entrapment on a delta plain and consequent coastal land loss,” D. J. Stanley, Marine Geology, 129(3):189-195, 1996. “The southeastern Mediterranean ecosystem revisited: Thirty years after the construction of the Aswan High Dam,” S. El-Sayed, G. L. van Dijken, Quarterdeck, 3(1):4-7, 1995.
[water problems in Egypt]
“The Egyptian State Under Threat of Hydraulic Crisis and Peasant Poverty: The Risks of a Free-market Management of Water,” H. Ayeb, Fourth Pan-African Programme on Land and Resource Rights Workshop, Cape Town, South Africa, 5-7 May 2003. “Some Technical and Economic Considerations on Irrigation Water Pricing,” M. A. Abu-Zeid, Water Science Magazine, Number 7, 1990. “Water Supply and Demand in Egypt,” Sami El Fillali, Ministry of Agriculture Report, Egypt.
[Egypt went socialist in 1952]
A group of officers seized power in the 1950s and Gamal Abdel-Nasser took power. He instituted land reform that led to the breakup of the old big estates, thus redistributing land to the peasants.
[poverty in Egypt in 2008]
In 2008, average monthly income in Egypt was $140 U.S. ($4 U.S. a day). The National Report On Literacy and Adult Education, Arab Republic of Egypt, 2008, page 25. In 2008, according to the World Bank, 22 percent of the population was below the world poverty line of $2 U.S. a day.
[illiteracy and rural population in Egypt in 2006]
In Egypt in 2006, 29.3 percent of us couldn’t read and 57.6 percent were rural. The National Report On Literacy and Adult Education, Arab Republic of Egypt, 2008, pages 7 and 10. Even those figures may be inflated thanks to corruption, since a literacy certificate is so valuable for jobs. In 1970, illiteracy was even higher, at 68.6 percent.
[1977 riots in Egypt]
The riots were triggered by the state’s abrupt lifting of various subsidies brought on by IMF and World Bank requirements. “The political economy of food subsidy reform: the case of Egypt,” T. Gutner, Food Policy, 27(5-6):455-476, 2002. “The Egyptian Food Subsidy System: Structure, Performance, and Options for Reform,” A. U. Ahmed, H. E. Bouis, T. Gutner, H. Löfgren, Research Report 119, International Food Policy Research Institute, 2001, page 7. Egypt During the Sadat years, Kirk J. Beattie, Palgrave Macmillan, 2000, pages 207-210.
[Egypt’s containerized port facilities]
Ports in Egypt used to be havens of high cost, weak investment, and poor service. However, since 2003 the situation has changed. There have been major upgrades at Alexandria but also Port Said and elsewhere. In 2006, Port Said East and Port Said West together handled around 75 percent of transit containers. (Damietta handled much of the rest.). Ports, Cities, and Global Supply Chains, James Wang, Daniel Olivier, Theo Notteboom, Brian Slack (editors), Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2007. “Logistics chain analysis of Alexandria container handling company in Egypt: a basis for assessing services,” K. Abbas, Freight and Logistics Seminars, The European Transport Conference, 2003.
[new desalination technology]
“Towards sustainable seawater desalting in the Gulf area,” M. A. Darwish, N. M. Al-Najem, N. Lior, Desalination, 235(1-3):58-87, 2009. “Optimized design of a reverse osmosis system with a recycle,” P. Sarkar, D. Goswami, S. Prabhakar, P. K. Tewari, Desalination, 230(1-3):128-139, 2008. “Design of single-effect mechanical vapor compression,” H. Ettouney, Desalination, 190(1-3):1-15, 2006.
[causes of Egypt’s changes since 1990]
In Egypt, rising oil income, policy changes, cheaper technology, spreading literacy, and more money sent home from expats, have made for a change. Egypt is now phase changing from rural to urban, from peasant to industrialist, from unlettered to educated. For example, farming as a share of national Egyptian income fell from more than 38 percent in 1975 to 16 percent in 1995. The State of Food and Agriculture 1997, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 1998.
[Egypt’s life expectancy in 2005]
World Health Statistics, 2007, United Nations World Health Organization, 2007.
[growth rates of Egypt’s population and economy]
The rate of growth of Egypt’s population peaked at 2.7 percent in 1987 and has since been falling. World Factbook, United States Central Intelligence Agency, 2005.
[plunging child death rates in Egypt]
Egypt’s child death rate dropped from 104 per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 33 in 2005. State of the World’s Mothers: Saving the Lives of Children Under 5, Save the Children, 2007, pages 22 and 27. State of the World’s Children, UNICEF (The United Nations Children’s Fund), 2007, Table 10.
[Egypt’s statistics]
In 2003, the quality of Egypt’s new services still wasn’t high. There still wasn’t enough money, nor enough skilled people. In Egypt, two in every five of us were still below or just above the world poverty line—$2 U.S. a day. In the Arabic-speaking world as a whole, life for us was changing fast as well. Since 1970, female literacy has tripled. But our problems were still vast. In 2003, 43 percent of all Arabic women still couldn’t read. And 35 percent of men couldn’t either. Arab Human Development Report 2003: Building a Knowledge Society, United Nations Development Programme, 2003.
[the economics of development]
This is wide field, with a number of competing theories. However, speaking very generally, in recent times (post World War II) the basic idea has evolved from the Big Push strategy (epitomized by the Marshall Plan’s success in Europe and Japan) to the micro-investment strategy (epitomized by successful microfinancing efforts, first in Pakistan then elsewhere). The other main variant is the ‘linked investment’ strategy, which effectively means: choose a small set of functionally linked industries to invest in heavily, then spread out from there. There are also the usual political tugs-of-war. For example, from the left: ‘the market won’t change unless government taxes the rich to then invest heavily,’ to the right: ‘the government is the main drag on the economy and the market is the only thing that works reliably.’ The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time, Jeffrey D. Sachs, Penguin, 2005. The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists’ Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics, William Easterly, MIT Press, 2002. The Strategy of Economic Development, Albert Hirschman, Yale University Press, 1958. Economic Theory and Under-developed Regions, Gunnar Myrdal, Duckworth, 1957.
[termite colony]
The specific subfamily referred to here is Macrotermitinae.
[closure]
Closure, as defined in the text, is relative to the desired state. Egypt, say, is always ‘operationally closed’ in the sense that it provides for all its most basic wants—it continues to exist and hence in that sense it must be getting everything it needs to survive. However, Egypt also wants to grow richer, so it’s trying to move from one state to another. Thus it’s from the perspective of the second state, its desired state, that it is not operationally closed.

Also, note that operational closure isn’t ‘catalytic closure’ (that is, that a reaction network makes all its own catalysts). That’s already guaranteed if the given reaction network has collective autocatalysis (which is called ‘synergy’ in the text). Instead, operational closure here means something stronger. It means that the reaction network is closed not just with respect to its catalysts but also their substrates—the ‘resources’—that the collectively autocatalytic (‘synergetic’ in the text) reactions need. So it regenerates its own catalysts (it has catalytic closure) and it regenerates the molecules that those catalysts act on.

Note, too, that the way that the text defines operational closure differs from the definition given by Varela, which is more concerned with a system’s autonomy. Although both definitions are motivated by the same underlying idea of closure in mathematics (and especially in topology). See the Preface and Introduction to: Toward a Practice of Autonomous Systems: Proceedings of the First European Conference on Artificial Life, Francisco J. Varela and Paul Bourgine (editors), MIT Press, 1992.

The Properties of Property

[buying land and living extralegally in Egypt]
The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else, Hernando de Soto, Basic Books, 2000, pages 20 and 33.

It’s much the same in many of our other poor countries. To get the legal permits to build a house on state-owned land in Peru takes almost seven years. It takes 207 steps spread over 52 government offices. To get legal title to that land then takes a further 728 steps. Buying a house in the Philippines can take 168 steps spread over 53 public and private associations and agencies. It can take 13 to 25 years. Leasing state-owned land in Haiti takes 65 steps. It takes about two years to lease a plot for five years. To then buy that land takes a further 111 steps. And 12 more years. Mexico, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina are similar.

[days to get a business license]
“In Cameroon, it takes an investor who seeks a business licence on average 426 days (that is almost a year and three months) to perform fifteen procedures; whereas in China it takes 336 days and thirty-seven procedures, and in the USA, only forty days and nineteen procedures. What entrepreneur starting a business in Angola wants to spend 119 days filling out forms to complete twelve procedures? He is likely to find South Korea a much more attractive business culture, as it will take him only seventeen days to complete ten procedures.

It’s not only the red-tape. It’s also the opacity. Investors don’t know where to go, or who to ask. In a number of mining-dependent countries, rather than the government offering parcels of land in open auction, prospective investors are expected to provide the government with specific land coordinates. The geological survey offices know where the ore lies, but they just can’t be bothered to help the investors along. Though the countries’ livelihoods depend significantly on such entrepreneurs coming in, given the nature of doing business it is hardly surprising that this much-needed investment stays away.”

Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa, Dambisa Moyo, Macmillan, 2009, page 100.

However, there is a problem with that quote since, based on the World Bank reference the author cites for the figures, only the stated figure for South Korea (17 days) is for the number of days to get a business license. The other figures given are for how long it takes to get a construction permit, not the number of days to get a business license. For more details on that and on other countries, see: Doing Business 2009: Comparing Regulations in 181 Economies, World Bank, 2008, page 16 and other pages for specific entries for each country.

[legal cases in Argentina can take over 20 years]
“The Formation of Beliefs: Evidence from the Allocation of Land Titles to Squatters,” R. Di Tella, S. Giliana, E. Schargrodsky, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 122(1):209-241, 2007. The above paper is of independent interest as it describes a natural experiment on the consequences of titling for belief in the free market versus family support and local community over 20 years in Buenos Aires.
[Solon on laws]
That’s not exactly what he said, for we don’t know what he exactly said. But it’s the spirit of what he said. “He used to say, too, that speech was the image of actions, and that the king was the mightiest man as to his power; but that laws were like cobwebs—for that if any trifling or powerless thing fell into them, they held it fast; but if a thing of any size fell into them, it broke the meshes and escaped.” The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, Book I, Solon:10, Diogenes Laërtius, translated by C. D. Yonge, Henry G. Bohn, 1853, page 28. Plutarch (in Lives of Romulus, Lycurgus, Solon ... and Others, translated by John and William Langhorne, Wm. L. Allison Company, 1889, page 71) attributes a similar thought to a contemporary, Anacharsis. “[W]ritten laws, which in all respects resemble spider’s webs, and would, like them, only entangle the poor and weak, while the rich and powerful easily broke through them.” The text follows Diogenes and gives it to Solon as he’s widely acclaimed as a law-maker, even though he himself left no writings.
[bribery in driver’s licensing bureaus in Delhi]
“The average licence getter pays about Rs 1,080, or about 2.5 times the official fee of Rs 450, to obtain a licence. More mportantly, close to 60 per cent of licence getters do not take the licensing exam and 54 per cent are unqualified to drive (according to the independent test we performed) at the time they obtain their licence.” From: “Corruption in Driving Licensing Process in Delhi,” M. Bertrand, S. Djankov, R. Hanna, S. Mullainathan, Economic & Political Weekly, 43(5):71-76, 2008.
[corruption in Afghanistan]
Corruption in Afghanistan: Bribery as Reported by Victims, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2010.
[corruption is common everywhere]
Global Corruption Report 2009: Corruption and the Private Sector, Cambridge University Press, 2009. Global Corruption Report 2008: Corruption in the Water Sector, Cambridge University Press, 2008. Global Corruption Report 2007: Corruption in Judicial Systems, Cambridge University Press, 2007. Global Corruption Report 2006: Special Focus: Corruption and Health, Pluto Press, 2006. Global Corruption Report 2005: Special Focus: Corruption in Construction and Post, Pluto Press, 2005.
[bloated legal codes in rich lands]
The problem of an ever-growing legal system is not one limited to poor countries. For example, the United States has an overgrown legal system. The Death of Common Sense: How Law Is Suffocating America, Philip K. Howard, Random House, 1994.
[international corporate corruption]
The 2008 Siemens case is only one of many. Many other big companies, among them Goodyear, Daimler, Lockheed, British Aerospace, General Electric, Volvo, Johnson & Johnson, Bausch & Lomb, Chevron, Xerox, GlaxoSmithKline, and Fiat, stand accused of using similar foreign bribes. Bribery of foreign officials to gain contracts is common among rich nations. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) made it illegal only in 1999, and as of 2009 was still only very sparsely enforced. Just four nations take active measures (the United States, Switzerland, Germany, and Norway). Before that, only the United States had passed such a law (the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act) and then only in 1977. OECD Anti-bribery Convention Progress Report: Enforcement of the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions, Fritz Heimann and Gillian Dell, Transparency International, 2009. FCPA Digest of Cases and Review Releases Relating to Bribes to Foreign Officials under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977, Shearman & Sterling LLP., 2009.
[construction corruption in Manhattan]
“Why Gotham’s Developers Don’t Develop,” W. J. Stern, City Journal, Autumn 2000. More generally, see: “Construction, Corruption, and Developing Countries,” C. Kenny, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 4271, The World Bank, 2007. Five families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Families, Selwyn Raab, Macmillan, 2005. Gotham Unbound: How New York City Was Liberated From the Grip of Organized Crime, James B. Jacobs, Coleen Friel, and Robert Raddick, NYU Press, 2001, especially Chapter 7. Corruption and Racketeering in the New York City Construction Industry: The Final Report of the New York State Organized Crime Task Force, Ronald Goldstock, Martin Marcus, Thomas D. Thacher II, James B. Jacobs, NYU Press, 1991.
[problems of poor borrowers, especially in poor countries]
Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism, Muhammad Yunus, PublicAffairs Books, 2008. Banker to the Poor: Micro-lending and the Battle Against World Poverty, Muhammad Yunus (with Alan Jolis), PublicAffairs Books, 1999.
[correlation between city education and wages in the United States in 2000]
“Regression 9-1 in table 9 reproduces a version of the Rauch result using area-level human capital and wages from the 2000 Census. Individual skills and industries are held constant. As before, we look only at fully employed men between 25 and 55 years old. As the share of the adult population with college degrees increases by 10 percent, wages increase by 7.8 percent. Figure 16 shows the relationship across metropolitan areas between the average wage residual from this equation and the share of the population with a college degree.” “The Economics of Place-Making Policies,” E. L. Glaeser, J. D. Gottlieb, Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, 39(1):155-253, 2008. However, Figure 16 is more of a scatter plot than a linear regression. There is correlation, but it is far from strong.
[going to school in the favela in 2003]
World Development Report 2007: Development and the Next Generation, The World Bank, 2006, endnote 8, page 229.
[female restrictions in Uttar Pradesh]
“The Determinants of Gender Equity in India: Examining Dyson and Moore’s Thesis with New Data,” L. Rahman, V. Rao, Population and Development Review, 30(2):239-268, 2004.
[female property ownership in Cameroon]
“The Development Impact of Gender Equality in Land Rights,” K. O. Mason, H. M. Carlsson, in Human Rights and Development: Towards Mutual Reinforcement, Philip Alston and Mary Robinson (editors), Oxford University Press, 2005, pages 114-132.
[more girls than boys out of school in 2001]
“Girls are expected to be primarily or exclusively domestic workers in many cultures, so household work at young ages is regarded as natural for them. Such domestic work is also often seen as more valuable than any perceived returns from education, especially when parents calculate how, and for which of their children, they can pay school costs and fees. In addition, many schools are threatening places for girls, where they are at risk of sexual harassment from classmates and teachers and sidelined by prejudice and poor curricula. Solely by virtue of their gender, therefore, many girls are kept from school or drop out, ending up in exploitative labour. Of the more than 110 million children out of school, nearly two thirds are girls. Commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking in children for prostitution have also burgeoned, with at least 1 million children a year, most of them girls, entrapped in a network stretching from South-East Asia and the former Soviet bloc to Latin America.” Beyond Child Labor: Affirming Rights, United Nations Children’s Fund, 2001, pages 2-3.
[more women than men can’t read in 2009]
In 2009, 774 million adults couldn’t read. Of those, 64 percent are female. UNESCO Institute of Statistics, 2009. United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture.
[your insurance company is your offspring...]
That’s only for direct implicit insurance. For informal, indirect, or partial implicit insurance, which may extend to the whole village, or perhaps even the whole region, see: “Rural Financial Markets in Developing Countries,” J. Conning, C. Udry, in The Handbook of Agricultural Economics, Volume 3, Agricultural Development: Farmers, Farm Production and Farm Markets, Robert Evenson and Prabhu Pingali (editors), Elsevier, 2007, pages 2857-2910. However, in cases of large cities and grinding poverty, corruption is endemic and no cooperation is possible. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, Katherine Boo, Random House, 2012.
[...smirking foxes]
The situation is much the same for the poor in a rich country. It’s only that the poor in rich countries are far richer than the poor in poor countries, but the rich are so much richer than it can feel about the same. Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor, Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh, Harvard University Press, 2006. Poverty Traps, Samuel Bowles, Steven N. Durlauf, and Karla Hoff (editors), Princeton University Press, 2006. Fighting Poverty in the US and Europe: A World of Difference, Alberto Alesina and Edward L. Glaeser, Oxford University Press, 2004. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, Barbara Ehrenreich, Owl Books, New Edition, 2002. Framework for Understanding Poverty, Ruby Payne, Aha Process, Inc., Revised Edition, 2001.

Where Ignorant Armies Clash by Night

[“ignorant armies”]
“Ah, love, let us be true / To one another! for the world, which seems / To lie before us like a land of dreams, / So various, so beautiful, so new, / Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, / Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain; / And we are here as on a darkling plain / Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, / Where ignorant armies clash by night.” “Dover Beach,” Matthew Arnold.
[2002 steel tariff in the United States]
The tariff was put in place for political reasons. Policy makers did their best to present appropriate fig leaves—first for the desperate need for the tariff, and then for the desperate need for its absence. “Ironing out Reelection: George W. Bush and the Politics of Steel,” D. M. Brattebo, in George W. Bush: Evaluating the President at Midterm, Bryan Hilliard, Tom Lansford, Robert P. Watson (editors), SUNY Press, 2004, pages 85-104.
[at least 15,000 steel-related jobs lost in the United States in 2002]
Estimates vary depending on the source. One commonly reported figure is ‘50,000 to 200,000’ jobs. A later report reduced that to perhaps 15,000 jobs. “Steel Protection and Job Dislocation,” G. C. Hufbauer, B. Goodrich, Institute for International Economics, Consuming Industries Trade Action Coalition (CITAC), Washington DC, 2003. “The Unintended Consequences of U.S. Steel Import Tariffs: A Quantification of the Impact During 2002,” J. Francois, L. M. Baughman, Trade Partnership Worldwide LLC, 2003.
[trade war]
The steel tariff was not the only example of recent potential trade war. In 2009, the United States imported tires from China cheaper than it could make them. But it didn’t thus get out of the tire business. Its jobless tire-makers said that they felt humiliated, that their children would starve, that without domestic tires the country would be doomed, and that they would protest in the streets until something was done. The United States then imposed a tariff on tires from China. Meanwhile, China imported car parts from the United States cheaper than China could make them. But it didn’t get out of the car parts business. Instead it threatened to impose a quota on chicken and car parts from the United States. The United States then imposed import duties on steel pipes from China. China then imposed tariffs on adipic acid used in the production of a type of nylon and some medicines. Were such playground spats to go on for long enough, the two countries might tumble into a trade war.
[two ways to make cars...]
The example in the text on what international trade restrictions mean in economic terms is adapted from: Hidden Order: The Economics of Everyday Life, David Friedman, HarperBusiness, 1996, page 70. For the same example in a very gentle introduction to economics, see: The Armchair Economist: Economics and Everyday Life, Steven E. Landsburg, First Press, 1993, pages 197-199. An earlier example goes back to Frédéric Bastiat in 1845, which he posed as a petition by candle makers to force everyone to close their shutters to prevent unfair competition from the sun, which was providing free light. His argument exposes the essence of the issue: the tug-of-war between local producers and local consumers over the goods and services produced by foreign producers. Fallacies of Protection: Being the Sophismes Économiques of Frédéric Bastiat, translated by P. J. Stirling, Cassel and Company, 1909, pages 60-65.

In economics this is related to the idea of ‘comparative advantage.’ Even if one person, group, or country were to make everything more efficiently than some other person, group, or country (that is, have ‘absolute advantage,’ it would still gain economically by specializing in whatever it was best at making then trading with other nations for everything else. The absolute cost of production doesn’t matter because of opportunity cost. By choosing to make one thing, you’re also choosing not to make another thing. Everything has an opportunity cost, so it’s best to specialize then trade for everything else. The idea goes back to the Irish economist Robert Torrens, but was much expanded upon two years later by the English economist, David Ricardo. Comparative Advantage in International Trade: A Historical Perspective, Andrea Maneschi, Edward Elgar, 1998, pages 54-55. On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, David Ricardo, John Murray, 1817.

[farmers versus non-farmers—laws are products]
This is a typical example of concentrated benefits and diffuse costs. The particular example in the text is an example of a relatively recent branch of economics called ‘public choice theory.’ It’s an attempt to explain politics in terms of the economic choices of rational agents—whether they are voters, politicians, bureaucrats, or lobbyists. The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups, Mancur Olson, Harvard University Press, Revised Edition, 1971. The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy, James M. Buchanan and Gordon Tullock, University of Michigan Press, 1962. For a good recent textbook, see: Public Choice III, Dennis C. Mueller, Cambridge University Press, Third Edition, 2003. For a reexamination of some of the basic tenets, see: Democracy and Decision: The Pure Theory of Electoral Preference, Geoffrey Brennan and Loren Lomasky (editors), Cambridge University Press, 1993. For a questioning of the foundational assumptions of (pure) actor self-interest, see: “Skating on Thin Ice: Cracks in the Public Choice Foundation,” N. Frohlich, I. Oppenheimer, Journal of Theoretical Politics, 18(3):235-266, 2006.
[almost $2 billion a year for cotton farmers in the United States]
“High Cotton: Why the USA Should Not Provide Subsidies to Cotton Farmers",” M. Helling, S. A. Beaulier, J. Hall, Economic Affairs, 28(2):65-66, 2008. For more specific numbers, see the cotton entry in Table 9 of: “Farm Commodity Programs: Direct Payments, Counter-Cyclical Payments, and Marketing Loans,” J. Monke, CRS Report for Congress, Congressional Research Service, The Library of Congress, 2006.

For general analysis of the economic costs of farm subsidies in the United States, see the following United States Congressional Budget Office Reports: “The Effects of Liberalizing World Agricultural Trade: A Review of Modeling Studies,” June 2006. “The Effects of Liberalizing World Agricultural Trade: A Survey,” December 2005. “Policies That Distort World Agricultural Trade: Prevalence and Magnitude,” August 2005

[subsidized cotton purchases in the United States]
“U.S. Subsidizes Companies to Buy Subsidized Cotton,” E. Becker, New York Times, November 4th, 2003. That particular support was repealed on August 1st, 2006.
[over $5 billion a year for maize in the United States]
From 1995 to 2006, total maize subsidies amounted to $56.17 thousand million. In that time the number of beneficiary farms amounted to 1,568,095. About 10 percent collected 75 percent of the subsidies. Farm Subsidy Database, 2007, Environmental Working Group. 1436 U St. N.W., Suite 100, Washington, DC 20009, U.S.A.
[farm subsidies in the United States in 1999]
Floor statement of Senator John McCain on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, October 25th 2001:

“Mr. President, I would like to discuss for a few moments the fundamental problem with this appropriations bill and then talk a little bit about the pork that is again prevalent and on the increase in this appropriations bill.

First of all, I want to talk about Federal subsidies, where they go, who should be receiving them, the largess of the Federal Government taxpayers’ money under the present setup, how we are going to work subsidies, and how the money is distributed.

Earlier this year, the General Accounting Office released a report that details some very critical information on the disturbing trends of federal farm assistance. The GAO reports that over 80 percent of farm payments have been made to large- and medium-sized farms, while small farms have received less than 20 percent of the payments.

In 1999, large farms, which represent about 7 percent of all farms nationwide with gross agricultural sales of $250,000, received about 45 percent of federal payments. These payments average about $64,737.

Seventeen percent of farms that are medium-sized with gross sales between $50,000 and $250,000, received 45 percent of all payments. Payments average $21,943.”

Congressional Record, Volume 147, Part 15, October 25, 2001 to November 2, 2001, United States Congress, 107th Congress, First Session, United States Government Printing Office, Jan 1, 2006, page 20757.

[after 1985 reforms, amount of New Zealand sheep fell 14 percent in five years]
The Contribution of the Primary Sector to New Zealand’s Economic Growth, Alex Harrington, New Zealand Treasury Policy Perspectives Paper 05/04, 2005, page 21.

Even without subsidies, New Zealand has a farming advantage compared to its trading partners. Take, for example, its main one, Britain. Both countries have about the same land area. Yet, per person, New Zealand has eight times more farm land than Britain does. Its population is 15 times smaller and it produces nine time more food than it can eat. It’s thus cheaper to raise a lamb in New Zealand, slaughter it, freeze it, then ship it 11,000 miles from Auckland to Felixstowe than it is to raise a lamb in Devon. We would all lose if Britain subsidized sheep rearing. (Although it still does, a little.) Similarly, it’s cheaper for Britain, not New Zealand, to finance the Danish, Italian, French, or Taiwanese ship that carries that frozen lamb. We would all lose if New Zealand subsidized banking. (Today, of its 19 banks, none are subsidized.)

[New Zealand and subsidy reduction in 1984]
“Miracle Down Under: How New Zealand Farmers Prosper without Subsidies or Protection,” T. Lambie, Cato Free Trade Bulletin, 16:1-3, 2005. “Efficiency in New Zealand sheep and beef farming: The impacts of regulatory reform,” C. J. M. Paul, W. E. Johnston, G. A. G. Frengley, Review of Economics and Statistics, 82(2):325-337, 2000. “Economic Reform in New Zealand 1984-95: The Pursuit of Efficiency,” L. Evans, A. Grimes, B. Wilkinson, Journal of Economic Literature, 34(4):1856-1902, 1996. For a view that argues against the direness of New Zealand’s economic situation in 1984, see: “The Polish Shipyard: Myth, Economic History and Economic Policy Reform in New Zealand,” S. Goldfinch, D. Malpass, Australian Journal of Politics & History, 53(1):118-137, 2007.
[sectoral share of New Zealand’s GDP]
“The process of economic growth in New Zealand,” P. Conway, A. Orr, Bulletin of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, 63(1):4-20, 2000.
[cost of New Zealand lamb in Britain versus British lamb]
Future of Food, George Alagiah, BBC documentary, 2009.
[arguments for trade barriers]
Barriers exist not just because of ignorance but also because of emotion. Job security can matter a lot. A job isn’t merely an income stream; it’s often a source of pride—and lack of one is often a source of shame. So we sing folk songs about jobs and job loss; we don’t sing about fiscal efficiency. National security can also matter. Protecting ourselves from being preyed on, or getting ourselves into a position to be able to prey on others, always gets our attention. What good does having a nice income and lots of pride matter, if we fear being subjugated—or are enraged when we can’t subjugate those we want to? Then, if we do manage to subjugate others, guilt can sometimes follow—but usually it’s sublimated into something else. (Shame can work, but so can contempt.) Also, if we are subjugated, a desire for revenge can also matter. Future security also matters. For example, if we’re a poor country—as all of today’s rich ones were not that long ago—we might want to encourage infant industries that we reckon will be pay more than hand-to-mouth farming. Similarly, if we’re a rich country with a wartime history of blockade and starvation, we may not want to abandon farming entirely. Finally, bringing meaning to our lives can matter a great deal. Sometimes, little else matters.
[growth in world trade from 1960 to 2008]
World Merchandise Exports and GDP 1960-2008, International Trade Statistics 2009, World Trade Organization, 2009, Chart I.1.

Swimming with Barracuda

[population and urbanization in Germany and Egypt in 2009]
World Urbanization Prospects: The 2009 Revision, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2010, Table A7, page 33.
[Germany became half-urban around 1910]
Mosely cites 1900 as the date: The Environment in World History, Stephen Mosley, Taylor & Francis, 2010, page 92.

But the following paper states that in 1910 Germany was still only 48.8 percent urban. “Although the process of urbanization began around the middle of the century it reached completion essentially between 1871 and 1910. It brought about a shift in the population which doubled the proportion of city dwellers. In 1871 23.7 per cent of the population lived in communities of over 5000 inhabitants; by 1910 this figure had risen to 48.8, whilst the share of the rural population, including those living in country market towns, fell from 75 to 50 per cent of the population.” “The Process of Urbanization in Germany at the Height of the Industrialization Period,” W. Köllman, Journal of Contemporary History, 4(3):59-76, 1969.

That figure also seems to be what Seymour implies in his 1916 book: “In 1871 less than a quarter of the German people resided in the towns; at the end of the century, the town population comprised nearly half of the whole.” The Diplomatic Background of the War 1870 to 1914, Charles Seymour, Yale University Press, 1916, page 64.

Dawson gives even lower figures of 23.7 percent in 1871 and 42.26 percent in 1900. These seem to be the most accurate of all. The Evolution of Modern Germany, William Harbutt Dawson, T. Fisher Unwin, 1908, page 39.

[adult literacy rates in Egypt and Germany]
Human Development Report 2007/2008: Fighting climate change: Human solidarity in a divided world, United Nations Development Programme, 2007, Table I.
[poverty in Egypt in 2008]
In 2008, average monthly income in Egypt was $140 U.S. ($4 U.S. a day). The National Report On Literacy and Adult Education, Arab Republic of Egypt, 2008, page 25. In 2008, according to the World Bank, 22 percent of the population was below the world poverty line of $2 U.S. a day.
[definition of poverty level in Germany in 2009]
In 2009, those of us in Germany who had a disposable income of less than €11,278 per year (€940 per month, or about 31 a day), after inclusion of government transfer payments, were at risk of poverty. That’s anyone living off less than 60 percent of the median household income. It was 15.6 percent of the population. Leben in Europa, Statistisches Bundesamt Deutschland, 2009.
[Germany in 1850]
The state of Germany at the time as described in the text is but a summary of the following 1903 quote:

“[T]owards the middle of last century, Great Britain was the merchant, manufacturer, shipper, banker, and engineer of the world and ruled supreme in the realm of business. Two-thirds of the world’s shipping flew the British flag, two-thirds of the coal produced in the world was British; Great Britain had more miles of railway than the whole Continent, and produced more cotton goods and more iron than all the countries of the world together. Her coal mines were considered inexhaustible, and the coal possessed by other nations was believed to be of such inferior quality as to be almost useless for manufacturing purposes. Great Britain had therefore practically the manufacturing monopoly of the world, and the great German economist Friedrich List wrote with perfect truth in his Zollvereinsblatt: ’England is a world in itself, a world which is superior to the whole rest of the world in power and wealth.’

Our economists and many of our merchants thought that our economic position was so overwhelmingly strong and so unassailable that it would be impossible for other nations either to compete with us in neutral markets or to protect their own manufactures against the invasion of our industries by protective tariffs. They believed that Great Britain’s industrial power was stronger than all tariff walls. During the reign of these intoxicating ideas of Great Britain’s irresistible economic power Cobden proclaimed that ‘Great Britain was and always would be the workshop of the world;’ Great Britain threw away her fiscal weapons of defence, opened her doors wide to all nations, and introduced free trade.

While Great Britain was the undisputed mistress of the world’s trade, industry, finance, and shipping Germany was a poor agricultural country. She had been impoverished by her constant wars; she had neither colonies nor good coal, nor shipping, nor even a rich soil or a climate favourable to agriculture. She was divided into a number of petty States which were jealous of one another and which hampered one another’s progress. Communications in the interior were bad, and her internal trade was obstructed and undeveloped. Besides she was burdened by militarism and she possessed but one good harbour. According to the forecast of the British free traders Germany was predestined always to remain a poor agricultural country, exactly as Great Britain was predestined always to remain a rich industrial nation.”

From: “The Fiscal Policy of Germany,” O. Eltzbacher, The Nineteenth Century and After, 54(318):181-196, august 1903, Note: In 1905 Eltzbacher published a book that expanded on much the same subject, titled: Modern Germany: Her Political and Economic Problems, Her Policy, Her Ambitions, and the Causes of Her Success, Smith, Elder, & Co., 1905. The above quote was included in Chapter 12. He later changed his named to J. Ellis Barker and published a second edition in 1907. The above material was then in Chapter 21.

[German goods called “cheap and nasty” in 1876]
That was Franz Reuleaux, a highly respected German engineer. He was then the German government’s representative to the World’s Fair in Philadelphia. He was comparing German goods to high-precision mass-produced goods made in the United States and Britain. New Profession, Old Order: Engineers and German Society, 1815-1914, Kees Gispen, Cambridge University Press, 2002, pages 115-118. “Cheap and Nasty: German Goods, Socialism, and the 1876 Philadelphia World Fair,” A. Bonnell, International Review of Social History, 46(2):207-226, 2001.

Although note that Reuleaux, having set off a firestorm in Germany, on his way home in 1876 he wrote (in his tenth letter) that “[T]he enemies have written themselves into quite a rage. The English press could not resist adding slightly to the translation, to increase their instinctively awakened triumphalism, by telling their English readers that I called German products "cheap and nasty."”

[“contend with us...”]
“Up to a couple of decades ago, Germany was an agricultural State. Her manufactures were few and unimportant; her industrial capital was small; her export trade was too insignificant to merit the attention of the official statistician; she imported largely for her own consumption. Now she has changed all that. Her youth has crowded into English houses, has wormed its way into English manufacturing secrets, and has enriched her establishments with the knowledge thus purloined. She has educated her people in a fashion which has made it in some branches of industry the superior, and in most the equal of the English. Her capitalists have been content with a simple style, which has enabled them to dispense with big immediate profits, and to feed their capital. They have toiled at their desks, and made their sons do likewise; they have kept a strict controlling hand on all the strings of their businesses; they have obtained State aid in several ways—as special rates to shipping ports; they have insinuated themselves into every part of the world—civilised, barbarian, savage — learning the languages, and patiently studying the wants and tastes of the several peoples. Not content with reaping the advantages of British colonisation—this was accomplished with alarming facility—Germany has ‘protected’ the simple savage on her own account, and the Imperial Eagle now floats on the breezes of the South Sea Islands, and droops in the thick air of the African littoral.

Her diplomatists have negotiated innumerable commercial treaties. The population of her cities has been increasing in a manner not unworthy of England in the Thirties and Forties. Like England, too, she is draining her rural districts for the massing of her children in huge factory towns. Her yards (as well as those of England) too, are ringing with the sound of hammers upon ships being builded for the transport of German merchandise. Her agents and travellers swarm through Russia, and wherever else there is a chance of trade on any terms—are even supplying the foreigner with German goods at a loss, that they may achieve their purpose in the end. In a word, an industrial development, unparalleled, save in England a century ago, is now her portion. A gigantic commercial State is arising to menace our prosperity, and contend with us for the trade of the world.” Made in Germany, Ernest Edwin Williams, William Heinemann, 1896, pages 9-10.

[“have no manners...”]
“[T]he Prussian is an optimist who looks on his immediate surroundings with a superb indifference. He needs little in this life and seems to expect less in the next. So long as he can sit in a tree-shaded garden, smoke tobacco, drink lager-beer, and listen to a band, he is perfectly happy. The stern joy of violent physical exercise he cannot understand, preferring rather to cultivate philosophy and a portly figure. Occasionally he is considerate, frequently he is kind. But now and again the English visitor finds himself recalling with satisfaction the answer of the schoolboy who, when asked to describe the manners and customs of a certain tribe, laconically replied, ‘These people have no manners, and their customs are beastly.’ ” From: “Berlin: A Capital at Play,” B. Fletcher Robinson, Cassell’s Family Magazine, 235, February, 1898. Cited in: British Identity and the German Other, William F. Bertolette, doctoral thesis, Louisiana State University, 2012, page 158.
[Germany industrialized rapidly]
For example: “Among the chief reasons for the decrease in the British iron industry must be placed the tendency to adhere to antiquated methods of production among English manufacturers. As opposed to this the German ironmasters have known how to avail themselves fully of modern improvements in the technical details of the metallurgy of iron and in the practical operation of the blast furnaces. In fact, though during 1905 there were fifty fewer blast furnaces in Germany than in Great Britain, the former country was able to produce no less than two million tons more of pig-iron than its rival, even with this great disadvantage in point of plant.” The Times April 7th, 1906.

For a much more comprehensive analysis, see Dawson, who was British, but who was educated in Germany. In a 1908 book, he noted that:

“[I]ndustrial Germany is largely the child of industrial England. We have created the rival of whose competition we now complain. Some time ago the Cologne Gazette reminded its readers that "It was Englishmen who in Germany first took in hand the construction of railways, gas works, tramways, and machine shops; who supplied to these enterprises the ample resources of British capital; and who thus acted as the pioneers of German material development." This is a generalisation which it would be possible to illustrate in all sorts of ways.

[In] 1838... Mr. Richard Cobden... foretold the day when the weapons which English enterprise and example were then placing in German hands would be turned against ourselves with fatal effect....

The process which to Cobden seventy years ago appeared so sinister was continued far into last century. Englishmen, their enterprise, intelligence, and capital were welcome so long as they were needed. Those were the days of Germany’s apprenticeship, and never was learner more patient and industrious. Directly the apprentice was out of his time, however, he began business on his own account, and his master was free to go, and go he did. We all know the rest. From manufacturing for their own use the Germans soon proceeded to supply other nations, and England lost control of markets in which it had for generations held an almost undisputed position....

But this plodding and persistent endeavour of the Germans to come to the front has been supported by a skilful and even masterly application of means to ends. While the average Englishman has been accustomed to regard commerce as a purely rule-of-thumb matter, the German has followed it as a science and an art, and in reality all the methods and measures which he has adopted in competing with his older rivals for the trade of the world may be reduced to one principle, characteristic of the Germans in so many ways, the application of a trained intelligence to the practical affairs of life.

Broadly speaking, where the German outrivals his competitors it will be found that his success is due to one or other of three reasons (1) the cheaper price of his goods, (2) their superior or at least more serviceable character, and (3) the more efficient arrangements which he makes for reaching and attracting purchasers.”

The Evolution of Modern Germany, William Harbutt Dawson, T. Fisher Unwin, 1908, pages 75-79.

See also: The Diplomatic Background of the War 1870 to 1914, Charles Seymour, Yale University Press, 1916, Chapter 4.

As with many British historians at the start of the twentieth century prior to World War I, Dawson’s general Germanophilia contrasted with Barker’s general Germanophobia. Dawson was highly respected. See: “William Harbutt Dawson: The Career and Politics of an Historian of Germany,” S. Berger, The English Historical Review, 116(465):76-113, 2001.

[chemical industry in Germany versus Britain]
The first aniline dye was commercialized as mauveine. It was discovered accidentally by William Perkin in 1856. But leadership in organic chemistry soon passed from Britain to Germany. Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color that Changed the World, Simon Garfield, W. W. Norton, 2000. France also contributed strongly, since many early French scientists, like Lavoisier and Berthollet, built it up, but it was Germany that exploited those results to build actual industries on them.
[Germany strongly adopts applied science]
“The nations who entered the field first were not forced by competition to the development of scientific methods of production and distribution; their way being clear they proceeded in hit-or-miss fashion, and although they lost many opportunities of cheapening their goods without lessening their value, and neglected many prospective customers whom they might have secured, they still made their necessary profits. And as time went on, even with the advent of new trade rivals, they clung to their old-fashioned methods. But the Germans, if they were to overcome the start that had been gained by the older nations, were absolutely forced to the use of scientific methods both in the making of the goods and in selling them. This they realized definitely, with the result that the processes of manufacturing and selling developed by the Germans, have become models for the world. That which of late years has been so characteristic of German Kultur in general—"the application of a trained intelligence to the practical affairs of life"—has been preëminently true of their industrial and commercial methods.

Science in method has been, perhaps, the greatest reason for Germany’s ability to produce goods more cheaply than her rivals. The development of mechanical labor-saving devices progressed further there than in any other country; and the Germans’ skill in the coordination of the various processes of production has also enabled them to cut their costs. Their application of the natural sciences, especially chemistry, was another factor making for economy in manufacturing methods. Every new discovery was at once investigated by the German manufacturers in the hope that it would lead to some improvement ia the technical details of production and thus allow them to undersell their competitors.”

The Diplomatic Background of the War 1870 to 1914, Charles Seymour, Yale University Press, 1916, pages 69-71.

[Germany versus Egypt]
“First Mover Advantages, Blockaded entry, and the Economics of Uneven Development,” J. R. Markusen, in International Trade and Trade Policy, Elhanan Helpman and Assaf Razin (editors), MIT Press, 1991, pages 245-269.
[skill flow from poor to rich lands]
The term ‘brain drain’ is a loaded phrase, and one possibility currently being floated about might even be to replace the term with ‘brain gain,’ but some economists suggest ‘skill flow’ as a more encompassing and less loaded term. Some economists (see especially Gibson and McKenzie) think that there is no ‘brain drain,’ or if there is, that it isn’t important, or if it is, it works both ways. They tend to focus on the individual and not the country and cite things like remittances back to the sending country, trade, and so forth, or they do studies on low-skilled labor, or on remittance flows to small countries, or certain cases where catchup has already happened, as is the case in Taiwan, Israel, and certain parts of China or India. However, all that ignores the issue of the sending country trying to build a complete industrial network of its own. As a data point: In 2003, about 2.5 million of the 21.6 million scientists and engineers in the United States were born in poor countries. “Why Did They Come to the United States? A Profile of Immigrant Scientists and Engineers,” N. Kannankutty, J. Burrelli, Info Brief, National Science Foundation: Directorate for Social Behavioral and Economic Sciences, 2007. Global Economic Prospects 2008: Technology Diffusion in the Developing World, The World Bank, 2008, chapter 3. See also: Brain Drain and Brain Gain: The Global Competition to Attract High-Skilled Migrants, Tito Boeri, Herbert Brücker, Fréedéric Docquier, and Hillel Rapoport (editors), Oxford University Press, 2012. “Economics and Emigration: Trillion-Dollar Bills on the Sidewalk?” M. Clemens, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 25(3):83-106, 2011. “Eight Questions about Brain Drain,” J. Gibson, D. McKenzie, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 25(3):107-128, 2011. “Report of the WPA Task Force on Brain Drain,” O. Gureje, S. Hollins, M. Botbol, A. Javed, M. Jorge, V. Okech, M. Riba, J. Trivedi, N. Sartorius, R. Jenkins, World Psychiatry, 8(2):115-118, 2009. “Brain Drain in Developing Countries,” F. Docquier, O. Lohest, A. Marfouk, The World Bank Economic Review, 21(2):193-218, 2007. “Arab Societies as Knowledge Societies,” A. B. Zahlan, Minerva, 44(1):103-112, 2006. “Engineering and Engineering Education in Egypt,” O. L. El-Sayed, J. Lucena, G. Downey, IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, 25(2):18-25, 2006. “How Extensive Is the Brain Drain?” W. J. Carrington, E. Detragiache, Finance and Development, International Monetary Fund, 36(2):46-49, 1999. “The Egyptian "Brain Drain": A Multidimensional Problem,” N. Ayubi, International Journal of Middle East Studies, 15(4):431-450, 1983. “Motives for the Emigration of Egyptian Scientists,” S. Saleh, Social Problems, 25(1):40-51, 1977.
[Philippine doctors emigrating to become nurses in the United States]
Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity, and Society, Volume I, Richard T. Schaefer (editor), SAGE, 2008, page 199.
[capital flows to rich versus poor countries]
An issue first articulated by Lucas. “Why Doesn’t Capital Flow from Rich to Poor Countries?” R. E. Lucas, Jr., American Economic Review, 80(2):92-96, 1990. See also: “What drives international financial flows? Politics, institutions and other determinants,” E. Papaioannou, Journal of Development Economics, 88(2):269-281, 2009. “International Investment Patterns,” P. R. Lane, G. M. Milesi-Ferretti, The Review of Economics and Statistics, 90(3):538-549, 2008. “Why Doesn’t Capital Flow from Rich to Poor Countries? An Empirical Investigation,” L. Alfaro, S. Kalemli-Ozcan, V. Volosovych, The Review of Economics and Statistics, 90(2):347-368, 2008. “Banking on Democracy: The Political Economy of International Private Bank Lending in Emerging Markets,” J. Rodríguez, J. Santiso, International Political Science Review, 29(2):215-246, 2008. “Channels from Globalization to Inequality: Productivity World versus Factor World,” W. Easterly, in Brookings Trade Forum 2004: Globalization, Poverty, and Inequality, Susan M. Collins and Carol Graham (editors) Brookings Institutions, 2004, pages 39-71.
[foreign direct investment in Angola, Equatorial Guinea, and Sudan]
“Many LDCs host small amounts of FDI. At the regional level, for example, in the case of Africa’s 34 LDCs, although 29 countries recorded higher FDI in 2004 than in 2003, all but the three oil-producing countries (Angola, Equatorial Guinea and Sudan) received less than $1 billion; and 21 received no more than $100 million. A similar situation applied to Asia and Oceania, where 12 of the 15 LDCs received less than $100 million in flows in 2004. The only LDC in Latin America and the Caribbean, Haiti, continued to record a modest amount of FDI.” FDI in Least Developed Countries at a Glance: 2005/2006, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, 2006, page 2.
[textile exports of Bangladesh and others from 1999 to 2001]
Developing Countries in the World Trading System: The Uruguay Round and Beyond, Premachandra Athukoralge, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2002, page 75. “Market Access for Developing Countries,” H. P. Lankes, Finance and Development, International Monetary Fund, 39(3):8-13, 2002.
[effective European ban on Mauritanian cheese]
“Scaling Up: The Challenge of Monterrey,” N. Stern, in Annual World Bank Conference on Development Economics—Europe 2003: Toward Pro-Poor Policies: Aid, Institutions, and Globalization, Bertil Tungodden, Nicholas Stern, and Ivar Kolstad (editors), World Bank and Oxford University Press, 2004, pages 13-42.
[number of trade barriers in the European Union]
That’s really just the number of tariffs. In Defence of Global Capitalism, Johan Norberg, translated by Roger Tanner and Julian Sanchez, Academic Foundation, 2005, page 145.
[trade barriers in poor countries about twice high as those in as rich ones]
A briefly stated yet comprehensive comparison is hard since there are many ways for a country to protect itself—including subsidies, quotas, tariffs, duties, and so on—and there are many ways to define who is rich and who is poor. However, at least in terms of tariffs, Lankes notes that: “Developing countries themselves have high tariffs that limit trade among them. The average tariff in developing countries is 14 percent, and in the least developed countries, 17.9 percent, compared with 5.2 percent in the industrial countries.” “Market Access for Developing Countries,” H. P. Lankes, Finance and Development, International Monetary Fund, 39(3):8-13, 2002. Similarly, the World Bank states that: “Developing countries themselves are part of the problem. Although South-South trade is a much smaller share of total trade, average tariffs in manufactures are three times higher for trade among developing countries than for exports to high-income countries. Taken together and because of high protection for labor-intensive products around the globe, the world’s poor face tariffs that are, on average, roughly twice as high as those imposed on the nonpoor.” Global Economic Prospects 2002: Making Trade Work for the World’s Poor, The World Bank, 2002, page 37.
[30-year textile trade agreement]
That’s the Agreement on Textile and Clothing (also known as the Multi-Fibre Arrangement). TNCs and the removal of textiles and clothing quotas, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, 2005.
[Brazil tried to grow its computer industry in 1977]
“Latin America in the Rearview Mirror,” H. L. Cole, L. E. Ohanian, A. Riascos, J. A. Schmitz, Jr. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Research Department Staff Report 351, 2004. “Trade, Growth, and Poverty—A Selective Survey,” A. Berg, A. Krueger, in Annual World Bank Conference on Development Economics 2003: The New Reform Agenda, Boris Pleskovic and Nicholas Stern (editors), World Bank and Oxford University Press, 2003, pages 47-90. The Microcomputer Industry in Brazil: The Case of a Protected High-Technology Industry, Eduardo Luzio, Praeger, 1996. “Measuring the Performance of a Protected Infant Industry: E. Luzio, S. Greenstein, The Case of Brazilian Microcomputers,” Review of Economics and Statistics, 77(4):622-633, 1995.

However, for a good argument that protectionism was widely used in the past among today’s rich nations, see: Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective, Ha-Joon Chang, Anthem Press, 2002.

[what led to India’s turnaround?]
The abbreviated story in the text might give the impression that India’s economic turnaround began only in the 1990s, but that may not be correct. A recent UNDESA working paper points out that its economic development rates from 1980 to 1990 were about the same as from 1990 to 2000, with real takeoff happening only after 2000. However, the paper offers no explanation for that. “The Scorecard on Development, 1960-2010: Closing the Gap?” M. Weisbrot, R. Ray, DESA Working Paper No. 106 United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2011, especially pages 13-14.
[India and China rising fast—but from a low level]
Today, many foreheads in rich countries crease over talk of a ‘loss of competitiveness’ or even of a ‘flat world.’ It’s hard to know why. India and China, in particular, are indeed growing fast now. For instance, from 1978 and 2007, rural poverty in China fell from 30.7 percent to 1.6 percent. But both India and China also started from far behind the world’s rich countries. From 1990 to 2003, per person income in China leapt 196 percent. In rich nations it went up only 24 percent. Yet today, income in rich lands is still over five times larger than income in China. China today is about where Japan was in the 1970s. Similarly, India’s economy is now surging at 9.4 percent a year—yet even were its torrid growth to persist, it would still take many decades to catch up with our rich countries. It has huge problems. Its adult literacy rate is lower than Rwanda’s. Its percentage of children in school is smaller than Vietnam’s. Its per person income is lower than Nicaragua’s. More than a fourth of the very poorest of us live in India. India in 2005 had a life expectancy of 63.7 years, an adult literacy rate of 61.0 percent, a combined gross enrollment ratio for primary, secondary, and tertiary education of 63.8 percent, and a per-person GDP (PPP) of $3,452. “Getting the Numbers Right: International Engineering Education in the United States, China, and India,” G. Gereffi, V. Wadhwa, B. Rissing, R. Ong, Journal of Engineering Education, 97(1):13-25, 2008. Human Development Report 2007/2008: Fighting climate change: Human solidarity in a divided world, United Nations Development Programme, 2007, page 231, Table I. Access for All: Basic public services for 1.3 billion people, China Human Development Report 2007/2008, United Nations Development Programme, page 10. Human Development Report, 2005: International cooperation at a crossroads: aid, trade and security in an unequal world, United Nations Development Programme, 2006, page 37.

[African stock markets in 2010]
“African Financial Systems: A Review,” F. Allen, I. Otchere, L. Senbet, The Wharton Financial Institutions Center, 2010. “Stock Market Development in Sub-Saharan Africa: Critical Issues and Challenges,” C. A. Yartey, C. K. Adjasi, Working Paper No. 07/209, International Monetary Fund, 2007.
[transitions from poor to rich from 1955 to 2005]
Ten countries have grown, on average, at 4.3 percent or more per person per year from 1955 to 2005: Oman, Botswana, Equatorial Guinea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and China. Global Economic History: A Very Short Introduction, Robert C. Allen, Oxford University Press, 2011, page 146. Interestingly, the first three discovered buried resources (oil or diamonds); the second two are city-states; the third three gained by trade partly because of a long cold war. That leaves the most interesting cases, the last two: Thailand and China.
[world urbanization growth]
For a poor country to achieve operational closure, a lot of its network’s parts have to both build up and weld together to synergetically aid each other. But for that to happen today, each such part has to grow very fast because all those parts are in high demand—both from other poor countries that are growing even faster, and also from rich countries, which need those same network parts either to grow or maintain their own networks. Since the poor country is starting the economic race from very far behind, for that to happen, a lot of rapid growth has to happen in a lot of areas for a long time. How likely is any country to grow rapidly for two (or more) generations given all the accidents of history that could happen during all that time? Well, in the recent past a long cold war helped that along in Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea. (It also happened in Singapore and Hong Kong, but they are more cities than countries). But Japan, after being threatened with subjugation in the 1800s, helped itself, then was smashed down in the 1900s, then was helped up. And both Taiwan, next door to China, and South Korea, next door to North Korea (and so indirectly China), feared invasion, and thus were motivated to perform economically via exports. But the cold war is over now yet it’s also happening now in China.

Five thousand years ago, Egypt, not Germany, had bronze tools, big cities, large buildings, writing, math, and famous medicine. Five hundred years ago, India and China, not Europe or the United States, led the world in just about every respect. Likely they will once again do so, for our economic center of gravity most likely will move back to where most of our brains and hands are—once those brains are well-trained and those hands have the right tools. Which brings up Africa. Since at least the 1800s, when a steam-powered, machine-gun-toting Europe carved it up like a roast turkey, it’s been the continent that the world has voted least likely to succeed. But it’s also a hugely resource-rich continent whose land area could swallow China, India, and the United States (plus nearly all of Australia). By 2050, over two billion of us will be alive there. But it’s pointless to ask when, or if, our hands and brains there will be trained the same way as in China, India, and the United States, if only because those countries won’t stand still for all that time. So to get a picture of which places will do well in the future, take the derivative of the length of immigration lines at embassies around the world. When a country’s derivative turns negative, it means the lines are shrinking. Fewer of us are trying to get in. Invest elsewhere.

Statistics: Land area, in square kilometers: Africa: 30,221,532. China: 9,640,011. India: 3,287,590. United States: 9,629,091. (Left over: 7,664,840. Australia: 7,692,024.) Guesstimated 2050 populations: Africa - 2,270,576. China - 1,303,723. India - 1,656,554. United states - 422,554. (Left over: 3382831-2270576 = 1,112,255.) (Figures from the International Data Base (IDB) Division of the United States Census Bureau, 2012.)

[barracuda and minnows]
The text’s analogy of barracuda and minnows is similar to a well-known anthropological theory of groups divided by energy use. It was first proposed by Leslie White, then developed more or less in the following order: The Science of Culture: A Study of Man and Civilization, Leslie A. White, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1949. The Evolution of Culture: The Development of Civilization to the Fall of Rome, Leslie A. White, McGraw-Hill, 1959. Cultural Materialism: The Struggle for a Science of Culture, Marvin Harris Random House, 1979. Cannibals and Kings, Origins of Cultures, Marvin Harris, Vintage, 1991. Social Transformations: A Critical History, Stephen K. Sanderson, Blackwell, 1995. Human Societies: An Introduction to Macrosociology, Gerhard Lenski and Patrick Nolan, Paradigm Pub, Ninth Edition, 2004.

The Lenski book, much as the text does, focuses on information acquisition. Within this stream of thought, often called ‘anthropological materialism,’ or ‘evolutionary sociology,’ there’s a kind of line of descent, based mostly on who was who’s student. (Roughly speaking: Gordon Childe influenced Leslie White, who influenced Marvin Harris, who influenced Stephen Sanderson.) This text, though, is a work of popular science, and it differs from those of sociologists, anthropologists, historians, and political scientists, in that its focus is on possible internal forces working among our whole species and not on any particular group as it stands with respect to any other group, although of course there’s no way to study our species in the abstract with no reference to particular groups.

Fogy Boom

[rich world birth rates]
World Population Prospects: The 2006 Revision, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2007, Table A.15, pages 74-78.
[immigration to the United States in 2006]
Is about 1.8 million a year. About 1.3 million are legal. Immigration And America’s Future: A New Chapter, Doris Meissner, Deborah W. Meyers, Demetrios G. Papademetriou, and Michael Fix, Brookings Institute Press, 2006.
[age of first birth in our rich lands]
“Delayed Childbearing: More Women Are Having Their First Child Later in Life,” T. J. Mathews, B. E. Hamilton, NCHS Data Brief, Number 21, 2009. The Changing Face of Canada, Roderic Beaujot and Don Kerr (editors), Canadian Scholars’ Press, 2007, page 33. Recent Demographic Developments in Europe, Parts 39-2004, Council of Europe, 2005, pages 81 and 85.
[number of over-85s in Britain from 1901 to 2011]
“Measuring National Well-being — Population,” Office for National Statistics, Tables 1 and 2, pages 4 and 7-8.
[demographic change in China]
“China faces growing gender imbalance,” BBC News, January 11th, 2010. World Population Prospects: The 2006 Revision, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2007. “The Contribution of Population Health and Demographic Change to Economic Growth in China and India,” D. E. Bloom, D. Canning, L. Hu, Y. Liu, A. Mahal, W. Yip, PGDA Working Paper Number 2807, Program on the Global Demography of Aging, 2007. “China’s Growth to 2030: The Roles of Demographic Change and Investment Premia,” R. Tyers, J. Golley, PGDA Working Paper Number 1206, Program on the Global Demography of Aging, 2006. “China’s Growth to 2030: Demographic Change and the Labour Supply Constraint,” J. Golley, R. Tyers, PGDA Working Paper Number 1106, Program on the Global Demography of Aging, 2006.
[working-age population]
World Population Prospects: The 2006 Revision, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2007.
[U.S. personal income and government debt]
In 2007, U.S. personal income was around $12 million million U.S. National Income and Product Accounts Tables, Bureau of Economic Analysis, United States Department of Commerce, 2008, Table 2.1., Personal Income and Its Disposition.

But the government owed a total of $53 million million U.S. That counts approximately $34 million million in medicare; around $11 million million in total accumulated liabilities, including public debt; about $7 million million in social security; and around $1 million million in miscellaneous items. In total, that’s about $175,000 per citizen. “Long-Term Fiscal Outlook: Action Is Needed to Avoid the Possibility of a Serious Economic Disruption in the Future,” United States Government Accountability Office, GAO-08-411T, 2008, page 6. See also: A Citizen’s Guide to the 2010 Financial Report of the U.S. Government, United States Department of the Treasury, 2011.

[price of sex in Tahiti in 1767]
Samuel Wallis, captain of The Dolphin, landed on 17th June 1767 and, after some skirmishing and uncertainty, on July 7th tried to discover what the Tahitans might most want: “I laid down before them a Johannes, a guinea, a crown piece, a Spanish dollar, a few shillings, some new halfpence, and two large nails, making signs that they should take what they liked best. The nails were first seized, with great eagerness, and then a few of the halfpence, but the silver and gold lay neglected.” The Oxford Book of Exploration, Robin Hanbury-Tenison, Oxford University Press, Second Edition, 2005, page 404. He didn’t see that they could use nails as weapon points, they could bend them to use as fish hooks, and they could use them as tools. Gold and silver had no use. But the sex trade started that same day.

By July 21st, George Robertson, master of The Dolphin, reported that “Some of the Young Gentlemen told me, that all the Liberty men carried on a trade with the Young Girls, who had now raised their price for some Days past, from a twenty or thirty-penny nail to a forty-penny, and some was so Extravagant as to demand a Seven or nine inch Spike.” Body Work: Objects of Desire in Modern Narrative, Peter Brooks, Harvard University Press, 1993, page 170.

Instead of viewing supply and demand in terms of the price of sex, we can equally well look at it in terms of the price of nails. In two weeks, the price of nails halved, heading down to its more normal value in the outside world where metal is commonplace.

See also: Paradise Past: The Transformation of the South Pacific, 1520-1920, Robert W. Kirk, McFarland, 2012, page 37. A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World, Gregory Clark, Princeton University Press, 2007, page 29.

[reasons for borrowing]
Of course, it is possible to borrow a lot yet escape future pain—if we only borrow briefly, or only borrow to invest in ventures likely to return value. Once upon a time, borrowing a lot was hard. But starting in the late 1970s and early 1980s, as we began to integrate globally, and as poor nations got richer, either through holding scarce resources, like oil, or through industrial phase change, and as financial markets were deregulated, large pools of capital—pension funds, mutual funds, insurance assets, sovereign wealth funds, hedge funds, private equity funds, aggregate savings funds—were freed to invest wherever they wish. So borrowing a lot got easier and easier. And when borrowing is easy, self-control is hard. Whether you’re a family, a bank, a company, or a nation, it’s tempting to borrow a lot, and for long periods, to consume, not to invest. And why? Consumption for today draws more votes than investment for tomorrow. (Or rather, not spending on tomorrow doesn’t draw as much attack as not spending on today).
[a fixed amount of money...]
The discussion doesn’t even account for variables like inflation, currency fluctuation, arbitrarge, debt restructuring, and, above all, uncertainty.
[avoiding the game of hot potato...]
Were one of our currently rich but debt-ridden countries to drive down its fiscal deficits, that would drive down its interest rates—because creditors wouldn’t worry as much about losing any money they might lend. In turn, that would drive up investment, which would drive down jobloss, which would drive up exports, which would drive down debt. That sort of austerity effort is possible—as Germany after reunification in 1990 shows. West Germany wasn’t debt-ridden, but for well over two decades it sacrificed heavily to rebuild East Germany. That came at the cost of curtailed benefits, wage cuts, pension cuts, an a special transfer tax. But that’s an unusual case.

‘In total since 1990, transfers from west to east are estimated at about €15 to 17 billion annually.’

“Inter-temporal Savings, Current Account Trends and Asymmetric Shocks in a Heterogeneous European Monetary Union,” Gunther Schnabl, Holger Zemanek, Intereconomics, 46(3):153-160, 2011.

Of course, that’s more possible for those nations that can borrow in their own currency—for example, the United States, Britain, and Japan. Nations that can’t, like those in the EuroZone, are in more trouble.

Utopia Dead Ahead

[the emerging global middle class by 2030]
The term ‘middle-class’ is nebulous. Arguments continue as to what exactly it might be. A growing consensus, such as it is, seems to be, roughly like anything between $10 and $100 U.S. PPP a day. However, again arguments do continue. Back in 2004, it used to be $8 U.S. Argument also continue over whether it might be an ability to afford a bicycle or a motorcycle or a car, and so on. “Five Trends Reshaping the Global Economy,” D. Barton, McKinsey & Company, 2013. “Capturing the world’s emerging middle class,” D. Court, L. Narasimhan, McKinsey & Company, 2010. “The emerging middle class in developing countries,” H. Kharas, OECD Development Centre Working Paper No.285, 2010. “The New Global Middle Class: A Cross-Over from West to East,” H. Kharas and G. Gertz, in China’s Emerging Middle Class: Beyond Economic Transformation, Cheng Li, editor, Brookings Institution Press, 2010.

In 2004, predictions were that 600 million more would be earning over $8 a day by 2015. In 2004, $8 U.S. a day was defined as enough for a global middle-class income. The BRICs and Global Markets: Crude, Cars and Capital, Global Economics Paper Number 118, Goldman Sachs, 2004. Dreaming with BRICs: The Path to 2050, Global Economics Paper Number 99, Goldman Sachs, 2003. However, of the four BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), Brazil’s per capita GDP improved from 1980 to 2000, but not by a great deal. Since 2000 it began to pick up.

Global per-person GDP rose from 1960 to 2000: Lectures on Economic Growth, Robert E. Lucas, Jr., Harvard University Press, 2002, especially Chapter 5. From 1987 to 2004 alone, our numbers rose by over 1.7 thousand million. Yet our average per-person income still rose by a third. “Worldwide, GDP per capita (purchasing power parity) has increased from US$5 927 in 1987 to US$8 162 in 2004.” Global Environment Outlook, GEO-4, United Nations Environment Programme, 2007, page 4. Also, half a billion in all were added in the 25 years before 2007, a statistic quoted by Paul Wolfowitz, then president of the World Bank, at World Economic Forum Sessions on Global Health: Scaling Innovation in Foreign Aid, Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 2007, page 7.

[dates of first urbanization]
As usual, with urbanization, specific dates depend on the specific reference chosen. For uniformity sake, since the text names several countries at once, it (mostly) goes with Mosley: “From the late eighteenth century onwards, the rise of industrial cities ushered in a new phase of environmental change. Britain was the first nation to undergo rapid urban-industrial expansion, followed by northern Europe, the USA and Japan. Driven by the push of agricultural modernisation, and the pull of factory work opportunities, urbanisation rates accelerated sharply in Britain, with others in the industrialising world catching up by the early twentieth century. In 1851, Britain—the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution—became the first country to have more than half of its population living in cities. By 1900, Germany and the Netherlands had also passed 50 per cent, and France was close to the ‘half urban’ mark at 45 per cent. But the USA did not reach this level of urbanisation until 1920, and Japan later still in 1935.” The Environment in World History, Stephen Mosley, Taylor & Francis, 2010, page 92. See also: The Encyclopedia of World History, Peter N. Stearns and William L. Langer (editors), Houghton Mifflin Books, 2001, page 420.
[urbanization data and median estimates from 1950 to 2050]
World Urbanization Prospects: The 2009 Revision, United Nations Population Division estimates, United Nations Common Database, 2009.
[top 10 percent and top 20 percent versus bottom 10 percent and bottom 20 percent]
Human Development Report, 2005, United Nations Development Programme, 2006, pages 36-38. The World Economy: A Millennia Perspective, Angus Maddison, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2001.
[consistent and increasing income skew]
As of 2010, while there have been dramatic changes in health, longevity, fertility, and schooling, income distributions have remained skewed.

“Despite aggregate progress, there is no convergence in income—in contrast to health and education—because on average rich countries have grown faster than poor ones over the past 40 years. The divide between developed and developing countries persists: a small subset of countries has remained at the top of the world income distribution, and only a handful of countries that started out poor have joined that high-income group....

Since the 1980s, income inequality has risen in many more countries than it has fallen. For every country where inequality has improved in the past 30 years, in more than two it has worsened....

Since 1970, 155 countries—home to 95 percent of the world’s people—have experienced increases in real per capita income. The annual average today is $10,760, almost 1.5 times its level 20 years ago and twice its level 40 years ago. People in all regions have seen substantial increases in average income, though patterns vary. And the range, amount and quality of goods and services available to people today is unprecedented. From 1970 to 2010 per capita income in developed countries increased 2.3 percent a year on average, compared with 1.5 percent for developing countries. In 1970 the average income of a country in the top quarter of the world income distribution was 23 times that of a country in the bottom quarter. By 2010 it approached 29 times.”

Human Development Report, 2010, United Nations Development Programme, 2010, pages 4, 6, and 40-42.

The World Bank and the United Nations roughly agree on the above trends, but within econometric circles, various measures, and their interpretations, are contested. For example, see: “Poverty Traps,” C. Azariadis, J. Stachurski, Chapter 5 of Handbook of Economic Growth, Philippe Aghion and Steven Durlauf (editors), Volume I, Part A, Elsevier, 2005. “The World Distribution of Income: Falling Poverty and... Convergence, Period,” X. Sala-i-Martin, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 121(2):351-398, 2006. “The World Distribution of Income and Income Inequality: A Review of the Economics Literature,” A. Heshmati, Journal of World-Systems Research, 12(1):1-24, 2006. “World Income Distribution: Which Way?” P. Svedberg, Journal of Development Studies, 40(5):1-32, 2004. “True World Income Distribution, 1988 and 1993: First Calculations, Based on Household Surveys Alone,” B. Milanovic, The Economic Journal, 112(476):51-92, 2002.

Further, the following paper argues that while inequity is large today, it used to be larger, but within countries, less so between countries. The industrial phase change led to a large spike in inequity for its first 90 years or so, then within-country inequities leveled off and between-countries inequities grew. “Inequality among World Citizens: 1820-1992,” F. Bourguignon, C. Morrisson, American Economic Review, 92(4):727-744, 2002.

[life expectancies in Japan and Swaziland]
World Population Prospects: The 2006 revision, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2007, Table A.17, page 79. World Development Report 2006: Equity and Development, The World Bank, 2005, page 55.
[dripping taps and wasted water]
Human Development Report, 2006, United Nations Development Programme, 2007, page 6.
[child labor]
Perhaps 250 million of our children between the ages of 5 and 14 still labor today. Perhaps 60 million of those children are forced to become prostitutes or soldiers. Beyond Child Labor: Affirming Rights, United Nations Children’s Fund, 2001, pages 1 and 14.
[slavery wasn’t dead in 2003]
Slavery is today no longer legal in nearly all our countries (Mauritania is an exception), but it still exists.

“Year after year, NGOs presented more and more examples of the same inquitous practices, as well as new ones. Members [of the United Nations Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery] listened to governments’ claims that they were eliminating them, only to hear a year later from NGOs that nothing had changed. The only certainty was that if there were any results they would be long delayed. While the UN talked and governments made excuses, more people fell into debt-bondage, more women were forced into marriage, more children were sold and ill-treated, and more workers were exploited. Meanwhile governments, even impoverished ones, spent large sums on arms. Leaders salted away ill-gotten gains, and corrupt officials failed to enforce laws. Third World poverty was compounded by population growth, by the failure to construct a new and more equitable international economic order, and sometimes by structural adjustment demanded by the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank or by ill-conceived development projects.” Slavery in the Twentieth Century: The Evolution of a Global Problem, Suzanne Miers, Rowman Altamira, 2003, page 404.

[12 to 27 million slaves in 2005]
Bales’ guess of 27 million is widely accepted. The United Nations International Labor Organization estimates a minimum of 12.3 million slaves worldwide today. A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery, E. Benjamin Skinner, Free Press, 2008. A Global Alliance Against Forced Labour, International Labour Office, United Nations, 2005. Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, Kevin Bales, University of California Press, 2000.
[perhaps 30,000 to perhaps over 100,000 slaves in the United States in 2007]
Definite numbers are hard to come by.

“Well over one hundred thousand people live enslaved at this moment in the United States, and as many as seventeen thousand new victims are trafficked across our borders each year.” Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade—and How We Can Fight It, David Batstone, HarperOne, 2007, page 3.

“The United States has become a major importer of sex slaves. Last year, the C.I.A. estimated that between 18,000 and 20,000 people are trafficked annually into the United States. The government has not studied how many of these are victims of sex traffickers, but Kevin Bales, president of Free the Slaves, America’s largest anti-slavery organization, says that the number is at least 10,000 a year. John Miller, the State Department’s director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, conceded: “That figure could be low. What we know is that the number is huge.” Bales estimates that there are 30,000 to 50,000 sex slaves in captivity in the United States at any given time.” See: “The Girls Next Door,” P. Landesman, New York Times, January 25th, 2004.

[slavery around the world in 2001]
In 2001 a black-market cousin of chattel slavery itself still existed in West Africa. There, children cost about $30 U.S. Dealers bought them from their parents in one country then sold them in another. Poorer countries—like Benin, Mali, and Togo—supplied richer ones—like Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon, and Gabon. Full-frontal slavery, complete with slave markets, also still existed in Mauritania and Sudan. Across the Atlantic, those of us in Brazil could also be in bondage. Tricked with promises of well-paid work, whole families were trucked or shipped around Amazonia. There we cleared forests under armed guard. Haiti, too, still had slaves. Half of us there couldn’t read and four in five of us lived in abject poverty. The poorest nation in the Americas, Haiti had armies of slaves, both for sex and for labor. That included children as young as four.

“Mali’s Children in Chocolate Slavery,” H. Hawksley, BBC News, April 12th, 2001. Slavery in Brazil: A Link in the Chain of Modernisation, Alison Sutton, Anti-Slavery International, 1994. Incidentally, in 1995, new Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso announced new measures to eradicate slavery. In 2003, new Brazilian President Luíz Inácio Lula da Silva announced new measures to eradicate slavery. Slavery and Human Progress, David Brion Davis, Oxford University Press, 1984.

[haves and have-nots]
We’ve always divided into haves and have-nots. That’s not new. But the scale of today’s skew is. Take rotavirus. In the United States from 1993 to 2003, it killed 37 of our babies a year. Stamping it out there got a lot of funding. Worldwide, it killed over half a million of our babies a year—it’s our single largest baby-killer. It severely sickens another two million of our kids a year. But all that death and disease got little funding. All those kids are poor. Their parents are poor. Their nations are poor. Their regions are poor. Who’s going to pay for a cure when those in danger can’t? Who, then, might be surprised that in the 30 years from 1975 and 2004, we developed 1,556 new drugs. Just 21 were for tropical diseases. “Hospitalizations and deaths from diarrhea and rotavirus among children <5 years of age in the United States, 1993-2003,” T. K. Fischer, C. Viboud, U. Parashar, M. Malek, C. Steiner, R. Glass, L. Simonsen, Journal of Infectious Diseases, 195(8):1117-1125, 2007. “Use of formative research in developing a knowledge translation approach to rotavirus vaccine introduction in developing countries,” E. Simpson, S. Wittet, J. Bonilla, K. Gamazina, L. Cooley, J. L. Winkler, BMC Public Health, 7:281, 2007. “Global framework on essential health R&D,” P. Chirac, E. Torreele, The Lancet, 367(9522):1560-1561, 2006.
[Spanish inflation]
Spain went broke three more times, too. It didn’t fully shift into industry until the 1960s. It was more or less a basket case until 1979, when it negotiated to join the European Union (which, back then, was the European Economic Community). This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly, Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, Princeton University Press, 2009, pages 86-87. “Institutions and the Resource Curse in Early Modern Spain,” M. Drelichman, H.-J. Voth, in Institutions and Economic Performance, Elhanan Helpman (editor), Harvard University Press, 2008. The Mediterranean Tradition in Economic Thought, Louis Baeck, Routledge, 1994, Chapter 7. A Financial History of Western Europe, Charles P. Kindleberger, 1993, Taylor & Francis, Reprint Edition, 2006, page 45. American Treasure and the Price Revolution in Spain, 1501-1650, Earl J. Hamilton, Harvard University Press, 1934.
[...many of our income skews may well persist]
For example, from about 1770 to 1910, inequality in Britain changed twice. For the first 70 or so years, the rate of profit for those of us who owned capital roughly doubled. With capital, you could buy tools and resources. You could also encourage and support skilled labor. And you could concentrate labor pools. With new tools, like the steam engine, and new ways to organize labor to take advantage of them, profits surged. The share of national income from capital rose, while the shares from land and labor fell. Further, profit was so great that capital owners reinvested much of it—in search of yet more profit—rather than consuming it. Capital thus began to build on itself autocatalytically. Further, with the new tools and resources and labor arrangements that capital bought, output per worker rose. Real wages of those workers also grew, but far more slowly. Thus, inequality rose sharply. During this period, capital owners in Britain made out like bandits.

However, the picture changed over the next 70 or so years from 1840 to 1910. Output kept rising, but this time, real wages rose with it. Given the state of technical know-how at the time, capital had already done about as much as it could with tools and energy and labor organization. The only thing left to invest in was the workers themselves. In this period, railways, which helped concentrate workers, and also divide their labor, were spreading. Mass production, which needs educated labor, was also spreading. As real wages rose, workers now had enough to start saving a little of it. The rest they reinvested in themselves. Unions spread. Schools spread. Voting rights spread. Laws changed. Sewerage and other infrastructure spread. Child mortality then fell. Then family size dropped. The British economy shifted away from hand-to-mouth farm- and factory-labor. The returns to capital, while still high, then stabilized. Inequality then fell—but not as sharply as it had earlier risen.

See: “Engel’s Pause: Technical Change, Capital Accumulation, and Inequality in the British British Industrial Revolution,” R. C. Allen, Explorations in Economic History, 46(4):418-435, 2009.

[falling shares of farming and manufacturing in the United States]
2002 Census of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service, United States Department of Agriculture. Bureau of Economic Analysis, United States Department of Commerce.
[tomato production in 2008]
World production: 141,194,598 metric tons. United States production: 12,735,100 metric tons. That’s nine percent, or about one in every eleven. FAOSTAT Database, 2009, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2009.
[United States shift from manufacturing to paperwork]
For example, from 1979 to 2009, manufacturing in the United States lost around a quarter million jobs a year, yet production rose by about two percent a year. Just since the end of the Cold War, military-related industries declined while finance-related industries rose. National income shifted by perhaps six percent from aerospace, electronics, cars, steel, and such, to finance, insurance, real-estate transactions, and similar. The End of Influence: What Happens When Other Countries Have the Money, Stephen S. Cohen and J. Bradford DeLong, Basic Books, 2010.
[manfacturing output in the United States in 2005]
USA Economy In Brief, United States Department of State, 2007, page 11.
[shift from making to serving...]
Similarly, although Britain lost superpower status in the 1950s, in 2010 it was still the seventh richest country on the planet. From 1950 to 2010 its manufacturing sector shrank from 46 percent of its economy to 12 percent, while its services sector grew from 47 percent to 78 percent. “An International Perspective on the UK - Gross Domestic Product,” A. Banks, S. Hamroush, C. Taylor, M. Hardie, Office for National Statistics, especially Table 2, page 14. The Slow Death of British Industry: A Sixty-Year Suicide 1952-2012, Nicholas Comfort, Biteback, 2012.
[Britain’s GDP in 2010]
Britain’s GDP (PPP) in 2010 was $2,172.768 billion U.S. World Economic Outlook Database, International Monetary Fund, 2011.
[rise and fall of manufacturing’s share in rich countries]
That pattern of job shift is common to all our rich countries. In 2002, in most of our rich countries, farming was down to less than three percent of national income. Similarly, industry was down to around 25 percent—which is roughly the same share of output, as measured as a percentage of national income, as each of our currently rich nations had at the start of its industrial phase change. For instance, in 2002, Britain’s share of industry as a percentage of national output was 26 percent; in 1801, it was 23 percent. In France, it was 25 percent; in 1841 it was 25 percent. In Germany, it was 23 percent; it was 24 percent in 1841. In Italy, it was 29 percent; in 1901 it was 22 percent. “Emerging Structure of Indian Economy: Implications of Growing Inter-sectoral Imbalances,” T. S. Papola, Presidental Address, 88th Conference of the Indian Economic Association, Andhra University, December, 2005.
[population flows and rising manufacturing in China]
Those lost jobs haven’t all vanished from the planet. Many of them have moved to our poorer countries. For example, manufacturing’s share of national income in China is now over 43 percent, and rising. By 2005 in China, over 130 million of us had scraped the farm’s mud off our clogs, heading for the big city. However, some of those lost industrial jobs are gone for good, replaced by machine labor, cheaper transport, and a more efficient division of labor, just as had earlier happened with farming. “Peer Migration in China,” Y. Chen, G. Z. Jin, Y. Yue, Working Paper 15671, National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), 2010. “Measuring Interprovincial Flows of Human Capital in China: 1995-2000,” L. Fan, Population and Development Review, 28(3):367-387, 2009. “China’s Floating Population: New Evidence from the 2000 Census,” Z. Liang, Z. Ma, Population and Development Review, 30(3):467-488, 2004. “Gold into Base Metals: Productivity Growth in the People’s Republic of China during the Reform Period,” A. Young, Journal of Political Economy, 111(6):1220-1261, 2003.
[job shifts from country to country]
For instance, making cloth and clothing in our early industrial countries shifted to Hong Kong to South Korea to China to Cambodia to India to Bangladesh to Sri Lanka and now to various countries in South America and Africa.
[sectoral shifts and job insecurity]
In general, as our toolbase changes, the efficiency of various of our economic sectors change. But they don’t all change at the same rate. As efficiency in any one sector rises we have more money to invest in improving those same tools. Thus, our tools improve but mostly just in those sectors where they can make the largest economic difference at that time. Plus, the more they improve, the more capital we can amass and direct at our next most reachable sector. Further, as they cheapen, the cost of the things we make with them falls, so we consume more of them. Instead of eating meat once a week, we eat it every day. Instead of one mobile phone per village, every villager has several. But that only means that the relative cost of any technologically untouched sectors rises. Since even our newest tools haven’t yet reduced the cost of nurturing, governance, entertainment, and creativity, those are the jobs remaining for us to do. Anything portable or mechanical, whether physical or mental, is falling in value, but that won’t mean the end of work.

To put it more technically: as our future options’ marginal creation costs fall, it would only mean that new options would arise faster. The faster they do, the more quickly would rewards for any particular option drop. The more options there are, the harder the option-choice problem would become. So even if we one day have total freedom of choice among infinitely many options, each of which have a zero marginal cost of creation and adoption, we still won’t have a zero marginal cost of attention to pay to each of those choices equally. So rewards for each one would vary. Variation of reward is inevitable.

This idea is related to work on scale-free networks. A network becomes scale-free if its number of nodes is growing and if the chance that a new node will link to an existing node is proportional to how highly linked the existing node already is. “Statistical mechanics of complex networks,” A.-L. Barabási, R. Albert, Reviews of Modern Physics, 74(1):47-97, 2002.

For an early example of the ideas behind what is now called scale-free networks (and their associated power laws, as well as an explanation for their random generation), see: “A general theory of bibliometric and other cumulative advantage processes,” D. J. de Solla Price, Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 27(5):292-306, 1976.

For further background on scale-freeness, see: “Towards a Theory of Scale-Free Graphs: Definition, Properties, and Implications,” (Extended Version), L. Li, D. Alderson, R. Tanaka, J. C. Doyle, W. Willinger, Internet Mathematics, 2(4):431-523, 2005. “Scale-Free Networks,” A.-L. Barabási, E. Bonabeau, Scientific American, 288(5):60-69, 2003. Small Worlds: The Dynamics of Networks between Order and Randomness, Duncan J. Watts, Princeton University Press, 1999.

For an application to business, see: The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More, Chris Anderson, Hyperion, 2006.

[stars and wannabes]
Even further, we’ve already seen what can happen when anyone can compete with anyone else around the globe. It’s already happening to music, movies, sports, and TV as new data-capture, data-broadcast, and data-playback devices cheapen and spread. In such fields, a few high-profile stars reap huge sums from an increasingly global audience, beating out local stars. Becoming a star is then like hitting the jackpot. Many more of us then compete to become one of those stars. To do so, we take lower-paying, more transient jobs while we await our chance. The result is a handful of stars, thousands of also-rans, and millions of hand-to-mouth wannabes. What might happen if that becomes the norm for other professions, like finance, banking, law, medicine, management, academia, and education, as global data-flow gets ever cheaper?

This may be just another way of saying that some income distributions are trending toward power laws. The same idea has been used to model earthquakes, scientific paper citations, species extinctions, the page linkage distribution of the world wide web, and it may even be used to model the highly skewed income distributions in the arts, entertainment, fashion, publishing, televised sports, and corporate salaries. First use of a version of Bak’s sandpile analogy may go back to H. G. Wells. (Interestingly, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation science fiction novels depend on the same set of ideas as Wells promulgated.)

However, a recent ILO study suggests other explanations: “Between 1999 and 2011 average labour productivity in developed economies increased more than twice as much as average wages. In the United States, real hourly labour productivity in the non-farm business sector increased by about 85 per cent since 1980, while real hourly compensation increased by only around 35 per cent. In Germany, labour productivity surged by almost a quarter over the past two decades while real monthly wages remained flat.

The global trend has resulted in a change in the distribution of national income, with the workers’ share decreasing while capital income shares increase in a majority of countries. Even in China, a country where wages roughly tripled over the last decade, GDP increased at a faster rate than the total wage bill—and hence the labour share went down.

The drop in the labour share is due to technological progress, trade globalization, the expansion of financial markets, and decreasing union density, which have eroded the bargaining power of labour. Financial globalization, in particular, may have played a bigger role than previously thought.” Global Wage Report 2012/13: Wages and equitable growth, United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO), 2013, page xiv.

See:

Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age, Duncan J. Watts, W. W. Norton, 2003. Ubiquity: Why Catastrophes Happen, Mark Buchanan, Three Rivers Press, 2000. How Nature Works: The Science of Self-Organized Criticality, Per Bak, Copernicus, 1996. The Winner-Take-All Society: Why the Few at the Top Get So Much More Than the Rest of Us, Robert H. Frank and Philip J. Cook, Penguin, 1995. The Discovery of the Future, H. G. Wells, B. W. Huebsch, Reprint Edition, 1913, pages 39-44.

Note, however, that while power laws have now become trendy there are strong reservations about actually finding them in the data, given massive sampling error, especially for rare events. “Power-law distributions in empirical data,” A. Clauset, C. R. Shalizi, M. E. J. Newman, SIAM Review, 51(4):661-703, 2009. “Accuracy and Scaling Phenomena in Internet Mapping,” A. Clauset, C. Moore, Physical Review Letters, 94(1):018701, 2005. “On the Bias of Traceroute Sampling; or, Power-law Degree Distributions in Regular Graphs,” D. Achlioptas, A. Clauset, D. Kempe, C. Moore, Annual ACM Symposium on Theory of Computing: Proceedings of the thirty-seventh annual ACM symposium on Theory of Computing, 2005, pages 694-703.

[global sectoral shifts in employment in 2006 and perhaps beyond]
In 2006, 6.7 billion of us were alive and 4.6 billion were of working age (aged 15 or over). Of those, about two-thirds (2.9 billion) were in the workforce (that is, either at work or looking for work). Of those, just 45 percent (1.3 billion) were farmers. And within those at work, 38.7 percent were farmers, 21.3 percent were in industry, and, for the first time ever, 40 percent were in services. As a species, we’re now doing just what, not that long ago, our richest countries did—not only are we fleeing the farm, we’re now beginning to flee the factory. In our richest countries, as of 2011, of those who worked, up to eight in ten of us neither grew edible things nor did we make physical things. We serviced each other—in education, law, finance, government, transport, retail, health, media, amusement.

We’ll long reward any job to do with human contact and personal service—sex and medicine, teaching and preaching, marketing and amusing, judging and politicking, contracting and enforcing. Preachers and politicians and police and prostitutes will long have jobs. Today, we can’t export most services, but if both robots and metaconcerts become common, we’ll find ways to export more and more of them. Dramatic, perhaps drastic, changes are likely ahead, but in the very long run (post-2050 perhaps?), that may be our future: being of direct service to each other.

The Employment Imperative: Report on the World Social Situation 2007, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2007, pages 11 and 15. World Population Prospects: The 2006 Revision, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2007.

[breaking the link between jobs and incomes?—a universal dole?]
Perhaps we might even one day get so rich that we’ll have a global dole? If so, judging by what’s been happening in some of our richest countries, over time we might inadvertently move to a world where we pay each other too much not to work, and too little to work. Also, no support mechanism is unlikely to remove competition, and that will determine prices, which will nullify any such mechanism in the long run. Further, any such support system depends on our delicate global debt repayment schemes. What happens if that breaks down?
[poverty is relative]
Poverty is relative, and, probably, unending. For example, in 1901, poverty in York, England, was defined with respect to the ability to afford a basket of basic goods. By 1951, that kind of poverty had disappeared. So poverty’s definition was changed to a percentage of the national average income. A Study of the Work of Seebohm Rowntree 1871-1954, Asa Briggs, Longmans, 1961. Poverty and the Welfare State, B. Seebohm Rowntree and G. R. Lavers, Longmans, 1951. Poverty, A Study of Town Life, B. Seebohm Rowntree, Macmillan and Co., 1901.

Also, in the early twentieth century, Britain had well over a million servants and only a few thousand cars. Cars were scarce and costly while servants—the largest occupational category in the country at the time—were common and cheap. In Britain today, a century later, it’s the other way around. In Britain a century hence, depending on how the ecogenesis of our toolbase goes, that might reverse again. But there’ll almost surely never be a time when everything we want is equally cheap and plentiful to all of us. The Rise and Fall of the Victorian Servant, Pamela Horn, 1975, Sutton Publishing Ltd., Reprint Edition, 1995, page 202. The Domestic Revolution: The Modernisation of Household Service in England and France, 1820-1920, Theresa M. McBride, Holmes & Meier, 1976, page 112.

Looking back from 1977 at her early life in Torquay (in Devon) just after the turn of the century, Agatha Christie wrote:

“One of the things I think I should miss most, if I were a child nowadays, would be the presence of servants. To a child they were the most colourful part of daily life. Nurses supplied platitudes; servants supplied drama, entertainment and all kinds of unspecified but interesting knowledge. Far from being slaves they were frequently tyrants. They “knew their place,” as was said, but knowing their place meant not subservience but pride, the pride of the professional....

In describing my life I am struck by the way it sounds as though I and everybody else were extremely rich. Nowadays you certainly would have to be rich to do the same things, but in point of fact nearly all my friends came from homes of moderate income. Most of their parents did not have a carriage or horses, they certainly had not yet acquired the new automobile or motor car. For that you did have to be rich.”

An Autobiography, Agatha Christie, Dodd, Mead, 1977, pages 17 and 165.

[persistence of inequality]
Inequality persists not merely because of stereotypes, but also because it has consequences that aid those stereotypes. For example, status has strong effects on health regardless of how rich the country is. The Status Syndrome: How Social Standing Affects Our Health and Longevity, Michael Marmot, Times Books, 2004. A lot of status consists of the ability to consume ‘positional goods.’

Chapter 6. Connect the Dots: Thought


[Voltaire quote]
The text quote translates his thought, rather than transliterating his words. What he actually said, in a letter to then prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia, on November 28th, 1770, was this: “Le doute n’est pas un état bien agréable, mais l’assurance est un état ridicule.” The Complete Works of Voltaire, Volume 121, Theodore Besterman (editor), Institut et Musée Voltaire, 1968, page 104.

The Very Pulse of the Machine

[“very pulse”]
“She was a Phantom of delight / When first she gleam’d upon my sight; / [....] And now I see with eye serene / The very pulse of the machine; / A Being breathing thoughtful breath, / A Traveler between life and death;” “She was a Phantom of delight,” William Wordsworth.
[Gutenberg was in Mainz in 1448]
His full name was Johann Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg. We know that he had moved back to Mainz from Strassburg by October 17th, 1448, because on that day he borrowed 150 Rhenish guilders from his brother-in-law, Arnold Gelthus, probably to start building his printing press.
[foul tanners]
Tanning was a big source of horrid smells in towns. The process involved marinating rotting flesh and using excrement for curing. Life in a Medieval City, Frances and Joseph Gies, HarperPerennial, 1969.
[...200 or more skins]
“Large amounts of parchment might be required over the sometimes short period during which a scriptorium was active, or in order to produce a large-format book. A great Bible, for example, would require the skins of 200 to 400 animals.” From: “Technology of production of the manuscript book,” R. N. Thompson, in The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain: Volume II, 1100-1400, Nigel J. Morgan and Rodney M. Thomson (editors), Cambridge University Press, 2008, page 76.
[paper in Asia long before Europe]
China invented paper perhaps in 105, if not before. It had toilet paper and paper money and a large literate class long before anyone else. The Muslim world discovered the secret after capturing some Chinese paper makers in a battle near Samarkand in 751. By 794 there was a paper factory in Baghdad. The technology then spread within the Muslim world from Baghdad to Syria and further west to Morocco until it reached Muslim Spain about a century later, by 1150 if not before. From Spain, printing took another couple centuries to reach the rest of Europe, first to Italy in 1275 then to France and Germany over the next century. Berry and Poole claim 1150 for the first paper-mill in Spain. Annals of Printing: A Chronological Encyclopaedia from the Earliest Times to 1950, W. Turner Berry and H. Edmund Poole, University of Toronto Press, 1966. (Incidentally, Muslims had toilet paper when Christians had moss and straw and hockey-shaped sticks in buckets of water. Don’t ask how those sticks were used. It’s sufficient to note that the expression ‘the wrong end of the stick’ had a concrete meaning once upon a time.)
[high cost of early paper books in Europe]
For instance, in England, at such high costs, filling up one paper book with small and highly abbreviated writing to thus cram as much as possible into as little space as possible, might be stretched over two or even three centuries. “The Colchester Oath Book is written on parchment, but it was probably more usual for town registers or memoranda books to be written on paper, and that material’s frailty may partly explain their loss. King’s Lynn (Norfolk) still has a paper register which starts in 1307 (having lost some leaves at the beginning), the paper Book of the Hustings Court of Lyme Regis (Dorset) begins in 1308, and Oxford’s Liber Albus, which begins in 1320, is also of paper. Colchester has lost its medieval Black Paper Book. But even paper books were relatively costly, and were filled up only slowly: one book might remain in use for two or even three centuries, gradually gaining status from its antiquity, and so might come to be specially preserved.” From: “Archive books,” N. Ramsay, in The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain: Volume II, 1100-1400, Nigel J. Morgan and Rodney M. Thomson (editors), Cambridge University Press, 2008, page 444.
[textile technology in Asia]
Spinning wheels apparently existed in Persia in 1257 and may have come there from India. By the late twelfth century, spindle wheels from China were in use in Greece, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Italy and Switzerland. Spinning Wheels, Spinners and Spinning, Patricia Baines, B. T. Batsford, 1977. Use of the spinning wheel, sometimes called in Europe the ‘Hindustan Wheel,’ for woolen manufacture was either banned outright or forbidden for warp-spinning. But it slowly spread, however bans remained in effect in some places until the sixteenth century. The Cambridge History of Western Textiles, I, David Jenkins (editor), Cambridge University Press, 2003, page 201. “Wool and Wool-Based Textiles in the West European Economy, c.800 - 1500: Innovations and Traditions in Textile Products, Technology, and Industrial Organisation,” J. H. Munro. Working Paper, Department of Economics, University of Toronto, November 2000.
[paper-mill in Strassburg]
One started there around 1430, just about the time that Gutenberg first fled there (presumably to avoid creditors in Mainz). The Book: The Story of Printing and Bookmaking, Douglas C. McMurtrie, Dorset, 1943, page 127. Strassburg, now Strasbourg, in France, was then a big city by European standards. However, it only had 25,000 inhabitants at most.
[goldsmith skill]
In the 12th century, Alexander of Neckam (or Neckham or Nequam) described a, probably idealized, goldsmith’s workshop more or less thus: “The goldsmith should have a furnace with a hole at the top so that the smoke can get out. One hand should govern the bellows with light pressure and with the greatest care so that the air pressed through the nozzle may blow upon the coals and feed the fire. Let him have an anvil of extreme hardness on which the iron or gold may be laid and softened and may take the required form. They can be stretched and pulled with the tongs and the hammer. There should also be a hammer for making gold leaf, as well as sheets of silver, tin, brass, iron, or copper. The goldsmith must have a very sharp chisel with which he can engrave figures of many kinds on amber, hard stone, marble, emerald, sapphire or pearl. He should have a touchstone for testing, and one for distinguishing steel from iron. He must also have a rabbit’s foot for smoothing, polishing and wiping the surface of gold and silver. The small particles of metal should be collected in a leather apron. He must have small pottery vessels and cruets, and a toothed saw and file for gold as well as gold and silver wire with which broken objects can be mended or properly constructed. He must also be as skilled in engraving as well as in bas relief, in casting as well as in hammering. His apprentice must have a waxed table, or one covered with clay, for portraying little flowers and drawing in various ways. He must know how to distinguish pure gold from latten and copper, lest he buy latten for pure gold. For it is difficult to escape the wiliness of the fraudulent merchant.” Goldsmiths, John F. Cherry, University of Toronto Press, 1992, pages 6 and 24.

But that is a loose translation from Alexander’s De Nominibus Utensilium. For a more accurate translation of the Latin, see: “Gold, Silver and Precious Stones,” M. Campbell, in English Medieval Industries: Craftsmen, Techniques, Products, John Blair and Nigel Ramsay (editors), Continuum International Publishing Group, 1991, pages 120-121. For even more extensive translations and other extracts on goldsmiths, see: “Shops and Shopping the Early Thirteenth Century: Three Texts,” M. Carlin, in Money, Markets and Trade in Late Medieval Europe: Essays in Honour of John H. A. Munro, Lawrin Armstrong, Ivana Elbl, and Martin L. Elbl (editors), Brill, 2007, pages 491-537. Daily Living in the Twelfth Century: Based on the Observations of Alexander Neckam in London and Paris, Urban Tigner Holmes, Jr., University of Wisconsin Press, 1952.

[alloys for lead type]
The best is 62 percent lead, 24 percent antimony, and 14 percent tin. But that was unknown at the time. Metallurgy was hardly an exact science. However, Mainz did have pewtermakers and antimony (which hardened lead) came from the Harz mountains.
[building the first printing press]
We don’t know how it happened but circumstantial evidence does say a lot about how it likely happened. For technical details on early bookmaking, the text relies on many separate references about mining, textiles, paper, and so on. For example, for the observations about metals in Mainz, see: “Isotope composition of Medieval lead glasses reflecting early silver production in Central Europe,” Mineralium Deposita, 32(3):292-295, 1997. Printing Presses; History and Development from the Fifteenth Century to Modern Times, James Moran, University of California Press, 1973.

[ink containing tannic acid]
They got the acid from oak galls (swellings on an oak tree from wasp stings) and used it to etch their skins. Writing at the time was more like carving, except with acid on skin instead of chisel on stone.
[making oil]
Oilmakers made oil from flaxseed. They moistened and heated flaxseed then stuffed it in woolen bags and crushed them in a wooden press.
[making soap]
Chandlers made it from woodash plus the tallow of slaughtered cattle that they bartered from the butchers.
[“where all stink, no one is smelled”]
That saying may date back at least as far as perhaps 1148 and perhaps the most influential Cistercian of that era, Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux, although he was here writing to Pope Eugenius III of the abuses of lawyers, judges, and procurators, not bodily odor per se (“Abusus advocatorum, judicum, procuratorum, eorumque fraudes graviter perstringit.”) “Sed et nescio quomodo vitiosus conscientias vitiosorum non refugit: et ubi omnes sordent, unius fœtor minime sentitur.” De Consideratione, Book I, Chapter X, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, in Sancti Bernardi Opera: Tractatus et opuscula, Volume III, edited by Jean Leclercq, Editiones Cistercienses, 1977, page 409. “But, oddly enough, a vicious man does not shun the consciences of other vicious men, and where all are filthy, the stench of one is hardly noticed.” Saint Bernard On Consideration, Saint Bernard (of Clairvaux), translated by George Lewis, Clarendon Press, 1908, page 34.

That attitude continued in Europe up to the nineteenth century. For example, Princess Elizabeth Charlotte, Duchess of Orléans, sister-in-law to King Louis XVI, and niece of the Grand Duchess Sophia of Hanover, wrote a letter to her aunt Sophia on October 9th, 1694, about having to defecate in public during her stay in Fontainbleau. “Sewers, Cesspools, and Privies: Waste as Reality and Metaphor in Pre-modern European Cities,” A. P. Coudert, in Urban Space in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Age, Albrecht Classen (editor), Walter de Gruyter, 2009, pages 713-734.

Muslims, though, said that “cleanliness is half of the faith.” The connection between cleanliness and faith was reported by Abu Malik al-Harith ibn Asim al-Ash’ari as a saying (hadith) of Muhammed. The Book of Purification (Kitab Al-Taharah), Sahih Muslim, translated by Abdul Hamid Siddiqui, Book II, Chapter I, Hadith Number 432.

[printing press needed technology, like ink rollers]
A History of Printing Ink, Balls and Rollers, 1440-1850, Colin H. Bloy, Wynkyn de Worde Society, 1972. In a crowded town of wood and thatch, fire is a constant fear. Stealing a public leather waterbucket might get you hanged.
[acquire an investor]
This whole section is an imagination of what it might have been like for Gutenberg to build a printing press in 1448-57. All the technology is more or less as it must have been at the time, and the life experiences are based on the general conditions in Mainz at that time. But of what little we know of Gutenberg’s life in particular, we only know of him through his appearances in court. One lawsuit was for breach of promise, several were for financial matters, and one was for allegedly not paying back Johann Fust, his backer, whose daughter married Peter Shoeffer, an ex-student from Erfurt University and Paris University, and Gutenberg’s chief typographer. Fust and Schoeffer then produced the first piece of signed and dated print in 1457. Gutenberg’s name never appears on any printed matter, and for decades after his death he was unknown as even a printer, far less an inventor of printing.

Also, Gutenberg wasn’t the only one making experiments with print at this time. Laurens Janszoon Coster (also, Koster) in Haarlem, now the Netherlands, and Procopius (or Prokop or Procope) Waldvogel (or Waldfogel or Waldfoghel) in Avignon, France also did. The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing 1450-1800, Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin, translated by David Gerard, Verso, 1976, pages 52-54. Some writers also mention the much less credible Jan (or Jean or Johannes) Brito (also, Brulelou) in Bruges, now Belgium, Johannes Mentelius in Strassburg, now France, and Panfilo (or Pamphilo) Castaldi in Feltre, now Italy. Not much is known about their work, and all of it may be apocryphal, as various writers have argued.

[the Barefoot Friars lawsuit]
This case was notarized by Ulrich Helmasperger, clerk of the Bishopric of Bamberg, at the refectory of the monastery of the Discalced Franciscans in Mainz on Thursday, November 6th, 1455. The Invention and Early Spread of European Printing as Represented in the Scheide Library, Paul Needham, Princeton University Press, 2007, page 8. Gutenberg, Man of the Millennium: From a Secret Enterprise to the First Media Revolution, Wolfgang Dobras, City of Mainz, 2000, pages 74 and 193. Pioneers in Printing: Johann Gutenburg, William Caxton, William Caslon, John Baskerville, Alois Senefelder, Frederick Koenig, Ottmar Mergenthaler, Tolbert Lanston, Seán Jennett, Routledge & Paul, 1958, page 14-16. The Gutenberg Documents: With Translations of the Texts into English, Karl Schorbach (compiler), Douglas C. McMurtrie (translator), Oxford University Press, 1941, pages 175-188. The Encyclopaedia Britannica, Volume XXVII, Eleventh Edition, 1911, pages 517-518.
[trip to Paris to sell some of your first books]
That’s based on a (possibly apochryphal) anecdote about Fust. The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, Cambridge University Press, Second Edition, 2005, pages 21-22.
[...printed bibles cost a fifth as much]
That’s a decidedly low estimate of the eventual cost reduction, but it’s chosen to be a safe estimate given the presumably high cost of the very first press. The following gives some idea of the magnitude of the cost savings. (In what follows, ‘The Ripoli Press’ was run by the nuns of the Convent of San Jacopi di Ripoli and was one of the earliest presses in Florence; it may also have been the first press run by women). “In 1483, the Ripoli Press charged three florins per quinterno for setting up and printing Ficino’s translation of Plato’s Dialogues. A scribe might have charged one florin per quinterno for duplicating the same work. The Ripoli Press produced 1,025 copies; the scribe would have turned out one.” From: Vespasiano da Bisticci Historian and Bookseller, Albinia De la Mare, doctoral thesis, London University, 1965, page 207. See: The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early-Modern Europe, Volumes I and II, Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, Cambridge University Press, 1979, page 46. The Ripolo Press operation itself is given more depth in: The ’Diario’ of the Printing Press of San Jacopo di Ripoli 1476-1484. Commentary and Transcription, Melissa Conway, (Storia delle tipografia e del commercio librario, 4), Firenze, Olschki, 1999.

A century before, in 1311, in Yorkshire, England, a bible was worth 33 pounds, 6 shillings, and 8 pence—a fabulous sum; enough to buy 60 cows or 50 slave families. The History of Bradford and Its Parish: With Additions and Continuation to the Present Time, John James, Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1841, page 75, footnote.

Even by 1500 a book might cost a ducat in Venice, where a servant earned about seven ducats a year. For a teacher or skilled artisan, a book might cost about a week’s wages. Worldly Goods: A New History of the Renaissance, Lisa Jardine, Longitude Books, 1998, page 160.

[indulgences]
Indulgences, written by hand, were first sold at least by 1190. Various popes had expanded their use for fundraising. By the sixteenth century, and the printing press, they were essentially a license to print money. Pope Sixtus IV even authorized sale of indulgences for the dead, to reduce their time of torment. He also licensed brothels, gaining an estimated 30,000 ducats a year. Pope Leo X again increased indulgence sale by offering indulgence even for future sin.

“Incest, if not detected, was to cost five groats; and six, if it was known. There was a stated price for murder, infanticide, adultery, perjury, burglary, etc.” The History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, Volume I, J. H. Merle d’Aubigne, 1835, translated by H. White, Robert Carter and Brothers, 1875, page 56.

[fighting archbishops]
The Mainzer Erzstiftsfehde (the archibishop’s war over Mainz), in 1461-1462 was between Diether (or Dieter or Theoderic) von Isenburg (or von Ysenburg-Büdinger), who was Archbishop of Mainz from 1459 until 1461, and Adolf II von Nassau-Wiesbaden-Idstein (or Adolph II, Graf von Nassau), who won the war and became Archbishop of Mainz from 1461 until he died in 1475, at which time Diether became Archbishop again. “Die Mainzer Stiftsfehde 1459-1463,” K.-M. Sprenger, in Mainz, Die Geschichte der Stadt, Franz Dumont, Ferdinand Scherf, and Friedrich Schütz (editors), Zabern, 1998. The Book: The Story of Printing & Bookmaking, Douglas C. McMurtrie, Dorset, 1943, page 183. “Johann Neumeister: An Assistant of Johann Gutenberg?” R. A. Ketring, The Library Quarterly, 1(4):465-475, 1931. Beiträge zur Geschichte des Erzstift Mainz unter Diether von Isenburg und Adolf II. von Nassau, Julius Jaeger, in Programm des Königlichen Gymnasium Carolinum zu Osnabrück Ostern, 1894. English Writers: An Attempt Towards a History of English Literature, Henry Morley Cassell & Company, Limited, 1890, Volume VI, pages 290-291. The Book: Its Printers, Illustrators, and Binders, from Gutenberg to the Present Time, Henri Bouchot, translated by E. C. Bigmore, edited by H. Grevel, H. Grevel & Co., 1890, pages 36-37.
[...archbishop steals your house]
Apparently this happened to Gutenberg, although we’re not sure. We do know that Archbishop Nassau did steal a lot of property when he sacked Mainz, and that he did eventually become Gutenberg’s patron on January 18th, 1465, just before Gutenberg died sometime before February 3rd, 1468. We know little about the real Gutenberg, but he probably got a printing press going by 1452. The first known dated piece of print in Europe, a psalter, was made in Mainz on the eve of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, August 14th, 1457. And five years later, Archbishop Nassau did indeed take Mainz, and he did exile the printers. Then the new book plague spread.
[20 million books in print by 1500]
The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing 1450-1800, Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin, translated by David Gerard, Verso, 1976, page 248. Another common estimate is “8 million books by 1500.” It is based on a quote given by Eisenstein of an earlier work. The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, Cambridge University Press, Second Edition, 2005, page 15. However, Eisenstein also greatly values Febvre and Martin: In her own bibliography (page 360) she notes that it is a “masterful survey and has more comprehensive coverage than any other title on this list.” So the estimate of 20 million seems more reliable.
[why didn’t print spread as fast elsewhere?]
Russia had an alphabetic script and fairly early print shops but adoption there was sluggish. Perhaps the chief reason was that Muscovy had a powerful central force, much as China and the Ottoman Empire did. Literacy was also very low there.

The Arabic-speaking world never invented its own printing press, nor did it allow printing to enter it for a long time. With Arabic’s cursive writing it was hard to imagine it being separated into letter types. There were also religious beliefs to contend with. For example, in the Ottoman empire in 1483, Sultan Bayezid II decreed the death penalty for anyone printing Arabic or Turkish script. The ban held until 1727.

The European all-metal movable-type printing press, invented around 1452, was not the first printing press in the world. Presses were invented sometime between 1041 and 1048 in China with moveable clay type, and with fixed metal type in Korea in 1377. Also, wood block printing was in use in Japan somewhere between 764 and 770. The European printing press, however, was the first one that slipped out of state control. One reason may be the much lower cost of type because European languages were alphabetic and only 30 or so characters were needed (although many more were needed for the earliest highly accurate ‘handwriting-compatible’ bibles). Although, in Korea in 1446, King Sejong tried to institute an alphabet of twenty-five letters. But Korean printers and scholars stuck with tradition—40,000 or so Chinese characters.

The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, Cambridge University Press, Second Edition, 2005, pages 335-339. Paper Before Print: The History and Impact of Paper in the Islamic World, Jonathan M. Bloom, Yale University Press, 2001. “Paper, Printing and the Printing Press: A Horizontally Integrative Macrohistory Analysis,” S. A. Gunaratne, International Communication Gazette, 63(6):459-479, 2001. Arabic Typography: A Comprehensive Sourcebook, Huda Smitshuijzen AbiFares, Saqi Books, 2000, pages 64-72. “Technology and Religious Change: Islam and the Impact of Print,” F. Robinson, Modern Asian Studies, 27(1):229-251, 1993. “Innovation and Diffusion of Technology: an Example of the Printing Press,” M. Macioti, Impact of Science on Society, 39(2):143-150, 1989. Publishing, Printing and the Origins of Intellectual Life in Russia 1700-1800, Gary Marker, Princeton University Press, 1985. The Ottoman Empire: The Classical Age 1300-1600, Halil Inalcik, translated by Norman Itzkowitz and Colin Imber, Littlehampton Book Services, 1973. Annals of Printing: A Chronological Encyclopaedia from the Earliest Times to 1950, W. Turner Berry and H. Edmund Poole, University of Toronto Press, 1966.

[on technology’s introduction versus its spread]
The following quote from Eisenstein is instructive not just for the printing press but more generally for the importance of context in the spread of any technology:

“Why take fifteenth-century Western Europe as a point of departure instead of beginning much earlier with China, where the very first printed products were turned out? It is instructive to look outside the boundaries of Western Christendom if only in order to learn that the mere introduction of a new technology tells us little about the uses to which it will be put. No doubt the difference between uneven development in Asia and rapid exploitation in the West has something to do with the difference between ideographic and alphabetic systems of writing.

But other considerations are also pertinent. All the diverse ‘factors’ that have to be considered in any causal analysis—political, economic, intellectual, etc.—can be seen to have played a role. Religion in particular should not be overlooked. There are some non-Asian societies where alphabets were used but where printers were forbidden to apply their craft to sacred texts. In the vast empire governed by the Ottoman Turks, prohibitions against printing not only the Koran but any text in Arabic script remained in effect for hundreds of years. Of course, other variables are also significant. In Eastern Christendom, religious printing was sanctioned and, indeed, sponsored by the church. Yet in contrast to Western developments, Russian printers started almost a century after Gutenberg and thereafter maintained a very sluggish pace. Only within Western Christendom was the wooden handpress so energetically exploited by so many free-wheeling entrepreneurs that some forty thousand editions of books (not to mention indulgences, broadsides, and the like) had been issued in the first forty years.

This brief venture in comparative study may help to drive home the point that the most remarkable aspect of the story is not what did or did not happen in Gutenberg’s shop in Mainz; it is, rather, the way that so many presses went into operation in so many places in so short a time.” The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, Cambridge University Press, Second Edition, 2005, pages 335-336.

[“Kill them all”]
The original is hearsay. Its source is Caesarius of Heisterbach, one of the most popular German writers in the thirteenth century. He was a Cistercian Prior writing around 1223, about 14 years after the siege of Béziers (the town whose people were all slaughtered). He attributes Arnaud-Amaury, the Abbot of Cîteaux, in 1209, as saying: “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eis.” Dialogus Magnus Visionum atque Miraculorum, (Dialogue of Visions and Miracles), Book V, Chapter XXI, Caesarius of Heisterbach, edited by Joseph Strange, J. M. Heberle and H. Lempertz, 1851. If it’s a true quote from the time, then the Abbot was partly quoting the Bible: “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his.” The Bible, The King James Version, II Timothy 2:19.
[did the printing press trigger the Protestant Reformation?]
The text implies that it did, but argument on this point continues. For a good summary and a list of relevant references, see: “Printing and Protestants: Reforming the Economics of the Reformation,” J. Rubin, Chapman University, Working Paper, 2011.

On the other hand, the following quote seems apropos: “[A]lthough Protestant exploitation of printing linked the Reformation to early modern science in diverse ways, and although scientific publication was increasingly taken over by Protestant printing firms, evangelists and virtuosi were still using the new powers of print for fundamentally different ends. The latter aimed not at spreading God’s words, but at deciphering His handiwork. The only way to ‘open’ the book of nature to public inspection required (paradoxically) a preliminary encoding of data into ever more sophisticated equations, diagrams, models, and charts. For virtuosi the uses of publicity were much more problematic than for evangelists.... [T]he downfall of Ptolemy, Galen, and Aristotle did not come about as a result of cartoons and pamphleteering. Scientific change follows a different pattern from religious revivals. Publication was indispensable for anyone seeking to make a scientific contribution, but the kind of publicity which made for bestsellerdom was often undesirable. Even now, reputable scientists fear the sensational coverage which comes from premature exposure of their views. Early modern virtuosi had even better reasons for such fears. Many Copernicans (including Copernicus himself) took advantage of printed materials while shrinking from publicity. Many Puritan publicists and disciples of Francis Bacon proselytized on behalf of a ‘new science’ without favoring or even comprehending the technical Latin treatises which marked significant advance.” The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, Cambridge University Press, Second Edition, 2005, page 298.

[aftermath of the printing press]
Changes in Germany weren’t unusual. By 1562, all Europe would be bathing in blood over religious differences, and many European countries would expel their Jewish populations after centuries of persecution, demonization, and massacre. Sectarian violence raged on in firecracker chain-reactions until the end of the century, then flared up repeatedly over the next 250 years over the entire face of Europe, then the rest of the world. Nor was conflict solely due to religious difference. In a pinch, any difference between us will do, as two short, global, non-religious, high-intensity bursts in the twentieth century show. Eventually, though, the gains in applicable knowledge about the cosmos forced Europe’s eyes to begin to turn slowly, oh so grudgingly, from the past to the future. That love of novelty, fueled by an uncontrolled printing press, and at the time largely unknown elsewhere in the world, would have major consequences for that same unsuspecting world.

Organon

[many religious sects in Europe in the 1600s]
Here’a a list for England alone: Anglicans (who were the official Church of England), Catholics (who were despised in England at this time), the three main non-Anglican Protestants (Presbyterians, Baptists, and Congregationalists), plus Quakers, Shakers, Ranters, Seekers, Levellers, Diggers, Independents, Arians, Arminians, Lutherans, Fifth Monarchists, Socinians, Anabaptists, Muggletonians, and Grindletonians, plus other sects and sub-sects, all lumped under generic terms like ‘Puritans,’ ‘Dissenters,’ or ‘Noncomformists.’ A few of those new sects have since grown, but most haven’t. The Muggletonians, for instance, grew out of the Ranters and were similar to the Familists and the Behmenists, but they hated the Quakers and the Baptists, and are now basically defunct. England’s troubles: Seventeenth-century English political instability in European context, Jonathan Scott, Cambridge University Press, 2004. The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution, Christopher Hill, 1972, Penguin, Reprint Edition, 1991. Some Intellectual Consequences of the English Revolution, Christopher Hill, Wiedenfeld and Nicholson, 1980. History of the English-Speaking People: The New World, Winston Churchill, Dorset, 1956.
[sectarian persecution in Europe in the 1600s]
For example, in England immigration started as early as 1607, when famine, plague, cold, and persecution drove some Puritans as far as Plymouth Rock. After the Restoration in 1660, persecution was intense from 1662 to 1664. Dissenter families were fined, imprisoned, molested at worship, and their children were pilloried and publicly scourged, with children as young as twelve sent to Bridewell prison at hard labor. “[S]uch Fines levied upon them, so many ruined, so many imprison’d, and so many murthered.” Wise as Serpents, Daniel Defoe, quoted in Daniel Defoe, His Life, Paula Backscheider, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989, pages 10-11.
[Copernicus hand-written note by 1514]
That was the “Commentariolus” which he circulated among friends. Three Copernican Treatises: The Commentariolus of Copernicus; The Letter against Werner; The Narratio Prima of Rheticus, Copernicus, translated by Edward Rosen, Second Edition, Revised edtion, Dover, 2004, pages 6-7 and pages 57-90. For when he wrote it, see also: Copernicus and his Successors, Edward Rosen, edited by Erna Hilfstein, Hambledon Press, 1995, pages 105-116.
[Aristotle and math]
Aristotle avoided math, but then he predates even algebra. However, Archimedes, who was born only about 35 years after Aristotle died, also predates algebra yet he made major contributions to mathematics.

Incidentally, credit for naming and expanding, if not actually inventing, algebra, goes to several people, not least of whom is Al-Khwarizmi (Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī), a mathematician and astronomer who lived and taught in Baghdad from around 800 to some time after 847. His book Al-jabr wa’l muqabala (Calculation by completion and balancing) gave algebra its name. History of Mathematics, Carl B. Boyer, John Wiley & Sons, Second Edition, pages 228-230. Also, his name is the source of today’s word ‘algorithm,’ without which computer science wouldn’t exist.

[importance of math and experiment for science]
An argument could be made that science can exist without mathematics. Certainly early natural philosophy did so. See: A History of Natural Philosophy From the Ancient World to the Nineteenth Century, Edward Grant, Cambridge University Press, 2007, pages 303-322. However, it’s difficult to truly understand today’s science without mathematics.

Similarly, an argument can be made that science can exist without experiment. Again, early natural philosophy did so. For example, see: “Grosseteste’s ‘Quantitative’ Law of Refraction: A Chapter in the History of Non-Experimental Science,” B. S. Eastwood, Journal of the History of Ideas, 28(3):403-414, 1967.

[history of math and experiment in science]
As usual, the forced brevity of the text might give a false impression. It isn’t the case that Newton and his contemporaries in the 1660s invented the idea of using math and experiment to develop and verify laws of the natural world. For example, both Roger Bacon and Albertus Magnus were strong proponents of both—four centuries earlier. The First Scientist: A Life of Roger Bacon, Brian Clegg, Constable & Robinson, 2003. Albertus Magnus and The Sciences: Commemorative Essays 1980, James A. Weisheipl (editor), Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1980.

Further, it’s not the case that even those proto-scientists in Europe were the first to have such ideas since that would ignore all the Arabic-speaking proto-scientists four or more centuries before and also after them. For example, in about 1038 Al-Hazen (Abū ’Alī al-Ḥasan ibn al-Ḥasan ibn al-Haytham) in his Kitāb al-Manāẓir (Book of Optics), stressed that he would not be swayed by prejudice and would try to carefully test each of his hypotheses by doing experiments on them. He critically examined the beliefs of each of his Greek and Muslim predecessors, showing why aspects of them must be wrong in many essentials. Then he explained how to do experiments, either thought experiments or actual experiments, to refute many such beliefs. And before him, Ptolemy, too, depended on experiment.

“The clearest evidence of Ptolemy’s empirical bent is found in his analyses of diplopia, reflection, and refraction. In all three cases, the phenomena are investigated on the basis of relatively simple yet ingeniously contrived experimental apparatus....

Alhacen’s account of visual perception is exceptionally cautious and considered. There is remarkably little in it that is overtly hypothetical or deductive and much that is overtly empirical and inductive. Furthermore, Alhacen is extraordinarily systematic and precise, almost mathematically so, in developing that account element-by-element in a logical order that is as inexorable as it is clear. Leaving virtually nothing to chance, he guides the reader along by the shortest of leashes, not only forcing him to follow the beaten path within straitened bounds, but also pointing out the exemplary landmarks—in the way of illustrative examples, many of them experimentally-based—along the way.”

Alhacen’s Theory of Visual Perception: A Critical Edition, with English Translation and Commentary, of the First Three Books of Alhacen’s De Aspectibus, the Medieval Latin Version of Ibn al-Haytham’s Kitāb al-Manāẓir, Volume I, translated and annotated by A. Mark Smith, American Philosophical Society, 2001, pages xxxvi and lii.

For example, while trying to ascertain some property of light and perception, Alhazen noted that: “[E]verything we have discussed can be tested by experiment so we will attain certainty about it.” Alhacen’s Theory of Visual Perception: A Critical Edition, with English Translation and Commentary, of the First Three Books of Alhacen’s De Aspectibus, the Medieval Latin Version of Ibn al-Haytham’s Kitāb al-Manāẓir, Volume II, translated and annotated by A. Mark Smith, American Philosophical Society, 2001, page 573.

Further, over two centuries before that, Jābir ibn Hayyān pioneered the idea of experiment in alchemy. Makers of Chemistry, Eric John Holmyard, Clarendon Press, 1931.

What is true, though, is that by Newton’s time all the centuries of effort were bearing fruit in insights that a later age would look back on and see as pivotal. History is a raging river out of which we can take only a few sips at a time or risk drowning.

Finally, it’s not entirely true, nor is it very likely, that we somehow decided not to experiment for millennia. It’s highly likely that there was experimentation at least in ballistics, if nothing else. Also, Strato of Lampsacus also almost surely experimented, as, almost surely, did Theophrastus, and others, most especially Archimedes.

“[T]he Hellenistic Age saw a variety of technical inventions and developments, as well as significant advances in theory and methodology, including, for example, the introduction of experiment to test a theory.

[O]ne has clear evidence that experiment was well known to Greek and Hellenistic science, even while antiquity allowed for variables such as modern science denies in advance.... ‘Experiment’ to us almost always means controlled experiment (laboratories, again); but to an Erasistratus, this would have been cheating, no matter what modern microbiologists might say about the essential techniques embodied in Koch’s postulates. It is thus arguable that ancient, as opposed to modern, ‘experiments’ assumed natural variables....

Yet this unlimited variability never has prevented ancients or moderns from ‘going and looking.’ ”

“ ‘The Base Mechanic Arts’? Some Thoughts on the Contribution of Science (Pure and Applied) to the Culture of the Hellenistic Age,” K. D. White, plus its Response and subsequent Discussion, in Hellenistic History and Culture, Peter Green (editor), University of California Press, 1993, pages 211-237.

For Strato in particular, see: Gravity’s Arc: The Story of Gravity, from Aristotle to Einstein and Beyond, David Darling, John Wiley and Sons, 2006, pages 27-29.

And while the Greeks were a big step ahead, behind them are Sumerian, Indian, and Egyptian astronomers, doctors, and mathematicians going back who knows how many millennia.

[Aristotle and ‘purpose’]
Aristotle believed that form was an objective part of the cosmos (that is, not just an observed or accidental part of a thing), and that everything was actively striving to reach its ultimate form. So, for him, the ‘final cause’ of an acorn was its final form, an oak tree. His notion of form was much stronger than today’s notion of ‘information.’ For him, everything, whether made by human hands or not, had four ‘causes.’ But we must be careful how we interpret that word, ‘cause.’ The Greek word αιτια (aitia) roughly means ‘cause’ or ‘reason,’ but it can also mean ‘makes’ or ‘signifies’ or ‘produces’ or even ‘explains.’ For Aristotle, when asked: ‘Why this end?’ an aitia is anything that we can give as a means to that end.

“ ‘Cause’ means:

  • (1) [Material Cause:] that from which, as immanent material, a thing comes into being, e.g. the bronze is the cause of the statue and the silver of the saucer....
  • (2) [Formal Cause:] The form or pattern, i.e. the definition of the essence... (e.g. the ratio 2:1 and number in general are causes of the octave)....
  • (3) [Efficient Cause:] That from which the change or the resting from change first begins; e.g. the adviser is a cause of the action, and the father a cause of the child, and in general the maker a cause of the thing made....
  • (4) [Final Cause:] The end, that for the sake of which a thing is; e.g. health is the cause of walking. For ‘Why does one walk?’ we say: ‘that one may be healthy’; and in speaking thus we think we have given the cause.”
The Works of Aristotle, Volume VIII: Metaphysics, Book V, Part II, W. D. Ross Translation, Oxford University Press, Second Edition, 1928. See also: A History of Natural Philosophy From the Ancient World to the Nineteenth Century, Edward Grant, Cambridge University Press, 2007, pages 27-51.

[Aristotle built on others before him]
Starting at least with Thales, two centuries before him. But Thales, and several others, also based his work on earlier Persian, and before them, Egyptian, Sumerian, and Indian, thought. For example, the result now widely known as “the Theorem of Pythagoras” predates Pythagoras. That result was known in Mesopotamia nearly two millennia before Pythagoras, and in India over two millennia ago—and probably in Egypt and China, too. Pythagoras was still important to the theorem in its complete form, even though the idea was known before him. History of Mathematics, Carl B. Boyer, John Wiley & Sons, Second Edition, 1989, pages 34-37.
[Aristotle’s logic]
Like Aristotle’s observations, his logic was wide-ranging but it had some flaws. For example, suppose he said that a unicorn was a horse with a horn. Then it would follow that all unicorns have horns. It would also follow that all unicorns are horses. But from those two, it would then follow that some horses have horns. Similarly, if he examined some real things around him, then made up some purposes for those things, then reasoned about them, even if his logic was flawless, his conclusion could still be wrong. Thus, from various of his (wrong) assumptions—like heavier things fall faster than lighter things—he concluded that the earth must be the center of the cosmos and that it must be immobile. Introduction to Logic, Harry J. Gensler, Psychology Press, 2002, pages 33-34. Aristotelian Logic, William T. Parry and Edward A. Hacker, SUNY Press, 1991, pages 59-67.
[nearly constant war in Europe near 1665]
For example, within the 50-year span bracketing 1665, England warred: with itself (1642), Scotland (1648), Ireland (1650), Scotland again (1651), the Netherlands (1652), Spain (1656), with France against Spain (1658), the Netherlands again (1664), with Portugal against Spain (1665), Denmark and France (1666), with the Netherlands and Sweden against France (1668), with France against the Netherlands (1672), with itself yet again (1688), then against Ireland and France (1690).

In 1665, the series of stupidities and atrocities that historians now politely call ‘The Thirty Years War’ was just over, but all Europe still felt its effects. Ditto for the English Civil War, and the Franco-Spanish wars.

[Europe in 1665]
At the time, France, with its enormous wheat fields and army, was the power in Europe with land power partly shared by Sweden and Poland-Lithuania, and sea power going mostly to the Dutch, English, Portuguese, and Spanish. The Portuguese, though, were just in the process of slitting their own economic throats, just as the Spanish had earlier done, by having the Inquisition largely destroy their educated commercial class—mostly Jews and Protestants—and now were rapidly losing trade routes to the Dutch, who later lost out to the English (hence the series of wars between them around this time). France, too, had tried to commit economic suicide in nearly the same way, and had almost succeeded. Its Protestants, the Huguenots, had been persecuted then massacred, or had fled to the Netherlands, England, Protestant parts of Germania, South Asia, or various colonies. “The First Global War: The Dutch versus Iberia in Asia, Africa and the New World, 1590-1609,” P. C. Emmer, e-Journal of Portuguese History, 1(1), 2003. “The Inquisition and the Portuguese Economy,” L. M. E. Shaw, Journal of European Economic History, 18(2):415-431, 1989.

Meanwhile, in the Americas, women were being burned alive for witchcraft, Africans were beginning to be enslaved and transported by the million, and genocide against natives in the Americas was just about to begin in earnest as the new European colonies began to expand—in the north, the south, and in the Caribbean—in the Spanish, French, Dutch, Portuguese, and British Americas.

[harvest failure in England in 1661]
Famine in Tudor and Stuart England, Andrew B. Appleby, Stanford University Press, 1978, pages 155 and 185. Of course, that was nothing compared to more serious famines. Around 1665, England bad harvests or actual famine in 1623, 1630, 1647-49, 1661, and during the 1690s.

Further, earlier famines in 1543 to 1586 had led to the Poor Laws, which in turn led to severe restrictions on travel in England. The poor needed a pass to move from one place to another because no parish would support non-residents. Unmarried pregnant women were treated worst of all, since they were the least able to work and the most expensive to support. This continued for centuries.

[plague in 1665-1666 London]
In the summer of 1665, London’s weather was hot and dry. That summer the English were at war with the Dutch when plague once again visited London. Everyone who could flee, fled, leaving the poor to die. Perhaps 80,000 did. London remembers it as the Great Plague. That winter, with Europe still in the grip of the Little Ice Age, a cold snap froze the Thames up to London Bridge. It was London’s Great Frost. That in turn stopped London’s lifeblood, river trade. Then another hot, dry summer brought drought. With it, came rising food prices, then starvation. Meanwhile, the heat thoroughly dried out the city’s splay-shouldered, wattle-and-daub buildings. That fall, a burning bakery set fire to the whole city. Perhaps 70,000 Londoners went homeless. It was the Great Fire of London. That winter came another Great Frost, and cheap coal for fuel and grain for food vanished. Tens of thousands of Londoners, freezing, starving, homeless, fled into Moorfields and Finsbury Fields to the north. War, plague, drought, fire, frost—for many Londoners, 1666 signaled the beginning of the end of the world.

The figure of 80,000 plague deaths is a guesstimate, although widely reported. (However, Moote and Moote, below, report “nearly 100,000”.) The bills of mortality for each parish in London account for 68,561 deaths from plague in 1665. That, however, doesn’t count all those deaths that went unreported—which likely was very many, considering what happened if you reported having a plague victim in the family. Any identified victim’s house was nailed shut, with the entire family still inside, and left for 40 days, often without food, until they all died, or miraculously survived. The city itself was also sealed off, with anyone wishing to leave having to get a pass, and few were given. Forgeries flourished. A Journal of the Plague Year: being observations or memorials of the most remarkable occurrences, as well public as private, which happened in London during the last great visitation in 1665. Written by a Citizen who continued all the while in London. Never made public before. Daniel Defoe, 1722, Anthony Burgess and Christopher Bristow (editors), Penguin, Reprint Edition, 1966.

To ward off the plague, fires burned in front of every twelfth house, and 10,000 people lived on boats in the Thames, hoping to avoid the plague. London was a ghostcity that summer and fall. “A letter of an eyewitness,” by John Allin, reprinted in Unknown London, Walter George Bell, John Lane, 1919. The Great Plague: The Story of London’s Most Deadly Year, A. Lloyd Moote and Dorothy C. Moote, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.

The plague didn’t end in 1665. Winter killed off many of the rats carrying it, but it resurged the following spring. The 1665 plague also visited other places in England besides London (not counting its continental toll). York, for example, was particularly hard hit. Finally, plague was no stranger in London. Ever since 1348 it had been taking lives almost yearly, some years more than others. In 1563, 1603, and 1625, in particular, it had taken between a fifth and a quarter of all London. The plague usually peaked in August or September, after the harvest, especially after hot summers. For epidemiology of the 1665 plague visit, see: “Plague in London: spatial and temporal aspects of mortality,” G. Twigg, Epidemic Disease in London, J. A. I. Champion (editor), Centre for Metropolitan History Working Papers Series, Number 1, pages 1-17, 1993.

[fire in 1666 London]
By Permission of Heaven: The Story of the Great Fire of London, Adrian Tinniswood, Jonathan Cape, 2003. The Dreadful Judgement: The True Story of the Great Fire of London 1666, Neil Hanson, Doubleday, 2001.
[frost in London in 1665-1666]
The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Richard le Gallienne (editor), Modern Library Edition, 2001. Incidentally, Samuel Pepys liked the ladies. This is the bowdlerized edition. For the juicy details, see: Samuel Pepys The Unequalled Self, Claire Tomalin, Vintage, 2003. The edition by Richard Latham and William Matthews (in 11 volumes) records his coded entries, but does not explain them. Particular Friends: The Correspondence of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, Guy de la Bédoyère (editor), Boydell and Brewer, Woodbridge, 1997. The Diary of John Evelyn, Guy de la Bédoyère (editor), Boydell and Brewer, Woodbridge, 1995. The Diary of John Evelyn, Esmond S. de Beer (editor), six volumes, Clarendon Press, 1955.

Europe in 1665 still languished in the Little Ice Age and the same sequence of events, almost exactly, had happened before in 1607-08, with insurrections fueled by famine and enclosures in the spring; plague killing thousands and closing the theaters and putting Shakespeare out of work in the hot dry summer; and a great frost freezing the Thames in the winter, with ships frozen in ice kilometers out into the North Sea. That was the world that the Puritans who eventually saw Plymouth Rock fled.

[Ottoman Empire surrounds Vienna in 1683]
The Decline & Fall of the Ottoman Empire, Alan Palmer, Barnes & Noble, 1992, pages 8-15.
[daily life in Europe in the 1660s]
In Europe at the time, our daily lives were equally precarious. One in five of our infants died in childbirth, and many mothers died giving birth to them. Families with 15 to 17 kids weren’t unusual. The age of adulthood wasn’t 18 to 21; it was 12 for girls and 14 for boys. Those were the legal minimum ages. In practice, and in the cities especially, it might be much older. For example, in London, Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) was 22 when he married his wife, who was 14. She died at 29.

Sixty years before, Shakespeare had married off his Juliet—and her mother before her—at 13. Besides Juliet (and her mother), Shakespeare married off Marina (in Pericles) at 14, and Miranda (in The Tempest) at 15. He himself had married at 18. However, his wife, Anne, had married at 26; his eldest daughter, Susanna, married at 24; and his youngest daughter, Judith, married at 31. He had little money, so there were only small dowries. Although the legal age was 14, and the rich always did as they liked, in the Tudor era many of the poor married late rather than early. On the other hand, that appears to be only true of some of northwestern Europe. Much of the rest of the world, whether rich or poor, married young.

For an interesting take on the larger view of early and late marriage patterns, primarily in northwestern Europe, see: The Household and the Making of History: A Subversive View of the Western Past, Mary S. Hartman, Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Large families were common in Europe in the 1600s. For example, Benjamin Franklin (born in 1706) had 15 children with two wives. His father, Josiah Franklin (born in 1657), had 17 children, also with two wives. And his father, Thomas Franklin (born in 1598), had nine children. At the time, it was common for men to marry multiple women since so many women died in childbirth. Of course, not all seventeenth-century families were that large, but they weren’t uncommon, either. What kept population relatively constant was the wars, famines, and above all, plagues. An Historical Geography of Europe, N. J. G. Pounds, Cambridge University Press, 1990, Chapter 9. The French Peasantry, 1450-1660, Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, translated by Alan Sheridan, University of California Press, 1987, Chapter 4. The North Atlantic World in the Seventeenth Century, K. G. Davies, University of Minnesota Press, 1974, pages 68-71.

[Surrey woman gives birth to rabbits]
That supposedly happened in 1726. The Girl Who Gave Birth to Rabbits: A True Medical Mystery, Clifford A. Pickover, Prometheus Books, 2000.
[‘witch-shot’]
The Birth of Modern Science, Paolo Rossi, translated by Cynthia De Nardi Ipsen, Blackwell, 2000, page 2.
[“shoulders of giants”]
“Our age enjoys the benefits of the previous age and we can often see farther, not for our sharp-sightedness but because we lean on the strength and greatness of our fathers. Bernard of Chartres used to say that we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or for our height, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size.” (“...fruitur tamen ætas nostra beneficio præcedentis, et sæpe plura novit, non suo quidem præcedens ingenio, sed innitens viribus alienis, et opulenta doctrina patrum. Dicebat Bernardus Carnotensis, nos esse quasi nanos, gigantium humeris insidentes, ut possimus plura eis et remotiora videre, non utique proprii visus acumine, aut eminentia corporis, sed quia in altum subvehimur et extollimur magnitudine gigantea.”) Metalogicus, (The Metalogicon,) Book III, Chapter 4, John of Salisbury.

For a continuation of the quote and more background, see: “Modernization of the Teaching of Latin: The Central Role of the Text and of the Lexical Approach,” R. Marino, Meeting the Challenge: European Perspectives on the Teaching of Latin, Cambridge University, 2005. “John of Salisbury and Aristotle,” C. Burnett, Didascalia, 2:19-32, 1996. Ancient and Medieval Memories: Studies in the Reconstruction of the Past, Janet Coleman, Cambridge University Press, 1992, pages 291-293.

Excited as Salisbury was, he also pined for the good old days. He railed against the decadence of modern times. He deplored the wholesale abandonment of the classics in the face of the new learning. He denigrated the new narrow specializations. He wailed that today’s students cared only for knowledge they could do something with right then—especially in the new get-rich-quick fields of law and medicine. And he denounced younger teachers for giving in to the pressure. Ahh, yes, how different schools are today.

Don’t assume, however, that Salisbury was a mere reactionary. He was one of the twelfth century’s leading voices for reform of all sorts, and a master of the new Muslim material. He just didn’t like the idea of throwing out the classics just because of the new expansion in learning. Incidentally, he was with Becket when Becket was slaughted at Canterbury in 1170. Becket’s blood splashed on him when his scalp was chopped off. “John of Salisbury: An Argument for Philosophy within Education,” W. C. Turgeon, Analytic Teaching, 18(2):44-52, 1999.

(Incidentally: Bernard of Chartres taught William of Conches (Guillaume de Conches) and Richard l’Évêque, who taught John of Salisbury. For any researchers who might want to mine this area: William of Conches is well known but I’ve been unable to find out much about Richard l’Évêque. He was apparently archdeacon of Coutances from 1163 to 1170, then Bishop of Avranches from 1170 to 1181 (when he died). One problem is that John implies that he (Richard) was archdeacon already in 1159, when he (John) wrote the Metalogicon. Also, the list of Bishops of Avranches in the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1914 lists a ‘Richard III’ from 1171 to 1182, a year after John’s Richard supposedly took up the post and a year after he supposedly died. Incidentally, Henry II swore that he didn’t order Becket’s murder on Sunday, May 21st, 1172—in Avranches cathedral, while Richard would have been bishop there. One final point: ‘l’Évêque’ is French for ‘Bishop.’)

Today, the ‘shoulders of giants’ quote’s originator is often given as Isaac Newton. “But in ye meane time you defer too much to my ability for searching into this subject [optics]. What Des-Cartes did was a good step. You have added much several ways, & especially in taking ye colours of thin plates into philosophical consideration. If I have seen further it is by standing on ye sholders of Giants.” Newton to Hooke, February 15th, 1676. The Forgotten Genius: The Biography of Robert Hooke 1635-1703, Stephen Inwood, MacAdam Cage, 2003, page 216. Originally published as The Man Who Knew Too Much, Macmillan, 2002. (Note: The letter itself was dated as ‘5 February 1675.’ The (old) Julian Calendar was still in use in England at that time.)

The quote’s true originator, Bernard of Chartres, was a Breton monk who ran the Chartres cathedral school in France from 1114 to 1124. Merton traces the quote’s history forward from the twelfth century, and backward to Priscian, a sixth-century Constantinople grammarian, whose grammar Bernard had followed assiduously. On the Shoulders of Giants: A Shandean Postscript, The Post-Italianate Edition, Robert K. Merton, Chicago University Press, 1993, page 40 and pages 309-310.

However, the original idea behind the quote may be even older than that. In one (of many) versions of the Orion myth, Poseidon’s giant son, Orion, who gives his name today to the constellation of the hunter, tried to rape Merope and her father blinded him, after which Hephaestus, gave him one of his men, Kedalion, to carry on his shoulders to see for him. Bulfinch’s Mythology, The Age of Fable or Stories of Gods and Heroes, Thomas Bulfinch, 1855. But of course this ancient idea may not originate there. Who knows.

The story we tell of ourselves may have little connection to reality. History speaks of our past, but myth speaks of us. Or, as Aristotle says, “[I]t is not the function of the poet to relate what has happened, but what may happen,—what is possible according to the law of probability or necessity. The poet and the historian differ not by writing in verse or in prose. The work of Herodotus might be put into verse, and it would still be a species of history, with meter no less than without it. The true difference is that one relates what has happened, the other what may happen. Poetry, therefore, is a more philosophical and a higher thing than history: for poetry tends to express the universal, history the particular.” Poetics, Aristotle, 1451a, Section I, Part IX, S. H. Butcher Translation, Macmillan, 1898, page 35.

[Newton built on dots in a long chain]
To see how a few of the dots connected in just one such chain, start in Egypt 2,600 years ago and realize that you can figure out the height of a pyramid without climbing it. All you have to do is wait for the sun to climb in the sky until the length of your shadow equals your own height. At that exact time, measure the length of the pyramid’s shadow. That will give you the pyramid’s height because, like you, the pyramid acts like a tall stick stuck in the sand, and, like you, at that exact moment, the stick forms one side of a right-angled triangle with two equal sides. You’re thus using your own body as an instrument to measure the pyramid’s height.

From such surveying—and similar work millennia before in Egypt, Iraq, and India—you’re on your way to developing geometry.

Now jump to Greece 2,300 years ago, and use a stick to sketch any right-angled triangle in the dirt, whether two of its sides are the same length or not. Draw squares on each of the triangle’s three sides, then discover that the area of the biggest square must equal the sum of the areas of the other two squares.

Now jump to Iraq in 830 and realize that you don’t need to draw such squares to show the relationship between their areas. If the length of the longest side is s, and the lengths of the other two sides are x and y, you can use the number system and the symbolic notation that you had earlier invented in jumps to India over a millennium before and a few centuries before to express the same area relationship this way:

x2 + y2 = s2

From geometry, you’re starting to invent algebra.

Now jump to France in 1637 and draw two lines, horizontal and vertical, which thus cross at right angles, then draw a circle of width 2w centered where they cross. Every point on the circle is some distance, x, away from the vertical line, and some distance, y, away from the horizontal line, so you can express each point as (x, y). Based on what you’ve already found out, you can now show that x and y must relate to w as as follows:

x2 + y2 = w2

Now draw the same diagram on a sheet of rubber, then distort the circle by pulling on the rubber horizontally (or vertically) to form an ellipse. In the case of the circle, the distance from one fixed point (the circle’s center) to every point on the circle is constant, but for the ellipse there are two fixed points and the sum of their distances to every point on the ellipse is a constant. You then see that, in effect, a circle also has two fixed points—it’s just that they’re in the same place. Pulling on the rubber separates them.

Further, you can show that if any ellipse is width 2w and height 2h and its width is bigger than its height, then each point, (x, y), on the ellipse must relate to w and h as follows:

(x/w)2 + (y/h)2 = 1

By combining geometry and algebra, you’re beginning to invent analytic geometry.

Now jump back to Egypt in 1038 and while trying to figure out how both light and the eye work, create optical instruments that let you control where beams of light are cast. Use the data that gives you, plus both geometry and tests, to verify your insights into vision. You’re starting to move away from Aristotle’s way of ignoring instruments, math, and tests.

Now jump to Italy in 1286 and, from what you learned about vision, start grinding lenses for eyeglasses. Then jump to the Netherlands in 1608 and start combining such lenses to make spyglasses. Now jump to Italy in 1610 and extend those spyglasses into higher-resolution telescopes. Then turn one on Jupiter and discover that it has moons—something that Aristotle had never imagined. From that, guess, without mathematical proof, that Copernicus had been right after all. Just as Jupiter’s moons orbit Jupiter, the earth probably orbits the sun, not the other way round, as Aristotle had thought.

Now jump back to Denmark in 1572 and spend decades watching the night sky with your naked eye, keeping meticulous track of everything you see. From that mass of data, you prove that lights in the sky weren’t embedded in nearby and unchanging crystal spheres, despite Aristotle’s thought. Then jump to Germany in 1605, and from your night-sky data plus an early form of analytic geometry, deduce that Mars moves in an ellipse about the sun, not in a circle about the earth, despite what Aristotle had thought.

Jump to either England or the Netherlands in 1666 and combine the existence of Jupiter’s moons, plus the idea of Mars’ elliptical orbit, plus what you know of ellipses, to deduce that the force binding any planet to the sun must vary in inverse proportion to the square of the distance between them. Then jump to England in 1666 or Germany in 1675 and build on algebra and analytic geometry to invent calculus. Use that calculus, plus everything else you’ve figured out about math, plus your new instruments, plus all the data you’ve amassed about planets and moons and comets and eclipses and tides and such, to discover uniform laws of gravity that apply to everything everywhere.

Timelines: Egypt 2,600 years ago - finding the height of a pyramid using similar triangles - Thales. Greece 2,300 years ago - finding the relation between lengths of the sides of a right-angled triangle - Pythagoras. Baghdad in 830 - inventing algebra - Al-Khwarizmi. France in 1637 - inventing (classical) analytic geometry - Descartes. Egypt in 1038 - investigating light and vision by focussing on experimental verification - Al-Hazen. Italy in 1286 - grinding lenses for eyeglasses - unknown. The Netherlands in 1608 - inventing spyglasses - Lipperhey, Jansen, and Metius. Italy in 1610 - improving spyglasses into telescopes - Galileo. Denmark in 1572 - doing extensive and careful astronomical observations - Brahe. Germany in 1605 - deducing that Mars moves in an ellipse - Kepler. England or the Netherlands in 1666 - deriving the gravitational attraction between planets and the sun - Newton, Hooke, and Huygens. England in 1666 or Germany in 1675 - inventing the calculus - Newton and Leibniz. England in 1666 - discovering the laws of gravity - Newton.

Galileo: Watcher of the Skies, David Wootton, Yale University Press, 2010. The Origins of the Telescope, Albert Van Helden, Sven Dupré, Rob van Gent, and Huib Zuidervaart (editors), Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2010. The Long Route to the Invention of the Telescope, Rolf Willach, American Philosophical Society, 2008. Renaissance Vision from Spectacles to Telescopes, Vincent Ilardi, American Philosophical Society, 2007. Huygens: The Man Behind the Principle, C. D. Andriesse, Cambridge University Press, 2005. The Scientists: A History of Science Told Through the Lives of Its Greatest Inventors, John Gribbin, Random House, 2004. The Forgotten Genius: The Biography of Robert Hooke 1635-1703, Stephen Inwood, MacAdam Cage, 2003. Tycho & Kepler: The Unlikely Partnership that Forever Changed Our Understanding of the Heavens, Kitty Ferguson, Walker & Company, 2002. The Birth of Modern Science, Paolo Rossi, translated by Cynthia De Nardi Ipsen, Blackwell, 2000. Ingenious Pursuits: Building the Scientific Revolution, Lisa Jardine, Anchor Books, 1999. The Lord of Uraniborg: A Biography of Tycho Brahe, Victor E. Thoren, Cambridge University Press, 1990. History of Mathematics, Carl B. Boyer, John Wiley & Sons, Second Edition, 1989. Never At Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton, Richard S. Westfall, Cambridge University Press, 1980.

[Newton built on others]
For example, Isaac Barrow, Newton’s tutor, gave a series of 13 lectures, which Newton attended, just before 1665, the year Newton, driven off by the plague left Cambridge for Woolsthorpe and invented the calculus. In Barrow’s lectures, later published as Lectiones Mathematicae in 1683, he showed how to crudely derive tangents to curves, find the length of curves, and find the areas below them (three typical applications of what we today call the calculus).

Here is a simplified example put into today’s terms: Barrow, wishing to show how to calculate the slope of the tangent to the curve:

x2 + y2 = r2
(that is, a circle) considered the point (x, y) on the curve and a nearby point (x + Dx, y + Dy) where Dx and Dy are extremely small. Since the second point is also on the circle, then:
(x + Dx)2 + (y + Dy)2 = r2
So
x2 + 2xDx + Dx2 + y2 + 2yDy + Dy2 = r2
Subtracting the first equation yields:
2xDx + Dx2 + 2yDy + Dy2 = 0
Now he discards all terms involving higher powers or products of Dx or Dy on the grounds that since they are each small, powers of them are negligible. Thus giving:
2xDx + 2yDy = 0
So
Dy/Dx = -x/y
which is the slope of the tangent of the circle at the point (x, y). The History of Mathematics: An Introduction, David M. Burton, Allyn and Bacon, 1985, pages 364-365.

That argument is not rigorous to modern mathematical eyes, but its shape is clear and it is substantially what we do today. Of course, Barrow didn’t see that this idea can be generalized quite considerably to do more powerful things, while Newton did. But then, so did Leibniz. Barrow himself was hoeing a furrow well traveled by many long before him—Archimedes, for example, who, two millennia before, estimated the area of a circle (and other areas, surfaces, and volumes) with a very early form of integration (he approximated the circle with triangulation and dissection). But the seventeenth century was when the true explosion began with Johannes Kepler, Pierre Fermat, Gilles Roberval, and Bonaventura Cavalieri. A case could even be made that Fermat, not Newton or Leibniz, invented the calculus first. The Historical Development of the Calculus, Charles Henry Edwards, Jr., Springer-Verlag, 1979. “Precalculus, 1635-1665,” K. Andersen, in Companion Encyclopedia of the History and Philosophy of the Mathematical Sciences, I. Grattan-Guinness (editor), Routledge, 1994, pages 292-307.

[telescope and microscope born at the same time but had different trajectories]
Bad Medicine: Doctors Doing Harm since Hippocrates, David Wootton, Oxford University Press, 2006, Chapter 7.
[Newton’s physics]
Never At Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton, Richard S. Westfall, Cambridge University Press, 1980. The more mathematically interested might try: Huygens and Barrow, Newton and Hooke: Pioneers in Mathematical Analysis and Catastrophe Theory from Evolvements to Quasicrystals, Vladimir I. Arnol’d, Birkhäuser Verlag, 1990. The less mathematically interested might try: Isaac Newton, James Gleick, Vintage, 2004. Isaac Newton: The Last Sorcerer, Michael White, Fourth Estate, 1997.
[Newtonian physics not accepted at first]
Newton’s contemporaries were not wrong to be squeamish about some of his ideas. For example, he postulated that gravity acted instantaneously across any distance. That’s wrong. Einstein established that the force of gravity is transmitted at the speed of light. Further, even today we still haven’t found the graviton, the particle we believe carries the force of gravity, and our current theories of quantum gravity are still more wish than reality. The best candidate so far is string theory, and it is, so far, completely untestable. It’s not physics; it’s poetry. Finally, physics today now has to contend with true instantaneous action-at-a-distance. Alain Aspect’s experiment showed spacelike coupling of paired photons, thus invalidating the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen (or EPR) paradox. “Experimental test of Bell’s Inequalities using Time-Varying Analyzers,” A. Aspect, J. Dalibard, G. Roger, Physical Review Letters, 49(25):1804-1807, 1982. We have no idea what that means yet.
[just a long series of mathematical squiggles...]
Understanding his math was a hard slog. Even quite sophisticated mathematicians couldn’t easily follow it. “The text was cast in a strictly classical and geometrical form, which is not suitable to problems of motion, although he [Newton] had discovered in his method of fluxions [calculus] one admirably adapted for his needs. He made no concessions to his readers and he seemed to have had in mind a few, perhaps Halley and one or two others, whom he addressed personally, and to have been indifferent to all the rest of the world. In truth, few could read it then, and few have ever read it except under compulsion of the schools. For example, Demoivre, himself no mean mathematician, was by chance at the Duke of Devonshire’s when Newton called to present a copy to the Duke. The young mathematician opened the book and, misled by its apparent simplicity, thought he could master it without any difficulty. He soon found that it was beyond his comprehension and that he had a long, and thorny, road to travel before he could understand it. But he bought a copy, which he tore into sheets so that he could carry a small portion in his pocket and study it in the intervals of his other work.” Isaac Newton: A Biography, Louis Trenchard More, 1934, Dover, Reprint Edition, 1962, pages 317-318.
[figures of fun in new London plays]
For a long time in Europe, most of us there saw the new natural philosophers as yet more useless appendages of our rapacious and corrupt states. In 1664, Samuel Butler made them a sideshow in Hudibras. In 1667, John Milton admonished them for hubris in Paradise Lost. In 1717, John Gay’s farce, Three Hours After Marriage, thoroughly deflated them. In 1726, the year Newton died, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels savaged them some more. The pummeling continued in 1741 with Alexander Pope’s Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus.
[resistance to natural philosophy]

The problems of natural philosophy had less to do with logic or results than acceptance, and those were many—and many are still with us today. If we’re just a kind of complex machine, where does God fit? What’s the point of life? What about sin and free will? If we’re simply acted upon by unwilled forces, how do we assign praise and blame for our actions? What supports our legal system? For the few Europeans who had any idea what the new philosophers were talking about, the new belief network was just too much. It wasn’t merely that its results were hard to swallow. (The earth rotates about the sun, you say? And it spins? And it spins so fast that it bulges? What?) The method itself meant rejecting everything that everyone was sure of.

For example, not even Newton liked his own theory. Today it’s tempting, and easy, and common, to make Newton into some sort of scientific saint. Certainly nearly all the science writings about him make him out to be such, but that’s far more to do with what today’s scientists and technologists wish to believe about themselves than anything to do with the real Newton. Like all of us, Newton was a child of his time. He was a stupendously clever thinker, but he still carried a huge and unavoidable set of assumptions about how the world works, which he inherited from the deep past.

For instance, Newton produced many more writings on what we would today call occult matters than scientific matters. But only the science gets published. On his death, the Royal Society refused to accept most of his writings and returned them to his family. Decades later, his first serious editor, Samuel Horsely, saw the papers and he “slammed shut the lid of the trunk that held them.” His papers lived in that trunk until the middle of the twentieth century, where they were auctioned, and spread piecemeal among many institutions: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Cambridge, the British Museum, and Jerusalem University, most of which wanted nothing to do with the rest of the collection. John Maynard Keynes then scavenged some of the manuscripts and concluded that instead of being the first real scientist Newton was “the last of the magicians.”

Only toward the end of the twentieth century did most of Newton’s science-related writings finally see the light of day, and even today, nearly three centuries after he died, most of his other writings still have not. For Newton, those writings were at least as important as those we accept today as ‘scientific.’ All were parts of his carefully thought-out, and slavishly worked-on, grand unified theory of the cosmos. The Birth of Modern Science, Paolo Rossi, translated by Cynthia De Nardi Ipsen, Blackwell, 2000, page 215.

What is true of Newton is also true for all Europe’s early natural philosophers, including Spinoza, who was perhaps the most relentlessly rationalist of them all—at least until Laplace in the late eighteenth century. Kepler, for example, devised his system of planetary orbits, naming the thing that moved them the ‘Holy Spirit Force.’ Physics students rarely hear that he lived in an era that imprisoned his 73-year-old mother for witchcraft, and would have burnt her, too, were it not for his years-long efforts. Kepler’s Witch: An Astronomer’s Discovery of Cosmic Order Amid Religious War, Political Intrigue, and the Heresy Trial of His Mother, James A. Connor, HarperSanFrancisco, 2004.

All that is usually elided from physics books as scientists continue to pretend that there is some deep division between what we can prove about the cosmos and what we wish to believe about it.

On the other hand, it is easy to claim that there is no distinction at all between science and our other ways of understanding the cosmos, as if science is just some random collection of made-up stories. Here’s an amusing recent book of some examples of the extremes of that particular trend: Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science, Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont, Picador, 1998. More generally, though, the following neuroscience book points out the folly of trying to rigidly separate reason and emotion: Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, Antonio Damasio, Grosset/Putnam, 1994.

Our widespread need to separate—to make an ‘us’ and a ‘them’ in all things—is foolishness. But then lacking so very much knowledge of reality, foolishness must always be the one thing we’re most expert about.

If Newton, or Leibniz, or indeed most other natural philosophers, were alive in today’s secular times, they’d pray for us. Like Leibniz, and many other proto-scientists, Newton couldn’t imagine a cosmos without God. They only argued about how God manifested. All of their contemporaries, except perhaps Hooke, and maybe Huygens, were theists or, at most, deists.

[...began to believe problems were solvable]
Science didn’t grow solely because we immediately saw it as a better way to understand the world. It also grew for practical and political reasons. Seventeenth-century natural philosophy did something far more important than simply clearing up some of our misunderstandings about gravity—it created for the ambitious a wholly new career, natural philosophy.

Although England’s new Royal Society, created in 1660, was mostly stuffed with noble twits, few of the most productive natural philosophers we today remember were from the moribund Anglican universities, Oxford and Cambridge, which at the time were mainly sink-holes for educating the clergy and the more useless children of the nobility. And many of them were non-Anglican Protestants, desperate for a way to gain power in a nation otherwise closed to them. Which is perhaps a clue to why natural philosophy became a vogue in Europe around the same time as Europe was inventing modern banking, and while its stock markets were beginning to grow, and while women were first allowed on stage in the largest cities, and while, in those same cities, newly rich merchants were out shopping for family heirlooms to fake an ancestry.

Besides the practical side of new tools and weapons, newly rich merchants, made fat with Europe’s growing trade, slave income, finance, and industry, were some of the earliest adopters of the new mechanical idea. Not that that necessarily means that they much cared if it was true or not; adopting it was just one more way to distinguish themselves. The new belief network also fit with their aspirations better than did the old worldview that their lords spiritual and temporal still clung to. So as they gained power, the new idea spread.

The merchant class was rising relative to the nobility and clergy in agrarian Europe, like magma seeking any way up through a mantle of cracking rock. The steam engine, first created by Thomas Savery in 1698, was only one of many blooms to emerge from the new natural philosophic way of thought. Natural philosophers at last had enough tools to began to build on each other, erecting a new kind of thing, a nest for the mind to clamber around in. A few of us in Paris, Amsterdam, Leipzig, and London started questioning our ages-old explanations for how matter moved and what made up the world we lived in, both in the large and in the small. Natural philosophers, massing on each other’s insights, were coming up with new ideas, and as importantly, new instruments to measure the world, and new machines to begin to change it. But that was still in the future. At this time, 1666, while there were changes in London, most of the rest of England, Cornwall, Wales, and Scotland, with the exception of a few stray sparks in small towns like Edinburgh, Manchester, and Birmingham, were still deep in the agrarian world that had lasted for at least the last 6,000 years.

[Europe’s merchant class was expanding...]
Something similar had happened before—in the twelfth century—thanks to warmer climate (the Medieval Warm Period), new farm tools (the wheeled iron plow, crop rotation, the horse collar, the nailed horseshoe), decreased marauders (the Vikings, the Muslims, the Magyars, the Mongols), a massive book injection (from Muslim Spain), several silver strikes (in Bohemia and Moravia), and such, and also with technology based not on the steam engine, which was still five centuries into the future, but the waterwheel. However, the climate crash in 1300 (the Little Ice Age) ended all that.

Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages, Frances and Joseph Gies, HarperCollins, 1996. The Maze of Ingenuity: Ideas and Idealism in the Development of Technology, Arnold Pacey, Second Edition, MIT press, 1992. The Medieval Machine: The Industrial Revolution of the Middle Ages, Jean Gimpel, Penguin, 1976.

[does the scientific revolution link to the industrial revolution?]
It’s possible that had Europe not had an industrial phase change by the eighteenth century that the scientific strides it made in the seventeenth century wouldn’t have gone on to have quite the impact they had. For example, Saliba argues that some of the same ferment in astronomy that Europe went through in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries also occurred among Arabic speakers either at the same time or before. Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance, George Saliba, MIT Press, 2007. “A Sixteenth-Century Arabic Critique of Ptolemaic Astronomy: The Work of Shams al-Din al-Khafri,” G. Saliba, Journal for the History of Astronomy, 25(1):15-38, 1994. “Al-Qushji’s Reform of the Ptolemaic Model for Mercury,” G. Saliba, Arabic Sciences and Philosophy, 3:161-203, 1993.

On the other hand, Huff argues that while various scientific ideas seeped back into Arabic-speaking lands, they then went nowhere. See: Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution: A Global Perspective, Toby E. Huff, Cambridge University Press, 2010. The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China, and the West, Toby E. Huff, Cambridge University Press, Second Edition, 2003.

“Seeking the Origins of Modern Science?” G. Saliba, Bulletin of the Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies, 1(2):139-152, 1999. An exchange between Huff and Saliba continued in the same journal. If it turns out that there was a broad Arabic renaissance of sorts in the sixteenth century it would put holes in this text’s position that the printing press was a major agent for scientific change since Dar al-Islam banned the press for the crucial three centuries during which Europe really took off scientifically. Of course, the text doesn’t argue that the press was the only agent of change, only that it catalyzed many changes. Thinkers worked in many places and for many centuries without a press of any kind, but the press certainly sped up the data flow both between contemporaries and between generations.

Further, the scientific revolution in Europe could be said to come in three broad waves, and the same could be said for at least the analogous Greek movement. As in all things we do, 1666 was no sudden flowering in barren earth. Long before even the sixteenth century, many philosophers, both Arabic-speaking and Latin-speaking, had challenged Aristotle on numerous details, but rarely on the foundations of his whole philosophy. It seemed obvious to all that Aristotle was right, that the cosmos was animate and purposeful.

The long philosophical phase change we now call the scientific revolution started mainly in the middle and late sixteenth century with Nicolaus Copernicus, Niccolò Tartaglia, Lodovico Ferrari, Girolamo Cardano, Andreas Vesalius, Giovanni Benedetti, Tycho Brahe, Giordano Bruno, Simon Stevin, Galileo Galilei, and others.

Building on that work, the first big wave followed in the early seventeenth century with William Gilbert, Johannes Kepler, Francis Bacon, Jan van Helmont, William Harvey, René Descartes, Evangelista Torricelli, Blaise Pascal, Pierre Fermat, Otto Guericke, John Napier, and others.

Then, as young natural philosophers grew up with the insights of the first two waves, the tide started to crest with Robert Boyle, Christopher Wren, Jeremiah Horrocks, Edmond Halley, Giovanni Cassini, John Wallis, John Flamsteed, Anton van Leeuwenhoek, Marcello Malpighi, Jacob Bernoulli, Ole Rømer, Christiaan Huygens, Robert Hooke, Gottfried Leibniz, and Isaac Newton.

Newton, born the year the English Civil War started, and a year after Galileo died (blind, and under house arrest in Florence) was also lucky enough to concern himself with physics, the most sharp-edged part of the new natural philosophy as it is the most universal, the most easily mathematized, and the most easily tested. Newton was an inheritor as well as a creator. (Note: Many books state that Newton was born the same year that Galileo died. However, it was actually a full year later. Galileo died January 8th, 1642. Newton’s birth date is usually given as Christmas Day, December 25th, 1642, but England was still using the old (Julian) calendar at the time instead of the new (Gregorian) calendar, so on the continent it was actually 10 days later, January 4th, 1643.)

It’s odd that similar waves of scientific thought had earlier happened around the eastern Mediterranean over 26 centuries ago. Thales of Miletus, building on earlier Egyptian and Chaldean mathematics and astronomy, started the ball rolling, just as Copernicus was to do much later. Thirty years later came Anaximander, then twenty years after that, Anaximenes (all from Miletus in today’s Turkey). About fifteen years after Thales, Pythagoras was born on Samos, 160 kilometers (about 100 miles) from Miletus. He then moved to Croton, in today’s southern Italy, and his school also flourished. The tradition is that Thales taught Anaximander, who taught Pythagoras. Then a second wave started with Anaxagoras and Empedocles, then Democritus, Hippocrates, Socrates, and Plato, then Aristotle. Then yet another wave with Euclid, Aristarchus, Archimedes, and Erastothenes. Then it petered out. So perhaps Europe’s new natural philosophy would have petered out as well, had not an industrial phase change followed it.

For an interesting theory about that idea, see: The Forgotten Revolution: How Science Was Born in 300 BC and Why It Had to Be Reborn, Lucio Russo, Birkhäuser, 2004.

[literacy growing in Europe in the 1600s]
While literacy was growing, it wasn’t growing very fast. For example, in 1665 in England, even after over two centuries of the printing press, at least three in four of us still couldn’t read. And back then, England was considered a nation of bookworms compared to the rest of Europe. Of the few of us in Europe who could read, most were clerics and courtiers, lawyers and physicians. We knew no math—and didn’t want to know any. We preferred reading material that we still prefer today: sex, self-help, and scandal, poetry, piety, and politics.

Voltaire, writing after Newton’s funeral (which he attended in 1727)—after fleeing France to escape jealous husbands, several creditors, and deadly political foes—said that perhaps five percent of Europeans could read, and perhaps five percent of that five percent would read philosophy. (“Divisez le genre humain en vingt parts: il y en a dix-neuf composées de ceux qui travaillent de leurs mains, et qui ne sauront jamais s’il y a un Locke au monde; dans la vingtième partie qui reste, combien trouve-t-on peu d’hommes qui lisent! Et parmi ceux qui lisent, il y en a vingt qui lisent des romans, un qui étudie la philosophie.”) Lettres Philosophiques, Voltaire, Letter 13, circa 1734.

His estimate for all Europe may be reasonable but, acerbic as usual, he may also have been exaggerating a bit for humorous effect. England’s literacy rate, at least, was likely higher. Based on school creation rates and percentages of people who could sign their names on official documents, Cressy estimates that about 25 percent of the English population were literate by 1665. And that was a big step up, because in Henry VII’s time (around 1520), 90 percent of men and 99 percent of women were illiterate. By 1642, over 70 percent of men and 90 percent of women were still illiterate.

Of course, Voltaire may still have been correct, since ‘literacy’ can mean many things. Just because someone can, with effort, pick our printed words, doesn’t mean that they regularly read books—or even can read handwriting, for that matter. Further, literacy was (and is) strongly related to urban versus rural divisions and to class (and income) divisions. For example, in Norwich at the time, 98 percent of the gentry could sign their names, compared to 65 percent of yeomen, 56 percent of tradesmen, 21 percent of husbandsmen, 18 percent of servants, and 15 percent of laborers. Literacy and the Social Order—Reading and Writing in Tudor and Stuart England, David Cressy, Cambridge University Press, 1980.

[communication growing in Europe in the 1600s]
Perhaps Europe crossed that particular mental watershed first because from the 1200s to the 1400s it had inherited or developed shipping aids like the compass, the sternpost rudder, the lateen sail, and the quadrant. By around 1500, those together had led to voyages that made slave raids on Africa and cheaper trade with Asia possible. Again around 1500, just when Europe’s printing press started pumping out lots of new books, its explorers in the Americas had started bringing back plants and animals that nobody in Europe had ever seen before. As with the new questioning spirit catalyzed by the press, that had challenged several age-old ideas—and if they were wrong, what else might be wrong? Around 1600, new sights had also started growing in Europe itself as both the telescope and the microscope began to spread there. A growing slave trade plus a vast and growing supply of precious metals meant growing capital and growing trade. Cheaper paper and ever more books had also meant growing literacy. In turn, that had meant a growing postal system. By the 1650s, that had led to Europe’s first natural philosophy journals. Knowledge specialization grew. New knowledge about the cosmos grew, and it grew more reliable, too. Plus, it spread faster, more widely, and more cheaply. Thanks to the press, and greater exploration, and rising trade, and more money to be made, books grew cheaper and translations grew more common. With the ongoing spread in Europe of ideas from Arabia and Greece, which were based on ideas from Iraq, Egypt, and India, and which had first started spreading in Europe in the 1100s, Europe’s new thinkers inherited millennia of our thought about the cosmos and put it to work in wholly new ways.

As usual, this brief statement has to be moderated. Communication was still hard, just not as hard as it used to be. For example, even with the printing press, paper was still expensive in England. Newton, from a fairly well-to-do farming family (they owned several sheep and had tenant farmers) rejoiced that when his stepfather died he inherited a large notebook. He wrote small and made it last for many years.

Translations, too, were uncommon. For example, even though Galileo had written several books in the early seventeenth century, he wrote most of them in Italian, which few in England could read. Even when Latin translations existed, foreign books in England were expensive and closely guarded.

Even when books were easily available, readers still had to travel to cities to get them. And in those days, a good rider on a fresh horse traveling a safe road on a fair day would be lucky to do 65 kilometers (about 40 miles) that day. Further, while travel by sea was faster, at sea you also had to worry about pirates—for example, Isaac Barrow, Newton’s tutor at Cambridge, fought pirates after being boarded in the Mediterranean. What made Europe’s new natural philosophy go was a few cheap printed pamphlets, plus the new clubs and coffehouses, and a postal service supporting letters between savants, with good translators in each country. That, plus the printing press, the lens, the clock, and the growing importance of trade, started the philosophic fire in Europe.

[Arabic books flowing into Latin Europe]
As if often the case, the text fixes on one particular date to ease the reader’s task of understanding and remembering the sequence of historical events. Of course, nothing ever happens in that precise a way. Latin Europe had been getting bits and pieces of Arabic knowledge for centuries before then, but usually innovators didn’t last to see their changes adopted widely. One of the few who did was Pope Sylvester II, who introduced the abacus to Europe in the tenth century. But by and large, even he was regarded as too much of an innovator and many of his technically oriented innovations fell by the wayside once he’d died. That’s typical of Europe before the ferment of the late twelfth century, when changes really started to happen as the bulk of the Arabic texts arrived in translation after the fall of Toledo in 1095 and the decline of Muslim Spain (the translation effort itself took about a century and a half). “Gerbert, the Teacher,” O. G. Darlington, The American Historical Review, 52(3):456-476, 1947.

Like a python choking down a pig, the Catholic Church, continually adding to Aristotle’s books of logic, the Organon (The Tool), had by the fourteenth century integrated all of his (known) books, and a thousand years of his Greek, Syriac, Persian, Arabic, then Latin commentators’ books in stages. That theological system then formed the mental infrastructure that Europe’s seventeenth-century natural philosophers built on—and eventually tore apart. The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, 600 B.C. to A.D. 1450, David C. Lindberg, University of Chicago, 1992.

For an overview of the transition of Greek, Indian, and Persian mathematical and scientific learning to Arabic hands, see: How Greek Science Passed To the Arabs, De Lacy O’Leary, 1980, Kegan Paul, Reprint Edition, 2002. Aristotle and the Arabs: The Aristotelian Tradition in Islam, Francis E. Peters, New York University Press, 1968. However, note that some of that is based on myth. For more recent work, see: “Jundi-Shapur, bimaristans, and the rise of academic medical centres,” A. C. Miller, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 99(12):615-617, 2006. “The Mesopotamian schools of Edessa and Jundi-Shapur: the roots of modern medical schools,” S. Johna, American Surgery, 69(7):627-630, 2003. “The Arab-Islamic Medical Tradition,” L. I. Conrad, in The Western Medical Tradition 800 BC to AD 1800, Lawrence I. Conrad, Michael Neve, Vivian Nutton, Roy Porter, and Andrew Wear, Cambridge University Press, 1995, especially pages 103-110 on the translation movement within Islam. “The Origins of the Islamic Hospital: Myth and Reality,” M. W. Dols, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 61(3):367-390, 1987.

For a recent popular overview of the transition from Arabic to Latin hands, and the subsequent development of Europe’s late medieval theological system see: Aristotle’s Children: How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Middle Ages, Richard E. Rubenstein, Harcourt, 2003. It’s possible, though, to come away from that particular book with a belief that Europe’s main faiths somehow lived in harmony. Except for pockets of time in the Netherlands, and in Muslim Spain, such is not the case. For example, in Christian Spain in the fourteenth century, sex between Christians and Jews was punished by death. Sex between Christian and Muslims was punished with public whipping. Violence and the persecution of minorities in the Crown of Aragon: Jews, Lepers and Muslims before the Black Death, David Nirenberg, doctoral thesis, University of Michigan, 1993, pages 128-165.

[spread of science after Newton]
Many thinkers reasoned that since Newton had found universal laws for all material bodies, perhaps there were universal laws for all human groups, too. To speak of French thinkers alone, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Turgot, Rousseau, Sièyes, Condorcet, and Saint-Simon, plus others in Scotland and Germany, then all over Europe and British America, drooled at the thought of fundamental insight, followed by fundamental change. Maybe, they thought, Europe’s incessant warfare, poverty, cruelty, slavery, and corruption could actually change. A new field, called ‘social physics’ or ‘the social art,’ and today known as sociology, was born. Also, a new literature, ‘the tale of futurity,’ today known as science fiction, was born. And the incense of a new sacred idea, ‘progress,’ began to perfume the air outside the new laboratories.

For example, John Locke tried to use the new way of thought to try to figure out governance in 1690. James Lind tried to use it to try to figure out scurvy in 1747. James Watt used it to try to figure out steam power in 1765. Adam Smith tried to use it to try to figure out economics in 1776. Honoré Blanc used it to help make precision guns in 1785. “Essay on the History of Astronomy,” Adam Smith, in The Early Writings of Adam Smith, J. R. Lindgren (editor), Kelley, 1967.

However, the newly optimistic tone in Europe shifted after a major earthquake destroyed Lisbon in 1755. The usual cruelties, wars, and slaughters didn’t help either. (To give some vague idea of the era, in 1718 Peter I, Tsar of Russia, tortured and killed his own son.) But still an irrepressible Voltaire would write in 1756 that “reason and industry will always bring about new progress.” However, he also covered his bets in 1759 by making Candide ping-pong between Pangloss and Martin. By 1783, he was five years dead when British America became the United States of America. Its whole system of government came to be based on the new ideas, which was the first time that happened.

History of the Idea of Progress, Robert Nisbet, Basic Books, 1980. The Pattern of Expectation, 1644-2001, I. F. Clarke, Jonathan Cape, 1979. The Idea of Progress: History and Society, Sidney Pollard, Pelican Books, 1971. The Idea of Progress: An Inquiry into Its Origin and Growth, J. B. Bury, Macmillan and Co., 1920. “Sociology Before Comte: A Summary of Doctrines and an Introduction to the Literature,” H. E. Barnes, American Journal of Sociology, 23(2):174-247, 1917. “The Founders of Sociology,” V. Branford, American Journal of Sociology, 10(1):94-126, 1904.

[first public balloon ascent]
On December 1st, 1783, perhaps four hundred thousand Parisians, about half the city, crammed into the Tuileries Gardens. They were there to watch two men ascend in a balloon, like godlings spurning the earth. The news stunned both Europe and the brand new United States. That, plus two other new amusements—electricity and ‘animal magnetism’—convinced Europe’s few urbanites, male and female, young and old, that they would soon be living in a new age. Now not just the strange new natural philosophers, or their new mercantile or political hangers on, but anyone who had the coin to see the new marvels stood agape, dreaming of yet another new thing: ‘the future.’ Then, just ten years later, the guillotine began to fall, the tumbril to roll, and the gutters to run with blood. The Terror had come. Popular Science And Public Opinion in Eighteenth-century France, Michael R. Lynn, Manchester University Press, 2006, page 126. The Pattern of Expectation, 1644-2001, I. F. Clarke, Jonathan Cape, 1979, pages 29-30.

The following might give some idea of the tenor of the times: “Balloons occupy senators, philosophers, ladies, everybody.... When the arts are brought to such perfection in Europe, who would go, like Sir Joseph Banks, in search of islands in the Atlantic, where the natives in six thousand years have not improved the science of carving fishing-hooks out of bones or flints! Well! I hope these new mechanic meteors will prove only playthings for the learned and the idle, and not be converted into new engines of destruction to the human race, as is so often the case of refinements or discoveries in science.” From: “Letter 2283, to Sir Horace Mann, December 2, 1783,” in The Letters of Horace Walpole, Fourth Earl of Orford, Horace Walpole, Peter Cunningham (editor), Volume VIII, Richard Bentley and Son, 1891, page 438.

[even politicians and poets...]
For example, Newton died in 1727. In 1730 Alexander Pope composed the following epitaph for his monument at Westminster Abbey: “Quem Immortalem / Testantur Tempus, Natura, Cœlum: / Mortalem / Hoc Marmor fatetur. / Nature, and Nature’s Laws, lay hid in Night. / God said, Let Newton be!, and All was Light.The Poems of Alexander Pope, John Butt (editor), Routledge, 1966, page 808.
[“strange seas of thought”]
“And from my pillow, looking forth by light / Of moon or favouring stars, I could behold / The antechapel where the statue stood / Of Newton with his prism and silent face, / The marble index of a mind for ever / Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone.” “The Prelude,” William Wordsworth.

A Microscope Made of Numbers

[life expectancy more than doubled]
“There is much to celebrate in world population trends over the last 60 years, especially the average life expectancy, which leapt from about 48 years in the early 1950s to about 68 in the first decade of the new century. Infant mortality plunged from about 133 deaths in 1,000 births in the 1950s to 46 per 1,000 in the period from 2005 to 2010. Immunization campaigns reduced the prevalence of childhood diseases worldwide.”

State of World Population 2011: People and Possibilities in a World of 7 Billion, United Nations Population Fund, 2011, pages 3-4.

“The twentieth century witnessed the most rapid decline in mortality in human history. In 1950-1955, life expectancy at the world level was 46 years and it had reached 67 years by 2005-2010. Over the next 45 years, life expectancy at the global level is expected to rise further to reach 75 years in 2045-2050. The more developed regions already had a high expectation of life in 1950-1955 (66 years) and have since experienced further gains in longevity. By 2005-2010 their life expectancy stood at 76.5 years, 11 years higher than in the less developed regions where the expectation of life at birth was 65.4 years. Although the gap between the two groups is expected to narrow between 2005 and mid-century, in 2045-2050 the more developed regions are still expected to have considerably higher life expectancy at birth than the less developed regions (82.4 years versus 74.3 years).”

World Population Prospects: The 2006 Revision, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2007, page 14.

For example, in 1902 in the United States life expectancy at birth was 49.2 years. By 2002, it was 77.3 years.

“Gains in longevity were fastest in the first half of the 20th century. These advances were largely attributed to ‘an enormous scientific breakthrough—the germ theory of disease’ which led to the eradication and control of numerous infectious and parasitic diseases, especially among infants and children. The new theory led to an entirely new approach to preventative medicine, practiced both by departments of public health and by individuals. Interventions included boiling bottles and milk, washing hands, protecting food from flies, isolating sick children, ventilating rooms, and improving water supply and sewage disposal. Beginning in the 1940s, the control of infectious diseases was also aided by the increasing distribution and usage of antibiotics, including penicillin and sulfa drugs.

Since mid-century, advances in life expectancy have largely been attributable to improvements in the prevention and control of the chronic diseases of adulthood. In particular, death rates from two of the three major causes of death in 1950—diseases of the heart (i.e., coronary heart disease, hypertensive heart disease, and rheumatic heart disease) and cerebrovascular diseases (stroke)—have fallen by approximately 60% and 70%, respectively, on an age-adjusted basis since 1950, improvements that the CDC has characterized as ‘one of the most important public health achievements of the 20th century.’ ”

From: “Life Expectancy in the United States,” L. B. Shrestha, Congressional Research Service, Report RL32792, The United States Library of Congress, 2006, pages 3-4.

See also: Rising Life Expectancy: A Global History, James C. Riley, Cambridge University Press, 2001.

[our recent health phase change]
“It is now clear that although the period from the middle of the eighteenth century to the end of the nineteenth has been hailed justly as an industrial revolution, as a great transformation in social organization, and as a revolution in science, these great advances brought only modest and uneven improvements in the health, nutritional status, and longevity of the lower classes before 1890. Whatever contribution the technological and scientific advances of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries may have made ultimately to this breakthrough, escape from hunger and high mortality did not become a reality for most ordinary people until the twentieth century....

This new degree of control [over the environment] has enabled Homo sapiens to increase its average body size by over 50 percent and its average longevity by more than 100 percent since 1800, and to greatly improve the robustness and capacity of vital organ systems....

The increase in the world’s population between 1900 and 1990 was four times as great as the increase during the whole previous history of humankind.”

The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100: Europe, America, and the Third World, Robert William Fogel, Cambridge University Press, 2004, pages 8 and 21-22.

[cholera in India]
Cholera might have been new to Europe in the 1800s, but not to our species. Cholera, or a close relative, may have existed at least two millennia ago. On the Natural Faculties, Galen, Book III, part 13. However, it’s hard to tell if it was the same disease. See: Cholera, Robert Pollitzer, United Nations World Health Organization, 1959, Chapter 1.

It had plagued India, particularly around the Ganges delta, probably since at least 1503 or 1543, and certainly by 1563. A History of Asiatic Cholera, C. Macnamara, Macmillan, 1876.

“Among us it is called the Cholerica Passio. The Indians call it morxi and we corrupt the word into mordexi.... It is more acute than in our country for it generally kills in 24 hours. I have known persons who have not lasted more than 10 hours, and the longest endurance of it is 4 days. As there is no rule without an exception, I have seen a man, with the gift of much endurance, who lived for 20 days, always vomiting colora curginosa. Finally, he died.” Coloquios dos simples, e drogas he coisas mediçinias da India, Garcia da Orta, 1563, 17th dialogue, in Colloquies on the Simples and Drugs of India by Garcia da Orta, Clements R. Markham (editor), Henry Southeran and Co., 1913, pages 154-155. “Medicine in Goa—a former Portuguese territory,” S. K. Panday, Journal of Postgraduate Medicine, 28(3):123-148, 1982.

[cholera’s spread out of India in 1816]
In 1816, poor rice harvest in Bengal encouraged cholera. The rice harvest was bad because of heavy monsoons, which were heavy because of the Tambora volcanic eruption in Indonesia the year before. The malnourished are more prone to every illness, not just cholera. Poverty doesn’t help, either.

The new way to die crept up on Britain slowly. In 1816, aided by movements of the British army, cholera stepped out of its traditional Indian centers, then started striding across Eurasia. It stalked its victims along the trade routes as far north as the Volga and as far west as Arabia. By 1830, it had reached Poland. The next year it hit Hungary, Austria, Germany, and Sweden. By 1832 it was in Paris. There it slew 7,000 in 18 days. Within a month, 13,000 Parisians were dead and 120,000 had fled. By 1832 it had already killed millions of us and those of us in Britain were walleyed with fear. Then, in February, it struck London. Disease and Civilization: The Cholera in Paris, 1832, François Delaporte, MIT Press, 1986.

[cholera fear in Britain]
In London, during December, 1831, and January, 1832, before cholera hit London, many cases of suspected cholera fanned the fear of epidemic. For example, in one scene in a new play, “Cholera Morbus, or Love and Fright,” a girl picks the pocket of a man, who yells “Collar her!” and the crowd fled in terror, letting her escape. A letter to The Times denounced the play as an indecency. The play closed after two days. The Times, November 11th and 12th, l83l. Incidentally, cholera morbus, (doctor-speak Latin for ‘the disease cholera’) gave English the word ‘collywobbles,’ meaning fear or bellyache.
[cholera killed quickly]
One case can stand for many: “Elizabeth Connolly was aged 53 and lived in White’s Rents, Limehouse. On 16 February [1832] she ate a dinner of ox’s cheek, and thought her feeling of illness the next day was due to this first meal of meat for a week or two. At 1.30 pm she was returning from a shop, where she had bought some herring, when diarrhoea started, forcing her to stop at a house on the way home. This continued, with vomiting, until 5 pm, when she called a doctor. She was taken to the workhouse, where a hot-air bath, an emetic, an enema and brandy did not prevent her dying at 3 am.” From: “The 1832 Cholera Epidemic in East London,” R. McR. Higgins, East London Record, Number 2, 1979.
[cholera in North America in 1832]
From England, cholera sprang north to Scotland and west to Ireland. By June 1832 it leapt the Atlantic. It first hit Canada, when Irish immigrants brought it to Quebec. It killed 3,347 in three months in Montreal and Quebec City. As in Eurasia, as the stricken fled before the new plague, it pursued them down the newly infected waterways. Kingston, Toronto, Buffalo, Detroit, New York, all were hit as it made its way to Texas, California, Mexico, and points south. The Cholera Years: The United States in 1832, 1849, and 1866, Charles E. Rosenberg, Chicago University Press, 1987.
[cholera was novel as an infectious disease in nineteenth-century Britain]
Cholera, typhoid, tuberculosis, smallpox, and influenza were all major British killers from 1817 to 1860. What made cholera special wasn’t its mortality, but its novelty.
[physicians believed to kill cholera patients]
“The Liverpool Cholera Epidemic of 1832 and Anatomical Dissection—Medical Mistrust and Civil Unrest,” S. Burrell, G. Gill, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 60(4):478-498, 2005.
[cholera believed to be a government plot]
“The 1832 cholera epidemic in East London,” R. McR. Higgins, East London Record, Number 2, 1979, cites various stories in: The Poor Man’s Guardian, November 19th, 1831; The Times, November 24th and 26th, 1831; The Morning Chronicle, February 17th, 1832, and March 10th, 1832; The Brighton Gazette, March 29th, 1832.
[finding someone to blame for plague]
That reflex blaming wasn’t new. Half a millennium before, Christians had blamed, then massacred, Jews for a new plague, the Black Death. When a new plague came among the Romans 1,750 years ago, they blamed their newest sect, the Christians. When a new plague killed one in three Athenians 2,430 years ago, they blamed the Peloponnesians (their enemies). The centuries pass, but we don’t change.

One example will do. “Agimet the Jew, who lived at Geneva and was arrested at Châtel, was there put to the torture a little and then he was released from it. And after a long time, having been subjected again to torture a little, he confessed in the presence of a great many trustworthy persons, who are later mentioned. To begin with it is clear that at the Lent just passed Pultus Clesis de Ranz had sent this very Jew to Venice to buy silks and other things for him. When this came to the notice of Rabbi Peyret, a Jew of Chambéry who was a teacher of their law, he sent for this Agimet, for whom he had searched, and when he had come before him he said: “We have been informed that you are going to Venice to buy silk and other wares. Here I am giving you a little package of half a span in size which contains some prepared poison and venom in a thin, sewed leather-bag. Distribute it among the wells, cisterns, and springs about Venice and the other places to which you go, in order to poison the people who use the water of the aforesaid wells that will have been poisoned by you, namely, the wells in which the poison will have been placed.”

“The Confession of Agimet of Geneva,” Châtel, October 20th, 1348, in The Jew in the Medieval World: A Sourcebook, 315-1791, Jacob R. Marcus, Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1938. Because of that ‘confession,’ thousands of Jews in at least 200 towns and hamlets were burnt, and their property stolen.

[1836 data law]
That was the Births and Deaths Registration Act, 1836, Act of 6 & 7, William IV, chapter 86.

It’s value is inestimable. “Under the Act for the Registration of Births, Deaths, and Marriages, the name, sex, age, and occupation of every person who dies in England—as well as the time, place, and cause of death—are registered. The whole of this system of observation and record was in operation when cholera broke out in 1848. The quarterly abstract of deaths for the whole kingdom, and the London tables which are published weekly, presented notices of its rise, progress, and decline in particular districts. When the epidemic was over, it was deemed desirable to give a complete abstract of the facts.” From: “Influence of Elevation on the Fatality of Cholera,” W. Farr, Journal of the Statistical Society of London, Volume 15, 1852, pages 155-183.

However, Britain wasn’t the first nation to keep vital statistics. France did so a bit earlier, but only for Paris. Health, Civilization, and the State: A History of Public Health from Ancient To Modern Times, Dorothy Porter, Routledge, 1999, pages 65-68.

[early microscopes]
Antony van Leeuwenhoek, a Dutch linen merchant, built a powerful microscope before 1668. He shared his results, but not his technology, so there was much skepticism in England at first. He went on to build nearly 500 more, some as high-powered as today’s optical microscopes. He wasn’t the first microscope maker—they had been around for 24 years before he was even born—but he was the first to build one that could magnify specimens 300 times with a resolution down to one micron, a feat comparable to modern microscopes. He started writing letters to the Royal Society in London in 1673 recounting what he saw and continued doing so for the next 50 years, describing sperm cells, blood cells, algae, and protozoa. In 1683 he wrote a letter describing the animalcules he saw on the plaque from his teeth, from the teeth of two women, probably his wife and daughter, and from two old men who had never cleaned their teeth in their entire lives. It was one of his first descriptions of bacteria. His letters were widely reprinted and created quite a stir for decades—he was even visited by Queen Mary of England and Tsar Peter I of Russia—yet in all that time no one ever connected his tiny animalcules and disease. “First Steps in Experimental Microscopy, Leeuwenhoek as Practical Scientist,” B. J. Ford, The Microscope, 43(2):47-57, 1995. The Leeuwenhoek Legacy, Brian J. Ford, Biopress, 1991.

Whirlpool of Conjecture

[child deaths in England in the 1840s]
That reformer was Edwin Chadwick. “It is proper to observe, that so far as I was informed upon the evidence received in the Factory Inquiry, and more recently on the cases of children of migrant families, that opinion is erroneous which ascribes greater sickness and mortality to the children employed in factories than amongst the children who remain in such homes as these towns afford to the labouring classes. However defective the ventilation of many of the factories may yet be, they are all of them drier and more equably warm than the residence of the parent; and we had proof that weakly children have been put into the better-managed factories as healthier places for them than their own homes. It is an appalling fact that, of all who are born of the labouring classes in Manchester, more than 57 per cent die before they attain five years of age; that is, before they can be engaged in factory labour, or in any other labour whatsoever.” Report to Her Majesty’s Principal Secretary Of State for the Home Department, from the Poor Law Commissioners, on an Inquiry into the Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population of Great Britain, Edwin Chadwick, W. Clowes and Sons, 1842, page 158.

In brief, in 1842 in Manchester, 57 percent of the kids born to working-class mothers died before reaching five years old. Liverpool was the same. Within its shopkeeper and trades population, half of all deaths were kids under five. Dirty water killed them. Within its laboring population, 62 percent of all deaths occurred before the age of five.

[London slums]
Picture the scene in Britain. Its industrial phase change is roaring on. In England alone, our numbers have jumped from ten to 14 million in just the last 20 years. Our number of cities have doubled. Slums are everywhere, and none of us have any idea what to do about them. Our rich, living only a horse ride away from any slum, are too scared to care. Our poor in the cities—that is, most of us—spend all our brief lives in squalor. We live in windowless rooms in back-to-back hovels squeezed around unpaved courtyards. Often, three or more of our families share a single dark room just six feet by six feet. Incest is common. Our courtyards are filled with pigs that dine on refuse, dead animals, and kitchen slops. Our water supply might be the nearest river, which carries sewage, corpses, and offal from upstream settlements. The stench is unrelenting. Fleeing economic meltdown on the farm to slave in the new factories, we know no better. Even backbreaking work in the city is better than starving to death in the countryside. Illiterate, debauched by our employers, humiliated, powerless, we turn to gin as our only escape.

Here’s an example: “The low houses [of Spitalfields] are all huddled together in close and dark lanes and alleys, presenting at first sight an appearance of non-habitation, so dilapidated are the doors and windows:- in every room of the houses, whole families, parents, children and aged grandfathers swarm together.” The Poor Man’s Guardian, 18 February 1832.

For general historical background, see: London: The Biography, Peter Ackroyd, Anchor Books, 2000. London: A Social History, Roy Porter, Harvard University Press, 1994. For the real deal, written at the time (1851), see: London Labour and the London Poor: A Cyclopaedia of the Condition and Earnings of Those That Will Work, Those That Cannot Work, and Those That Will Not Work, Volumes I-IV, Henry Mayhew, 1851, Dover, Reprint Edition, 1968.

London wasn’t Britain’s only city with large slums. For example, in Manchester in 1835: “Thirty or forty factories rise on the tops of the hills I have just described. Their six stories tower up; their huge enclosures give notice from afar of the centralisation of industry. The wretched dwellings of the poor are scattered haphazard around them.... Some of [the] roads are paved, but most of them are full of ruts and puddles into which foot or carriage wheel sinks deep.... Heaps of dung, rubble from buildings, putrid, stagnant pools are found here and there amongst the houses and over the bumpy, pitted surfaces of the public places.... Amid this noisome labyrinth from time to time one is astonished at the sight of fine stone buildings with Corinthian columns.... But who could describe the interiors of those quarters set apart, home of vice and poverty, which surround the huge palaces of industry and clasp them in their hideous folds? On ground below the level of the river and overshadowed on every side by immense workshops, stretches marshy land which widely spaced muddy ditches can neither drain nor cleanse. Narrow twisting roads lead down to it. They are lined with one-storey houses whose ill-fitting planks and broken windows show them up, even from a distance, as the last refuge a man might find between poverty and death. Nonetheless the wretched people reduced to living in them can still inspire jealousy of their fellow beings. Below some of their miserable dwellings is a row of cellars to which a sunken corridor leads; twelve to fifteen human beings are crowded pell-mell into each of these damp, repulsive holes.”

Journeys to England and Ireland, Alexis De Tocqueville, translated by George Lawrence and K. P. Mayer, edited by J. P. Mayer, Yale University Press, 1958, pages 105-106.

Engels also visited Manchester and had much the same to say. “...the most horrible spot (if I should describe all the separate spots in detail I should never come to the end) lies on the Manchester side, immediately southwest of Oxford Road, and is known as Little Ireland. In a rather deep hole, in a curve of the Medlock and surrounded on all four sides by tall factories and high embankments, covered with buildings, stand two groups of about two hundred cottages, built chiefly back to back, in which live about four thousand human beings, most of them Irish. The cottages are old, dirty, and of the smallest sort, the streets uneven, fallen into ruts and in part without drains or pavement; masses of refuse, offal, and sickening filth lie among standing pools in all directions; the atmosphere is poisoned by the effluvia from these, and laden and darkened by the smoke of a dozen tall factory chimneys. A horde of ragged women and children swarm about here, as filthy as the swine that thrive upon the garbage heaps and in the puddles. In short, the whole rookery furnishes such a hateful and repulsive spectacle as can hardly be equalled in the worst court on the Irk. The race that lives in these ruinous cottages, behind broken windows, mended with oilskin, sprung doors, and rotten door-posts, or in dark, wet cellars, in measureless filth and stench, in this atmosphere penned in as if with a purpose, this race must really have reached the lowest stage of humanity. This is the impression and the line of thought which the exterior of this district forces upon the beholder. But what must one think when he hears that in each of these pens, containing at most two rooms, a garret and perhaps a cellar, on the average twenty human beings live; that in the whole region, for each one hundred and twenty persons, one usually inaccessible privy is provided; and that in spite of all the preachings of the physicians, in spite of the excitement into which the cholera epidemic plunged the sanitary police by reason of the condition of Little Ireland, in spite of everything, in this year of grace 1844, it is in almost the same state as in 1831!”

The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844, Friedrich Engels, 1845, translated by Florence Kelley Wischnewetzky, Swan Sonnenschein & Co., Reprint Edition, 1892, pages 59-60.

[London standpipes]
The Century of Science, F. Sherwood Taylor, Readers Union, Ltd., Second Edition, 1942, pages 64-65.
[eels in London’s water]
That occurred in October, 1886 in East London. A Science of Impurity: Water Analysis in Nineteenth Century Britain, Christopher Hamlin, University of California Press, 1990, page 260. At least six eels came through alive. They were “generally eaten by the finders.” See: “Eels in Water Mains; Being a Report By Major-General A. De Courcy Scott, R. E., and Mr. W. H. Power on an Inquiry Into the Quality of the Water Supplied By the East London Waterworks Company,” HMSO, 1888. Sometimes ‘leeches’ and ‘small jumping animals that looked like shrimps’ came out of the tap.
[dead babies in cisterns]
That was in Essex, but it seems unlikely that London cisterns were much different. Water and Water Supplies, John C. Thresh, P. Blakiston’s Son and Co, Third Edition, 1901, page 118.
[water only three days a week]
That wasn’t just patchy infrastructure. Until 1870 no water company could legally supply water on Sundays for religious reasons. “Water and the Search for Public Health in London in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries,” A. Hardy, Medical History, 28(3):250-282, 1984.
[one intake next to sewage outflow]
The sewage outflow was the Ranelagh Sewer. The intake belonged to the Grand Junction water company, which moved it there (from Hampton) deliberately in 1822. It only moved its intake upstream (back to Hampton) after the 1852 Metropolitan Water Act forced it to. Incidentally, the Grand Junction also supplied high-priced locales, like the Hyde Park district, so even London’s richest had impure water. A Science of Impurity: Water Analysis in Nineteenth Century Britain, Christopher Hamlin, University of California Press, 1990, page 81. Fruit Between the Leaves, Andrew Wynter, Volume I, Chapman & Hall, 1875, pages 224-226.
[water in London at one to three ha’pennies a pail]
London Labour and the London Poor: A Cyclopaedia of the Condition and Earnings of Those That Will Work, Those That Cannot Work, and Those That Will Not Work, Henry Mayhew, Volume I, 1851, Dover, Reprint Edition, 1968, pages 194-195.
[London’s water supply]
In Europe, we lived in squalor until very recently. Here, for example, is an extract of a poem describing the effects of a rainshower in London. It was written around 1710, over a century before the problem was made even worse by London’s new flush toilets and paved roads in the early nineteenth century:

“Now from all Parts the swelling Kennels flow, / And bear their Trophies with them as they go: / Filth of all Hues and Odours seem to tell / What Streets they sail’d from, by the Sight and Smell. / They, as each Torrent drives, with rapid Force / From Smithfield, or St. Pulchre’s shape their Course, / And in huge Confluent join at Snow-Hill Ridge, / Fall from the Conduit prone to Holborn-Bridge. / Sweepings from Butchers Stalls, Dung, Guts, and Blood, / Drown’d Puppies, stinking Sprats, all drench’d in Mud, / Dead Cats and Turnips-Tops come tumbling down the Flood.” Selected Poems, “A Description of a City Shower,” Jonathan Swift, edited by C. H. Sisson, Carcanet, 1977.

Depending on what Londoners could afford, most daily drank wine or beer or ale, or any alcoholic drink they could afford, not so much to get tipsy but because water was unsafe. They didn’t know about germs, but they did know about smell and sediment. Beer was also a source of nutrition in a hungry world. Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Richard W. Unger, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.

Water was something only the poorest drank, but then that was nearly everyone. The poor also drank tea, even though it was outrageously expensive for them, because they needed the stimulant. Their food was monotonous and insipid. (Possibly, too, boiling water to make it may have had unintended health benefits.) After the enclosures began, they also rarely got milk. It might be interesting to read a modern Regency romance novel with such details of daily life included.

London had to wait until 1891 before its number of houses with constant supply surpassed its number without. Even then, it still had outages until the turn of the century. “Liquid Politics: Needs, Rights, Waste and the Formation of the Consumer in Nineteenth-Century Water Politics in England,” V. Taylor, F. Trentmann, in Knowing Consumers: Actors, Images, Identities in Modern History, Zentrum für Interdisziplinäre Forschung, Bielefeld, February 2004.

Paris, Brussels, Cologne—no city in Europe was any better off. The Conquest of Water: The Advent of Health in the Industrial Age, Jean-Pierre Goubert, 1986, translated by Andre Wilson, Princeton University Press, 1989, page 42.

The cheap and plentiful drinking water supply that our rich take for granted today became widespread in the industrial world only after 1900. And still London’s water wasn’t always clean. That had to wait until 1921. Londoners back then, just as village Egyptians in the 1990s, feared chlorine in their water. It tasted of ‘chemicals.’ Obviously it was a government plot. That political battle alone took 24 years to resolve. Meanwhile, their children died and died. “Water and the Search for Public Health in London in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries,” A. Hardy, Medical History, 28(3):250-282, 1984. Studies in Water Supply, A. C. Houston, Macmillan, 1913, page 64.

Clean, cheap, and plentiful bathing, washing, and flushing water had to wait even longer. It only become widespread in London and the rest of today’s rich world around 1950. The world that our rich countries know today is a recent invention. London’s Water Wars: The Competition for London’s Water Supply in the Nineteenth Century, John Graham-Leigh, Francis Boutle Publishers, 2000.

[influenza and cholera deaths in England and Wales from 1847 to 1849]
“[B]etween 1841 and 1850 there occurred two disastrous years, that of 1847 when influenza raged all over the kingdom, and that of 1849, when Asiatic cholera decimated the people. The deaths in each thousand of the population of England and Wales were—in 1845, 21; 1846, 23; 1847 (influenza), 24½; 1848, 23; 1849 (cholera), 25; 1850, 20½. It will be seen that the influenza year was nearly as bad as the cholera year.” Economy of the Labouring Classes, William Lucas Sargant, Simpkin, Marshall, and Co., 1857, page 254.

“If a foreign army had landed on the coast of England, seized all the sea-ports, sent detachments over the surrounding districts, ravaged the population through summer, after harvest destroyed more than a thousand lives a day for several days in succession, and, in the year it held possession of the country, slain fifty-three thousand two hundred and ninety-three men, women, and children, the task of registering the dead would be inexpressibly painful; and the pain is not greatly diminished by the circumstance that in the calamity to be described the minister of destruction was a Pestilence that spread over the face of the island, and found in so many cities quick poisonous matters ready at hand to destroy the inhabitants.” That quote from William Farr’s 1852 “Report on the mortality of cholera in England in 1848-49.” It is cited in the editorial by Thomas Wakley in: The Lancet, II(17):393, 1853.

[Irish potato famine]
The figure of one million deaths is widely reported, although it’s only estimated since mortality records weren’t kept in Ireland until 1864. A Death Dealing Famine: the Great Hunger in Ireland, Christine Kinealy, Pluto Press, 1997. Major famine was nothing new to Ireland, though. For instance, about a century earlier, in 1741, about 300,000 had died, perhaps 13 percent of the population, or about one in seven or eight of us.
[two doctors mined the data]
They were: first William Farr, then John Snow. The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic—and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World, Steven Johnson, Penguin, 2006. Vital Statistics: A Memorial Volume of Selections from the Reports and Writings of William Farr, Noel A. Humphreys (editor), Offices of the Sanitary Institute, 1885. (See page 333 for the above Lancet extract.) On the Mode of Communication of Cholera, John Snow, John Churchill Publishers, Second Edition, 1855.

Note that that while today’s publications laud John Snow and rarely mention William Farr, the situation was reversed in the 1850s.

“The contrast of Farr’s and Snow’s approaches to the study of cholera highlights the importance of disease theory in epidemiological investigations. The studies of both men were predicated on their understanding of the nature and causation of disease, and their methodology reflected those theoretical differences. Snow was exclusive or reductionist in theory, and he focused his empirical investigation on finding collaborating evidence and ignored negative evidence or anomalous cases. For him epidemiology was a means of verification; for Farr it was also a means of discovery. Farr was eclectic and inclusive in his theory, and he approached his cholera studies by trying to weigh a large list of social, environmental, and biological factors in accounting for cholera’s behaviour. These qualities of mind made Farr responsive to new ideas and adaptable, as we can see in both the changing emphasis and the conclusions in his investigations of three cholera epidemics. A recent biographer of Snow briefly compares Snow and Farr and praises Snow for his openmindedness. By implication Farr was closed-minded. On the cholera question I would conclude just the opposite. Judged by the standards of his time Snow was the dogmatic contagionist and premature reductionist. Farr was the more cautious in weighing all evidence....

Today it is [Farr’s] results and not Snow’s that are considered merely ingenious, and Snow’s publications are read perhaps more sympathetically than they deserve, because the modern medical reader can ‘fill in the gaps in his reasoning with the comforting knowledge that Snow was, after all, right.’ ”

From: “The changing assessments of John Snow’s and William Farr’s cholera studies,” J. M. Eyler, Sozial- und Präventivmedizin, 46(4):225–232, 2001.

A similar argument could be made of Pettenkoffer versus Koch later on. Opinion changes with time.

[the math seemed clear...]
That was true only at the time. In hindsight, it isn’t so clear. But then Farr didn’t have today’s logistic regression analysis at his disposal. “John Snow, William Farr and the 1849 outbreak of cholera that affected London: a reworking of the data highlights the importance of the water supply,” P. Bingham, N. Q. Verlander, M. J. Cheal, Public Health, 118(6):387–394, 2004.
[in 1858 the Thames was a public sewer]
That was hardly new. For example, around 1616 Ben Jonson wrote “On the Famous Voyage,” a scatological poem about a malodorous journey up the Fleet Ditch from Bridewell to Holborn, comparing it, to its disadvantage, to the Styx and all the other famous noisome rivers of Greek myth. The Complete Poems, Ben Jonson, edited by George Parfitt, Penguin, 1988.

The Fleet river, which starts in the Hampstead hills and empties into the Thames just above London Bridge, and from which Fleet Street is named, was in Roman times a brook just outside London. As early as the fourteenth century it started becoming an open sewer when tanneries, catgut makers, and dyers started dumping offal into it. Eventually it became a general city sewer, by which time it had been renamed the Fleet Ditch. As London’s population rose in the sixteenth century, the Fleet became less a river of water and more a stagnant pool of ordure. From 1732 to the 1870s it was slowly covered over. Its lower reaches are now buried under Farringdon Street, emptying into the Thames under Blackfriars Bridge. The Lost Rivers of London, Nicholas Barton, Grosvenor Press, 1962.

[The Great Stink]
“Parliament was all but compelled to legislate upon the great London nuisance by the force of sheer stench. The intense heat had driven our legislators from those portions of their buildings which overlook the river. A few members indeed, bent upon investigating the subject to its very depth, ventured into the library, but they were instantaneously driven to retreat, each man with a handkerchief to his nose. We are heartily glad of it. It is right that our legislators should be made to feel in health and comfort, the consequence of their own disregard of the public welfare.... As long as the nuisance did not directly affect themselves, noble lords and honorable gentlemen could afford to disregard the safety and comfort of London, but now that they are fairly driven from their libraries and committee-rooms—or better still, forced to remain in them with a putrid atmosphere around them—they may perhaps spare a thought for the Londoners.” The Times, June 18th, 1858.

As usual, the story is far more complicated than any summary could possibly suggest. For example, even after the engineering was completed, London’s East End (which is poor) was left out. Cholera came back in 1866 and killed 5,596 there. However, that finally convinced most London doubters that cholera was water-borne. The Great Stink of London: Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the Cleansing of the Victorian Metropolis, Stephen Halliday, Sutton Publishing, 1999, page 124.

The story, as presented in the text, also leaves out many important secondary causes, like the invention and consequences of the water closet, the paving of the roads, the invention of Portland cement, iron pipes with high-pressure seals, and cheap, machine-made soap.

[cholera deaths in Hamburg and Altona in 1892]
Preventive Medicine and Hygiene, Milton J. Rosenau, George C. Whipple, John W. Trask, and Thomas W. Salmon, D. Appleton and Company, Fourth Edition, 1921, pages 1165-1167.
[political infighting about cholera in Hamburg in 1892]
Ah, if only history were as simple as the text has had to make it to fit into a short book aimed at a popular audience. The 1892 outbreak in Hamburg is connected not just with medical ignorance but also with political jockeying for power, both on the urban and the federal level, mixed with the clash between two variants of the germ theory. Robert Koch argued that cholera was caused by water-borne bacteria, while Max von Pettenkofer argued that it was caused by a poison produced by the bacteria, which first had to germinate in special kinds of soil. Pettenkofer had been studying cholera since it hit Munich in 1854. After 38 years years of careful analysis, Pettenkofer had concluded that proximity to water, unsanitary conditions, and poor health all contributed to cholera. Both Koch and Pettenkofer were right in their own ways, but that’s not how our histories typically present the story. Robert Koch: A Life in Medicine and Bacteriology, Thomas Brock, Springer-Verlag, 1988. Death in Hamburg: Society and Politics in the Cholera Years, 1830-1910 Richard Evans, Penguin, 1987.

Similar politically based arguments continue today over many other of our problems. Typically, liberals want government to expand to be able to force everyone to do what they think are sensible things. Conservatives want government to contract so that public spending is as low as possible to ‘let the market sort it out.’ Both distort or ignore facts that don’t support their politics.

[ingesting fecal matter]
“Snow’s theory of epidemic diseases was based on the communication of ‘special animal poisons.’ As confusing as this notion was to the members of the parliamentary committee [in 1855], he could not possibly have used a more precise term. In Snow’s day the agents (some called them ‘germs,’ others an infectious ‘virus’) that caused cholera, typhus, and measles, for example, were unknown—unknown in the sense of not yet isolated, observed, or classified. Nevertheless, Snow believed, on medical and social evidence, that cholera and other epidemic diseases were propagated from one diseased person to another, that like caused like, and that a particular disease-causing agent could not cause a different disease in someone else. Even though the agents were unknown, the signatures of epidemic diseases were sufficiently apparent for him to hypothesize how they were communicated from one person, household, town, city, nation, and continent to the next. Moreover, the pathways were sufficiently clear for preventive public health measures to be enacted, whether or not the organized life forms that caused the disease in the human body were identified....

The most unpleasant aspect of Snow’s thesis—that the mass of cholera victims were swallowing other people’s fecal matter—made him appear to the Lancet to be like an offensive tradesman himself.”

Cholera, Chloroform, and the Science of Medicine: A Life of John Snow, Peter Vinten-Johansen, Howard Brody, Nigel Paneth, Stephen Rachman, and Michael Rip, Oxford University Press, 2003, pages 10-11.

[“whirlpool of conjecture”]
“When Mr. Farr and the Board of Health, and others, have shown the conditions under which cholera gains strength and deals destruction, they have simply shown that cholera is subject to similar laws as are typhus and other forms of epidemic disease; they have succeeded in illustrating some of the laws of its development and progress. But we contend that they have done little more: they have left the cardinal point of the inquiry untouched; they reveal nothing of the mysterious essence of the pestilence. The question, What is cholera? is left unsolved. Concerning this, the fundamental point, all is darkness and confusion, vague theory, and a vain speculation. Is it a fungus, an insect, a miasm, an electrical disturbance, a deficiency of ozone, a morbid off-scouring from the intestinal canal? We know nothing; we are at sea, in a whirlpool of conjecture. The consequence of this ignorance is, that in spite of what we know—in spite of empirical warnings to improve our sanitary condition, there is little reasonable hope in anything that will or can be done that the cholera will not again be as terrible and as fatal as it has been before.” Editorial, Thomas Wakley, The Lancet, II(17):393, 1853.

In the United States, echoing the sentiment in an 1860 commencement address, Oliver Wendell Holmes, professor of anatomy at Harvard, remarked that, “[A medicine] always is directly hurtful; it may sometimes be indirectly beneficial. If this presumption were established, and disease always assumed to be the innocent victim of circumstances, and not punishable by medicines, that is, noxious agents, or poisons, until the contrary was shown, we should not so frequently hear the remark commonly, perhaps erroneously, attributed to Sir Astley Cooper, but often repeated by sensible persons, that, on the whole, more harm than good is done by medication. Throw out opium, which the Creator himself seems to prescribe, for we often see the scarlet poppy growing in the cornfields, as if it were foreseen that wherever there is hunger to be fed there must also be pain to be soothed; throw out a few specifics which our art did not discover, and is hardly needed to apply; throw out wine, which is a food, and the vapors which produce the miracle of anaesthesia, and I firmly believe that if the whole materia medica, as now used, could be sunk to the bottom of the sea, it would be all the better for mankind,—and all the worse for the fishes.” Medical Essays, 1842-1882, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Houghton, Mifflin and company, 1899 Edition.

[better microscopes caused more confusion, not less]
“Friday, MacLeod, and Shepherd... have also... represented the whole revival of interest in spontaneous generation in the mid-nineteenth century as a direct result of ‘the development of high-powered compound microscopes.’ In this, as in so many other cases involving improvements in technology, historians and philosophers of science have shown that philosophical, religious, and political commitments were much more significant as sources of this interest, while the new microscopes at first actually caused more debate and confusion about what was actually being seen through them.” Sparks of Life: Darwinism and the Victorian Debates over Spontaneous Generation, James E. Strick, Harvard University Press, 2000, page 259. See also: “The Romantic Programme and the Reception of Cell Theory in Britain,” L. S. Jacyna, Journal of the History of Biology, 17(1)13–48, 1984. “John Goodsir and the Making of Cellular Reality,” L. S. Jacyna, Journal of the History of Biology, 16(1):75–99, 1983.
[a few doctors thought microbes were killers early on]
In 1847 in Vienna, Ignác Semmelweis introduced a chlorine handwash for doctors involved in childbirths at the General Hospital there, but to no long-term avail. Despite strong statistical evidence until he died in 1865, doctors couldn’t accept that they themselves were killers. For example, one medical eminence said of the handwashing scheme that “The suggestion was unheard of! Indeed, it was sheer impertinence to suggest that the Accoucheur to the Imperial household should carry contagion upon his hands.” From: “Semmelweis and the Oath of Hippocrates,” S. D. Elek, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, 59(1966):346-352, 1966. See also: “Hempelian and Kuhnian approaches in the philosophy of medicine: the Swemmelweis case,” D. Gillies, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 36(1)159-181, 2005. Childbed Fever: A Scientific Biography of Ignaz Semmelweis, Kay Codell Carter and Barbara R. Carter, Aldine Transaction, Revised Edition, 2005. “The Attempt to Understand Puerperal Fever in the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries: The Influence of Inflammation Theory,” C. Hallett, Medical History,, 49(1):1-28, 2005. The Doctors’ Plague: Germs, Childbed Fever, and the Strange Story of Ignác Semmelweis, Sherwin B. Nuland, W. W. Norton, 2003. “Five Documents Relating to the Final Illness and Death of Ignaz Semmelweis,” K. S. Carter, S. Abbott, J. L. Siebach, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 69(2):255-270, 1995. “Epidemiology of Puerperal Fever: The Contributions of Alexander Gordon,” G. W. Lowis, Medical History,, 37(4):399-410. 1993. The Century of the Surgeon, Jurgen Thorwald, Pan Books, 1961. Semmelweis: His Life and his Doctrine, William J. Sinclair, Manchester University Press, 1909. “The Contagiousness Of Puerperal Fever,” O. W. Holmes, The New England Quarterly Journal of Medicine, 1(April):503-530, 1843. Reprinted in 1855 in Medical Essays, 1842-1882, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Houghton, Mifflin and company, 1899 Edition.

In 1854 cholera came to Florence. Filippo Pacini, an anatomist at the University of Florence and a part-time microscope maker, identified the comma-shaped Vibrio cholerae microbe in its victims’ intestines. He wrote a paper about it. It was ignored. From 1865 to 1880 he wrote a dozen papers on cholera. He described it as a loss of fluid and electrolytes (which it is). He also rejected bleeding the patient. Instead, he suggested an injection of salted water. He also warned that the way the illness worked, some patients were probably being buried alive. All of that might have saved lives—except that no one paid the slightest attention. Italian miasma-believers couldn’t hear him. (Others didn’t even hear of him in the first place because he wrote in Italian, publishing only in Italian journals.) To them, the animalcules he reported, if they existed at all, were mere byproducts of the illness. They weren’t its cause. Besides, the Greeks, starting with Hippocrates, hadn’t said anything about animalcules. It didn’t occur to anyone to note that the Greeks hadn’t had microscopes. Anyway, Pacini was only the son of a cobbler. What could he know? He didn’t come from the right class for us to pay any attention to what he said. “Filippo Pacini: a determined observer,” M. Bentivoglio, P. Pacini, Brain Research Bulletin, 38(2):161-165, 1995. Naples in the Time of Cholera, 1884-1911, Frank M. Snowden, Cambridge University Press, 1995, pages 120-121.

Other doctors also came to conclusions about cholera that were ignored at the time but that today seem prescient, among them Budd, Mitchell, Pouchet, Davaine, and Nedswetzky. They’re all but forgotten today. Africa in the Time of Cholera: A History of Pandemics from 1817 to the Present, Myron Echenberg, Cambridge University Press, 2011, pages 32-33. “The Etiology of Cholera,” E. C. Wendt, in A Treatise on Asiatic Cholera, Edmund Charles Wendt, John C. Peters, Ely McClellan, John B. Hamilton, and Geo. M. Sternberg (editors), William Wood and Company, pages 119-218.

In 1880, William H. Mays gave the following statement of faith at the San Francisco Medical Society. “I hold that every contagious disease is caused by the introduction into the system of a living organism or microzyme, capable of reproducing its kind and minute beyond all reach of sense. I hold that as all life on our planet is the result of antecedent life, so is all specific disease the result of antecedent specific disease. I hold that as no germ can originate de novo neither can a scarlet fever come into existence spontaneously. I hold that as an oak comes from an oak, a grape from a grape, so does a typhoid fever come from a typhoid germ, a diphtheria from a diphtheria germ; and that a scarlatina could no more proceed from a typhoid germ than could a sea-gull from a pigeon’s egg.” The Gospel of Germs: Men, Women and the Microbe in American Life, Nancy Tomes, Harvard University Press, 1998, pages 26-27. That wasn’t a statement of belief shared by all doctors. It was a statement of several radical ideas for the time. That he had to state all that shows just how much the germ theory relied on faith in the 1880s. Once we invest in some particular belief network, any new theory of the world becomes a threat.

[confusion over cholera]
To believe that microbes caused disease, we would first have to accept the contagion model, which held that the transfer of putrid matter caused disease. Few doctors believed in it, though, because no one could find the said putrid matter. Plus, French doctors had dealt it a seemingly mortal blow in 1827 when they declared yellow fever non-contagious. Which isn’t surprising really, since it’s actually carried by a mosquito—but they didn’t know that. “The Rise and Fall of Anticontagionism in France,” E. A. Heaman, Canadian Bulletin of Medical History / Bulletin Canadien d’Histoire de la Médecine, 12(1):3-25, 1995.

We would also have to reject the model that postulated the spontaneous generation of life, but that had held sway since at least Aristotle. Sparks of Life: Darwinism and the Victorian Debates over Spontaneous Generation, James E. Strick, Harvard University Press, 2000. For some of the most seminal, and rare, papers, see: Evolution and the Spontaneous Generation Debate, James Strick (editor), six Volumes, Thoemmes Press, 2001. But first get ready to bench-press a quarter-century of debate, in-fighting, backbiting, ad hominem attacks, and sheer lying. For a smaller, but older, book, see: The Spontaneous Generation Controversy from Descartes to Oparin, John Farley, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977.

We would also have to first disentangle a multitude of diseases. To Georgian and early Victorian medics, an upset stomach, food poisoning, diarrhea, and dysentery, were all one disease. They were all ‘cholera.’ All were just milder forms of the latest virulent form, which they thus called ‘Asiatic cholera.’ To them, too, typhoid fever, paratyphoid fever, and typhus were the same disease. So they divided all fevers into just four types: typhus, intermittent, simple continued, and remittent. ‘Intermittent’ was really malaria—but they didn’t know that. The rest were many kinds of infections all jumbled together, including malaria, typhoid, relapsing fever, and dysentery. Nineteenth-century medicine was just as confused as seventeenth-century chemistry, or sixteenth-century physics. “Walcheren 1809: a Medical Catastrophe,” M. R. Howard, British Medical Journal, 319(7225):1642-1645, 1999.

Finally, we would have to disentangle multiple effects, like weather, trading patterns, the effects, if any, of quarantine, and so on, to determine the true etiology of the disease. Of course, that was true of any other disease, too; it was merely that cholera was new. “Cholera, Quarantine and the English Preventive System, 1850-1895,” A. Hardy, Medical History, 37(3):250-269, 1993.

[Pettenkofer drank cholera]
“Even if I erred and the experiment threatened my life, I would look Death calmly in the eye, for it would not have been a frivolous suicide; I would die in the service of science like a soldier on the field of honour. Health and life are indeed very high earthly goods, but not after all the highest for human beings. Man, who wants to stand in a higher position than the animal, must be willing to sacrifice even life and health for higher, ideal goods.” See: “Max von Pettenkofer—Life Stations of a Genius on the 100th Anniversary of His Death (February 9, 1901),” W. G. Locher, International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, 203(5-6):379-391, 2001. See also: Leaps in the Dark: The Making of Scientific Reputations, John Waller, Oxford University Press, 2004, pages 63-82. Who Goes First? The Story of Self-Experimentation in Medicine, Lawrence K. Altman, 1986, University of California Press, Reprint Edition, 1998, pages 324-325. Cholera: How To Prevent and Resist It, Max von Pettenkofer, translated by Thomas Whiteside Hime, Baillière, Tindall, and Cox, 1875.

He surely had a deathwish. Nine years later, after losing his wife and three of his children, he shot himself.

Incidentally, Pettenkofer wasn’t the first scientist to risk his life in this way. In Mauritus in 1854, while trying to see if opium would cure cholera, doctor Brown-Séquard, drank the vomit of a cholera patient. “Some Aspects of the Life of Dr C E Brown-Séquard,” Proceedings ofthe Royal Society of Medicine, 57(3):189-192, 1964.

[the growth of germ theory in the nineteenth century]
As usual, the text has had to condense a long and complex story to describe the rise of germ theory. For a long time there were multiple ‘germ theories,’ with no one in particular being obviously correct. In fact, they all were correct, in the sense that each of them held a piece of the truth. However, they also each came with baggage that had to do with the political views and historical experiences of those who held them. Doctors, for example, were more concerned with their patients and with clinical experience, whereas early scientists were more concerned with laboratory models and theory. Meanwhile the anatomists and physiologists were rising in esteem and political power. However, the amount of power someone had to effect change mattered a great deal.

Toward the close of the century, Pettenkofer was pushing his ‘contagio-miasmatic’ theory, Virchow his ‘cell theory,’ Pasteur his ‘fermentation theory,’ and Koch his ‘infection theory.’ And there were others, too, including those like the ‘zymotic theory,’ which suported spontaneous generation of contagious life—and not without reason. There were many political battles (sometimes hidden, most times not) over all those issues. There were no evil geniuses behind the scenes, no intransigent idiots, no faceless power brokers, no heartless conspiracies. Everyone was trying to solve the same problem—how to ameliorate disease. They all did the best they could given what they knew at the time, plus of course their political leanings and professional affiliations. And meanwhile, doctors, and their patients, were caught in the middle.

Cholera, Chloroform, and the Science of Medicine: A Life of John Snow, Peter Vinten-Johansen, Howard Brody, Nigel Paneth, Stephen Rachman, and Michael Rip, Oxford University Press, 2003, pages 165-167, plus the rest of Chapter 7.

Accepting the Unacceptable

[we have mental toolboxes and they seem to grow like our physical and institutional toolboxes]
That’s an unprovable idea, but perhaps not a completely dippy one. Whatever our initial beliefs about something, the more we think about them the more likely might we be to drop some, and of the ones that remain, the more new ideas might we invent to increase their overall fit. For example, four or more millennia ago we had no real idea how the body worked, but we still got ill. Perhaps that’s why, in Egypt and Iraq and elsewhere, we simply made stuff up. We explained many ailments by attributing them to gods and demons. That gave us explanations for things that we otherwise couldn’t explain. Further, we would then have treatments, which sometimes might even work. If, for instance, we come to believe that we feel pain because an invisible demon had gotten into our body and was eating its way out, then we might look for awful things to ingest so as to disgust it so much that it would leave without eating any more. Perhaps that might have been how such treatments were born.

Further, if we also come to believe that demons got in whenever we sinned against a god, avoiding sin would become the main thing. Many of our oldest medical texts sketch out many such medical treatments, based on many such beliefs, and many of them used magic.

If, for whatever reason, we come to believe in demons, it also seems likely that our belief in them would grow stronger if we also come to believe in magic—and vice versa. Each belief would help the other persist. Thus, perhaps, just as with iron mines and coal mines, or printing presses and paper mills, our beliefs, whether true or not, can fall into a kind of synergy.

If a belief network can be synergetic, it might grow via ecogenesis. For example, if we believe in gods and demons and magic, we might have a higher chance of coming to believe in witches and ghosts and amulets and omens and the like. Perhaps such beliefs could more easily invade our belief network if we already believe in demons and such. So perhaps it doesn’t matter whether our belief network is about a turtle supporting four elephants that support a spinning discworld, or molecules evolving until some of them invent mobile phones and New Coke. More and more new beliefs that fit in would invade until, after a time, for every question we might ask about some idea in our belief network there’s another idea in the network that appears to answer that question. Thus, perhaps, our belief network can achieve operational closure, of a sort.

If a belief network can become operationally closed and ecogenetically growing, then the longer it survives, the greater its resistance to change might become if we’re motivated to preach it to unbelievers, teach it to students, and pass it on to our young—for they, for various reasons of their own, might then treat it as just another part of their world. It might thus spread autocatalytically. If so, it might then grow hardened to attack. Over time, we might build up around it a stronghold of flags and moats and battlements and boiling oil and such, consisting of all sorts of laws, rites, schools, and other institutions, that helps it persist. Thus, perhaps, our belief network can become stigmergic, in a way. (Note, though, that it need neither be recursive nor non-linear since we’re not good at thinking in such ways.)

Finally, if a belief network can be stigmergic and autocatalytically growing, then the more of us who accept it, and the longer it lasts, the harder it would become for us to even think of changing it. The wider it spreads and the older it gets, the more ‘evidence’ might we find for it, so the harder might it be for us to think that it could possibly be wrong. Further, if everyone around us comes to believe anything, often we will, too. Our urges to conform, to obey authority, and to divide into a right-thinking ‘us’ and a wrong-thinking ‘them,’ are strong. Perhaps that’s because our mental effort is then made easier—especially if the new belief network, compared to others, is easier to understand, accept, or explain to others. If it develops enough special benefits to believers, or lucrative rites for belief specialists, or maybe even folks ready to kill or die for it—it might then achieve a kind of phase change. If so, it would stop being a new belief network and become the way things are. It would tell us how the cosmos works, whether that’s how it actually works or not. The ideas that compose it would stop being guesses and become ‘facts.’ Ideas that don’t fit into it would then become unthoughts.

If that chain of reasoning is worth anything at all, it might apply to how a legal system grows, how a political system grows, how an economic system grows, how a language grows. Maybe once any human system has existed for a long enough time, it’s likely to become orderly, if only because we tend to reject too many special cases—maybe because they’re too hard to remember? So only those new things that can fit in (or be made to fit in) will be allowed to fit in and so survive into the future. It might even be that every human practice, whether it be in language, law, politics, economics, religion, or whatever, grew over very long periods, in very small steps, as each of us gradually changed what we did, and others copied us. The resulting structure resists change because many of its parts support each other. Those parts of it that don’t get such support, die off.

However, this whole idea is guesswork and needs to be treated as mere musing since there seems to be no way to test it, although it’s related to the idea of ‘spontaneous order’ in economics (see the note about Smith, Mandeville, Ferguson, and others in the Preface). When we can’t test our ideas they can too easily drift into the idle storytelling so common in fields outside science.

[early medical beliefs]
Ancient Babylonian Medicine: Theory and Practice, Markham J. Geller, John Wiley and Sons, 2010. Medicine and Philosophy in Classical Antiquity: Doctors and Philosophers on Nature, Soul, Health and Disease, Philip J. van der Eijk, Cambridge University Press, 2005. Ancient Egyptian Medicine, John F. Nunn, University of Oklahoma Press, 2002. Science and Secrets of Early Medicine: Egypt Mesopotamia India China Mexico Peru, Jürgen Thorwald, translated by Richard and Clara Winston, Harcourt, Brace & World, 1963.

However, demons and magic tended to be explanations for internal rather than external ailments. In particular, the oldest known surgical treatise in Egypt relied on magic in only one case. The only known papyrus copy was written around 3,600 years ago, but it’s based on material going back to at least around 4,700 years ago. It’s so ancient that the copying scribe didn’t know many of the terms being used, while others were glossed to translate into ‘modern’ vernacular (across a span of over a thousand years). That’s how we’re able to date it. “The Edwin Smith surgical papyrus: description and analysis of the earliest case of aphasia,” A. Minagar, J. Ragheb, R. E. Kelley, Journal of Medical Biography, 11(2):114-117, 2003. “Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus: the Oldest Known Surgical Treatise” H. M. Atta, American Surgery, 65(12):1190-1192, 1999. Egyptian Medicine in the Days of the Pharaohs, Nabil I. Ebeid, General Egyptian Book Organization, 1999.

Further, doctors in Egypt had many medical tools. One doctor may have also had at least 30 different bronze surgical tools—scalpels, tweezers, needles, and a spoon. Such tools were discovered in the burial goods of a chief physician named Qar, who lived in the Sixth Dynasty (around 4,350 years BP to 4,180 years BP, or around three to five centuries after the Edwin Smith doctor). Qar was buried at Saqqara, close to to Djoser’s pyramid complex. His tomb and grave goods were first found in 2000, then his sarcophagus was found far below that in 2006. “Too big for a coffin,” N. El-Aref, El-Ahram, Issue Number 823, 7-13 December 2006. Disease and Medicine in World History, Sheldon Watts, Routledge, 2003, page 21.

Egyptian medicine was famous for millennia. Even as late as 24 centuries ago, when Italy and China ruled big chunks of Eurasia. “[M]edicine [there] is divided in many branches, so that each physician treats one disease and no more. Therefore physicians abound, some for the eyes, some for the head, some for the teeth, some for the belly and some for the obscure ailments.” The Histories of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, Herodotus, Book II, section 84, Harry Carter Translation, The Heritage Press, 1958, page 122.

Homer, five or so centuries before Herodotus, thought well of Egyptian medicine. In the following scene, Helen is entertaining Menelaus and Telemachus, Odysseus’s son. “Into the wine they were drinking [Helen] cast a drug which melted sorrow and sweetened gall, which made men forgetful of their pains. Whoso swallowed it mixed within his cup would not on that day let roll one tear down his cheeks, not though his mother and his father died, not though men hacked to death his brother or loved son with the cutting edge before him and he seeing it with his eyes. These drugs of subtle potency had been furnished the daughter of Zeus by the wife of Thon, even Polydamna the woman of Egypt, where the plough-lands excel other plough-lands of earth in bearing abundance of medicines: of which some when compounded are healing and others baneful. Every man of that country is a physician of knowledge incomparable, for they are of the true strain of Paeon the healer of the Gods.” The Odyssey of Homer, Book IV, 220-230. T. E. Lawrence (also known as Lawrence of Arabia) 1932 translation, Oxford University Press, Reprint Edition, 1991, pages 50-51.

[medical change]
Nowadays there may be little appreciation for how recently medical therapies changed. “I graduated from medical school in 1938. Even in those days, medicine was more a priesthood than a science. A favorite examination question was, ‘If you are lost on a desert island with only six drugs, which drugs would suffice for good medical practice?’ The answer was arsenicals for syphilis, quinine for malaria, insulin for diabetes, liver for pernicious anemia, digitalis for the heart, and morphine for pain. All other medicines were pure placebo.” A Taste of My Own Medicine: When the Doctor Is the Patient, Edward E. Rosenbaum, Random House, 1988, page 198.
[finding strange rocks]
This made-up story is loosely based on the roughly two decades of work of surveyor and canal builder William Smith, who, by 1815, had worked out some of the structure of England’s layered rocks and had compiled what’s credited as the first regional geological map. It was hand-drawn and painted and measured more than eight feet high and six feet wide. He didn’t claim anything like ‘mud’s urge to live’ to explain them, but an idea like that was suggested in France to explain the fossils found below Paris during excavations there. The Changing Earth: Exploring Geology and Evolution, James Monroe and Reed Wicander, Brooks/Cole, Sixth Edition, 2012, page 504. The Story of Science: Power, Proof and Passion, Michael Mosley and John Lynch, Mitchell Beazley International, 2010, pages 111-112. The Great Turning Point, Terry Mortenson, Master Books, 2004, page 29. Memoirs of William Smith, LL.D., Author of the “Map of the Strata of England and Wales,” John Phillips, John Murray, 1844.
[age of the earth in 1800]
That estimate was based on Bishop Ussher’s biblical dating in 1650-4. He wasn’t the first to try to date the origin of the earth, nor the last (for example, Kepler and Newton also produced dates of around the same time), but in English-speaking Europe, his was, for a long time, the most influential. Eight Little Piggies: Reflections in Natural History, Stephen Jay Gould, W. W. Norton & Company, 1993, pages 181-193. The Age of the Earth, G. Brent Dalrymple, Stanford University Press, 1991, pages 19-24.
[Aristotle on change—for lifeforms and for the cosmos]
Aristotle believed that the earth itself changed, but he also believed in unchanging life-forms in an unchanging cosmos.

Lyell cites Aristotle’s Meteorologica, Book II, as follows: “The changes of the earth are so slow in comparison to the duration of our lives, that they are overlooked; and the migrations of people after great catastrophes and their removal to other regions, cause the event to be forgotten.” Principles of Geology: Or, The Modern Changes of the Earth and Its Inhabitants Considered As Illustrative Of Geology, Volume I, Charles Lyell, Hilliard, Gray & Co., Sixth Edition, 1842, page 22.

Also, the idea that everything that could exist must exist (plenitude) is more Plato’s thought than Aristotle’s, but Aristotle embellished it with the idea of a continuum of existence, which then led to his scale of nature (scala natura). History of the Idea of Progress, Robert Nisbet, Basic Books, 1980, pages 90-92.

[mud strives to live]
Thought on what fossils were varied widely but there was no widespread challenge to accepted thought until the very late 1700s. Even after then, it was a struggle to understand where life came from in the first place, and the idea that mud could spontaneously give rise to life continued until at least 1875. “Huxley, Haeckel, and the Oceanographers: The Case of Bathybius haeckelii,” P. F. Rehbock, Isis, 66(4):504-533, 1975.

See also: Nature’s Ghosts: Confronting Extinction from the Age of Jefferson to the Age of Ecology, Mark V. Barrow, Jr., University of Chicago Press, 2009. Chronologers’ Quest: Episodes in the Search for the Age of the Earth, Patrick Wyse Jackson, Cambridge University Press, 2006. “Father Athanasius on the Isthmus of a Middle State: Understanding Kircher’s Paleontology,” S. J. Gould, Athanasius Kircher: The Last Man Who Knew Everything, Paula Findlen (editor), Taylor & Francis, 2004, pages 198-228. The Forgotten Genius: The Biography of Robert Hooke 1635-1703, Stephen Inwood, MacAdam Cage, 2003. The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times, Adrienne Mayor, Princeton University Press, 2000. The Meaning of Fossils: Episodes in the History of Palaeontology, Martin J. S. Rudwick, University of Chicago Press, Second Edition, 1985.

[Explaining your idea won’t get you laughed at...]
Our drive to obey authority or to conform is strong, and it exists for good reasons. For example: “...briefly summarizing the decision-making challenges confronted by cultural transmission mechanisms, cultural-evolutionary products, and social decision mechanisms, and how this is accomplished.
  1. Cultural transmission mechanisms speed up learning by skipping costly individual experimentation, sampling, and data processing.
  2. Cultural-evolutionary products limit choice sets....
  3. Cultural-evolutionary products limit choices in explicit decision making by providing simple mental models, built upon our most basic cognitive abilities....
  4. Social decision mechanisms solve adaptive problems that individuals could not by distributing memory, computations, and skills among individuals.”
From: “What Is the Role of Culture in Bounded Rationality?” J. Henrich, R. W. Albers, R. Boyd, G. Gigerenzer, K. A. McCabe, A. Ockenfels, H. P. Young, in Bounded Rationality: The Adaptive Toolbox, Gerd Gigerenzer and Reinhard Selten (editors), MIT Press, 2001, pages 343-360.

For more on conformity, obedience, biased thinking, and bounded rationality, see: Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011. Rationality for Mortals: How People Cope with Uncertainty, Gerd Gigerenzer, Oxford University Press, 2010. Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View, Stanley Milgram, HarperCollins, 2009. The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, Philip G. Zimbardo, Random House, 2008. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Chip Heath and Dan Heath, Random House, 2007. Expert Political Opinion: How Good is it? How Can we Know?, Philip E. Tetlock, Princeton University Press, 2005. The Man Who Shocked the World: The Life and Legacy of Stanley Milgram, Thomas Blass, Basic Books, 2004. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert B. Cialdini, William Morrow and Company Inc., 1993. How We Know What Isn’t So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life, Thomas Gilovich, Free Press, 1991. A Study of Thinking, Jerome S. Bruner, Jacqueline J. Goodnow, and George A. Austin, Transaction Publishers, 1986. Reason in Human Affairs, Herbert A. Simon, Stanford University Press, 1983. The Robbers Cave Experiment: Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation, Muzafer Sherif, O. J. Harvey, B. Jack White, William R. Hood, and Carolyn W. Sherif, Wesleyan University Press, 1988. Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases, Daniel Kahneman, Paul Slovic, and Amos Tversky (editors), Cambridge University Press, 1982. “The Framing of Decisions and the Psychology of Choice,” A. Tversky, D. Kahneman, Science, New Series, 211(4481):453-458, 1981.

[belief in spontaneous generation of life until the 1870s]
“These experiments, and others no less interesting, by Prof. Tyndall, thus prove, in the most conclusive manner, that the ordinary air at the surface of the earth is always completely filled with particles of organic matter. It is not necessary to suppose that all these particles are living germs of vegetable or animal organisms, but when we see how constantly such organisms make their appearance wherever the conditions favor germination, it is impossible to doubt that a vast many of them have this character; and that these are the source of those growths of minute cryptogams which thus seem to spring up spontaneously. There is no other mode of accounting for such growths, except to suppose that they are actually spontaneous; and accordingly the view has been taken by some physiologists, perhaps I should say by many, that the true mode of accounting for the appearance of microscopic forms of life, is to suppose that they originate without organic antecedents, or, as they express it, de novo....

Prof. Wyman found that bacteria will make their appearance in infusions which have not only been boiled before being sealed up, but which, after being sealed, have been kept at a boiling heat for many hours. He found, moreover, that these same organizations perish when exposed to a heat not over 134o Fahrenheit. Bastian, in a very extended series of experiments, has pushed the heat in the tubes containing his infusions as high as 300o Fahrenheit, maintaining this high temperature, in some instances, not less than four hours; and has yet found that living forms do not fail subsequently to make their appearance in them. Such forms appear also, according to him, in solutions containing nothing of organic origin whatever, but composed entirely of certain salts of soda and ammonia; and he even affirms that in such solutions he has occasionally seen very remarkably fungi to present themselves with their full fructification, drawings of which he has given in his [1872] work, recently published, entitled The Beginnings of Life.

“The germ theory of disease,” F. A. P. Barnard, The American Chemist, 5(1):15-23, 1874.

See also: Sparks of Life: Darwinism and the Victorian Debates over Spontaneous Generation, James E. Strick, Harvard University Press, 2000, Chapter 5.
[Alfred Wegener and Continental Drift]
Alfred Wegener: The Father of Continental Drift, Martin Schwarzbach, translated by Carla Love, Science Tech, 1986. As usual, even Wegener’s story was made heroic after the fact. But he wasn’t the first proponent of continental drift. Frank B. Taylor suggested it in 1910. But he’s ignored today in favor of Wegener. There are other candidates, too. “Élisée Reclus; Neglected Geologic Pioneer and First(?) Continental Drift Advocate,” J. O. Berkland, Geology, 7(9):189-192, 1979. The idea stretches even further back to Antonio Snider in 1855 and even Francis Bacon in 1620, but they had no real proof. The theory was ridiculed and ignored for so long partly because in the days before we had the seismographic instruments to map earth’s mantle, nobody could imagine a force titanic enough to move a whole continent.
[Charles Dawson and Piltdown Man]
Piltdown Man: The Secret Life Of Charles Dawson and the World’s Greatest Archaeological Hoax, Miles Russell, Tempus Stroud, 2003. Unraveling Piltdown: The Science Fraud of the Century and its Solution, John Evangelist Walsh, Random House, 1996.
[the idea of an unthought]
Hardly an original idea. “The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds.” The General Theory of Employment Interest and Money, John Maynard Keynes, 1936, Atlantic Publishers & Distributors, Reprint Edition, 2006, page vii.

For example, in Britain until the nineteenth century, “[s]ome of the clergy denounced inoculation, till late in the eighteenth century, as flying in the face of Providence and endeavouring to baffle a Divine judgment.” A History of England in the Eighteenth Century, Volume II, William Edward Hartpole Lecky, Longmans, Green, and Co., 1878, page 83. (They also denounced, among many other things, “the use of ‘fanners’ to winnow maize as impious, because by them men raised an artificial breeze in defiance of Him ‘who maketh the wind to blow as He listeth.’ ”)

Similarly, despite all the evidence for the value of vaccination, agitation against it continued even as late as 2005. For example: “The most common characteristic of vaccine-critical websites was the inclusion of statements linking vaccinations with specific adverse reactions, especially idiopathic chronic diseases such as multiple sclerosis, autism, and diabetes. Other common attributes (≥ 70% of websites) were links to other vaccine-critical websites; charges that vaccines contain contaminants, mercury, or “hot lots” that cause adverse events; claims that vaccines provide only temporary protection and that the diseases prevented are mild; appeals for responsible parenting through education and resisting the establishment; allegations of conspiracies and cover-ups to hide the truth about vaccine safety; and charges that civil liberties are violated through mandatory vaccination.” From: “Vaccine Criticism on the World Wide Web,” R. K. Zimmerman, R. M. Wolfe, D. E. Fox, J. R. Fox, M. P. Nowalk, J. A. Troy, L. K. Sharp Journal of Medical Internet Research, 7(2):e17, 2005. See also: Bodily Matters: The Anti-vaccination Movement in England, 1853-1907, Nadja Durbach, Duke University Press, 2005. “Anti-vaccinationists past and present,” R. M. Wolfe, L. K. Sharp, British Medical Journal, 325(7361):430-432, 2002. Princes and Peasants: Smallpox in History, Donald R. Hopkins, University of Chicago Press, 1983.

[once we come to believe something...]
Hardly an original thought. For example, here’s Comte in 1839: “...The most important of these reasons arises from the necessity that always exists for some theory to which to refer our facts, combined with the clear impossibility that, at the outset of human knowledge, men could have formed theories out of the observation of facts. All good intellects have repeated, since Bacon’s time, that there can be no real knowledge but that which is based on observed facts. This is incontestable, in our present advanced stage; but, if we look back to the primitive stage of human knowledge, we shall see that it must have been otherwise then. If it is true that every theory must be based upon observed facts, it is equally true that facts cannot be observed without the guidance of some theory. Without such guidance, our facts would be desultory and fruitless; we could not retain them: for the most part we could not even perceive them.” The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte, translated by Harriet Martineau, Volume I, D. Appleton and Co., 1853, pages 3-4.
[science doesn’t have to say things that we like or understand...]
For example, in the quantum world, we now know that if we know how fast something is moving, we can’t know where it is—and vice versa. If we know the time that something happens, we can’t know its energy—and vice versa. If we know where something is, it behaves like a particle; but if we don’t, it behaves like a wave. Does our mere knowledge of its state influence its state? Similarly, in the relativistic world, we now know that time is relative, as is length. Time and space have become one, as have gravity and acceleration. Plus, we can no longer tell the difference between mass and energy. And if we could pile up a lot of mass in one ball, it collapses to a dimensionless point. If we go very fast, we both gain mass and age less. And the speed of light isn’t just a good idea; it’s the law. Yet again, in the computing world we now know that there are things we can never compute. And even among the things that we can compute, we can prove that there are things that would take too long to compute. Even in the mathematical world, we now know that if we develop any logical system powerful enough for us to prove interesting things with it, then there must be true things that we cannot prove with it. And within any such system there are statements that we can neither prove nor disprove.
[what is science?]
Philosophical ideas on what science is have been raging for at least the last two centuries. Every formal definition that philosophers have come up with has been shot down in one way or the other. Scientists, though, still seem to know what constitutes science and what does not.

For two recent contrasting overviews of scientific methods, see: “Reflection on rules in science: an invisible-hand perspective,” T. C. Leonard, Journal of Economic Methodology, 9(2):141-168, 2002. “The Invisible Hand and Science,” P. Ylikoski, Science Studies, 8(2):32-43, 1995.

Roger Bacon, William of Ockham, then Francis Bacon and later David Hume, William Whewell, and John Stuart Mill, and others started the philosophical argument from the thirteenth to nineteenth centuries, arguing about the various roles of induction versus deduction. The three dominant philosophical threads these days are: Pragmatism, Realism, and (the one that’s ignored by most scientists), Social Relativism.

Here are a few of the main references in the area: The Semantic Conception of Theories and Scientific Realism, Frederick Suppe, University of Illinois Press, 1989. Science as a Process: An Evolutionary Account of the Social and Conceptual Development of Science, David Hull, University of Chicago Press, 1988. Progress and Its Problems, Lawrence Laudan, University of California Press, 1977. Against Method, Paul K. Feyerabend, Verso, 1975. The Logic of Scientific Discovery, Karl Popper, Hutchinson, Sixth Edition, 1974. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas S. Kuhn, University of Chicago Press, Second Edition, 1970. “Falsification and the methodology of scientific research programmes,” I. Lakatos, in Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, Imre Lakatos and Alan Musgrave (editors), Cambridge University Press, 1970. “Natural Kinds,” W. V. O. Quine, in Ontological Relativity and Other Essays, Columbia University Press, 1969. The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory, Pierre Duhem, Atheneum, 1962.

There’s a lot of wind, but as the philosophical and sociological arguments rage, most scientists ignore them as they go about trying to investigate our cosmos. Here’s Feynman on the difference between science and the philosophy of science: “Philosophers, incidentally, say a great deal about what is absolutely necessary for science, and it is always, so far as one can see, rather naive, and probably wrong. For example, some philosopher or other said it is fundamental to the scientific effort that if an experiment is performed in, say, Stockholm, and then the same experiment is done in, say, Quito, the same results must occur. That is quite false. It is not necessary that science do that; it may be a fact of experience, but it is not necessary.” The Feynman Lectures on Physics: Volume 1: Mainly Mechanics, Radiation, and Heat, Richard P. Feynman, Robert B. Leighton, Matthew Sands, California Institute of Technology, 1963, page 2-7.

[what makes science work?]
The process of doing science is less amenable to philosophizing than is commonly supposed. Science depends on having a certain kind of personality and a certain skepticism of thought. Not everyone has both. Above all, good scientists (not all scientists are good) are anti-authoritarian. They don’t take a result as true just because someone says so. They’re all about “show me.” Everything else—publication, peer review, replication, degree-granting institutions, funding, credit, priority, reputation—is method.

To the extent that science is honest, what keeps it so is partly all that, but mostly that once interesting results appear in good journals they get talked about, argued about, worried over, tested, and used. Uninteresting results in good journals, and many results in most other journals are mostly ignored.

“There seems to be no study too fragmented, no hypothesis too trivial, no literature citation too biased or too egotistical, no design too warped, no methodology too bungled, no presentation of results too inaccurate, too obscure, and too contradictory, no analysis too self-serving, no argument too circular, no conclusions too trifling or too unjustified, and no grammar and syntax too offensive for a paper to end up in print.” From: “Guarding the guardians,” D. Rennie, Journal of the American Medical Association, 256(17):2391-2392, 1986. See also: “Editorial,” D. Rennie, Fourth International Congress on Peer Review in Biomedical Publication, Journal of the American Medical Association, 287(21):2759-2760, 2002.

It’s possible that nearly everything produced in second-tier and lower science journals is rubbish, yet even were that true, it so far doesn’t seem to matter much. Of course, that may change as we approach data-overload. But by then we’ll may well have made up more severe penalities for scientific fraud simply because we’ll have so much data coming out of science and so much of it will be vitally important in medicine, engineering, and other fields. Alternately, we may have so much data coming in that we’ll have no way at all to tell the good from the bad.

Further, to be able to do anything at all, we usually can’t do much by ourselves, so we have to fit into some network—some institution, which itself has limited time and resources. So our decisions can easily be driven to be slap-dash simply so that we can make the next deadline. Often, we then fill in the many blank spots in our mental maps with whatever we’re most biased to believe. That might be based on all sorts of seemingly reasonable but otherwise imaginary ideas. So we might not even notice that we’re guessing—or, if we notice, we hope others don’t notice. If what we assume at any point in our process of guessing and backtracking and guessing again is wrong, it needn’t matter how smart we are, nor how good our logic is, our conclusions can still be wrong.

[the Great Detective]
“A Scandal in Bohemia,” The Original Illustrated ’Strand’ Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, Wordsworth Editions Ltd., 1989, page 119.
[its parts stop being guesses and become ‘facts’]
Not an original idea. Before even Kuhn’s analysis of the scientific method came Fleck’s 1935 analysis (in German). (Although note that the original German edition of Popper’s idea was at about the same time, but it caught on, whereas Fleck’s didn’t.) Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact, Ludwik Fleck, 1935, translated edition, University of Chicago Press, 1979. The Logic of Scientific Discovery, Karl Popper, Hutchinson, Sixth Edition, 1974. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas S. Kuhn, University of Chicago Press, Second Edition, 1970.
[science and religion]
A story is often told that Protestantism led to science (rather than both being outgrowths of the printing press). It’s true that today’s widespread worship of the freedom to choose in Europe and its descendants likely arose largely out of the greatest of all heresies, the Protestant Reformation, which the Roman Church opposed—virulently—and millions died because of it. But not even Protestantism alone can be the full explanation of the philosophical change of what we today would call scientific thought because many Protestant cities were even more opposed to the new philosophy than the Catholic Church was. Martin Luther, for example, the paragon of Protestantism, was hardly the saint of tolerance. An anti-Semite (Hitler took lessons from his writings), he was also against any teaching of Copernician natural philosophy. He, though, was an equal-opportunity hater. He despised Aristotle, too.

On the other hand, another often-told story, that science and religion are at loggerheads, may be just as questionable. Heterodoxy in Early Modern Science and Religion, John Brooke and Ian Maclean (editors), Oxford University Press, 2005. “The Conflict Thesis,” C. A. Russell, in Science & Religion: A Historical Introduction, Gary Ferngren (editor), Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. Reconstructing Nature: The Engagement of Science and Religion, John Brooke and Geoffrey Cantor, Oxford University Press, 2000. Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues, Ian G. Barbour, HarperCollins, Revised Edition, 1997. Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives, John Hedley Brooke (editor), Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Wiring the World

[idea toolbase]
Not an original idea. For example, in 1908 Thorstein Veblen argued that “technological knowledge, which included language, the use of fire, the use of simple tools for cutting, and basic fiber arts, was integral to all human communities, even the most primitive. Such knowledge constituted what Veblen termed the “immaterial equipment” of production, as opposed to the material equipment of tools and machines. Technological knowledge was both collective, exceeding the grasp of any single individual, and cumulative, growing through experience transmitted by members of the group. Natural resources, machinery, and other types of physical capital became useful only through collective technological knowledge....

For Veblen, technology included knowledge as well as practices, while remaining firmly independent of science. As used by Veblen, the term encompassed productive pursuits in all human epochs, not just the era of modern industry, while also covering a broad sweep of human activities, from domestication of animals to largescale industrial systems. He emphasized technology in use, refusing to reduce it to invention. Insofar as Veblen had a theory of technological change, he emphasized gradual accretions of skill and knowledge rather than major breakthroughs. His understanding of technology was, in principle, neither deterministic nor progressive. “Technological proficiency” was itself neutral, neither “intrinsically serviceable [nor] disserviceable to mankind.” ” From: “Technik Comes to America: Changing Meanings of Technology before 1930,” E. Schatzberg, Technology and Culture, 47(3):486-512, 2006.

[one growing network]
Both the printing press and the computer show that it’s not merely cost reduction, it’s also material substitution that helps our species do more than we could before. Information storage devices (clay tablets, papyri, parchments, paper, hard drives, DVD burners), information communication devices (signal fires, messengers, telegraphs, microwave relays, fiber optics, orbital microcomsats), and information manipulators—our brains, and now our computers—are accelerating the ever-unfolding consequences of information liquefaction.
[growing density means growing innovation]
Not a new idea. For example, see: “Cumulative Cultural Evolution and Demography,” K. Vaesen, Public Library of Science, One, 7(7):e40989, 2012. Anatomically modern humans existed by around 200,000 years ago, and by about 90,000 years ago we were almost surely talking, if not long before, for we had jewelry, tattoos, throwing weapons, and such. However, adding new things seems to have died out for a long while, then picked up again around 45,000 years ago. The theory is that an extinction event (perhaps the Toba supervolcano around 74,000 years ago?) brought down our numbers so much that even if any one of us would have a new idea, the idea would be unlikely to be passed on very often. “Late Pleistocene Demography and the Appearance of Modern Human Behavior,” A. Powell, S. Shennan, M. G. Thomas, Science, 324(5932):1298-1301, 2009. “Other things being equal, an increase in the density of the population means an increase in productive capacity.” Economic Harmonies, Frédéric Bastiat, translated by W. Hayden Boyers, edited by George B. de Huszar, original publication 1850, Foundation for Economic Education, 1996, page 561.

When we first began speaking, who knows how many millennia ago, our brains and hands began to connect at a whole new level. They did so again when we first began writing about five millennia ago, and again with the press as a catalyst five centuries ago. Each time, our mental resources grew. When our brains and hands are disconnected, we must all face our problems alone. Doing anything really new is then hard—unless one of us happens to be a genius—and it would help to have a supercomputer—and a robot factory in the basement—not to mention a robot army in the back yard. So our rising linkage often means rising physical power, not just for some of our groups but, in time, for our whole species.

[we tried to build a mechanical computer in the 1800s]
That was Charles Babbage’s Analytic Engine, which he tinkered on (having lost funding from the British government after his Difference Engine exhausted its support) until he died in 1871. Charles Babbage: Passages from the Life of a Philosopher, Martin Cambell-Kelly (editor), Rutgers University press, 1994.
[parasites and fossils on the human genome]
Of our whole genome, about 5% is functional (that is, goes to protein), around 10% is structural (that is, controls protein expression in some way). But LINE and SINE parasitic genes contribute about 20% + 11% = 31% of the genome. ERVs add between 5-8%. Transposons add another 3%, making up maybe 42% of the genome. “A Comparative Assessment of the Pig, Mouse and Human Genomes: Structural and Functional Analysis of Genes Involved in Immunity and Inflammation,” H. D. Dawson, in The Minipig in Biomedical Research, Peter A. McAnulty, Anthony D. Dayan, Niels-Christian Ganderup, and Kenneth L. Hastings (editors), CRC Press, 2012, pages 323-342.
[growing numbers of books from 1960 to 2000]
The Digital Hand: How Computers Changed the Work of American Financial, Telecommunications, Media, and Entertainment Industries, Volume 2, James W. Cortada, Oxford University Press, 2006, page 272.
[growth of the concept of a nation]
The text’s point here is partly based on two books, both of which focus mostly on Europe (although the later does much more than the earlier), but the point is more general than that. The Myth of Nations: The Medieval Origins of Europe, Patrick Geary, Princeton University Press, 2002. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Benedict Anderson, Verso, 1983, especially chapter 3.
[growth of papers on slime molds]
“I have lived with my beloved slime molds for a long time, and now suddenly I find myself quite overcome by the vast amount of new facts that have accumulated to account for every stage, every step (however small) of their life cycle. In the late 1940s and early 1950s (1945 to 1951) an average 3.4 papers on cellular slime molds were published a year; now, over the past seven years, there is an average of 224 papers a year! We are in danger of drowing in facts.” The Social Amoebae: The Biology of Cellular Slime Molds, John Tyler Bonner, Princeton University Press, 2009, page vii.
[doubling data]
“In 2007.... [g]eneral-purpose computing capacity grew at an annual rate of 58%. The world’s capacity for bidirectional telecommunication grew at 28% per year, closely followed by the increase in globally stored information (23%).... Telecommunication has been dominated by digital technologies since 1990 (99.9% in digital format in 2007), and the majority of our technological memory has been in digital format since the early 2000s (94% digital in 2007).” From: “The world’s technological capacity to store, communicate, and compute information,” M. Hilbert, P. López, Science, 332(6025):60-65, 2011.

“...traditional scientific publishing, that is publication in peer-reviewed journals, is still increasing although there are big differences between fields. There are no indications that the growth rate has decreased in the last 50 years. At the same time, publication using new channels, for example conference proceedings, open archives and home pages, is growing fast.” “The rate of growth in scientific publication and the decline in coverage provided by Science Citation Index,” P. O. Larsen, M. von Ins, Scientometrics, 84(3):575–603, 2010.

See also: How Much Information? 2009 Report on American Consumers, Roger E. Bohn and James E. Short, Global Information Industry Center, University of California, San Diego, 2009. “How Much Information,” P. Lyman, H. R. Varian, Journal of Electronic Publishing, 6(2), 2000.

[doubling stellar data]
The project referenced in the text is the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), which uses a 2.5-meter telescope at Apache Point Observatory, New Mexico. The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, slated to begin operations in 2016, will exceed SDSS data gathering by several orders of magnitude. “Data, data everywhere,” The Economist, February 25th, 2010. “A Data Deluge Swamps Science Historians,” R. L. Hotz, The Wall Street Journal, August 28th, 2009. “How to Channel the Data Deluge in Academic Research,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 4th, 2008. The Sloan Digital Sky Survey: Asteroids to Cosmology, The Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, University of Chicago, August 15-18, Chicago, 2008.
[doubling proteins]
“The Sorcerer II Global Ocean Sampling Expedition: Expanding the Universe of Protein Families,” S. Yooseph, G. Sutton, D. B. Rusch, A. L. Halpern, S. J. Williamson, K. Remington, J. A. Eisen, K. B. Heidelberg, G. Manning, W. Li, L. Jaroszewski, P. Cieplak, C. S. Miller, H. Li, S. T. Mashiyama, M. P. Joachimiak, C. van Belle, J. M. Chandonia, D. A. Soergel, Y. Zhai, K. Natarajan, S. Lee, B. J. Raphael, V. Bafna, R. Friedman, S. E. Brenner, A. Godzik, D. Eisenberg, J. E. Dixon, S. S. Taylor, R. L. Strausberg, M. Frazier, J. C. Venter, Public Library of Science, Biology, 5(3):432-466, 2007.
[doubling chemicals]
“50 Millionth Unique Chemical Substance Recorded in CAS REGISTRY,” Announcement, September 8th, Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS), The American Chemical Society, 2009. “Exponential growth of new chemicals and evolution of information relevant to risk control,” R. Binetti, F. M. Costamagna, I. Marcello, Annali dell’Istituto superiore di sanitá, 44(1):13-15, 2008. “Scientometric studies on chemistry I: The exponential growth of chemical substances, 1800-1995,” J. Schummer, Scientometrics, 39(1):107-123, 1997.
[number of computers and phones in 2010]
“Over 5 billion mobile phone connections worldwide,” BBC News, July 9th, 2010.

Forrester Research estimated that in 2008, 1.46 thousand million of us were active users of the internet (‘active’ meaning online at least once a month). They predict 2.17 thousand million by 2014. “The Gap Widens in Online Population,” A. LaVallee, The Wall Street Journal, July 21st, 2009. “Computers in use pass 1 billion mark: Gartner,” Reuters, June 23rd, 2008.

[Bangladesh phones]
“No power, no complaint: mobile connects all,” The Daily Star, [Bangladesh], March 13th, 2011.

In 2008, Bangladesh had 36.4 million mobile phones out of a population of 150 million. “Bangladesh adds 2.05 mln mobile phone users in Jan,” Reuters, March 6th, 2008.

And that was in a country where 41.3 percent of the population lived on less than $1 U.S. a day. 2007 World Development Indicators Online, Development Data Group, The World Bank, 2007.

The rapid spread of mobile phones in Bangladesh is almost entirely due to one Bangladeshi entrepreneur, Iqbal Quadir, working with one microcredit development bank, Grameen Bank, which was developed by another Bangladeshi entrepreneur, Mohammad Yunus.

[attention economics]
“Last Easter, my neighbors bought their daughter a pair of rabbits. Whether by intent or accident, one was male, one female, and we now live in a rabbit-rich world.... A rabbit-rich world is a lettuce-poor world, and vice versa.... Similarly, in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.” From: “Designing Organizations for an Information-Rich World,” H. A. Simon, in Computers, Communication, and the Public Interest, Martin Greenberger (editor), Johns Hopkins University Press, 1971.
[loss of privacy]
Understanding Privacy, Daniel J. Solove, Harvard University Press, 2010. Privacy in Peril: How We are Sacrificing a Fundamental Right in Exchange for Security and Convenience, James B. Rule, Oxford University Press, 2007. Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing, Adam Greenfield, New Riders Press, 2006. The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? David Brin, Addison-Wesley, 1998.
[doubling scientists]
The figures are for doctorate holders in science and engineering in the United States who are employed outside academia in science or engineering fields. In 2005, the average annual growth rate was 4.6 percent (which means a doubling every 16 years). In China, the figures were 7.4 percent (10-year doubling) for ‘researchers.’ Science and Engineering Indicators 2008, Division of Science Resources Statistics, National Science Foundation, 2008, page 3-11.
[microfluidic robots]
“An integrated microfluidic device for large-scale in situ click chemistry screening,” Y. Wang, W.-Y. Lin, K. Liu, R. J. Lin, M. Selke, H. C. Kolb, N. Zhang, X.-Z. Zhao, M. E. Phelps, C. K. F. Shen, K. F. Faull, H.-R. Tseng, Lab on a Chip, 9(16):2281-2285, 2009. “Toward an Artificial Golgi: Redesigning the Biological Activities of Heparan Sulfate on a Digital Microfluidic Chip,” J. G. Martin, M. Gupta, Y. Xu, A. R. Wheeler, S. Akella, J. Liu, J. S. Dordick, R. J. Linhardt, Journal of the American Chemical Society, 131(31):11041-11048, 2009. “Darwinian Evolution on a Chip,” B. M. Paegel, G. F. Joyce, Public Library of Science, Biology, 6(4):e85, 2008. “Microfluidic Serial Dilution Circuit,” B. M. Paegel, W. H. Grover, A. M. Skelley, R. A. Mathies, G. F. Joyce, Analytical Chemistry, 78(21):7522-7527, 2008. “Microfluidics for drug discovery and development: From target selection to product lifecycle management,” L. Kang, B. G. Chung, R. Langer, A. Khademhosseini, Drug Discovery Today, 13(1-2):1-13, 2008. “Microfabricated Monolithic Multinozzle Emitters for Nanoelectrospray Mass Spectrometry,” W. Kim, M. Guo, P. Yang, D. Wang, Analytical Chemistry, 79(10):3703-3707, 2007. “Digital microfluidics: Is a true lab-on-a-chip possible?” R. B. Fair, Microfluidics and Nanofluidics, 3(3):245-281, 2007. “Lab-on-a-chip: microfluidics in drug discovery,” P. S. Dittrich, A. Manz, Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, 5(3):210-218, 2006. “The origins and the future of microfluidics,” G. M. Whitesides, Nature, 442(7101):368-373, 2006.
[first robot scientist]
“Make Way for Robot Scientists,” R. D. King, J. Rowland, S. G. Oliver, M. Young, W. Aubrey, E. Byrne, M. Liakata, M. Markham, P. Pir, L. N. Soldatova, A. Sparkes, K. E. Whelan, A. Clare, Science, 325(5943):945–945, 2009. “Machines Fall Short of Revolutionary Science,” P. W. Anderson, E. Abrahams, Science, 324(5934):1515-1516, 2009. “Functional genomic hypothesis generation and experimentation by a robot scientist,” R. D. King, K. E. Whelan, F. M. Jones, P. G. K. Reiser, C. H. Bryant, S. H. Muggleton, D. B. Kell, S. G. Oliver, Nature, 427(6971):247–252, 2004.
[ever more data]
“Automating Science,” D. Waltz, B. Buchanan, Science, 324(5923):43-44, 2009. “Distilling Free-Form Natural Laws from Experimental Data,” M. Schmidt, H. Lipson, Science, 324(5923):81-85, 2009. “The Automation of Science,” R. D. King, J. Rowland, S. G. Oliver, M. Young, W. Aubrey, E. Byrne, M. Liakata, M. Markham, P. Pir, L. N. Soldatova, A. Sparkes, K. E. Whelan, A. Clare, 324(5923):85-89, 2009.

Chapter 7. The How and the Why: Life


[Nietzsche quote]
“If we possess our why of life we can put up with almost any how. — Man does not strive after happiness; only the Englishman does that. “Maxims and Arrows,” number 12, The Twilight of the Idols and the Anti-Christ, Friedrich Nietzsche, translated by R. J. Hollingdale, Penguin, 1990, page 33.

Sparks of Life

[definition of life still unresolved]
Life still has no single, widely accepted definition among biologists, xenobiologists, geobiologists, physicists, and philosophers. “What is life?” M. A. Bedau, in A Companion to the Philosophy of Biology, S. Sarkar and A. Plutynski (editors), Blackwell, 2007, pages 455-471. “Definitely life but not definitively,” J. D. Oliver, R. S. Perry, Origins of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere: The Journal of the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life, 36(5-6):515-521, 2006. Between Probability and Necessity: Searching for the Definition and Origin of Life, Radu Popa, Springer, 2004. “Defining ‘Life’,” C. E. Cleland, C. F. Chyba, Origins of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere: The Journal of the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life, 32(4):387-393, 2002. “The Seven Pillars of Life,” D. E. Koshland Jr., Science, 295(5563):2215-2216, 2002.
[prions can form quasi-species]
“Darwinian Evolution of Prions in Cell Culture,” J. Li, S. Browning, S. P. Mahal, A. M. Oelschlegel, C. Weissmann, Science, 327(5967):869-872, 2010.
[bacteria swimming toward sugar]
The example has been used by Varela as an example of autopoiesis (that is, self-maintenance). “Patterns of Life: Intertwining Identity and Cognition,” F. J. Varela, Brain and Cognition, 34(1):72-87, 1997.
[Aristotle speaks from ignorance]
That is of course unprovable, despite, for example, Spinoza’s faux math attempt to prove it. Ethics, Benedict Spinoza, translated by W. H. White and A. H. Stirling, Wordsworth, 2001, page 35 and pages following.
[4,357 genes]
The reference is to the K-12 strain of the Escherichia coli bacterium. It’s given simply for definiteness.
[no ‘natural desire’]
At this level of description, terms like desire are operationally undefined. However, bacteria are more than mere autopoietic systems in that they are adaptive (perhaps via their hereditary mechanism, perhaps in some metabolic sense we don’t understand yet, perhaps both), and (philosophically speaking) adaptivity may be said to be the basis for some form of teleology and even agency on the part of even a bacterium. “Autopoiesis, adaptivity, teleology, agency,” E. A. Di Paolo, Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 4(4):429-452, 2005.
[where did the first microbe come from?]
The main problem with trying to figure out the origin of life is that living things ramify over time. After 4 thousand million years a lot has changed, including the atmosphere, the continents, the earth itself, and even the solar system. In essence, we’re looking at today’s superhighways and trying to infer the original forest paths that led to them.

There are four main theories for the origin of life.

  • [Heritage-First] Life developed from some early form of RNA inside a cell then developed a metabolism around that.
  • [Eating-First] Life developed from some early form of metabolism inside a cell then developed a hereditary mechanism around that.
  • [Cell-First] Life developed as cells first then developed a metabolism and a hereditary mechanism inside those.
  • Life did all three (that is, it developed some sort of early cell and some form of early metabolism and some type of early heredity, which then all together grew more complex and interdependent).
The treatment in the text follows a version of Eating-First, although currently Heritage-First (via RNA) gets the most support among most scientists. Here is a sampling of some recent work on the different hypotheses: “How did LUCA make a living? Chemiosmosis in the origin of life,” N. Lane, J. F. Allen, W. Martin, BioEssays, 32(4):271-280, 2010. “Lack of evolvability in self-sustaining autocatalytic networks: A constraint on the metabolism-first path to the origin of life,” V. Vasas, E. Szathmáry, M. Santos, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(4):1470-1475, 2010. “Generation of Long RNA Chains in Water,” G. Costanzo, S. Pino, F. Ciciriello, E. Di Mauro, Journal of Biological Chemistry, 284(48):33206-33216, 2009. “Formation of Protocell-like Vesicles in a Thermal Diffusion Column,” I. Budin, R. J. Bruckner, J. W. Szostak, Journal of the American Chemical Society, 131(28):9628-9629, 2009. “Synthesis of activated pyrimidine ribonucleotides in prebiotically plausible conditions,” M. W. Powner, B. Gerland, J. D. Sutherland, Nature, 459(7244):239-242, 2009. “Self-Sustained Replication of an RNA Enzyme,” T. A. Lincoln, G. A. Joyce, Science, 323(5918):1229-1232, 2009. Protocells: Bridging Nonliving and Living Matter, Steen Rasmussen, Mark A. Bedau, Liaohai Chen, David Deamer, David C. Krakauer, Norman H. Packard, and Peter F. Stadler (editors), MIT Press, 2008. “Lipid-assisted synthesis of RNA-like polymers from mononucleotides,” S. Rajamani, A. Vlassov, S. Benner, A. Coombs, F. Olasagasti, D. Deamer, Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres, 38(1):57-74, 2008. “Hydrothermal vents and the origin of life,” W. Martin, J. Baross, D. Kelley, M. J. Russell, Nature Reviews Microbiology, 6(11):805-814, 2008. “On the origin of biochemistry at an alkaline hydrothermal vent,” W. Martin, M. J. Russell, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, B, 362(1486):1887-1926, 2007. Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life’s Origins, Robert M. Hazen, Joseph Henry Press, 2005.

[catalysis]
Chemists sometimes call a catalyst a ‘chemical parson,’ since it aids in the union of two others without itself being altered. If A, B, and C are molecules that react together to make D and also C again, then C is a catalyst of the reaction that makes D from A and B.
A + B + C D + C
In more complex reactions, A and B might, together with C, make D and E, while E and A might make F, which with B might make C. That is,
A + B + C D + E
A + E F
B + F C
With respect to those three reactions, C is a catalyst. Even though it’s first consumed, then recreated, the net effect is for it to enhance the reactions yet remain at the end to influence more reactions.
[the importance of catalysis]
It’s not merely that enzymes dramatically speed up (or slow down) reactions, but also that they speed up reactions to roughly the same range of speeds (at least at room temperature—25 degrees Centigrade). That’s important for living things because they also need to link up their reactions, and if reactions work at wildly varying speeds, the whole network of reactions would fall apart. “The Depth of Chemical Time and the Power of Enzymes as Catalysts,” R. Wolfenden, M. J. Snider, Accounts of Chemical Research, 34(12):938-945, 2001.
[ATP consumption speeds]
The Energy of Life: The Science of What Makes our Minds and Bodies Work, Guy Brown, Free Press, 1999, page 11 and pages 30-33.
[autocatalysis is a special case of synergy]
Strictly speaking, a reaction network consisting of a single reaction that is autocatalytic is also a synergetic reaction network. Not every autocatalytic reaction is itself synergetic since synergy is a property that applies to reaction networks, not reactions themselves. Synergy is emergent. Autocatalysis is not.
[evolution may not need genes]
Self-helping molecules might cast doubt on the centrality of genes in what may have been the first ‘life-like’ thing almost four billion years ago. All living things that we today know of have genes. But that needn’t mean that the first things that were in some sense ‘life-like’ also had them. For instance, suppose we came across a cell-sized thing that has no genes, just proteins. However, its soup of proteins just happen to work together to make more copies of themselves so that if, for whatever reason, it happens to divide into separate parts, at least one of those parts might have most of the proteins that it would need to go through the division cycle again. If any copies of such a cell-like thing persist, they might well begin to replicate and maybe even change as their surroundings change. Could something like that be the start of a chain of reaction networks that one day might lead to ‘living’ things?

A molecular biologist might say that metabolic networks need not be template autocatalytic, they can instead be synergetic, in the sense used in the text (also called ‘collectively autocatalytic’ or ‘network autocatalytic’.) That may have been how they started 3.5 thousand million or more years ago. Depending on changes in the environment—what molecules rose in concentration or fell in concentration, what new molecules became available, what others vanished—a synergetic network, if robust enough, might change to accommodate external change.

Further, so-called ‘feed-down’ synergetic networks replicate themselves by their very metabolism. The Krebs cycle built on citric acid is an example. So evolution may not have needed template autocatalysis (promoted by things like DNA or even RNA) to get going. But, really, right now we have no idea.

The Emergence of Everything: How the World Became Complex, Harold J. Morowitz, Oxford University Press, 2002, page 74.

Diversity and Density

[meaning of a random network]
To a mathematician, one meaning of a ‘random network’ is that no part of the network’s structure or dynamics can be deduced, at reasonable cost and speed, from any other part of the network.

There are, however, may different ways to give meaning to the term ‘random’ because our everyday notion of what ‘random’ means is very fuzzy. In statistics and probability theory, a random process is often taken to mean the same thing as a stochastic process, but since, outside mathematically technical fields, ‘random’ is a common word and ‘stochastic’ is rare, the text draws the distinction. In mathematics and computer science, a random process can have several definitions depending on what we choose to consider important at the time. The simplified version the text gives corresponds to what computer scientists call Kolmogorov complexity. A process is said to be random in that sense if its sequence of states isn’t very compressible—that is, if there’s no significantly shorter algorithm to produce the sequence other than to list the sequence itself. By that definition, nearly all possible sequences are random. (Note that that’s different from saying that all possible processes are random.) The only sequences that aren’t random in that sense possess some pattern (which is what would make them compressible). Determined ones (more normally called deterministic in computer science) however, are highly compressible. (Note that a sequence can appear random yet still be determined; chaos theory is all about such sequences.) In time series analysis, a roughly analogous statement would be that a sequence can be non-singular (that is, not deterministic) and also non-regular (that is, not purely nondeterminstic). More strictly, it’s a non-stationary, non-ergodic stochastic process. Or to put it more prosaically, usually a sequence has both signal and noise. It’s almost never pure signal or pure noise. Long-Memory Time Series: Theory and Methods, Wilfredo Palma, Wiley, 2007. Probability, Random Variables and Random Signal Principles, P. Z. Peebles, McGraw-Hill Inc., 2001. An Introduction to Kolmogorov Complexity and Its Applications, Ming Li and Paul Vitányi, Springer, Second Edition, 1997.

[building a self-maintaining machine]
For a slick mathematical formalism, based on the work of the late Robert Rosen, of a related way of stating the problem of synergy, see: “Organizational invariance and metabolic closure: analysis in terms of (M, R) systems,” J. C. Letelier, J. Soto-Andrade, F. Guinez Abarzua, A. Cornish-Bowden, M. Luz Cardenas, Journal of Theoretical Biology, 238(4):949-61, 2006.

Also, John von Neumann solved, in theory, the related problem of self-building automata (at least with Turing-complete automata) long ago. “Von Neumann’s Self-Reproducing Automata,” 491-552, in Papers of John Von Neumann on Computing and Computer Theory, William Aspray and Arthur Burks (editors), MIT Press, 1987.

[theoretically, synergy is mathematically near-certain]
At the moment, the result is based solely on mathematical modeling and computer simulation, so it is pure speculation. However, the model’s probabilistic assumptions are quite weak, so it is unlikely to be an incorrect result for the real cosmos. What is missing from the theory thus far is any grounding in real organisms. The theory is not yet mature enough to incorporate realistic concentrations of molecular species. Nor does it handle the question of selection for molecular transport within the forming network. Nor does it encompass inhibition as well as excitation. (Catalyts can suppress reactions as well as excite them.) In short, there’s still a long way to go, but this seems a promising way of viewing the likely origin of life after millennia of cluelessness. “Evolution before genes,” V. Vasas, C. Fernando, M. Santos, S. Kauffman, E. Szathmáry, Biology Direct, 7:1, 2012. “Autocatalytic Sets and the Origin of Life,” W. Hordijk, J. Hein, M. Steel, Entropy, 12(7):1733-1742, 2010. “Lack of evolvability in self-sustaining autocatalytic networks constraints metabolism-first scenarios for the origin of life,” V. Vasas, E. Szathmáry, M. Santos, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(4):1470-1475, 2010. “Question 1: Origin of Life and the Living State,” S. Kauffman, Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres, 37(4-5):315–322, 2007. “On the crucial stages in the origin of animate matter,” S. Lifson, Journal of Molecular Evolution, 44(1):1–8, 1997. The Origins of Order: Self-Organization and Selection in Evolution, Stuart Kauffman, Oxford University Press, 1993.

Incidentally, Kauffman deserves credit not just for this work but also for being one of the first to think up and follow through on modeling autocatalytic sets (and now gene regulatory networks) with boolean networks, which are much simpler, and more mathematically (and computationally) tractable. The following paper goes into more mathematical details of the spontaneous evolution and repeated catastrophes of synergetic (that is, collectively autocatalytic) sets: “Graph Theory and the Evolution of Autocatalytic Networks,” S. Jain, S. Krishna, Handbook of Graphs and Networks: From the Genome to the Internet, Stefan Bornholdt and Heinz Georg Schuster (editors), Wiley-VCH, 2003, pages 355-395.

[a suggestion of why synergy is mathematically near-certain]
Very roughly speaking, synergy is likely to happen when the chance that several nodes having many potential connections to other nodes is high enough. A common example in the networking literature is the idea behind ‘six degrees of separation,’ which was first named in a 1990 play by John Guare, although the first known mention of it goes back to a short story named “Chains,” written in 1929 by Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy. The idea is that you can get a letter from one person to another no matter where they are if you ask each person that the letter reaches to mail it on to someone else who might be more likely to know the target recipient. Supposedly it only takes six or so hops to get from anyone to anyone. (That’s also the basis of a popular parlor game, the Kevin Bacon Game.) Small Worlds: The Dynamics of Networks between Order and Randomness, Duncan J. Watts, Princeton University Press, 1999.

Several later books, with varying levels of mathematical sophistication, have the same connectivity theme: Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age, Duncan J. Watts, W. W. Norton, 2003. Linked: The New Science of Networks, Albert-László Barabási, Perseus Publishing, 2002. Nexus: Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Science of Networks, Mark Buchanan, W. W. Norton, 2002.

However, note that the claims made in each of those books about an absence of prior research needs to be treated with caution, as their authors seem to be largely ignorant of earlier relevant research in sociology. See, for example: “Social Physics and Social Newtworks,” J. Scott, in The SAGE Handbook of Social Network Analysis, John Scott and Peter J. Carrington (editors), SAGE Publications Ltd., 2011, pages 55-66. “Small-World Networks, Complex Systems and Sociology,” N. Crossley, Sociology, 42(2):261-277, 2008.

The usual probabilistic network connectivity argument is an intuitive version of the original, more sophisticated, mathematical argument in: “On the Evolution of Random Graphs,” Paul Erdös and Alfred Rényi, Magyar Tud. Akad. Mat. Kutató Int. Közl., (Publications of the Mathematical Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences) 5:17-61, 1960. See, for example: Graphical Evolution: An Introduction to the Theory of Random Graphs, Edgar M. Palmer, John Wiley & Sons, 1985.

Entelechy Shmentelechy

[Aristotle on spontaneous generation of life]
That’s an idea that he seems to have swiped from Anaximander, who lived over two centuries before he did. “Animals and plants come into being in earth and in liquid because there is water in earth, and air in water, and in all air is vital heat so that in a sense all things are full of soul. Therefore living things form quickly whenever this air and vital heat are enclosed in anything. When they are so enclosed, the corporeal liquids being heated, there arises as it were a frothy bubble.” The Works of Aristotle, Volume V: De Generatione Animalium, Aristotle, Book III, Part II, J. A. Smith and W. D. Ross (editors), Arthur Platt Translation, Oxford University Press, 1912, page 762. See also: Aristotle on Teleology, Monte Ransome Johnson, Oxford University Press, 2005, page 200. (Johnson quotes the Platt translation.)

Frampton gives a somewhat more colorful reading, hewing closer to the original Greek: “Animals and plants come into being in earth and in liquid because there is water in earth, and pneuma in water, and in all pneuma is psychical heat, so that in a sense all things are full of soul. Therefore, living things form quickly whenever this pneuma and psychical heat are enclosed in anything. When they are so enclosed, the corporeal liquids being heated, there arises, as it were, a frothy bubble similar to semen.” Embodiments of Will: Anatomical and Physiological Theories of Voluntary Animal Motion from Greek Antiquity to the Latin Middle Ages, 400 B.C.-A.D. 1300, Michael Frampton, VDM Verlag Dr. Müller Aktiengesellschaft & Co. KG, 2008, page 85. See also: “Spontaneous Generation and Kindred Notions in Antiquity,” E. S. McCartney, Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, 51:101-115, 1920.

At least some of what he said may be him passing off local myth as his own thought. For instance, he thought that eels sprang from mud. But then, perhaps that’s just because he couldn’t figure out how they had sex. On cutting them open, he couldn’t see any sex organs. Clams, and mussels, and many other small animals, including most insects, also may have puzzled him. In all such cases, either their gonads are too small for him to see with his naked eye, or they develop only when he can’t get at them. So maybe that’s why he just assumed that they simply spring into being.

Nor is that silly. After all, many of us believed the same at least until around 1880. And some of us still believe it. Sparks of Life: Darwinism and the Victorian Debates over Spontaneous Generation, James E. Strick, Harvard University Press, 2000.

[Aristotle’s beliefs]
Aristotle got many things right but he also got many things wrong. For example, he thought that male humans, sheep, goats, and pigs have more teeth than their female counterparts. And he thought that men are hotter than women. (The reverse is true; and no, a joke here would be too obvious to tell.) “We have, then, previously spoken elsewhere of both the body as a whole and its parts, explaining what each part is and for what reason it exists. But (1) the male and female are distinguished by a certain capacity and incapacity. (For the male is that which can concoct the blood into semen and which can form and secrete and discharge a semen carrying with it the principle of form—by ‘principle’ I do not mean a material principle out of which comes into being an offspring resembling the parent, but I mean the first moving cause, whether it have power to act as such in the thing itself or in something else—but the female is that which receives semen, indeed, but cannot form it for itself or secrete or discharge it.) And (2) all concoction works by means of heat. Therefore the males of animals must needs be hotter than the females.” On the Generation of Animals, Aristotle, Book IV, section 1, Arthur Platt Translation, Oxford University Press, Second Edition, 1912. For his views on the number of teeth in males and females, see: History of Animals, Aristotle, Book II, Part 3.

Many tales are often told about Aristotle today as if to make fun of him. But he was a far more subtle thinker than they might suggest. For example, a Greek belief at the time held that blacks had black semen. That particular Greek folktale goes back at least as far as Herodotus, 2,400 years ago: “...The sexual intercourse of all these Indians that I have been describing takes place in the open, as with cattle; and all have skin of the same colour, like that of Ethiopians: and the semen that they emit when they have intercourse is not white like other men’s, but as black as their skins; and so is the Ethiopians’.” The Histories of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, Herodotus, Book III, section 101, page 206, Harry Carter Translation, The Heritage Press, 1958. Aristotle debunked it. “Herodotus does not report the truth when he says that the semen of the Aethiopians is black, as if everything must needs be black in those who have a black skin.” On the Generation of Animals, Aristotle, Book II, section 2, Arthur Platt Translation, Oxford University Press, Second Edition, 1912.

[life-force]
Aristotle wrote extensively on the question of what life is and he gave several different definitions but the one most commonly used is the one where he defines it in terms of hierarchical ‘souls’ (capacities for various behaviors). However, for millennia, many of us around the world identified life the same way—namely, with the things that living things do, most especially breathing.

The relating of breath and ‘life-force’ is a common idea. It shows itself in the word spiritus in Latin, pneuma in Greek, ruah in Hebrew, ruh in Arabic, qi in Mandarin, ki in Japanese, prana in Sanskrit, ka in Ancient Egyptian, awen in Welsh, ai in Irish, and Silap Inua in Inuit.

[Aristotle on the soul]
Most of his writings on this subject are concentrated in De Anima (often translated as On the Soul.). The word he used for the ‘breath of life’ (often translated as ‘soul’) is psychē, which actually had two related meanings with no single word in English capturing the full meaning. For example, he didn’t postulate that the soul survives the body’s death. For him, the soul had nothing to do with personality (although he posits that it can have some aspects of intellect, he means the propensity for intelligence, not intelligence itself). In his model, the soul doesn’t ‘wear’ the body, looking out through the body’s eyes, as it were. It is simply the capacity for certain kinds of bodily activities (like nutrition, sensation, intellect, and such). A body without some such capacities is meaningless. A bundle of capacities without a body to inform is meaningless.

“And for this reason those have the right conception who believe that the soul does not exist without a body and yet is not itself a kind of body. For it is not a body, but something which belongs to a body, and for this reason exists in a body, and a body of such and such a kind.” Book II, Chapter 2, 414a19ff. De Anima, Aristotle, Books II and III (With Passages from Book I), D. W. Hamlyn Translation, Oxford University Press, Second Edition, 1993, page 14.

However, in other parts of the same book, he tells us that ‘active intellect’ is eternal. He can’t quite seem to decide. Plato, his tutor, was quite firmly in the dualist camp: the soul was a separate and surviving thing. Essays on Aristotle’s De Anima, Martha C. Nussbaum and Amélie Oksenberg Rorty (editors), Oxford University Press, 1995, especially Chapters 4, 6, 7, and 10. “Aristotle’s Definition of the Soul and the Programme of the De Anima,” S. Menn, in Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy: Summer 2002, David Sedley (editor), Oxford University Press, 2002, pages 83-140.

[biochemical catalysts (enzymes)]
There are other kinds of enzymes than the two described here (the lyases, which cut, and the ligases, which join). Some, like the transferases, both cut and join. And some, like the isomerases, neither cut nor join; they rearrange atoms within one molecule. But about 95 percent of all enzymes are catabolic—they break down molecules (that is, cut pieces off).

As in much of science, accurate terminology is a problem for popularizers. ‘Sucrase’ is a name for a whole family of more specific enzymes, one of which is Oligosaccharide alpha-1,6-glucosidase. Similarly, the actual name for ‘sucrose synthase’ is NDP-glucose:D-fructose 2-alpha-D-glucosyltransferase. (DNA ligase is another example of a ligase; it joins up two chunks of DNA.) A bacterium has about a thousand different enzymes.

[minimum possible diversity]
Organisms appear to have a minimum diversity of proteins below which they can’t exist. Microbes with the least number of genes aren’t necessarily free-living (that is, able to survive without obligate dependence on another organism). Mycoplasma genitalium, for example, has just 521 genes in a genome just 580,076 base pairs long, but it’s an obligate parasite. It lacks a cell wall (it lacks genes for lipid synthesis) but it can both grow and self-replicate outside its host cell. The thermophilic Nanoarchaeum equitans is even smaller but is an obligate symbiont. Its genome has 536 genes but is just 490,885 base pairs long. It lacks genes for lipid, cofactor, amino acid, or nucleotide synthesis. “Essential genes of a minimal bacterium,” J. I. Glass, N. Assad-Garcia, N. Alperovich, S. Yooseph, M. R. Lewis, M. Maruf, C. A. Hutchison, III, H. O. Smith, J. C. Venter, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103(2):425-430, 2006. “Determination of the Core of a Minimal Bacterial Gene Set,” R. Gil, F. J. Silva, J. Peretó, A. Moya, Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews, 68(3):518-537, 2004. “A modular minimal cell model: Purine and pyrimidine transport and metabolism,” M. Castellanos, D. B. Wilson, M. L. Shuler, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 101(17):6681-6686, 2004. “The genome of Nanoarchaeum equitans: Insights into early archaeal evolution and derived parasitism,” E. Waters, M. J. Hohn, I. Ahel, D. E. Graham, M. D. Adams, M. Barnstead, K. Y. Beeson, L. Bibbs, R. Bolanos, M. Keller, K. Kretz, X. Lin, E. Mathur, J. Ni, M. Podar, T. Richardson, G. G. Sutton, M. Simon, D. Söll, K. O. Stetter, J. M. Short, M. Noordewier, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100(22):12984-12988, 2003.
[autocatalytic networks in early life]
This idea is hardly new. “A System Theoretic Model of Biogenesis,” O. E. Rössler, Zeitschrift für Naturforschung, B26b:741-746, 1971. “Self-Organization of Matter and the Evolution of Biological Macromolecules,” M. Eigen, Naturwissenschaften, 58(10):465-523, 1971. “Cellular Homeostasis, Epigenesis and Replication in Randomly Aggregated Macromolecular Systems,” S. A. Kauffman, Journal of Cybernetics, 1(1):71-96, 1971. Another, somewhat similar treatment: “A Model for the Origin of Life,” F. Dyson, Journal of Molecular Evolution, 18(5):344-350, 1982. For more recent treatments, see: “Spontaneous Emergence of a Metabolism,” R. J. Bagley, J. D. Farmer, and also “Evolution of a Metabolism,” R. J. Bagley, J. D. Farmer, W. Fontana, both in Artificial Life II, Proceedings of the Workshop on Artificial Life Held February, 1990 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Christopher Langton, Charles Taylor, J. Doyne Farmer, and Steen Rasmussen (editors), Addison-Wesley, 1992, pages 93-140 and pages 141-158. The Hypercycle: A Principle of Natural Self-Organization, Manfred Eigen and Peter Schuster, Springer-Verlag, 1979. The Principles of Life, Tibor Gánti, Oxford Universty Press, 2003. (Originally published in Hungarian in 1971, nearly at the same time as Rössler’s and Eigen’s and Kauffman’s first work in this area.) Information and the Origin of Life, Bernd-Olaf Küppers, translated by Manu Scripta, MIT Press, 1990. At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity, Stuart Kauffman, Oxford University Press, 1995. In this last book Kauffman attempts to ground his theory in thermodynamic work cycles, but lab support is still lacking. However, work has been done recently on autocatalytic networks in the lab. It’s not unlikely that experimental confirmation may follow soon.

Note that Eigen’s work is on cycles of replicators (intended to model early RNA replication) without mutation. Kauffman’s model is on biochemical reactions, again without mutation (which makes sense, but there could be ‘mutation’ of a kind via biochemical replacement). One big problem area remains in all three of these approaches: no one is yet modelling spatial distribution. Paulien Hogeweg and her group at Utrecht are doing so now in simulations of spatially distributed replicators intended to model early RNA replication. No one has yet modeled stigmergic reactions between such hypercycles of replicators (or even enzymes) and some surrounding semi-stable container. Gánti’s model, however, explicitly has both a container and a replicator, as well as a metablism. Ultimately that, plus some variant of Hogeweg’s work on spatial distribution of such entities, and the resulting coevolution of all those parts, seems the right next step to take.

[autopoiesis]
Autopoiesis was first proposed as a unifying concept by Maturana and Varela in the 1970s. Maturana didn’t like the standard biological idea of defining life-forms by listing various observed features of living systems as that’s circular reasoning and tells us nothing of the essence of living systems. He wanted to capture invariant features of living systems in a way that made their autonomy central, without recourse to the usual Aristotelian teleological ideas like ‘purpose’ or ‘function.’ His basic definition is that a living system is one whose parts interact so as to continually produce and maintain themselves and their relationships. Those parts in and of themselves aren’t important. It’s the dynamic relationships between them preserved by the ongoing interaction that determines the autopoietic system’s identity. In short, the structure matters, not its parts.

In his words: “An autopoietic machine is a machine organised (defined as a unity) as a network of processes of production (transformation and destruction) of components that produces the components which:

  • (i) through their interactions and transformations continuously regenerate and realise the network of processes (relations) that produced them; and
  • (ii) constitute it (the machine) as a concrete unity in the space in which they (the components) exist by specifying the topological domain of its realisation as such a network.”
Principles of Biological Autonomy, Francisco J. Varela, Elsevier/North-Holland, 1979. Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living, Humberto Maturana and Francisco J. Varela, D. Reidel, 1980. The text merely adds an operational definition to their abstract definition by incorporating Stuart Kauffman’s and also Tibor Gánti’s idea of autocatalytic sets (also called cross-catalytic systems), which the text calls ‘synergetic networks’.

Versions of autopoiesis has since been adopted by several fields outside biology, most notably in cognitive science, machine intelligence, cybernetics, and sociology. For a recent overview, see: “Autopoiesis: a review and a reappraisal,” P. L. Luisi, Naturwissenschaften, 90(2):49-59, 2003. The whole approach was anticipated by the remarkable and monumental: Living Systems, James Grier Miller, McGraw-Hill, 1978. Miller traced similarities in autonomous living systems from the cell all the way to the supranational organization. It in turn was anticipated by the systems approach to biology of von Bertalnaffy as far back as the 1940s. General Systems Theory: Foundations, Development, Applications, Ludwig von Bertalanffy, George Braziller, 1968.

[autopoiesis isn’t enough]
Diverse density—or dense diversity—is too simple a principle to be all there is to life. We know there must be more to it because we don’t yet understand how autopoietic protocells might gain enough control of energy-rich molecules in their environment so as to power themselves. The problem of life, from an organism’s point of view, isn’t just how a set of parts might start reacting so as to maintain each other, but how they could harness ambient matter and energy to keep on maintaining each other.
[autocatalysis in the lab]
There’s an elegant autocatalytic network, the simplest yet known, that takes only carbon dioxide and hydrogen and produces more complex organic molecules. All substrates are autocatalytic and the basic duty cycle is:
citrate + 6CO2 + 9H2 → 2citrate + 5H2O
“The origin of intermediary metabolism,” H. J. Morowitz, J. D. Kostelnik, J. Yang, G. D. Cody, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 97(14):7704-7708, 2000. Molecular biology may now be within a couple decades of becoming as rigorously grounded as physics.
[use of ‘self-writing’ to mean ‘living’]
The sense of the word as used in the text isn’t quite right. There’s another step between self-building (‘stigmergic’ in the text) and self-writing and that is self-describing. However, while a neologism like ‘autoperigraphic’ would have the right Greek roots for ‘self-descriptive,’ it would also be too cumbersome a word. Alternately, abandoning the word ‘stigmergic’ for ‘self-building’ and going instead for what might pass for the full Greek version, namely ‘autooikodomic,’ would be an even more cumbersome neologism. Using the word ‘stigmergic’ seemed like the right way to go since the word already exists and it’s close to the sense needed in the text.

(Note: E. O. Wilson proposed the term ‘sematectonic communication’ for the more general idea; see: Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University Press, 2000, page 186.)

‘Self-reproductive’ is also not represented by a special word in the text. A possible good existing word might be ‘autotypic.’ Of course, ‘hermaphroditic’ and similar words would be overkill—not to mention highly misleading as it would imply sex. Also, there are several terms that mean more or less the same thing as autopoietic: spontaneous, emergent, endogenous, autogenous, autochthonous, autocatakinetic, self-organized, self-generated, and self-assembled.

It says something about our low level of understanding of self-organizing systems that we don’t yet have compact, everyday words for key concepts: self-stimulating, self-building, self-maintaining, self-describing, self-repairing, and self-writing. (Here, ‘self-writing’ is taken to mean both self-productive (generating itself; that is, ‘autopietic’ since poiesis means ‘bringing forth’), and self-replicating (generating a copy of itself)). Whenever recursion pops up, it baffles us.

[self-writing sentences]
This is of course a poetic rather than scientific way of speaking. No sentence can be self-writing. To be slightly more accurate, it’s like a box that contains a tape recorder plus a sentence that is a description of a tape recorder. The tape recorder plays the sentence and as it does so the sentence describes the making of another sentence that describes how to make a box with a tape recorder plus itself. For example, an egg isn’t merely a naked strand of DNA, it also contains a minimal set of proteins needed to start transcribing that DNA and to turn that transcript into yet more proteins. So each of our germ cells is part of an unbroken chain from mother cell to daughter cell going back all the way to the beginning of life on earth (or at least, to the fixing in place of the genetic code). The description of a cell is important (the DNA, or perhaps in much earlier times, the RNA), but the cell itself, in which that DNA exists and functioned, is just as important.
[we have no idea (about self-writing sentences)]
Actually, we do have ideas, but they’re too technical for inclusion in a popular science text. We have no clear idea how a sentence might complexify enough to not only contain a description of itself but also be able to write that description of itself. Neither our tentative autocatalytic origin-of-life theory nor our standard evolutionary development-of-life theory explains that. Evolution, for example, doesn’t need self-writing networks, it only needs autopoietic ones: it can start as soon as a network can copy itself because the copies would vary in their relative concentrations of reactants, thus selection for efficiency among the variant copies would begin. But to explain life as we know it, such networks must not only copy themselves, they must also write descriptions of themselves into their copies. Maybe, thousands of millions of years ago, an autopoietic network somehow fused with a collectively autocatalytic network of RNA molecules and both networks were somehow able to co-catalyze each other.

That isn’t as far-fetched as it may sound. RNA itself is able both to catalyze reactions and to hold information. So maybe heredity acts to stabilize the copying process, making self-writing networks more persistent than merely autopoietic ones. Alternately, maybe RNA (or some similar template mechanism) acts as a signal from one ‘generation’ to the next about living conditions that the parent ‘generation’ experienced, thus influencing the daughter generation’s metabolic activity. Who knows. Perhaps all three of the most basic parts needed for life—metabolism, template, and membrane—developed separately, each as independent autocatalytic networks, then they somehow joined into one system, perhaps by developing catalytic links between the metabolic and hereditary subsystem so that the template began to control the metabolism, and catalytic links between the metabolic and container subsystems, so that metabolism began to produce membrane parts. The membrane allowed both the metabolism and the template to persist, the metabolism produced energy and parts for both the membrane and template to persist, and the template snapshotted and controlled both the membrane and the metabolism. How that happened, though—if it did—is anyone’s guess.

Here is a recent paper on two interesting simulations of this possible process based on Tibor Gánti’s work: “The Chemoton: A model for the origin of long RNA templates,” C. Fernando, E. A. Di Paolo, Artificial Life IX: Proceedings of the Ninth International Conference on the Simulation and Synthesis of Living Systems, Jordan Pollack, Mark Bedau, Phil Husbands, Takashi Ikegami, and Richard A. Watson (editors), MIT Press, 2004, pages 1-8.

The strongest line of disagreement in the origin of life debate today lies between those who believe in heredity first and those who believe in metabolism first. For a recent survey, see: “Controversies on the origin of life,” J. Peretó, International Microbiology, 8(1):23-31, 2005.

[we’re still very much in the dark]
There’s much we don’t know. However, we already understand autocatalysis. And we’ve confirmed biochemical synergy in the lab. Plus, mathematical models and computer simulations together strongly suggest that synergy is almost inevitable once a diverse enough set of parts are densely enough packed. We’re also beginning to understand how stigmergy works, both in colonial insects like termites, and in cells as they form in embryos. Stigmergy may be what lets a mere sentence self-replicate. The sentence itself doesn’t self-replicate. It exists in a soup of partial sentence readers. Each of them can understand a small part of the sentence and can copy both that and itself using that. As in Magritte’s famous painting, a picture of a pipe isn’t a pipe. However we now understand that it can give rise to a real pipe if it comes with enough brainless sentence readers. Imagine them crawling over the painting to make bits of a real pipe, then connecting those bits to make another pipe painting, plus copies of themselves. In this case, the egg, not the chicken, came first.

Likely we’ll one day figure out how repair and replication can be made to work. That is, we’ll know how to break down repair (and replication) into smaller pieces, just as we’ve now begun to break down our vague idea of ‘living things’ into smaller, more precise pieces. Beyond that, though, we know nothing certain.

Frothy Bubbles

[endosymbiosis]
This is accepted, but argument continues about how it happened, when it happened, and how many times it happened. It’s accepted because mitochondrial genes are clearly separate from nuclear genes, and are 1-3 orders of magnitude fewer than the free-living version would need to survive. But how exactly the two parts became one thing is highly unclear. The variety of life is vast and two (or more?) thousand million years is a long time.

As far as we can tell, the first cells were prokaryotic (no isolated nucleus, no organized compartments). Today, those are divided into archaea and bacteria, and those two, apparently, merged at some point, perhaps 2.1 thousand million years ago (perhaps more), or perhaps less (up to perhaps 1.6 thousand million years ago), to create the first eukaryotic cells. In energy-gradient rich surroundings, mitochondria generate useful energy in eukaryotic cells by coupling the transport of electrons along the respiratory chain to a current of protons across the mitochondrial inner membrane, which in turn lets them make ATP. Mitochondria, and chloroplasts (which power plant cells), descend from some original bacteria entering into symbiosis with some original archaea, then actually entering as endosymbionts, then becoming actual organelles. Once they reached that stage, duplicating those organelle meant that the cell could get increasing amounts of energy without having to pay increasing costs to maintain all the associated genes that once were ancilliary to energy production. All such genes could migrate to the cell’s central gene store, which could then become the nucleosome. That’s a crude outline of one theory, anyway. But there are many theories, and all have holes. How did genes move from what was to become the mitochondrion to what was to become the nucleus? What determined what was to become the germline? How did the mitochondrion gain its second membrane? How did two separate genomes integrate and coordinate? We know it must have happened. But we don’t know how.

“The energetics of genome complexity,” N. Lane, W. Martin, Nature, 467(7318):929–934, 2010. “The origin and evolution of Archaea: a state of the art,” S. Gribaldo, C. Brochier-Armanet, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, B, 361(1470):1007-1022, 2006. Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life, Nick Lane, Oxford University Press, 2005. “Evolution of mitochondrial gene content: gene loss and transfer to the nucleus,” K. L. Adams, J. D. Palmer, Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 29(3):380–395, 2003.

[kinesin]
The particular kinesin described in the text is 3KIN, first extracted from the brains of Norwegian rats. Its atomic weight is listed in the Protein Data Bank. It’s given merely for definiteness. Human cells build about 40 different types of kinesin for different functions. “The crystal structure of dimeric kinesin and implications for microtubule-dependent motility,” F. Kozielski, S. Sack, A. Marx, M. Thormahlen, E. Schonbrunn, V. Biou, A. Thompson, E. M. Mandelkow, E. Mandelkow, Cell, 91(7):985-994, 1997.

Kinesins take about 100 microseconds to move a distance of about 8 nanometers from one microtubule binding site to another. “An atomic-level mechanism for activation of the kinesin molecular motors,” C. V. Sindelar, K. H. Downing, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(9):4111-4116, 2010. “Kinesin Is an Evolutionarily Fine-Tuned Molecular Ratchet-and-Pawl Device of Decisively Locked Direction,” Z. Wang, M. Feng, W. Zheng, D. Fan, Biophysical Journal, 93(10):3363-3372, 2007. “Kinesin’s Biased Stepping Mechanism: Amplification of Neck Linker Zippering,” W. H. Mather, R. F. Fox, Biophysical Journal, 91(7):2416-2426, 2006. “Kinesin Walks Hand-Over-Hand,” A. Yildiz, M. Tomishige, R. D. Vale, P. R. Selvin, Science, 303(5658):676-678, 2004.

[age of earliest kinesins]
“Patterns of kinesin evolution reveal a complex ancestral eukaryote with a multifunctional cytoskeleton,” W. Wickstead, K. Gull, T. A. Richards, BMC Evolutionary Biology, 10:110, 2010. “Molecular Data are Transforming Hypotheses on the Origin and Diversification of Eukaryotes,” Y. I. Tekle, L. W. Parfrey, L. A. Katz, BioScience, 59(6):471-481, 2009.
[development of bacterial swimming tails]
Since we haven’t built a real cell in the lab, nor have we watched one fine tune a transporter from scratch, all that is guesswork, but after decades of work in biochemistry there’s at least one kind of exquisitely designed cellular machine whose original development we’re now beginning to understand pretty well: the whip-like swimming tails of various bacteria. They seem to have started as crude syringe-like devices that certain bacteria first used to secrete unwanted molecules through their cell walls. Later, they grew into devices to inject toxins into other cells. (So what started as a sewage exhaust pump got weaponized.) Still later, they developed into intricate, multi-part swimming tails. All that seems to have taken millions of years—and figuring out even the little that we today know about them took many decades and thousands of research papers. “Reducible Complexity - The Case for Bacterial Flagella,” W. F. Doolittle, O. Zhaxybayeva, Current Biology, 17(13):R510-R512, 2007. “Stepwise formation of the bacterial flagellar system,” R. Liu, H. Ochman, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 104(17):7116–7121, 2007. “From The Origin of Species to the origin of bacterial flagella,” M. J. Pallen, N. J. Matzke, Nature Reviews Microbiology, 4(10):784-790, 2006. “The turn of the screw: The bacterial flagellar motor,” D. J. DeRosier, Cell, 93(1):17–20, 1998.

See also: “Optimizing ring assembly reveals the strength of weak interactions,” E. J. Deeds, J. A. Bachman, W. Fontana, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 109(7):2348-53, 2012. “Evolution of increased complexity in a molecular machine,” G. C. Finnigan, V. Hanson-Smith, T. H. Stevens, J. W. Thornton, Nature, 481(7381):360-364, 2012. “How a neutral evolutionary ratchet can build cellular complexity,” J. Lukeš, J. M. Archibald, P. J. Keeling, W. F. Doolittle, M. W. Gray, IUBMB Life, 63(7):528–537, 2011. “The reducible complexity of a mitochondrial molecular machine,” A. Clements, D. Bursac, X. Gatsos, A. J. Perry, S. Civciristov, N. Celik, V. A. Likic, S. Poggio, C. Jacobs-Wagner, R. A. Strugnell, T. Lithgow, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 106(37):15791-15795, 2009. “Evolution of the molecular machines for protein import into mitochondria,” P. Dolezal, V. Likic, J. Tachezy, T. Lithgow, Science, 313(5785):314–318, 2006.

[evolving molecular machines]
The idea that molecules themselves can evolve, as opposed to whole organisms, is still contested but it isn’t a new one. The first laboratory example of evolutionary adaptation in a molecular genetic system was found in 2009. And the theoretical idea of evolving molecular quasi-species goes back at least as far as Eigen’s work in the 1970s. What is unknown as of yet is whether all groups of molecules can co-evolve and if so, how. “Quasispecies-like behavior observed in catalytic RNA populations evolving in a test tube,” C. Díaz Arenas, N. Lehman, BMC Evolutionary Biology, 10:80, 2010. “Generation and Development of RNA Ligase Ribozymes with Modular Architecture Through ‘Design and Selection’,” Y. Fujita, J. Ishikawa, H. Furuta, Y. Ikawa, Molecules, 15(9):5850-5865, 2010. “Darwin’s concepts in a test tube: Parallels between organismal and in vitro evolution,” C. Díaz Arenas, N. Lehman, The International Journal of Biochemistry & Cell Biology, 41(2):266-273, 2009. “Niche partitioning in the coevolution of 2 distinct RNA enzymes,” S. B. Voytek, G. F. Joyce, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 106(19):7780-7785, 2009. “Self-sustained replication of an RNA enzyme,” T. A. Lincoln, G. F. Joyce, Science, 323(5918):1229-1232, 2009. “Self-Organization of Matter and the Evolution of Biological Macromolecules,” M. Eigen, Naturwissenschaften, 58(10):465-523, 1971.
[evolving cells]
The Origin of Individuals, Jean-Jacques Kupiec, World Scientific Publishing, 2009.
[malls and stores]
Real malls are, of course, far more complicated. For example, mall owners actively seek anchor stores, that is, large department or grocery stores with well-known reputations and large independent advertising budgets. Such stores may either own the entire mall, take up more than half of it, or may be attracted into the mall with the offer of vastly lower rents (paid for by higher rents for non-anchor stores). If they fail, the entire mall can fail. “Empirical Entry Games with Complementarities: An Application to the Shopping Center Industry,” M. A. Vitorino, Journal of Marketing Research, 49(2):175-191, 2012. “Spatial Versus Non-Spatial Determinants of Shopping Center Rents: Modeling Location and Neighborhood-Related Factors,” F. Des Rosiers, M. Thériault, L. Ménétrier, Journal of Real Estate Research, 27(3):293-319, 2005. “Contracts, Externalities, and Incentives in Shopping Malls,” E. D. Gould, B. P. Pashigian, C. J. Prendergast, Review of Economics and Statistics, 87(3):411–22, 2005. “Internalizing Externalities: The Pricing of Space in Shopping Malls,” B. P. Pashigian, E. D. Gould, Journal of Law and Economics, 41(1):115-142, 1998. The Mall: An Attempted Escape from Everyday Life, Jerry Jacobs, Waveland Press, Inc., 1984.
[the first made lifeform in 2010]
“Creation of a Bacterial Cell Controlled by a Chemically Synthesized Genome,” D. G. Gibson, J. I. Glass, C. Lartigue, V. N. Noskov, R.-Y. Chuang, M. A. Algire, G. A. Benders, M. G. Montague, L. Ma, M. M. Moodie, Ch. Merryman, S. Vashee, R. Krishnakumar, N. Assad-Garcia, C. Andrews-Pfannkoch, E. A. Denisova, L. Young, Z.-Q. Qi, T. H. Segall-Shapiro, C. H. Calvey, P. P. Parmar, C. A. Hutchison III, H. O. Smith, J. C. Venter, Science, 329(5987):52-56, 2010.
[Aristotle can continue to argue]
However, even after we figure all that out, he might then claim that this network-physics approach is somewhat like his approach. Plus, his scheme is far simpler, so why do we need this new thing? In his time, he had proposed an invisible, non-material something that was inextricably bound up with each living thing and that drove it—its soul. It is the thing that is, in roughly his original Greek, ‘at work actively maintaining itself in being.’ In swarm physics, a self-maintaining network does precisely that. Its (material) parts don’t define the network as much as their (non-material) interactions do. Plus, such a network also can’t exist apart from its parts, just as his soul can’t exist apart from the body it has ensouled. Also, the network’s dynamics forms a repetitive pattern, a coherent self-preserving agitation of matter and energy moving through time and space. So, just as in Aristotle’s scheme, that pattern is non-material and invisible and it’s inextricably bound to its material parts.

He would agree, though, that there are major differences, too. Self-maintaining networks need not arise as one unit, as he had supposed his soul must. Nor need they recur, unchanged, in new instances of the same species forever, as he had supposed his souls did. Nor do they drive their parts, as he had supposed his soul drives the body. They don’t interact with, operate on, act on, rule, order, guide, direct, orient, animate, motivate, energize, force, or in any other way affect their parts. Instead, ‘a self-persistent network’ is merely how we describe how its parts work together. Like a wave in water, all that really exists is its parts. They interact in such a way that their pattern of interaction persists. And when something interferes with that self-perpetuating pattern of interaction, it ceases to exist. That’s all. Further, (although we don’t know this for sure yet) such networks might arise solely by chance, an idea that he had firmly rejected. Finally, (and again we haven’t done this yet), one day we might be able to make such networks from scratch for ourselves. He, though, argued that we can’t make souls. (His argument was simple: They’re non-material, so what would we make them out of?)

Further, on each point of difference, he could always claim that one day he’ll be found to have been right. Nor, if he takes that position, can he be argued out of it. Proving that purpose need not always be necessary isn’t the same as proving that it doesn’t exist (outside ourselves and perhaps some other animals, that is). He could always claim that it must be somewhere, hidden beyond the power of our reason and instruments to detect. So he may still choose to believe that the cosmos has some, so far undetected by science, overall purpose.

[possible development pathway of the earliest life-form?]
“The Last Common Ancestor of Modern Cells,” D. Moreira, P. López-García, in Lectures in Astrobiology, Volume II, Muriel Gargaud, Hervé Martin, and Philippe Claeys (editors), Springer-Verlag, 2007, pages 305–317.

Termite Swarm

[Aristotle on the sex of bees]
None of his surviving books mention termites, but he did write about ants, wasps, and bees, which are similar. “King-Bees and Mother-Wasps: A Note on Ideology and Gender in Aristotle’s Entomology,” R. Mayhew, Phronesis, 44(2):127-134, 1999. The Works of Aristotle, Volume V: On the Generation of Animals, Book III, section 9, Arthur Platt Translation, Oxford University Press, Second Edition, 1912, page 759.
[Aristotle on bee reproduction]
“There is much difficulty about the generation of bees. If it is really true that in the case of some fishes there is such a method of generation that they produce eggs without copulation, this may well happen also with bees, to judge from appearances. For they must (1) either bring the young brood from elsewhere, as some say, and if so the young must either be spontaneously generated or produced by some other animal, or (2) they must generate them themselves, or (3) they must bring some and generate others, for this also is maintained by some, who say that they bring the young of the drones only. Again, if they generate them it must be either with or without copulation; if the former, then either (1) each kind must generate its own kind, or (2) some one kind must generate the others, or (3) one kind must unite with another for the purpose (I mean for instance (1) that bees may be generated from the union of bees, drones from that of drones, and kings from that of kings, or (2) that all the others may be generated from one, as from what are called kings and leaders, or (3) from the union of drones and bees, for some say that the former are male, the latter female, while others say that the bees are male and the drones female). But all these views are impossible if we reason first upon the facts peculiar to bees and secondly upon those which apply more generally to other animals also.” On the Generation of Animals, Book III, section 10, Arthur Platt Translation, Oxford University Press, Second Edition, 1912, page 759.
[Aristotle on signs of life]
“We must maintain, further, that the soul is also the cause of the living body as the original source of local movement. The power of locomotion is not found, however, in all living things. But change of quality and change of quantity are also due to the soul. Sensation is held to be a qualitative alteration, and nothing except what has soul in it is capable of sensation. The same holds of the quantitative changes which constitute growth and decay; nothing grows or decays naturally except what feeds itself, and nothing feeds itself except what has a share of soul in it.” On the Soul, Aristotle, Book II, Chapter 4, J. A. Smith Translation, Oxford University Press, 1931, page 116.
[Aristotle on the rulers and the ruled]
“And there are many kinds both of rulers and subjects (and that rule is the better which is exercised over better subjects—for example, to rule over men is better than to rule over wild beasts; for the work is better which is executed by better workmen, and where one man rules and another is ruled, they may be said to have a work); for in all things which form a composite whole and which are made up of parts, whether continuous or discrete, a distinction between the ruling and the subject element comes to light. Such a duality exists in living creatures, but not in them only; it originates in the constitution of the universe; even in things which have no life there is a ruling principle, as in a musical mode.” Politics, Aristotle, Book I, Chapters iii-vii, Benjamin Jowett Translation, 1885, Dover, Reprint Edition, 2000, page 32.
[termite decision-making]
“Why is the decision making of the superorganismal insect societies so decentralized? Centralized control of any cooperative group requires that a tremendous amount of information—usually dispersed among all the members of the group—be communicated to a central decision-making individual, that this individual then integrates all this information, and finally that it issues instructions to the other group members. However, no species of social insect has evolved anything like a colony-wide nervous system which would allow information to flow rapidly and efficiently to a central decision maker. Moreover, there is no individual within a colony capable of processing a huge mass of information. It is not surprising, therefore, that social insect colonies have evolved highly distributed mechanisms of group decision making. Given that no one member of a social insect colony can possess a synoptic knowledge of her colony’s options, or can perform the complex information processing needed to estimate the utility of each option, it is not surprising that the concepts of bounded rationality and heuristics are highly relevant to understanding how superorganisms make their decisions.” From: “Decision Making in Superorganisms: How Collective Wisdom Arises from the Poorly Informed Masses,” T. D. Seeley, in Bounded Rationality: The Adaptive Toolbox, Gerd Gigerenzer and Reinhard Selten (editors), MIT Press, 2001, pages 249-261.
[cooperative animals]
Termites aren’t the only cooperators. All ants, some bees, a few wasps, one kind of shrimp, one kind of thrip, naked mole-rats, and a few others, also work together. The technical term is ‘eusocial;’ it means that they divide labor, including reproduction (which normally means that only a few breed), their generations overlap, and they jointly care for their young, regardless of its parent.
[termite characteristics]
Much data on each specific species is still unknown so the mating story in the text blends a few characteristics of various species of the genus Macrotermes to make a composite picture. These are specifically all fungus-farming termites with large nests. (However, all 2,500+ termite species are eusocial.) In Macrotermes subhyalinus, for example, the queen’s body becomes so swollen with eggs that she can’t move. When fully engorged, she may be 14 centimeters (5.5 inches) long, 3.5 centimeters (1.4 inches) wide, and able to produce up to 30,000 eggs per day.
[estimate of termite brain size]
We don’t yet know how many neurons insects have. Even the two most genetically studied insects—the honeybee and the fruit fly—have an unknown number. However, the following gives an estimated range of up to around a million for ‘the insect brain.’ “Multimodal sensory integration in insects: towards insect brain control architectures,” J. Wessnitzer, B. Webb, Bioinspiration and Biomimetics, 1(3):63-75, 2006. The estimate in the text of ‘about a million or so’ termite neurons also comes from the cockroach, (the nearest termite relative), which is estimated to have no more than about 1.2 million. “Building a brain: developmental insights in insects,” H. Reichert, G. Boyan, Trends in Neurosciences, 20(6):258-264, 1997.
[division of labor in colonial insects]
Some termite species do have specialized termites (for example, soldiers), but most tasks are shared depending on who’s available when. Organization of Insect Societies: From Genome to Sociocomplexity, Jürgen Gadau and Jennifer Fewell (editors), Harvard University Press, 2009. The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies, Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson, Norton, 2008. The Wisdom of the Hive: The Social Physiology of Honey Bee Colonies, Thomas D. Seeley, Harvard University Press, 1996. “Regulation of Division of Labor in Insect Societies,” G. E. Robinson, Annual Review of Entomology, 37(1):637-665, 1992. The Ants, Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University Press, 1990.
[termite evolution]
Termites present special problems to geneticists. In haplodiploid species, females are born from fertilized eggs and thus are diploid, but males (drones) are haploid, being born from unfertilized eggs, so they only have a mother and no father and, if not sterile, might have daughters but can’t have sons. One standard explanation for insect eusociality is from Hamilton and is in terms of kin selection, which can work well in haplodiploid species like ants, bees, and wasps, but not in diploid species like termites (also naked mole-rats, snapping shrimp, and others). In honeybees, for example, females from the same brood have genes that, on average, are 75 percent the same. Eusociality then makes sense. If one female bee dies to save 2 or more female kin (or 5 or more male kin), it’s a net plus to her genes.

That’s not the case for cockroaches, and thus termites (since, genetically speaking, termites are roaches). A further problem with it is that bees, wasps, and ants all belong to the order Hymenoptera, most of which are haplodiploid, but yet aren’t eusocial. Termites, which are eusocial, belong to another order, Isoptera. Yet a further problem is that female genetic similarity only applies to females of the same brood. Yet a queen may mate with several drones and thus attenuate the relatedness of her broods. Even further, both paper wasps and honeybees are haplodiploid, and they share many genes, but they are separated by about 100 million years and have evolved different strategies. So it’s not clear what, if anything, haplodiploidy might explain about eusociality. Newer theories are considering things like the effect of varying levels of nutrition on bodyplans as a means of control within the nest. We’re still missing something fundamental. “Brain transcriptomic analysis in paper wasps identifies genes associated with behaviour across social insect lineages,” A. L. Toth, K. Varala, M. T. Henshaw, S. L. Rodriguez-Zas, M. E. Hudson, G. E. Robinson, Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 277(1691):2139-2148, 2010. “Death of an order: a comprehensive molecular phylogenetic study confirms that termites are eusocial cockroaches,” D. Inward, G. Beccaloni, P. Eggleton, Biology Letters, 3(3):331-335, 2007. “A comprehensive phylogenetic analysis of termites (Isoptera) illuminates key aspects of their evolutionary biology,” D. J. G. Inward, A. P. Vogler, P. Eggleton, Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 44(3):953-967, 2007. “Wasp Gene Expression Supports an Evolutionary Link Between Maternal Behavior and Eusociality,” A. L. Toth, K. Varala, T. C. Newman, F. E. Miguez, S. K. Hutchison, D. A. Willoughby, J. F. Simons, M. Egholm, J. H. Hunt, M. E. Hudson, G. E. Robinson, Science, 318(5849):441-444, 2007. “Nutritional status influences socially regulated foraging ontogeny in honey bees,” A. L. Toth, S. Kantarovich, A. F. Meisel, G. E. Robinson, Journal of Experimental Biology, 208(24):4641-4649, 2005. “Bivoltinism as an Antecedent to Eusociality in the Paper Wasp Genus Polistes,” J. H. Hunt, G. V. Amdam, Science, 308(5719):264-267, 2005. The Insects: An Outline of Entomology, P. J. Gullan and P. S. Cranston, Wiley-Blackwell, Third Edition, 2005, pages 320-324.

[Darwin on the colonial insects]
Darwin, when he was working on his theory of natural selection, struggled with termites and similar species. Partly because of them he held off publishing his Origin of Species for almost 20 years.

“I will not here enter on these several cases, but will confine myself to one special difficulty, which at first appeared to me insuperable, and actually fatal to my whole theory. I allude to the neuters or sterile females in insect-communities: for these neuters often differ widely in instinct and in structure from both the males and fertile females, and yet, from being sterile, they cannot propagate their kind....

If a working ant or other neuter insect had been an ordinary animal, I should have unhesitatingly assumed that all its characters had been slowly acquired through natural selection; namely, by individuals having been born with slight profitable modifications, which were inherited by the offspring, and that these again varied and again were selected, and so onwards. But with the working ant we have an insect differing greatly from its parents, yet absolutely sterile; so that it could never have transmitted successively acquired modifications of structure or instinct to its progeny. It may well be asked how it is possible to reconcile this case with the theory of natural selection?

But I must confess, that, with all my faith in natural selection, I should never have anticipated that this principle could have been efficient in so high a degree, had not the case of these neuter insects led me to this conclusion. I have, therefore, discussed this case, at some little but wholly insufficient length, in order to show the power of natural selection, and likewise because this is by far the most serious special difficulty which my theory has encountered.”

On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, Charles Darwin, 1859, Hayes Barton Press, Reprint Edition, 2007, pages 233 and 238.

For something of Darwin’s extensive struggles over many years with this particular problem, see: Darwin and the Emergence of Evolutionary Theories of Mind and Behavior, Robert J. Richards, University of Chicago Press, 1987, pages 142-156.

[Darwin’s ‘one special difficulty’—the evolution of cooperation]
Biologists fight over individual selection versus group selection. That is, whether what matters is the individual or the group. Of importance here is that we understand pretty well how things work for the individual because we have a strong strand of understanding for the individual that goes all the way down to the gene, so we have a clear understanding in terms of inheritance. That doesn’t work well for groups because the group may have the same unit of inheritance, but supposedly a different unit of selection (that is, the group, not the individual—or rather, the gene).

Most biologists are in the ‘individualist’ camp; only a few are in the ‘group’ camp, with various variants of multilevel or group selection (some even argue that inclusive fitness, the current form of the old classical fitness, which is a weighted sum that includes close as well as lineal kin, can be viewed as a kind of group selection), trying to grope toward some understanding of how it could fit in to the rest of well-understood selection. This is especially touchy when it comes to us because of how valued altruism is. The biology of how all life works is confused with the philosophy of human action. This argument has been going on since at least the 1960s when G. C. Williams (Adaptation and Natural Selection) clashed with V. C. Wynne Edwards (Animal Dispersion in Relation to Social Behavior), and it flares up from time to time, most recently between E. O. Wilson (and fellow travelers, like D. S. Wilson and M. J. Wade) versus many others in 2010.

Cooperation is a problem if all biology is purely individual. In 2010, biologists were still arguing about cooperators, and termites in particular. Using Hamilton’s theory of kin selection, geneticists might be able to explain why ants, bees, and wasps behave as they do, since they’re haplodiploid, but not termites (also aphids, naked mole rats, and snapping shrimp) since they’re diploid. Termites in a nest aren’t near-clones the way bees in a hive are. They aren’t even a separate order of animals. They’re really cockroaches. Why aren’t they loners, like other roaches—and nearly all other animals? Ditto for mole rats, and the few rare others.

“The evolution of eusociality,” M. A. Nowak, C. E. Tarnita, E. O. Wilson, Nature, 466(7310):1057–1062, 2010. “Darwin’s ‘one special difficulty’: celebrating Darwin 200,” J. M. Herbers, Biology Letters, 5(2):214-217, 2009. “Ancestral Monogamy Shows Kin Selection is Key to the Evolution of Eusociality,” W. H. O. Hughes, B. P. Oldroyd, M. Beekman, F. L. W. Ratnieks, Science, 320(5880):1213-1216, 2008. “One Giant Leap: How Insects Achieved Altruism and Colonial Life,” E. O. Wilson, BioScience, 58(1):17, 2008. “The emergence of a superorganism through intergroup competition,” H. K. Reeve, A. Hölldobler, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(23):9736-9740, 2007. “Kin Selection as the Key to Altruism: its Rise and Fall,” E. O. Wilson, Social Research, 72(1):159-166, 2005. “The rise, fall and resurrection of group selection,” M. E. Borrello, Endeavor, 29(1):43-47, 2005. “Evolution of eusociality and the soldier caste in termites: a validation of the intrinsic benefit hypothesis,” E. A. Roux, J. Korb, Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 17(4):869-875, 2004. “Influence of environmental conditions on the expression of the sexual dispersal phenotype in a lower termite: implications for the evolution of workers in termites,” J. Korb, S. Katrantzis, Evolution and Development, 6(5):342-352, 2004. “The origin of a ’true’ worker caste in termites: mapping the real world on the phylogenetic tree,” P. Grandcolas, C. D’Haese, Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 17(2):461-463, 2004. “On the origin of termite workers: weighing up the phylogenetic evidence,” G. J. Thompson, O. Kitade, N. Lo, R. H. Crozier, Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 17(3):720, 2004. “Evolution of eusociality and the soldier caste in termites: Influence of intraspecific competition and accelerated inheritance,” B. L. Thorne, N. L. Breisch, M. L. Muscedere, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100(22):12808-12813, 2003. “Within-colony relatedness in a termite species: Genetic roads to eusociality?” C. Husseneder, R. Brandl, C. Epplen, J. T. Epplen, M. Kaib, Behaviour, 136(9):1045-1063, 1999. “Evolution of Eusociality in Termites,” B. L. Thorne, Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 28:27-54, 1997. “The Evolution of Eusociality,” M. Andersson, Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 15:165-189, 1984. “The Evolution of Eusociality in Termites: A Haplodiploid Analogy?” R. C. Lacy, The American Naturalist, 116(3):449-451, 1980.
[food sharing in termites]
A termite colony persists because all its parts, both passive and active, interact to meet threats to its survival. For example, each day’s foragers, returning with full tummies, face a hungry nest. Termites that need food will touch them in special ways, then feed mouth-to-mouth (in some cases, mouth-to-anus). The colony thus acts as if it’s one life-form whose stomach tells its hands which parts of it are hungry. The two forms of feeding are called stomodeal (mouth-to-mouth) and proctodeal (anus-to-mouth). Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University Press, 2000, pages 206-209.

At least in ants, food-gathering changes depending on the nutritional needs of the colony as a whole. A colony’ foragers are in a strong sense the colony’s ‘hands’ and not independent animals. “Communal Nutrition in Ants,” A. Dussutour, S. J. Simpson, Current Biology, 19(9):740-744, 2009.

[termite colonies, extended phenotypes, extended organisms, superorganisms, and swarms]
There have been recent attempts to merge the idea of an organism and a superorganism, both on the theoretical front and on the econometric front. “Energetic basis of colonial living in social insects,” C. Hou, M. Kaspari, H. B. Vander Zanden, J. F. Gillooly, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(8):3634-3638, 2010. “Beyond society: the evolution of organismality,” D. C. Queller, J. E. Strassmann, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, B, 364(1533):3143-3155, 2009. “Extended Phenotype – But Not Too Extended. A Reply to Laland, Turner and Jablonka,” R. Dawkins, Biology and Philosophy, 19(3):377–396, 2004. “The Superorganism Metaphor: Then and Now,” S. D. Mitchell, in Biology as Society, Society as Biology: Metaphors, Sabine Maasen, Everett Mendelsohn, and Peter Weingart (editors), Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1995, pages 231-248.

In particular, Queller and Strassman argue that: “many of the traits commonly used to define organisms are not essential. These non-essential traits include physical contiguity, indivisibility, clonality or high relatedness, development from a single cell, short-term and long-term genetic cotransmission, germ–soma separation and membership in the same species.”

Also, Dawkins, while not arguing for superorganisms but arguing against ‘niche construction’ wrote this: “the analogy of [termite] mound with organism stands up well. The fact that we have a heterogeneously sourced genetic input to the embryology of the phenotype doesn’t matter.... Each new [termite] nest is founded by a single queen (or king and queen) who then, with a lot of luck, produces a colony of workers who build the mound. The founding genetic injection is, by the standards of a million-strong termite colony, an impressively small bottleneck. The same is, at least quantitatively, true of the gut symbionts with which all termites in the new nest are infected by anal licking, ultimately from the queen—the bottleneck. And the same is quantitatively true of the fungus, which is carefully transported, as a small inoculum, by the founding queen from her natal nest. All the genes that pass from a parent mound to a daughter mound do so in a small, shared package. By the bottleneck criterion, the termite mound passes muster as an extended organism, even though it is the phenotype of a teeming mass of genes sitting in many thousands of workers.... every organism (conventionally defined) is already a symbiotically cooperating union of its ‘own’ genes. What draws them, in a Darwinian sense, to cooperate is again ‘bottlenecking’: a shared statistical expectation of the future.”

The general idea of an ‘organism of organisms’ goes back at least as far as Harvard entomologist William Morton Wheeler in 1911. Over time it died out then was revived, particularly by another Harvard entomologist, E. O. Wilson. It’s an idea that falls into and out of favor depending on how much biologists are willing to consider whether a ‘superorganism’ can be a unit of natural selection, the same way that an organism is.

The use in the text, though, is less about whether a ‘superorganism’ can be selected for by evolution than what might be the beginnings of a more detailed analysis of whether such a thing might be considered to even be alive. The very name ‘superorganism’ begs the question since it implicitly assumes that to be the case. It needs to be jettisoned, at least for the time being, until what it’s describing is better understood. Hence the substitute term ‘swarm.’

In 1979, Hofstadter sketched an extended metaphor for symbols and signals in both ant colonies and human brains. In this metaphor, an ant colony’s actions might be seen as a series of symbols. “Ant Fugue,” Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Brain, Douglas R. Hofstadter, Basic Books, 1979.

In 1982, Dawkins argued that the effects of genes in the body (the phenotype) and its environment (the extended phenotype) is as important as the genes themselves (the genotype). “The gene’s extended phenotypic effect, say an increase in the height of the [beaver] dam, affects its chances of survival precisely in the same sense as in the case of a gene with a normal phenotypic effect, such as an increase in the length of the [beaver’s] tail. The fact that the dam is the shared product of the building behaviour of several beavers does not alter the principle: genes that tend to make beavers build high dams will themselves, on average, tend to reap the benefits (or costs) of high dams, even though every dam may be jointly built by several beavers.” The Extended Phenotype: The Long Reach of the Gene, Richard Dawkins, Oxford University Press, New Edition, 1999, page 209.

In 2000, Turner argued that we might also consider animal-built structures as ‘external organs,’ just as if they were hearts of lungs. The Extended Organism: The Physiology of Animal-Built Structures, J. Scott Turner, Harvard University Press, 2000. (Although see: “Extended phenotype redux. How far can the reach of genes extend in manipulating the environment of an organism?,” P. Hunter, EMBO Reports, 10(3):212–215, 2009. “Extended Phenotype – But Not Too Extended. A Reply to Laland, Turner and Jablonka,” R. Dawkins, Biology and Philosophy, 19(3):377–396, 2004.)

The treatment in the text goes only one step further to point out that (short-term) pheromone trails and (longer-term) structural damages and (long-term) nest structure and (longest-term) genetic structure are also (synergetically bonded) parts of a termite swarm. It’s ‘brain’ thus has four levels of memory: the (shortest-term) scent trails, the (longer-term) nest damages, the (long-term) persistent nest structure, and the (longest-term) termite genetic structure. Like any brain, it also has sensors to detect changes in its world. It also has an attention mechanism to specify what changes to focus on when. And it has effectors to alter its world. All those parts are synergetically bonded into one distributed being.

The analogy to our species, the things we do and say, the artifacts we build and pass on, and our genetic inheritance, then follows. The idea is also related to recent work in both anthropology and in cognitive science on ourselves as cyborgs. For example, see: Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence, Andy Clark, Oxford University Press, 2003.

[Aristotle on the political animals]
History of Animals, Aristotle, Book I, Part I, Section 11.
[use of colonial insects as human models]
Six Legs Better: A Cultural History of Myrmecology, Charlotte Sleigh, John Hopkins University Press, 2007.

Life Is a Verb

[title]
A backhanded reference to “God is a verb.” No More Secondhand God and Other Writings, Buckminster Fuller, Southern Illinois University Press, 1963, page 28.
[...it needs matter and energy]
In physics, such systems are called ‘open systems.’ They’re also often called dissipative structures after Ilya Prigogine, a Nobel prize-winning physicist. They operate far from thermodynamic equilibrium within an environment that exchanges energy and matter with them. For a popular introduction, see: Order out of Chaos: Man’s new Dialogue with Nature, Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers, Bantam, 1984.

A case could be made that various writers made that one book the foundation for the wooly, touchy-feely beliefs that became New Ageism. For the more scientifically inclined, a suitable corrective to that is: “Science of Chaos or Chaos in Science?” J. Bricmont, Physicalia Magazine, 17(3-4):159-208, 1995. (Incidentally, Bricmont cowrote Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science, Picador, 1999, a hilarious sendup of postmodern litcrit philosophy.)

[ways for an autopoietic network to die]
It can die in lots of ways. For example, it can be ‘poisoned.’ Some of the parts it ingests might react a bit like ‘food’ but then not go on to aid the right reactions.
[tit-for-tat]
It’s a simplification to say that “All surviving parts of every synergetic network are, and must be, ‘tit-for-tat.’ ” It’s conceivable that a synergetic network could develop ‘parasite parts’ or ‘parasite reactions’ which depend on the working of the whole network but don’t give anything back to the parts of the network. Why such things don’t arise, or if they do arise why they don’t swamp every synergetic network until nothing functions, is a mystery. If it’s true that synergetic networks repress them, it may have something to do not with natural selection and the usual (aggregative) population dynamics per se, but population dynamics as laid out in space. In at least one model, parasites are discouraged because the reaction network is spread out in space, a complication that the simple model in the text doesn’t address. “Hypercycles versus parasites in the origin of life: model dependence in spatial hypercycle systems,” M. B. Cronhjort, Origins of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere, 25(1-3):227-233, 1995 “Invading Wave of Cooperation in a Spatial Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma,” R. Ferriere, R. E. Michod, Proceedings: Biological Sciences, 259(1354):77-83, 1995. “Spiral wave structure in prebiotic evolution: Hypercycles stable against parasites,” M. C. Boerlijst, P. Hogeweg, Physica D: Nonlinear Phenomena, 48(1):17-28, 1991. However, see: “Host-Parasitoid Metapopulations: The Consequences of Parasitoid Aggregation on Spatial Dynamics and Searching Efficiency,” P. Rohani, O. Miramontes, Proceedings: Biological Sciences, 260(1359):335-342, 1995. Some simulations even suggest that parasitic symbiosis might be what drives a network toward synergy. “Self-Structuring on the Autocatalytic Network,” P.-J. Kim, H. Jeong, Journal of the Korean Physical Society, 44(3):621-623, 2004. “Spatio-temporal dynamics in the origin of genetic information,” P.-J. Kim, H. Jeong, Physica D: Nonlinear Phenomena, 203(1-2):88-99, 2005. All of the above are simulations of one sort or another. Understanding how synergy works in real systems (all of which are spatially dispersed) is still very much a work-in-progress. “From population dynamics to ecoinformatics: Ecosystems as multilevel information processing systems,” P. Hogeweg, Ecological Informatics, 2(2):103-111, 2007. “Multilevel selection in models of prebiotic evolution: compartments and spatial self-organization,” P. Hogeweg, N. Takeuchi, Origins of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere, 33(4):375-403, 2003.
[hyperbolic growth]
In daily life we’re used to the idea of linear growth (something changes by an additive constant every timestep), and now with our growth in population, computers, and computer networks we’re becoming used to the idea of exponential growth (growth changes by a constant multiplier every timestep). Hyperbolic growth, however, dwarfs exponential growth. It occurs when not only is something increasing in proportion to some resource, but the amount of resource available to support that increasing thing is also increasing (growth changes in multipliers that are themselves growing with each timestep). For example, imagine two bugs in a box and imagine that bugs could replicate once a minute. If only two bugs at a time are allowed to replicate in any one minute then we have linear growth. At the end of 6 minutes we would have 12 bugs. However, if every bug replicates each minute then we have exponential growth. At the end of 6 minutes we would have 64 bugs. Then, if each bug replicates as many times every minute as the square of the number of bugs in the dish at the beginning of that minute then we have hyperbolic growth. At the end of 6 minutes we would have 4,294,967,296 bugs.

Note the difference between the exponential case and the hyperbolic case. In the exponential case, each bug makes a bug, so 2 + 2 = 4, 4 + 4 = 8. In the hyperbolic case, each bug helps every other bug make another bug, so 2 + 2 = 4, 4 (original) + 12 (each of the 4 bugs makes 3 more bugs, since there are 3 assistants) = 16. More formally, here are the recurrences: define: b(n) = number of bacteria at the end of time step n and assume that b(1) = 2
linear:

b1(n) = (b1(n-1)) + 2 [solution: b1(n) = 2n]
exponential:
b2(n) = (b2(n-1)) * 2 [solution: b2(n) = 2n]
hyperbolic:
b3(n) = (b3(n-1)) 2 [solution: b3(n) = 22n-1]

Few natural processes occur hyperbolically. An epidemic is one example. Hyperbolic growth is insupportable in the long run, whenever it occurs—nuclear explosions, autocatalytic reactions, epidemics, and so on. Once initiated, it forces a short, sharp shock, and either total collapse or a supremely rapid phase change to an entirely different regime of existence. Life from non-life, the collapse of a star into a black hole, an exploding hydrogen bomb, are some possible examples. Further, the word ‘hyperbolic’ is not correct mathematically, but it’s common in the population growth literature. Some reaction chemists have tried ‘parabolic,’ with the intent of suggesting that the growth rate grows as the square of the catalyst, but that’s not quite right either, since it can be confused with the growth rate itself. In mathematics, we would say ‘super-exponential,’ but that includes all mathematical functions that grow faster than exponential speed, not just those that grow at quadratically exponential speeds (the ones called ‘hyperbolic’ in this book). The fact that we don’t have common words, even in math, for such immense speeds shows just how rare they are in our everyday world.

[von Neumann on self-replication in 1948]
“Von Neumann’s Self-Reproducing Automata,” 491-552, in Papers of John Von Neumann on Computing and Computer Theory, William Aspray and Arthur Burks (editors), MIT Press, 1987. Theory of Self-reproducing Automata, John von Neumann, edited by Arthur Burks, University of Illinois Press, 1966.
[partial cell wiring diagram]
Used by permission. It is the third diagram in Figure 6 of “Molecular interaction map of the mammalian cell cycle control and DNA repair systems,” K. W. Kohn, Molecular Biology of the Cell, 10(8):2703-2734, 1999.
[problems defining life]
Even with this extended definition of life and biology, there are still sports and problem cases: fires, virii, prions, and mules. Intuitively, it seems that mules are alive since they can’t replicate but they do self-persist. But a virus, a prion, and a fire each my ’self-persist’ too, at least in the sense that each may be parts of a potentially self-persisting cycle. It’s just that they don’t carry within themselves all the machinery they need to persist, any more than a rock does.
[human body has ten times as many non-human cells as human cells]
“A dynamic partnership: Celebrating our gut flora,” C. L. Sears, Anaerobe, 11(5):247-251, 2005.
[10 billion cells a day commit suicide]
“Spatial and Temporal Dynamics of Mitochondrial Membrane Permeability Waves during Apoptosis,” P. D. Bhola, A. L. Mattheyses, S. S. Simon, Biophysical Journal, 97(8):2222-2231, 2009. “Determinism and divergence of apoptosis susceptibility in mammalian cells,” P. D. Bhola, S. S. Simon, Journal of Cell Science, 122(23):4296-4302, 2009.
[number of proteins in a cell]
The figure of 50 million quoted in the text is a highly crude estimate. It’s based on a lower-limit estimate of 46.5 proteins in the average yeast cell during its exponential growth phase. Cells range widely in size and in composition so this may not even be a correct order-of-magnitude estimate of the total number of bioactive molecules in the average cell (never mind the total number of molecules, bioactive or not) in the ‘average’ cell. “The hard cell: From proteomics to a whole cell model,” M. J. Betts, R. B. Russell, FEBS Letters, 581(15):2870-2876, 2007. The other numbers provided in the texts are fairly well supported via volumetric methods, but they too are estimates for the ‘average’ cell.

Beware of the Dog

[Aristotle on complex networks]
Contrary to the simple view sketched in the text, Aristotle didn’t entirely ignore that question. In his Politics, he considered whether a city was natural or artificial. He argued that it was more natural than not, and its chief purpose was to become self-sufficient. However, his concern was more with governance than with network structure or dynamics. He couldn’t imagine any other condition than ruler and ruled. So a termite colony, for example, would have baffled him. Or rather, he would have assumed that its queen (which he thought a king) must rule. So that still leaves open the question of how complex adaptive networks can arise even if we don’t plan them but do plan their parts. In the Politics Aristotle uses ‘nature’ in a different sense than he does in the Physics and other works. In his other works there is a clear distinction between made things and natural things, so he has a problem with a city, which is neither (or rather, an amalgam).

This point was first made by Keyt, then addressed by others, pro or con: Barker, Miller, Saunders, Nederman, Arendt, Mulgan, and others. The Challenge of Physis: Reconciling Nature and Reason in Aristotle’s "Politics", Adriel M. Trott, ProQuest Dissertations, 2008, especially pages 42-45, and Chapter 3 (pages 131-189). “Priority, Nature, and Political Animals in Aristotle’s Politics,” S. C. Welnak, in Cygnifiliana: Essays in Classics, Comparative Literature, and Philosophy Presented to Professor Roy Arthur Swanson on the Occasion of his Seventy-Fifth Birthday, Peter Lang Publishing, 2005, pages 166-189. Political Nature: Environmentalism and the Interpretation of Western thought, John M. Meyer, MIT Press, 2001, pages 108-112. “The Puzzle of the Political Animal: Nature and Artifice in Aristotle’s Political Theory,” C. J. Nederman, The Review of Politics, 56(2)283-304, 1994. “Three Fundamental Theorems in Aristotle’s "Politics",” D. Keyt, Phronesis, 32(1):54-79, 1987. The Politics, Aristotle, translated by T. A. Sinclair, edited by Trevor J. Saunders, Penguin Classics, Revised Edition, 1981, pages 55-59.

[polar bear fur]
Teleology Revisited and Other Essays in the Philosophy and History of Science, Ernest Nagel, Columbia University Press, 1979, page 298.
[Aristotle and polar bears]
Aristotle did indeed consider this question in Book II of his Physics, while attacking the Atomist’s idea that life arose via random recombinations. (Empedocles was born a century before Aristotle was born, and nearly all his writings are now lost.) “A difficulty presents itself: why should not nature work, not for the sake of something, nor because it is better so, but just as the sky rains, not in order to make the corn grow, but of necessity? What is drawn up must cool, and what has been cooled must become water and descend, the result of this being that the corn grows. Similarly if a man’s crop is spoiled on the threshing-floor, the rain did not fall for the sake of this—in order that the crop might be spoiled—but that result just followed. Why then should it not be the same with the parts in nature, e.g. that our teeth should come up of necessity—the front teeth sharp, fitted for tearing, the molars broad and useful for grinding down the food—since they did not arise for this end, but it was merely a coincident result; and so with all other parts in which we suppose that there is purpose? Wherever then all the parts came about just what they would have been if they had come to be for an end, such things survived, being organized spontaneously in a fitting way; whereas those which grew otherwise perished and continue to perish, as Empedocles says his ’man-faced ox-progeny’ did.”

But, he goes on to say: “Such are the arguments (and others of the kind) which may cause difficulty on this point. Yet it is impossible that this should be the true view. For teeth and all other natural things either invariably or normally come about in a given way; but of not one of the results of chance or spontaneity is this true.” The Works of Aristotle, Volume II: Physica, Aristotle, Book II, Part VIII, J. A. Smith and W. D. Ross (editors), R. P. Hardie and R. K. Gaye Translation, Oxford University Press, 1952, page 27.

But this is far too literal a straw-man. He attacks the chance-based genesis sketch that Empedocles gave in his (now lost) poem, but does not treat the general idea seriously. Of course, had he done so we might never have heard of Darwin. For more detail on this question, see: Not by Design: Retiring Darwin’s Watchmaker, John O. Reiss, University of California Press, 2009.

[Lucretius quote]
“Nil ideo quoniam natum est in corpore, ut uti / Possemus, sed, quod natum est, id procreat usum.” (“Nothing originates in the body [in order] that we might use it, but what has originated, we find use for.”) De Rerum Natura, Lucretius, Book IV, 835-836.
[Aristotle on chance]
Aristotle wrote a lot on chance versus necessity in his Physics (especially Book II) and his Metaphysics.
[Aristotle on purpose]
This is a bit unfair to such a nuanced thinker, but the following quote might stand for his general position: “[P]lants exist for the sake of animals, and the other animals for the sake of men.” Poetics, Book I, Chapter 8, 1256b10-22.
[survival of the fit]
An idea that goes back at least as far as Kennth Boulding in his 1981 text, Evolutionary Economics (page 18). “Bio-Economics: Social Economy Versus the Chicago School,” J. M. Gowdy, International Journal of Social Economics, 14(1):32-42 1993. 42
[Aristotle believed that purpose was inherent]
Strictly speaking, that is only weakly true. Such a view is called ‘vitalism’ and, as it’s defined today, it only arose in the late seventeenth century as a reaction to the rising mechanical cosmos worldview. It posits that living things must have some special fluid or spark or force independent of any material substrate and that thus makes them different than non-living things. Aristotle is thus a vitalist only by courtesy. It’s more accurate to say that he thought of life as an irreducible fact of the cosmos, rather the way we today think of gravity or the speed of light.

“Vitalists hold that living organisms are fundamentally different from non-living entities because they contain some non-physical element or are governed by different principles than are inanimate things. In its simplest form, vitalism holds that living entities contain some fluid, or a distinctive ‘spirit’. In more sophisticated forms, the vital spirit becomes a substance infusing bodies and giving life to them; or vitalism becomes the view that there is a distinctive organization among living things.” From: “Vitalism,” W. Bechtel, R. C. Richardson, Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Nihilism to Quantum Mechanics, Volume 7, Edward Craig (editor), Taylor & Francis, 1998, pages 639-643.

[Aristotle, Newton, and Einstein]
For example, Aristotle thought that a stone fell because it was made mostly of earth, and not water or fire or air. In his cosmos, all things made of earth have a built-in drive to seek their ‘natural place,’ the center of the planet. To today’s ears, that may sound like gravity. But it’s not. For him, the earth was the center of the cosmos—and a fairly small cosmos it was, too. So when he threw a stone, it didn’t move as Newton would come to think it would—that is, under the action of the force of the throw plus air resistance plus a constant downward attraction to the planet. Nor did it move as Einstein would later come to think it would—that is, by sliding down the shortest path within the geometry of a local spacetime bent by the mass of the planet. Instead, it flew in a straight line, pushed by the air itself, then when the air stopped pushing it, its purpose took over, so it plummeted straight down to earth. Newton was less wrong than he was, and Einstein less wrong still, but Aristotle’s idea is less hard to understand, and most of us change our idea toolbase so slowly that Newton’s idea is the one that rules. Medieval Science, Technology, and Medicine: An Encyclopedia, Thomas Glick, Steven J. Livesey, and Faith Wallis (editors), Psychology Press, 2005, article on Impetus, pages 267-268.
[autopoietic human groups]
The idea is not original. Researchers have been attracted to biological metaphors such as autopoiesis at least since Maturana and Varela’s work in the late 1970s. “Can social systems be autopoietic? Bhaskan and Giddens’ social theories,” J. Mingers, Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 34(4):403-428, 2004. Social Systems, Niklas Luhmann, Stanford University Press, 1995. The view presented in the text, however, is of our entire species and not any particular subpart, such as a corporation or government. An enterprise, or even a government, is not a catalytically closed system sufficient unto itself. Our entire species plus all its products, however, is. Further, the main focus in the text is on the things we might be likely to say something quantitative about in the near future—reaction speed and dynamics. In short, the text is, or tries to be, relentlessly materialist.
[is there Someone Else here?]
It’s an idea that goes back at least 2,400 years to Plato and his anima mundi (‘world soul’). It appears in his creation myth, his Timaeus (sections 33b-37c), It also appears in his Statesman (268d-275c), Philebus (29e-30d), and Laws (891b-899d). Die Allseele in Platons Timaios, Mischa von Perger, B. G. Teubner, 1997. It’s surely far older than Plato, though, since he built on Pythagoras’ mythos, which goes back to earlier eastern beliefs.

Variants of the idea live on in Vladimir I. Vernadsky’s noosphere, which was modified by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. It also lives in James Lovelock’s more scientific Gaia musings, as well as H. G. Wells’ more socialist ideas, plus other more recent ideas. Metaman: The Merging of Humans and Machines into a Global Superorganism, Gregory Stock, Simon & Schuster, 1993. The Cosmic Blueprint: New Discoveries in Nature’s Creative Ability to Order the Universe, Paul Davies, William Heinemann, 1987. The Life Era: Cosmic Selection and Conscious Evolution, Eric Chaisson, W. W. Norton, 1987. Evolution: the Grand Synthesis, Ervin Laszlo, New Science Library, 1987. Gaia, A New Look at Life on Earth, James Lovelock, Oxford University Press, 1979. The Phenomenon of Man, Teilhard de Chardin, Harper & Row, 1959. World Brain, H. G. Wells, Methuen & Co., 1938.

Going further back in time leads to many more books that might qualify as millenniarist or eschatological, but they are seem predominantly religious rather than even vaguely scientifically founded. One in particular is worth noting as it has inspired many: The Divine Milieu: An Essay on the Interior Life, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Harper & Row, 1961. Finally, there are many political versions of the same eschatological vision which are both too numerous and too well-known to list here. They too are religious, or quasi-religious.

[candy aspirin]
While We Were Sleeping: Success Stories in Injury and Violence Prevention, David Hemenway, University of California Press, 2009, pages 37-39. Dangers to Children and Youth: Accidents...Poison...Prevention, Jay M. Arena, Moore Publishing Company, 1971, pages 411, 565. Child Safety Act and Personnel Training: Hearings, United States Congress, Eighty-ninth Congress, Second Session, House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, Subcommittee on Public Health and Welfare, United States Government Printing Office, 1966, pages 133-137. Child Safety Act and Personnel Training, Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Public Health and Welfare ... 89-2, on H.R. 13884, H.R. 14643, H.R. 13886, H.R. 14557, H.R. 14632, June 24; August 15, 29; September 12, 19, 1966
[Churchill on history]
“There is scarcely any more abundant source of error in history than the natural desire of writers—regardless of the overlapping and inter-play of memories, principles, prejudices and hopes, and the reaction of physical conditions—to discover or provide simple explanations for the actions of their characters.” Lord Randolph Churchill, Volume 2, Winston Spencer Churchill, Macmillan, 1906, page 248.
[...still far too much we don’t know]
For example: what core factors, other than obvious ones like our communications and transportation and distribution networks, are necessary for rapid change? What volume of flow along such channels is necessary before we can consider the parts that they connect one system? And how high must the fan-in or fan-out of the nodes in the network then be? Also, how exactly does our network densify? Can we, for example, predict how fast a particular innovation will spread? Or how many other parts of our network it will catalyze? And how quickly? Can we get a handle on precisely how a group’s reaction rate changes as we add various catalysts to it (books, phones, computers, roads, post offices, standing armies, democratic institutions, whatever)? If so, could we somehow tweak our future innovations, shaping them or directing them to achieve somewhat predictable goals? Further, can we tell what combination of inertial forces will drag a group back from a particular phase change that it appears headed toward? All the forces tentatively identified in the text are additive, but a real science of human material development would also have to take into account subtractive forces. Do we need to add anything to the theory other than sheer entropy to explain collapses? Can we predict when a group is about to collapse? Or when our species is about to go extinct? We can’t answer any of those questions today. Without a quantitative and predictive theory we’re still lost. We do, however, seem to be fumbling toward one. On a gross scale, the two networks, human and chemical, do seem to share many properties—at least by the flickering light of our currently, very incomplete, understanding of them. Perhaps decades from now we might have a theory of complex networks good enough to explain the behaviors of both kinds of networks as simple consequences of some even more general principles we’re too ignorant to see right now.
[...much we don’t understand]
The partial theory presented in the text seems to explain a few things: how we form networks, how such networks grow, why autocatalysis and synergy are crucial, why we’re not in complete control, and so on, and perhaps its explanations are at least complementary to our older theories of historical change, but it’s far too ad hoc to be considered science. It also doesn’t handle specific groups at specific times well. The situations are simply too complex.

For example, why did China not densify enough to ignite an industrial phase change in 1400? Was that triggered by climate change? Or was it related to the relative speeds of transport at the time versus the distances involved? Are transportation routes rather like neural links—unable to pass on a signal unless it’s delivered within some minimum time? Or perhaps it was that our technology at the time wasn’t strong enough to bear new fruit rapidly yet? Perhaps something fundamentally new happened to us when the telegraph finally separated communication from transportation? Or is it a combination of that and our relative amount of urbanization? Or do we also have to add in our relative farming efficiency? There are too many unknowns when trying to handle specific cases in specific times.

Many of our groups at one time or another have started densifying their network, then stayed stable, or even unraveled. Why? Is it just a random confluence of events (climate change plus rising prices plus prolonged war, for example) that then destroys the prior densification gains? Or is it something more systemic?

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Jared Diamond, Viking, 2004. The Collapse of Complex Societies, Joseph A. Tainter, Cambridge University Press, 1988. (But see the uneven collection: Questioning Collapse: Human Resilience, Ecological Vulnerability, and the Aftermath of Empire, Patricia A. McAnany and Norman Yoffee (editors), Cambridge University Press, 2009.)

Perhaps, though, those are the wrong questions. Maybe it’s more reasonable to assume that entropy will unravel all networks sooner or later, just as it unravels everything, then try to see what manages to keep the ball rolling in rare cases. For example, reactive forces crushed early mass production in Britain and France. Perhaps industrialization in Britain, for example, would have stopped eventually had not the United States, and then other countries taken the industrial ball and run away with it. It certainly seems that without large amounts of imported food from the United States, Canada, and Australia, Britain would have faced a serious problem by at least the 1880s. Similarly, a scientific revolution happened in ancient Greece, but it eventually petered out. Maybe the one in Europe didn’t peter out only because it was succeeded by an industrial phase change. So maybe today’s ease of handoff from one nation to the next is part of the key to our modern rapid growth? But back in the eleventh and twelfth centuries a large part of the then known world was already globalized.

The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy, Kenneth Pomeranz, Princeton University Press, 2000. Before European Hegemony: The World System A.D. 1250-1350, Janet L. Abu-Lughod, Oxford University Press, 1989.

[can a neuron know that it’s part of something larger?]
We have only a few weak analogies to try to examine such questions. Corporations, for example, are legal bodies that we treat like human beings for various legal purposes. They can be sued. They can own property. They exist apart from their equity owners and employees. But when one of them lawfully but deviously takes resources from another, could it be accused of theft? If one crushes another, could it ever be murder? Is there any sense to the idea of agency when applied to a corporate body separate from its human and non-human parts? A company isn’t its buildings. Nor is it its logo, CEO, employees, bylaws, marketing campaigns, union policy, loading-dock protocols, or bank accounts. It’s the self-persistent network that those parts jointly form. It’s a self-sustaining wave in an ocean made of such parts. (Physicists might call it a soliton.) Nations are similar. They’re not the same as their people, trade agreements, energy sources, research labs, roads, laws, beliefs. Ditto for religions, economies, ecosystems, mafias, the Ku Klux Klan. Can they be beings? Can they have agency? Can they have ‘desires’ or ‘predilections’ that we can reasonably say are separate from their parts? Of course, one big failing with such weak examples is that such bodies aren’t synergetically closed, self-sustaining entities. But a planet full of people is.

[evolving networks?]
Perhaps we might even be able to use that notion to help extend the theory of evolution to complex networks and not just their parts, for if such a network could come to exist, then over time there might be many of them, and as they grow denser they might all be competing with each other for some of the same resources. A form of evolution (perhaps not even dependent on genes) might then drive them into an efflorescence of variant forms. Perhaps those variants might even recombine with each other to form even more variants. If so, the result would be a variety of such networks, some more complex than others while others are less so. For that to happen, there needn’t be any particular drive to rising complexity, just rising diversity and density. Further, while that rising density and diversity might be fueled by randomness, it needn’t itself be random, nor need it be driven to produce random networks. Although our attention might be drawn to the more complex of such networks, that needn’t mean that anything is driven to produce them and only them. There’s no inherent drive toward complexity; Over time, living things can tend to simplicity just as easily as they can tend to complexity. All that matters is what is more likely to persist.
[using biology to understand human interaction]
Of course this is a dangerous idea. The following quote explains why: “Just as a cynic can assess roughly the eminence of a scientist by the length of time for which his theories are able to hold up the development of science after his death, so the value of concepts, in their own field, is measurable by the amount of harm they do when it is assumed that they apply in others. These assumptions are all the more dangerous because the fact that they are being made is often not recognised.” From: “Concepts out of Context: The Pied Pipers of Science,” N. W. Pirie, The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 2,(8):269-280, 1952.
[group trajectories]
The idea of groups having trajectories is of course crazy. Not to mention teleological. No one is smart enough to foresee all that could happen—as a look back at the changes we’ve been through in just the past few decades should show. However, it seems hard to argue with the metaphor between our groups and metastable phase changes of autocatalytic reaction networks. Of course, that similarity still doesn’t mean it’s not nonsense, either. If the idea has any force at all, multiple books on it should start appearing over the coming decades, for if the state of our knowledge is sufficient for one person to think it, then others are thinking it, too. If no such books appear, then we can safely discard the hypothesis. A few historians and anthropologists have already begun to dri