Still in the Stone Age

We're still in the stone age

Over the course of mankind’s development, we have so far never actually created any new thing. We’ve only ever manipulated and rearranged the rough materials we’ve found lying around. Everything ever made, from the caveman’s stone axe to the physicist’s particle accelerator, has all been crafted from rocks, sticks or mud.

Doubt that? Consider …

Take any modern material, such as plastic. It’s made from petroleum, right? So, your polyester-acrylic blend shirt and your Tupperware bowl are made from highly processed mud.

The world’s tallest skyscrapers? The beams and girders are made of steel, and steel is just rocks – highly processed, to be sure, but steel begins as rocks (ore) dug from the ground. In a very real sense, a skyscraper is just a huge stone hut.

Now, we might add to the list such things as bones, skin (leather) and hair (such as wool and feathers), just to satisfy the sticklers, but these materials are mostly on the downtrend. Besides, these also are just stuff we have at hand, like the rocks, sticks and mud.

When we build things here on planet Earth, we freely make things. We put together new designs, draft new devices, discover new ways to manipulate materials, and we call that “creativity.”

But honestly, now, do you know of anyone anywhere who’s creating any kind of new material from scratch? From zero? No processing or refining of an existing material, but rather the real, actual, honest-to-God creation of a new material out of “nothing” – or rather, out of nothing physical.

Okay, I’ll wait here while you go and Google it.

So somebody’s going to come back and point to the creation of new trans-uranic, super-heavy elements in a powerful particle collider (or whatever they’re using this year).

And I remind you that every one of those materials began as rocks, dug from the ground, and then exquisitely refined. But rocks, nonetheless.

When we look at it from this perspective, the growth of civilization seems less a creative process and more one involving increasingly sophisticated refinements of what’s lying at our feet.

We proudly point to our progression from stone age to bronze age to iron age and beyond and are proud. (And we should be.) But the fact is, we’re still firmly in the stone age. Steel, aluminum, silicon, polonium, and all the other metals we build with are, as I’ve said, just rocks.

So my question – my challenge – is this: who’s looking for a way to create physical materials from “nothing”? Who’s trying to get beyond the rocks, the sticks and the mud and actually CREATE something?

Who’s going to take us, finally, out of this stone age?

Cheers from sunny Japan,
Charles

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