Novelty at a Pace

To go back to the thought experiment I presented in an earlier post; when stone age man (or woman) had fire and a wheel, in principle they had the automobile, although they couldn’t make one. To get the automobile was just filling in, which took an amount of time determined by population growth. My question is what kind of genius, or vision, or imagination would it have taken for the stone age person to look at the fire, look at the wheel, and say to themselves “I could make heat move the wheel”? Would that be a moment of genius? Was it natural human dullness and inertia that prevented that thought from occurring to someone? Or did it occur, but was lost because the realization was impossible? Each invention enables others, so there are many intermediate steps from simple fire and wheel to a working automobile. But what I’m getting at is the complete falseness of the rhetoric of invention today. One can never “think outside the box.” The absolute horizon of invention is what we can touch with our hands and feel with our bodies—cut, shape, join, move. Possibilities are all material. That IS the box, and it’s impossible to think outside the box because there is no such place. There is no “virtual reality,” or information economy or realm of digital media. There’s plenty of fantasies floating around in people’s heads, for sure, but reality is all material and full of material possibilities. The consequence is that all inventions are obvious, and indeed they are. Why they appear at one time and place and not another is mere chance, which we call history.

Robert Linsley, Untitled watercolor (Fire) 2014

Robert Linsley, Untitled watercolor (Fire) 2014

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