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David LePoireRSS Feed of this column.

Dave explores the connections between energy, the environment, and technology. He currently works at a U.S. national laboratory on a variety of environmental science and homeland security projects... Read More »

How would one detail in the past affect how technology and science evolved? The a recent blog I highlighted the unique role of fossil fuels in a transition from one energy sustainable society to another future potential society. I constructed the metaphor of this current transition as launching a rocket into orbit. The topic of what might have happened if oil never formed was addressed later.

Technology development and use is one of the distinguishing human characteristics.

How would one detail in the past affect how technology and science evolved?  This question comes up at many scales- sometimes personal introspection on what might have been or larger scale concerning world historical events.  It offers a way to do a thought experiment concerning the important aspects and how they are connected. However, the results might only be insightful but not definitive  because any  real experiment  can never be done.

Metaphors are an important way to facilitate understanding of new processes.  This metaphor is constructed based on the similarity of a rocket’s and civilization’s  transition from one stable state to another at a higher level accomplished using a limited supply of fuel.  For example, fossil fuels enable the transition from sustainable pre-industrial society to another more advanced sustainable society.  However, to realize this potential, society must transition to a sustainable energy supply since fossil fuels are dwindling. A major question is whether this global transition can be completed at the same time that global development continues to improve lifestyles and economic opportunities.

Many people have predicted the end of fundamental physics.  Often these are at the end of great progress such as the late 19th century when classical physics was quite well understood, or in the midst of such a flurry of action when it seems like all the pieces are coming together such as in the 1920’s and 1930’s in nuclear and quantum physics.  Clearly, there are many mysteries and surprises yet to uncover in fundamental physics but is there a pattern in its historical progress that might indicate where we are in its completion.  This type of analysis (also called logistic analysis or learning “S” curve patterns) have been often observed in business and the rate of technology development, e.g., steam en

The path leading to today's technological society has gone through several phases of evolution. Carl Sagan distinguished three main phases of evolution: biological evolution, development of the human mind, and human civilization. In each phase, the mechanism for storing and transmitting information radically changed. In biological evolution, DNA maintains the data and is expressed through proteins. In brain evolution, memory stores the data and cultural training passes the information. In human civilization, various means of abstract recording, e.g., writing is used and passed through books.

From the formation of the earth about 5 billion years ago, these three phases occur with almost equal ratios of durations, with transitions roughly 5 million and 5,000 years ago.