Sunday, April 27, 2014

"The 50 Greatest Breakthroughs Since the Wheel"

One aspect of the results will be evident as soon as you start looking through them: the debatability of the choices and rankings once you move beyond the first few. For instance, anesthesia (46), which, on its debut in 1846, began to distinguish surgery from torture, barely made the top 50, and that was only because one panelist pushed it hard. If I were doing the ranking, it would be in the top 10, certainly above the personal computer (16 on our final list). In this case the test for me is: Which would I miss more if it didn’t exist? (Our panelist John Doerr, a well-known technology investor, said he worked his way through his own top‑25 list using a similar set of “pairwise comparisons,” asking which technology he would miss more.) I rely on personal computers, but I got along fine before their introduction; I still remember a dental procedure in England when the National Health Service didn’t pay for novocaine.


Which would you remove and replace with something else? What would you rank higher than it is listed? What would your top five be?


Lem said...

14. Gunpowder, 10th century
Outsourced killing to a machine

Deus ex machine?

edutcher said...

Replace the pill with the Bible.

Freedom without discipline and responsibility is always trouble.

deborah said...

Ed, you know the Word was the alpha and the omega :)

But I take your point, of course.

Paddy O said...

Yeah, the Pill doesn't really fit. I mean I get the goal, but it's not like it fundamentally changed human nature or even was the only option.

If the pill was fundamentally socially transforming, there wouldn't be need to talk about abortion, since the pill would have solved the issue of unwanted pregnancies.

There's also still the trouble with STDs and such, so that the Pill promised a sexual freedom that it couldn't really provide.

The trouble with the Pill is that it didn't actually change anything.

I didn't read the list thoroughly. Is beer there? Beer is definitely more important than the Pill.

Paddy O said...

The Bible is good too. But, I quibble with the idea that it's a human breakthrough. God trying to break through, sure.

chickelit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chickelit said...


The Voltaic pile


Olefin Polymerization

X-Ray applications

Things I never wrote about but should:

The solid state diode and triode;

The cathode ray tube;

Sanger's DNA sequencing and subsequent improvements.

Applications of magnetic resonance

AllenS said...

Edible underwear. So, there's that.

Chip Ahoy said...

The amazing brush pen is not on the list.

Paper 2nd century. tsk tsk papyrus 1st dynasty papyrus, papier, paper

Nitrogen fixation 1918. tsk tsk three sisters

sanitation systems 19th century. tsk tsk sanitation systems from prehistory

Gunpowder 10th century. tsk tsk Tang dynasty 9th century

Compass 12th century. Jesus Christ can I stand this b.s.? Try 4th century

Jesus just now told me it's Sunday, knock it off. So I stopped.

Paddy O said...

When was bacon invented? That should be on the list.

edutcher said...

Patrick O said...

The Bible is good too. But, I quibble with the idea that it's a human breakthrough. God trying to break through, sure.

OK, then, the idea of the necessity of a moral code to delineate right from wrong; particularly, one that transcends place and time, one that is immutable.

That's what the Bible does.

(maybe that's the way I should have put it)

William said...

TV makes the top fifty, but it was more a burden than a convenience until the invention of the remote control.....Same thing with bacon. Microwave bacon is what made this delicacy available for the masses.

William said...

What did people do with their toenails before the invention of toenail clippers?

deborah said...

Allen is that in your top five?

Chip, wow, Atlantic blows. That is disgusting. As I skimmed the list, I think my brain did a subconscious mini-flicker over paper. PUH-LEEZE, who doesn't know the Egpytians invented 'paper.' But to be fair to these bozos, they probably meant modern paper from wood pulp.

Evi L. Bloggerlady said...

The alphabet/written language #1, certainly more important that the printing press.

What is missing and is critical is time (via clocks). The measurement of time is a fundamental shift of thought.

rcocean said...

Airplanes and TV are two of the worst, and most worthless inventions ever.

We'd all be better off with trains, steamships and radio.

rcocean said...

The whole "modern sanitation" is puzzling.

Most important inventions, other than medical, are the agricultural ones. We just forget that it used to take 1 family to feed two back in the 19th century. When 50% of the population has to just grow food, the opportunity for leisure and industry are greatly reduced.