Ancient Greeks, Tradition and the Nature of Things


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We owe our terms atom and element to early ancient Greek philosophers such as Democritus and Empedocles, but science owes something more fundamental to these philosophers who wrote about phusis $\phi \upsilon \sigma \iota \varsigma$ from whence we get the term physics. “Phusis” is usually translated as nature, although its meaning more nuanced than that.

The nature of something is the way it happens to be, or the way it “is”, often with the understanding that the only thing that “is” constant, is change. Empedocles’ four elements; air, earth, fire and water and, the two forces, love and strife (attraction and repulsion) is a way to explain the nature of things, as is Democritus’ atoms in motion.

As systems of scientific explanation, these are more basic than our modern periodic table and atomic models. Nor are they the result of empirical observation, but rather they are the result of a kind of reasoning about existence and things. In order to understand these systems, we should appreciate where they came from, rather than criticize them for not doing modern science.

Before philosophy began, things were defined by tradition and custom. A thing was defined first by being familiar and second, by the tradition that had been handed down about it. The older the tradition, the more authoritative it was. It had survived the test of time. People also were defined in their culture by tradition in much the same way. They were members of, and had loyalty to, a family clan. The taint of murder and other crimes shamed the family and transferred from generation to generation. Occupations were hereditary. In other words, if it was good enough for your father and for his father, it was good for you.

Tradition and custom were the way of the world for thousands of years. Ancient Greece was the first to get out of this pattern. How was it that Greece began to get out of the Dictates of Tradition as the sole guide for what everything is and how it is?

The Greeks, unlike more mature cultures such as Egypt and Babylon, consisted of hundreds of modest little communities, each with their own laws, their own customs, and their own traditions. Going from one community to another, a traveler could lose his awe of his own native traditions and come to wonder which of the hundreds of different sets of traditions were the best. Finally, he realizes that while several communities had aged traditions that withstood the test of time, no community had the best beliefs about all things, the world and people.

The search for the best traditions, laws and customs leads to the search of nature. Much of this search originally was a search into what we would call the physical nature of things, and only later beginning with Socrates, would become a search for human nature, including into the political nature of man. Nature is something older than tradition, even if “it” does not actually exist, but is only a potentiality. For example, it is part of the nature of water that it freezes at $0^{\circ}C$. One can live in the tropics and never have seen water freeze, but it still would be part of the nature of water that it freezes at $0^{\circ}C$.

Tradition emphasizes stability, continuity. Nature, on the other hand, tends be about how and why things change. Now, with the experimental method, Science has us creating changes in a thing and observing with the use of mathematics and advanced instrumentation what happens in response to those changes. However, all this started with the ancient Greeks going beyond tradition and looking at phusis, exploring the nature of what is best. Whether we have found the best or whether we are even still in sight of that path, is a question for another time, which for now, I will leave it up to the reader to judge.

“On the Relation of Hydrogen to Palladium”

Thomas Graham describes some of his first results investigating the properties of hydrogen-infused palladium in a paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London in 1869.

The link below opens the Proceedings book scanned to a .pdf by Google books in a new tab.

What’s really cool is the guy was a numismatist as well as a researching chemist – and Master of the Mint!

1976 Edison Electric Institute pamphlet

I love old information.

Rather, I love the way old information is presented, for the very act of noticing that a document is old has littler to do with its content than the presentation, the words, the pictures, the style, the medium.

In 1976, the Viking 2 spacecraft landed on Mars, and Apple Computer was formed.

In 1976, the gold price hit a bottom of $102 per ounce, oil averaged $12.37 a barrel, and the United States celebrated its 200th birthday.

And in that year, M. King Hubbert, who in 1956 correctly predicted the peak of oil production in the US would be between 1965 and 1970 (peak production in the lower 48 occurred 1970/1), made a video clip explaining his idea of Peak Oil to the public.

Also that year, Edison Electric Institute, Inc, the Association of Shareholder Owned Electric Companies in the US, put out a pamphlet describing the changes that would be occurring in our lives due to the depletion of fossil fuels.

Entitled The Transitional Storm -Or The Changing Energy Epoch, the four-page pamphlet has a brief history of human energy use, describing how each energy epoch has transitioned from one type of fuel to another somewhat smoothly, meaning that historically, humanity has been able to discover new forms of power generation and fuel before the previous technologies fuel ran out.

In other words, we found coal before all the trees were burned. We found oil before all the coal was burned.

However, they go on to say, “Today it is different.”

The fossil-fuel epoch and the next age are not completely interlocking. There is some overlap, but there also is a large supply-demand gap, and we call this gap a “transitional storm”-you’ve heard it called an “Energy Crisis.

The essay quotes M. King Hubbert as saying that a full 80% of the total global supply of fossil fuel will have been consumed in “the incredibly short period of only 300 years.”

In other words, the Oil Age is on the down-slope.

But there is hope for the future. According to Edward Teller, the laws of thermodynamics say our energy sources are virtually inexhaustible. From page 2,

As Edward Teller puts it, “Thermodynamics teaches us that unlimited energy exists. What is missing is the practical way to use this energy efficiently.” In other words, the shortage is not of energy or of fuel, but of conversion technology-the “smarts” to convert available fuel into useful energy.

The pamphlet notes the various forms of energy we could transition to, including wind, solar, and hydro, as well as nuclear fission and fusion.

The fuel for fusion, deuterium, gets special note.

Interestingly, there is only one two-hundredths of an ounce of deuterium in a gallon of water. Yet if all the energy could be extracted from that small fraction of an ounce, it would be the equivalent of 300 gallons of high-test gasoline.

The essay also make the claim that there’s enough deuterium in the oceans to last 500 million years.

Thus our problem is not shortage of fuel, it’s a crisis of conversion of energy.

Edison Electric puts the responsibility for transition squarely on the shoulders of the public who must, as consumers of electricity, “support and encourage research and development that will lead to new and improved conversion technologies.”

But most importantly, they must take their position seriously-as seriously as they expect the government and the utility companies to take theirs.

I wonder, under what circumstances, I would get a warning like this from a power company today? Thirty-five years later, “the transitional storm” is upon us, and thirty-five years later, the public has still not been educated enough to take this situation seriously.

As oil prices continued to drop into the 1980s, the transitional storm was forgotten, and we built more infrastructure based on fossil fuels. We didn’t prepare for “a new energy epoch” like we should have, and now, we’re going to have to scramble to develop solutions fast.

What is the solution?

For ultra-clean high energy-density power, there is only one choice, low-energy nuclear reactions, or cold fusion, using deuterium as a fuel.

Nuclear fission power plants that exist today are dirty and dangerous. They take a decade to build with enormous costs financially and environmentally.

Meanwhile, conventional hot nuclear fusion has not advanced enough to be a viable alternative. It requires a complex engineering structure to potentially provide a centralized power source with a high capital cost.

Cold fusion does not produce radioactive waste, and is decentralized, with fuel available to anyone who can access water. The nuclear fusion reaction occurs inside a small piece of metal, giving a super-high-energy density per unit volume of metal.

This technology has been neglected for the past two decades with 0% of the funding that hot fusion has received from the Department of Energy, and we need to remedy this immediately.

The essay ends with Dr. Glenn Seaborg, a Nobel prize-winning nuclear chemist and advocate for the peaceful use of nuclear power (albeit the fission kind), though no friend to cold fusion:

The wise use of energy,” says Dr. Seaborg, “can restore nature and rejuvenate man. It can help us to turn green again much of the desert wasteland that was once natural gardens. It can help us clean up our man-made environment and rebuild the lives of men and the lands and cities they inhabit. It can help us build the foundation for lasting peace on this planet. And it can give us the means to explore beyond this planet-to open new frontiers to man, physical frontiers and those of the mind and spirit.

In short, the future of energy is the future of man. Without it we become nothing. With it, we become whatever we wish to be.

Click the images below to open a .pdf of each page of this document in a new tab.

And check out the graphic on page 3 “How Man Has Spent His Time”. Only 10% of Industrial man’s time was spent working???

How things have changed… Got to get to work! Bye!

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Edison Electric pamphlet 1976 page 1

Edison Electric pamphlet 1976 page 2

Edison Electric pamphlet 1976 page 3

Edison Electric pamphlet 1976 page 4

Cold fusion search: past and …future?

The search engine Time Explorer searches the past and …the future.

Here is a description of how they search articles from the New York Times for “predictions” or claims that earlier news stories had made.

Check out the Search: cold fusion – past.

On the Opinion panel to the right of the page, look at the Trend!
Well…..it is using the NYT…

Check out the Search: cold fusion – future.

This is still in testing stages. Read this for more about what this crew is doing.