Post No.: 0202
When it comes to science, knowledge and technology at least, the ‘golden age’ is not at any time in the past. Who’d genuinely want to live in the past rather than right now regarding science, knowledge, technologies or medicine? As long as science continues and advances, as it generally has done since its inception – the most golden age so far is every latest point in time, every latest now, regarding knowledge… unless you genuinely think that ancient masters kept some secrets like hadouken and shoryuken techniques to themselves in order to retain an advantage over their potentially double-crossing students?!
We are all born with simple, crude or blunt instincts, which work well enough most of the time and enable us to live a certain quality of life – but education refines those instincts. They need refinement not only because they are naturally crude or blunt but also because they need to in the face of ever-changing environments. Our instincts benefit from adapting to the new modern environments that most people now live in (e.g. most people in the world now live in urban areas) and from adapting to the total accumulated pool of collective knowledge so far so that we can live better lives and hold better-informed attitudes and opinions. Genetic evolution is typically far too slow to rely on in this ever-changing and now fast-changing world, and ever-advancing and fast-advancing world of knowledge. The things that the human species has discovered and invented as a whole has skyrocketed exponentially in recent centuries. Homo sapiens are still essentially genetically the same animals as tens of millennia ago but the technologies and knowledge gained have advanced so greatly during this same time – and that’s made all the difference to people’s lives and lifestyles. Technologies and knowledge have only generally advanced rather than regressed over time.
So it’s fallacy to believe that any technology, methodology or material of the past that isn’t still widely used today was better than the best of what we use today. The golden age wasn’t yesterday. For example, some people believe that the old, traditional methods of making Japanese swords produce stronger and sharper blades than the best of what modern steels and methods can manufacture today. (I used to believe in this too, and have always desired, and still somewhat desire, one made in the traditional way – as a beautiful piece of art.) But modern steelmaking methods are able to finely-tune and evenly-distribute the carbon throughout a piece of steel nowadays, thus negating the need to fold and fold poor quality iron ore to ensure the carbon is evenly-distributed throughout a blade; and modern methods can do this for far cheaper too. The manual folding process, despite the extreme skill of a master sword maker, can only really potentially introduce air bubbles and therefore weaknesses into a blade. Newer spring steels and other alloys can be both tougher and harder too, even without applying differential hardening/tempering.
Of course, ‘better’ depends on what measure we mean e.g. better for mass production and price or better for functionality or aesthetic quality? We may see a lot of modern swords made from stainless steel, which is good for corrosion resistance and manufacturing cost but it is relatively brittle – but this is not the best of modern materials and technologies for the purpose of making a strong, functional sword (these are more for low-maintenance display). In general, this is why we must attempt to predict the consequences of new technologies (see Post No.: 0185) – something might be better for mass production and profit maximisation but worse for the environment and fluffy future, for instance.
Anyway, there shouldn’t be a need for swords for functional or non-ceremonial purposes today; apart from maybe for cutting inanimate objects like straw or bamboo during tameshigiri. I’m all about the non-lethal takedown. Meow!
In short, it should be obvious – modern technology is always better or at least the same as older technology where it can be afforded. There are some people who would, but relatively few would honestly ditch their modern gadgets now – even in exchange for those of an older model from just a few years ago! If you can afford and justify the price (and maybe the waste too), would you rather have a later mobile phone or an old one? It’s also the same for any knowledge or skill – if we know better today then why still use old and outmoded techniques? (I don’t think any top-level high jumper uses any technique other than the Fosbury Flop anymore.)
Some products may not dominate in all dimensions (e.g. a piece of furniture that will last a lifetime or even beyond as a family heirloom but is expensive and not versatile) hence we’ll see a range of products available to serve various customers’ wants or needs and markets. But if something new completely betters an older technology in every single way, including cost, then why still use the older technology?
This all absolutely importantly applies to medicine too – if some ancient medicinal recipe or medical procedure was empirically so great then we’d scientifically study it and still use it widely today if it were truly effective, on balance with its side-effects, availability and other costs. The golden age of medicine is definitely every latest now. If something was truly effective on humans in the past then it should still be effective on humans today, and public hospitals would (still) be using it today, unless something else is even more (cost) effective today for the same purpose. So give me modern medicine over ancient and outmoded medicine any day. Some medicines we use today have ancient origins but if they’re still widely used today then they’re part of the modern medicine cabinet.
As a minor digression, this is where non-profit, free-at-the-point-of-delivery, public health services are arguably better than for-profit private health services – they exist not to scam people over for profits but to heal people as cost-effectively as possible. Okay, this is in theory, but they need to minimise costs because their funding is not infinite and they must administer effective services otherwise patients will just keep on returning for the same reasons and keep on draining these limited public resources – repeat business here is undesirable. This means that they cannot afford to give sham treatments (beyond trialling them). They must follow the scientific evidence. So if non-profit public health services aren’t prescribing a treatment for their patients then it likely means that it’s not an effective treatment and more likely just pseudoscience, or the science on something isn’t yet clear. Pseudoscientific treatments are then just left to a subsection of the for-profit private sector, where marketing bull**** tempts and exploits, often desperate or vulnerable people, or people with more money than sense, to part with their money for shams. A company’s in-house scientists will hardly give an independent and impartial opinion too.
It’s also arguable that the golden age of ethics is every latest now too, as e.g. more gender and racial equality is sought, and slavery is less acceptable. This doesn’t mean we’re there yet but it’s at least generally better than in the past. Something like the golden age of art or cinema is very subjective. Regarding something like lifestyles and well-being though, there may be better cases to argue that the golden age was some time ago when life was simpler.
But overall, we’ve never had it so good! Nostalgia can affect people though, yet the romantic sense of nostalgia is seldom as good as we thought it used to be. The golden age of science, knowledge and technology is always the latest age, the current now… unless there’s an apocalypse, the running out of certain resources, the fall of civilisation or some misguided cultural revolution that is! For this reason, I believe that we should nonetheless try to keep any ancient or traditional skills alive – you never know if they might come in handy again. Old skills are useful when technology fails (hardware can physically fail and software will follow instructions to the letter even if this’ll lead to errors), is wrong (e.g. satellite navigation can sometimes lead people astray yet lots of people will follow technology even when it’s wrong) or in the event of a cyber attack. And knowledge and skills will simply be lost if we don’t occasionally practise or at least record them, and that’s what will precisely risk a regression in knowledge and skills.
Meow. I may be wrong so if you can think of an old technology or medicine that isn’t made or widely used anymore that you think is better than and should still be used over any later technology or medicine then please share this with us via the Twitter comment button below.