Monday, 6 May 2013

Wonderful are the works of the wheelbarrow

I often find interesting things to read in that excellent aggregator 3quarks

Here’s Louis Wolpert talking about his 5 books of the moment at louis wolpert

Obviously in a longer discussion he would qualify the following observation which seems to have struck him with the power of insight as he mentions it a few times:
....tool making drove human evolution, and in order to make tools you had to have a concept of physical cause and effect.

This seems wrong. It might be more correct to say that tool using gave us the concept of tool using. Tool using is about all that it implies. You don’t have to have a concept of the lever and fulcrum to use a spade or a wheelbarrow. The wheelbarrow and the spade realizes that. It takes an Archimides to discover the general principle and the law about length of lever and position of fulcrum.

This separation of thinking and doing is probably what Ryle impugned in The Concept of Mind. Mindless digging can be clever or stupid. Wolpert says that the Chinese had great technology but no science. The Greeks had Science but if you had to shift a very heavy load you’d definitely prefer a Chinese wheelbarrow.

It must have been Psalm 40 which inspired that mocking paean: ‘wonderful are the works of the wheelbarrow’

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