I’ve written here before about how nobody in history is really ahead of their time because ideas in the past must be looked at in their own context, and it’s utterly impossible to separate those ideas from the culture of their generation. However, that doesn’t mean that things that were totally popular in their own time can’t find new uses in the future, so here’s 8 things from history that are making a comeback.
Airships once held the future for aviation. People thought these behemoths would litter cityscapes like floating urban sky-whales. That’s why skyscrapers like the Empire State Building were designed with docking ports for zeppelins and why Lakehurst, New Jersey used to be a city people have heard of. Then several different high profile disasters put an end to all those dirigible dreams, condemning blimps to cameos at football games and supporting fringe GOP candidates. First the Akron, the US Navy’s signature airship, went down off New Jersey killing all aboard, then the airship that went to look for survivors of the Akron went down, then the Akron’s sister airship crashed, and finally, after the US had all but given up on the ships, the Germans sent the Hindenburg over to get everyone excited again. That didn’t work too well.
With that the era of airships ended and planes took over forever…or did they? Several companies, both in the US and Germany are not only bringing zeppelins back, but hailing them as the future of transportation. And it’s not just corporate spokespeople hyping their product, truthful folks also see promise in bringing the ships back. They’ve pointed to several advantages they have over planes, like transporting cargo without the need for infrastructure like runways, doing it at a much cheaper fuel cost, and able to take off and land almost anywhere. The only problem appears to be the dwindling global helium supply, which the ships require in massive amounts. And yes, they look all cool and futuristic because steampunk stopped being cool in 2009.
Seeing as how I haven’t posted anything all that serious in a while, I decided to give this blog a bit more legitimacy by talking about something relevant instead of vikings or zombie shows. Don’t worry though, there will be plenty more of that in the future.
Without a doubt more and more people are heading online to get their news. According to Pew half of the country now gets their news digitally, but you hardly need their survey to notice the rise and growth (and eventual acquisition) of sites like Huffington Post, or the rise of online programming from already-established cable news networks, or that every local anchorperson, journalist, and meteorologist is on Twitter. Less visible are the communities that flock to digital news for social interaction.
Many, if not nearly all news sites have at least a forum to discuss the stories of the day, most will allow comments directly underneath a posted story. These comments allow an immediate response to breaking news, a chance of rebuttal to any opinion story, and, more importantly, a formation of news communities. Many news sites use their own internal commenting system and therefore have their own internal communities, others will allow users to login with other accounts like their Yahoo or Facebook profiles, yet for news sites and blogs using a third-party commenting system there’s a diversity drop-off. According to a 2011 study by Lijit, the commenting platform Disqus controls 75% of that market, destroying its competitors Livefyre and Echo. Disqus is now used on such prominent news sites as CNN, The Atlantic, Wired, Abrams Media, NPR, and the Onion’s A.V. Club to just name a few.
My horoscopes today have promised me a strong ability to communicate with others so I decided to write this post. About 25-30% of people in the US believe in astrology while millions more don’t really accept it yet still love reading about horoscopes or people’s signs. Astrology is particularly popular with women and men are often encouraged to learn and talk about signs as easy pickup lines. Despite its popularity, astrology is roundly condemned in the world of science by such skeptics as Richard Dawkins and Penn Jillette ( Teller is also probably against it, but I heard Penn cut out his tongue). While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the orbit of Mercury is dictating my happiness on a day-to-day basis, astrology’s fundamental conclusion may be more scientific than many skeptics may want to acknowledge.
What is Astrology?
I should start by asking what exactly is the theory of astrology and whether it can be broken down into levels of interpretation. At its most literal, saying that the movements of distant planets and stars correlate with events in people’s lives on Earth, astrology might as well be a Nigerian prince. There is absolutely no evidence nor plausible scientific explanation for this type of silly action at a distance. In other words, daily horoscopes are a ridiculous thing to believe in and studies have shown this over and over. However, what about an interpretation that says astrology that links personality with a particular constellation in the night sky? If you take that to mean that constellations influence your personality then of course, it’s just as ridiculous as the literal interpretation – your sign does not dictate your personality unless you let it. Yet if we abstract it even further and simply say that astrological signs correlate with different personalities then the bullshit starts to peel away.
A Scientific Foundation for Astrological Beliefs
If we define astrology as the classification and grouping of different people by when they were born using markers in the sky, then a strong scientific case emerges. Consider this: different astrological symbols are essentially just markers for the time of the year. A scientific explanation rests on the fact that astrological signs might as well just serve as labels for time spans on the calendar while removing any causality from the heavens as well as any direct impact of daily events. Someone remarking about the compatibility between Cancers and Virgos might actually have a point as it can correlate to personality differences from different seasonal births rather than with patterns in the sky. In any region of the world, astrological symbols will correlate with different seasons which bring different climates and weather. This in turn influences daily aspects of life, like what foods are available, how much sunlight there is, and how much sleep people get. Scientific studies in turn show that these factors translate into differences during pregnancy for the mother, and during the formative years after the baby is born. Astrology may be seen as taking the simple question of how the time of year that someone is born affects their personality – a perfectly valid scientific question. And indeed science has provided some answers already. A study published 2 years ago notes a “seasonal imprinting” on our biological clocks that can account for personality differences between individuals. While it does not dictate a person’s emotional state or personality traits, there is a significant correlation between seasonal birth and someone’s mental and physical health. For instance, those born in the winter months are more prone to psychological disorders like schizophrenia.
If astrology is re-interpreted as correlating personality with seasons, by way of constellations in the sky, then I see no reason to call it unfounded. However, the mystic methodology that bloomed from this basic understanding is certainly unscientific and unfounded. Stars and planets have no determinative effect on our daily lives on this planet and anyone preaching such a message is either a fool or a charlatan. Yet often pseudoscientific enterprises are based on some basic truth and in this case maybe some relationships simply are probablistically doomed from the start based on which season they were born.
There are certain technologies that have been around for ages which with people consistently and cyclically fall in and out of love. When 3D came out in the early 1950’s audiences were enthusiastic and entertained, but then people stopped caring and complained that untrained film operators made it “hard on the eyes.” 3D didn’t end there of course. There was another revival in the 1960’s, the 1980’s and in the past 5 years when studios released a whole slew of movies purposely filmed for 3D, the most prominent being the colorful blue-cat epic, Avatar. But now, like in the past, audiences for 3D films are in decline.
Other technologies also seem to follow this same trajectory. The idea of the flying car has been around longer than anyone has been alive yet every decade or so there’s a resurgence of interest with promises of progress. The more it’s discussed however, the more it goes from dreams of bypassing gridlock singing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to outright pessimism over the mountain of safety, logistical, and cost issues involved in actually pursuing it. Subliminal advertising also comes around every couple of decades to capture the imagination yet inevitably goes away when scientists remind everyone that it’s not real (that hasn’t stopped people proposing laws against it). And now we have the idea of the Pebble, an incredibly successful Kickstarter project that’s thriving off this cyclical interest.
In my last post I talked about how to really win an argument with creationists. Not to leave anyone out I’ll talk more casually about how to win an argument with an evolutionist. Let’s say you’re a young earth creationist.
You find yourself on the internet and you’re feeling adventurous enough to click on a video titled “How to win an argument with an atheist.” Turns out it’s just a guy with a terribly-accented drawl making fun of creationists. This now has you belligerently enraged with love for Jesus and you decide to pick a fight in the comments. You begin by citing the Bible and that’s where you immediately lose. This tragic situation happens every day. Continue reading “How to Really Win an Argument with a Darwinian Evolutionist”→
It’s a phrase we hear constantly when discussing the great people of history – “they were ahead of their time.” Often the label is used to denote someone or something as too advanced for people to properly appreciate, while other times it simply means something better than the rest. These are fairly contradictory sentiments so I’ll discuss which is more appropriate first and then go on to examine four people in history – Leonardo Da Vinci, Isaac Newton, Hieronymus Bosch, and Gregor Mendel – to see if they were truly ahead of their time.
To call someone or something ahead of their time is to essentially say that they would be more comfortable living in an age beyond their own or that a product would have been more successful if released in the future. Assuming nobody has been time travelling, the only way someone could be ahead of their time is if their works were appreciated later. This has led some to abuse the phrase to simply mean something ground-breaking. For instance, take this piece on movies that were ahead of their time. It contains movies like Jaws, Tron, and Star Wars, all movies, while ground-breaking, were popular in their own time and therefore not really ahead of their time. In other words, if something is successful enough in its own time to influence tastes in the future then it can’t possibly be ahead of its time. If those movies did not exist then movies today would undoubtedly look very different. Instead, being ahead of time means something grossly under-appreciated to the point where it’s forgotten. Something can only be ahead of its time by coincidence – an idea disappearing and then re-emerging unrelated to the first. Continue reading “Is Anyone Truly Ahead of Their Time?”→