Posts Tagged ‘Maya’

Mayan Electric Fallacy

August 5, 2021

Making transportation electric doesn’t solve the CO2 crisis per se. Maya shows that wrong tech choices when facing ecological disaster, can bring an even greater disaster.

We need clean transportation. We could use hydrogen, producing water. In the present and foreseeable state of technology, using batteries requires huge mineral extraction, itself very polluting. The same fundamental elements used in batteries are used in windmills [1]… causing a penury effect if pretending to use batteries and wind as a mass solution. What needs to be made CO2 free is energy production. Discreetly governor Newsom, a democrat, signed an order so that California goes through heat waves much better, producing electricity thanks to fossil fuels, as windmills, solar panels, and desiccated dams can’t produce enough “clean” energy (solar panels are made in China, using coal as energy source). Ironically, when the winds peak up, so do the fires: California, hoisted on its own petard of outrageous energy consumption, is burning ever better, every year…

Batteries are heavy and it is not clear that the full life cycle of an electric car uses less energy than an ICE car (ICE = Internal Combustion Engine). And the point is to some extent moot, as there are not enough lithium mines to electrify the entire planet… By a factor of ten… or much more.

Confronted to a drought they themselves caused, the Maya responded by doubling over on the technology they had which caused the crisis. That caused a megadrought. Instead Europe and Japan in the fourteenth century, took strong ecological measures: they saved the forests by restricting activity… The Maya did the opposite, cutting sacred old growth forests, replacing them by orchards and corn fields. Disappearing the tropical rain forests fully, far from augmenting agricultural activity, had the opposite effect: temperatures shot up, desiccation occurred, as humidity went down.

Europe, as it is, thanks to carbon taxes, produces half the CO2 per person than the USA does. In particular from massive investments in public transportation in adapted cities. Electric cars are a luxury solution for crafty investors, not a solution for the planet at this point. We need a carbon tax which will incite to produce energy in a cleaner way.

Instead of a carbon tax, which would be unpopular, Biden is proposing on 8/5/2021 to spend 174 billion dollars on electric car charging stations… There is little doubt that spending 174 billion dollars on thermonuclear would enable a to make a thermonuclear reactor connected to the grid (the bigger the reactor, the easier the fusion).

174 billion dollars on charging electric cars… So that people can spend hours waiting in the middle of nowhere doing what they do now in minutes, while enriching the Chinese dictatorship and making Biden’s sponsors wealthier. This is an exhibition of a mix of dramatic ignorance, corruption and stupidification. And also contempt for those who go long distance without using aircraft. Of course, the entire enterprise is just smoke and mirrors, a “shared aspiration” as the auto executives plotting with Biden put it… So much smoke and mirrors that nothing will happen… An aspiration of smoke and mirrors… The latter lack of logical substance being exactly what the Biden puppet masters are after… Learn to become stupid, little, deplorable people, by respecting your great masters’ professed madness…

Nobody said Machiavellianism was straightforward…

So poor people of the USA, rejoice! Your great “democratic” leader Biden wants your tax dollars so that the wealthy can drive electric in silence and comfort between their private airports and their mansions! Who needs thermonuclear, when one can have caviar?

Patrice Ayme

When Maya civilization collapsed, Yucatan was covered with orchards and fields, causing a megadrought. The tropical rainforest came back, centuries later, after the few surviving Maya had fled to the coasts. Uxmal temple.

[1] In some cases, electrification can be very useful, the archetype being electric trains. Hybridization can also help, especially for cars (it’s used massively for trains already).

Understand, Predict, Innovate Judiciously or Die: Why The Maya Collapsed

May 12, 2021

Civilizations are dynamically technological, or they are not, and they fall, like a cyclist trying to stand on just two wheels without moving. It is actually worse than that: the man-made ecology, the bicycle any civilization is riding, is always changing, as the civilization depletes whatever it is exploiting.

And the more successful it is, the more the ecology a civilization depends upon gets depleted. It is not just a question of having limits to growth in general, but of a progressive collapse of the particular type of growth which brought success… to a given civilization, so far. When old growth is sick and exhausted, one has to get a divorce, and adopt a new growth model which is smarter. Staying faithful to an ecology one has killed, brings only more killing. We will focus here on the Mayan collapse which overall, lasted three centuries, and was characterized by a megadrought. Changes of Mayan behavior occurred during the collapse, but they proved insufficient to stop it. One can compare with other (partial) collapses, the most famous being that of the Roman empire in the Fifth Century.

The change from the Latin-Roman Catholic civilization to the Latin-Frankish civilization which succeeded it was primarily a change of growth model: the basic law, the spirit of Roman Republican law, was unchanged. The Franks adopted a superior growth model (in this order: religious tolerance, more secular education, no more slavery).

Eurasia and the “West” provide many examples of this, changing growth models in a smart way. This is why and how “the West” and East Asia came to dominate the world. A case in point is the contemporary rise of China, which, in light of full Chinese history and the secular technological-legal mood which often drove it, is more of the same “socialism with Chinese characteristics”… which is at the core of the Western success too.

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The Maya provide a warning of what happens when one succumbs to hubris while lacking long duration smarts:

The Maya did not understand, predict, and innovate in a timely manner, and hubristically adopted an erroneous growth model, making a bad situation worse. By the Eighth Century, around 750 CE, Mayan society had thrived for more than 2,000 years. The population was at an all-time high: high-tech mapping suggests that at least 10 million people may have lived within the Maya Lowlands alone. 40 major new stone buildings were built every year (it used to be 10, it would fall back to zero after 900 CE). Mayans were experts in astronomy, mathematics, architecture, with a complex language of written symbols. The city-state of Tikal comprised more than 61,000 stone buildings.

Then a megadrought struck. It was the worst drought in 7,000 years, it lasted more than two centuries, and became terrible after 1000 CE (when most of the Mayan civilization had already disappeared). That megadrought was partly a consequence of human, Mayan, activity (greenhouse warming plus deforestation so drastic fundamental some raw materials were gone). Devastating wars of cities against cities, rebellions, killing of the incompetent elites, and the burning of cities followed.

Population collapsed. Less than 200 years later, the core of the Maya civilization (the southern lowlands) was no more (most of the rest would progressively go down in the next two centuries, as the drought kept on going). A civilization that had stretched across southern Mexico and Central America was nearly completely gone (the Conquistadores would meet its haggard remnants). 

The Mayan collapse was not caused by invasion (Toltec influence or not)… whereas Athens, Rome, Constantinople, the Xi Xia, and of course the Mexicans, fell partly, mostly, or completely, from invasion, the Mayan collapse is a study in self-generated devastation. (It is not that the Mayans were particularly stupid; just the opposite: they succeeded to create a massive civilization in an unlikely place, thanks to advanced technology, massively deployed; but that civilization was vulnerable: there had been a first collapse after a megadrought around 200 CE; see graph below.)

There are a number of theories to explain what happened to the Maya. However, from my point  of view it is possible to gather all these theories in just a single logic. The Mayan collapse was greatly an implosion of a highly technological society from ecological collapse with population, war and hubris loss of control as triggers: the social and religious implosions are consequences of the technological implosion

Graph from Professor Kennett, expert of the subject. Several things from it. Around 200 CE there was a first drought, and a first collapse. It is imaginable that the causes were the same, and that the absence of books and a strong intellectual class led to a repeat. When the late classic collapse started the drought was not that bad and just reflected poorly from the wet 2 centuries prior. However, the wars and the ecological devastation this relative difficulty caused made the situation way worse. Then the terrible drought after 1000 CE prevented any recovery.

There is evidence that the fall of Rome shares some of the elements of the Maya collapse:

Let me repeat this slowly: the Mayan ecological collapse started before the full impact of the mega drought. It was obviously caused by a population explosion in combination with mismanagement (namely Mayan wars; in the Seventh Century, Tikal lost its prominence thanks in part to an uppity warrior queen from a lesser city; Tikal would regain the upper hand, but with a mood that had changed towards more hubris than the climate could take).

Europe would experience something similar around 1300 CE. In the last two decades before 1300 CE, there were a few severe winters (foreshocks of the Little Ice Age). At the time, ushered by a technological and rational revolution, the European population was exploding, severely stressing the ecology. Successful intense agriculture and construction devoured the forests (a bit like Brazil nowadays)…

However, instead of sitting on their hands or going to war against each other, the European governments took ferocious countermeasures around 1300 CE, outright banning people from some mountainous regions to limit erosion and deforestation (Japan did something similar at the same time). When the Little Ice Age struck, followed by the Plague of 1348 CE, half of the population was killed, but society itself, give or take a few roasted noble families, and a few thousands peasants butchered, in the Jacqueries… society itself survived intact. Actually the economy rebounded and the Franco-French and Anglo-French gaily persisted into fighting each other for the control of France and Britain.  

Rome is another case of ecological implosion: clearly the metal mining of Rome collapsed a full century before the empire started to collapse socially, financially, militarily, and into barracks’ emperors anarchy. We know that Roman metal mining went down before anything else went clearly very wrong, by studying traces of metal in Greenland ice cores.

Why would the collapse of metal mining bring Rome down? Rome high tech society was extremely dependent upon metals. No more metal, no more economy, currency, military… or even roofs (!) When one reads Viking sagas, one is struck by the importance of mining, swords and forging. Superlative swords had names and were passed over the generations, and between clans. Rome had, by far, the largest army in the world all equipped with swords, helmets, armor, and other metallic objects. A Roman emperor would come to Rome in the Seventh Century to strip the metallic roofs, to make weapons to resist the Muslim invasion.

***

Often triumphant technology creates the conditions for its own failure. As shown by the Maya:

The Mayan irrigation system was gigantic. It used special materials. The Maya’s home was a tough environment plagued by droughts: what is called a seasonal desert. The land that they farmed was often porous limestone, rocky terrain with the water table often 100 meters below the surface, but also massive wetlands. How did they manage to feed their huge population in this chaotic environment?

It is estimated that the Mayan population may have been above 18 millions… Well, to start with, Mayans used the swamps, next to which their cities were located. About 40% of the Yucatán Peninsula is swamp today. The Maya mucked out the ditches, and tossed the soil onto the adjacent land, creating elevated fields which would kept the root systems of their crops above the waterlogged soil, while allowing access to the irrigation water. They also drained some land outright. That irrigated land is hundreds of kilometers across. Sixty or so cities each with a population of 60,000 to 70,000, sprouted during two centuries of abnormally wet weather, setting the Maya for a fall. 

On satellite pictures forests around Mayan sites look discoloured. On the ground remnants of orchards and edible plants are still in abundance.

Mayan lands are now a sea of green forest. However, their appearance in the Seventh Century was that of a man-made landscape. By 700 CE the Maya had completely run out of their main construction trees. It has been suggested that massive deforestation helped cause a megadrought. When the elites proved they had no solution but war of all against all, devastation followed.

The Mayan megadrought was caused mostly, or at least severely aggravated, by human ecological devastation. 

Not all megadroughts are that way. Across the Mediterranean and west Asia, the effects of the 4,200-3,900 years Before Present megadrought included synchronous collapse of the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia, the Old Kingdom in Egypt and Early Bronze Age settlements in Anatolia, the Aegean and the Levant. That megadought left marks all over the planet, including in Alaska and the Yukon. There was an estimated 30-50% reduction in precipitation delivered by the Mediterranean westerlies in the eastern hemisphere, where they provide for dry-farming and irrigation agriculture across the Aegean, Levant, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, and Iran. There was a synchronous disruptions for the Indian Summer Monsoon. That was clearly a larger scale disaster where the human influence is not obvious… keeping in mind that a greenhouse caused by the rise of human agriculture, and herding which may have prevented what would have been otherwise significant cooling, 8,000 Before Present.

The Mayan megadrought was roughly coincidental with the “Middle Age Optimum”, when a warmer clime enriched Europe as glaciers retreated spectacularly (and the Viking got to Greenland and America). the phenomena are probably related (science to come). But the point is that Mayan agriculture made a bad situation way worse.

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Agriculture Can Cause Ecological Devastation:

… This is something that the promoters of agriculture as a panacea keep on forgetting. Plants interact with the atmosphere and the climate. Large dark plants—such as dense tropical forest—absorb a lot of energy from the Sun. At the same time, they prevent much evaporation, thanks to their shade: a tropical forest is darker than a cathedral. Tropical forests restitute the sun energy, and the moisture, in the evening, making warm moist air rise high; it falls back as rain. 

Lighter colored plants (crops and dry yellow grasses like wheat) reflect some, and sometimes most energy. They act like snow, rising the albedo of the land, sending back sunlight energy to space. 

When a forest is replaced by thinner, less massive and less shady, lighter colored plants, the land reflects more sunlight, which cools the atmosphere (because the ground does not warm up, filling up with sun energy to give it back later). Cool air sinks, while water vapor needs to rise and condense to create a rainstorm. Without warm, unstable air rising into the atmosphere, rainstorms became less common. 

The lack of rain helps raise temperatures on land. When energy from the Sun reaches the ground directly, it either bakes the ground or it causes water to evaporate from the soil or transpire from plants. With forests producing less moisture and croplands holding less water, droughts deepened as more and more of the Sun’s energy heated the ground. Thus deforestation makes  droughts worse, and may even create a desert. An excellent example is an Hawaiian island which was deprived of its forest, and is now a baked red piece of land with low bushes, Kaho’olawe. 

In ancient times, the Maya had practiced good forestry management. They were not allowed to cut down the sacred groves. That changed during the Late Classic period with the adventures of Jasaw Chan K’awiil. The Tikal Maya had been defeated and had fallen to second-rate status prior to his ascendancy. Jasaw Chan K’awiil led an army to the competing city, Calakmul, captured its ruler, bound him, brought him back and sacrificed him. There was plenty of instability at the times, including the rise of ferocious warrior queens; one queen built the longest plastered white road going north among orchards and cornfields… to enable her army to go defeat a rising northern city, Chichen Itza.

In any case, Tikal had a one century hiatus characterized with neighboring competing cities having plenty of warrior-queens (at least ten). So agriculture can cause devastation and women can mean trouble… Queen Bathilde of the Franks outlawed slavery, successfully, not because she was weak, but because she was stronger than the (male) Chinese emperors who tried the same. Some of the pseudo-“woke” may be be rendered too awake from this essay….

Nice Quetzal hat… Maya Holy Snake Lord known as Lady K’abel who ruled El Perú-Waka’, a city-state one hundred kilometers west of Tikal…. for more than 20 years with her husband, King K’inich Bahlam II. She was the military governor of the Wak kingdom for her family, the imperial house of the Snake King, and she carried the title “Kaloomte,” translated as “Supreme Warrior,” higher in authority than her husband, the king. This representation is not a figment of imagination: we have actually ceramic figurines of her!… And much documentation besides. The exact chronology of what happened is not fully clear yet, but plenty enough for the theme of this essay!

After these wars between cities, the Maya rebuilt the city of Tikal in a way never seen before. They began building huge temples that required considerable resources, especially large, straight trees whose wood could withstand the weight of tons of stone. Their choices were limited to two types of strong trees.

Jasaw Chan K’awiil tapped into their sacred groves to do this. The stands of virgin timber were more than 200 years old in some areas. After building a few of the temples, the Maya ran out of timber from the Manilkara zapota (sapodilla) tree. That wood is easy to work, until it dries up and becomes very strong. It’s denser than water. Then they switched to an inferior tree —Haematoxylon campechianum, logwood or inkwood — which is found in swamps. This had adverse consequences on the maintenance or expansion of the irrigation system.

Tikal’s irrigation system was high tech. It contained at least eight large dams, the largest with 75,000 tons of water, was used as a causeway linking two parts of the city. Dams were equipped with filtration sand boxes, to produce clean water. The quartz sand is not found in the Tikal area; it was imported from more than 30 kilometers away.

How permanent was the change the Mayan civilization at its apogee inflicted on Yucatan? Climatologist Ben Cook from NASA compared climate conditions during the late Mayan era with conditions during the early colonial era (1500-1650 CE), when land use was at a minimum and forests had regrown over Central America. The warming and drying trend had disappeared. 

However the Mayan civilization had not recovered its splendor: after 1200 CE and until the Conquistadores appeared, it was a shadow of its former self, the population being perhaps just a tenth of what it used to be… But it was not for lack of aggressivity: a severe and vast ambush was set by Mayans for the Conquistadores who had to flee back to their boats… And the last free Mayan city, Nojpeten, would fall only in 1697. Some have suggested that the remaining Maya went to the coast, where the Spanish found them. It is fascinating to see that the Mayan civilization couldn’t get restarted: the numerous giant cities were gone for good. But this is often the case of civilizational collapses…

What probably happened is that the Mayan way of life was a huge system which needed a technological know-how which had been acquired during millennia, and then was lost. A broken system can’t be reinstated overnight: the system may have been elaborated over centuries (the case of Rome, Athens)… or even millennia: the case of Mesopotamia, Egypt… And the MesoAmerican civilizations. 

Moreover books are important, as they store information, and not just the concept of the proverbial wheel. This has long been known: when Rome annihilated Carthage, all Punic books were destroyed. Except one: a treaty on agriculture. And indeed the Romans would make Africa a Roman granary, the region became more productive than it would be until the arrival of French. 

The Greek dark ages after the adventures of the Trojan War lasted 4 centuries. However, Western Europe and China have proven quite collapse resistant, probably for having cultural systems smarter than most, thanks to all the books… and aware of collapse, thus keen to take resistant measures. For example when the “First” Qin emperor ordered books to be destroyed, especially of the 100 philosophical schools, many Chinese knew what to do: they copied and buried the books. 

In the 1970s, most Maya scholars concluded that the demise of the Classic Period Lowland Maya was the result of complex systems interactions. Another way to put it is that a civilization has a mind of its own

A civilization doesn’t truly collapse until its culture and know-how have been eradicated. In the case of the Maya remnants of the culture survived (they still knew how to write codices)… but what did not survive was how and why to make Yucatan work, as it did at the apex of civilization.

Could the Maya have prevented their collapse? Some will shake their heads and observe that Mayans would have had to understand science we are barely establishing now pertaining to drought and deforestation. Some of the conclusions above have a fair amount of guesswork, philosophy and modelling, and a few obstinate ones would disagree. However, this guesswork, this philosophy was done in Europe in 1300 CE, and a terminal ecological crisis avoided.

So let me tell a personal anecdote: the philosophical method rises the personal and anecdotal to the general and systemic. When I was in Africa I saw municipal authorities cut a number of magnificent trees. Apparently, inspired by a devious sense of esthetics, they had decided an immense plaza looked even better by making it more desolate. I was shocked, and revolted. How could Senegalese, in a country that was obviously desiccating, cut trees which provided shade, cooling and moisture? Tropical trees can have these huge, incredible thick oily leaves which block sunlight. For me it was glaring that this policy favored desertification, and I had seen many examples of it around Senegal already, so I viewed it as a systemic policy symbolizing a perverse mentality. I was ten years old. So if a ten year old can figure out, that cutting trees dries the climate, and causes a desert, no wonder more ancient Mayans protected sacred groves. And then the question becomes how come Tikal changed ecological policy? The answer is the war mood and the hubris it brings: flushed by taking enormous risks defeating their enemies, Tikal leaders kept on taking risks, this time with the ecology, flaunting, to themselves and others, their covenant with god(s). 

Human reality works that way: exaggerated behavior, thanks to hubris and provocation, fail, fix it, fly again. This is how humanity learns… in a tribal setting. Civilizations can also learn that way. In the best places of Eurasia, like the Fertile Crescent, the Latium, India, China. In such places of Eurasia, the collapse of one civilization taught others nearby: this is the story of the Middle East where civilizations kept on crashing and rising again, until the double headed shock of Islam, followed by the Mongols (after that it was pretty much all the way down)…

But it’s not how all civilizations can learn. A civilization can become such an immensely complicated systems, that, once broken, it can’t be readily reconstituted... Such is the sad story of the Maya.

Patrice Ayme

Only Philosophy Can Reverse Civilization Collapse

August 12, 2015

World population is presently exploding. How many human beings were there before dogs became in wide use? In 35,000 BCE, it is estimated that Earth had three million human beings. Before the rise of cities, in 10,000 BCE, world population had reached 15 million. The rise of civilization was enabled by a technological explosion, the discovery, invention and intense use intense use of science, technology, writing, genetic engineering (dogs, cattle, goats, chicken, cats, wheat, rye, millet, rice, beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, etc.), irrigation, fuel, etc.

Civilizations rise when they find new technological tricks to dominate and exploit their environments, be it the human, and, or, natural, environments. Those tricks exhaust resources after a while, bringing stress, thus war (against people, and, or, nature). War activates the fascist instinct, bringing the rise of plutocracy (as observed nowadays), and complete cretinism (also known as theocracy). This makes the collapse worse. Civilization can be destroyed by fate. The most famous case is a civilization we owe so much to: Crete. It was devastated by one of the worst volcanic explosion in 25,000 years (as it tried to recover, it was hit by a “plague”, according to Greek historians). 

Cretan Girls Leaped Over Bulls In The Nude

Cretan Girls Leaped Over Bulls In The Nude

Crete is part of our cultural inheritance. Today, the status of women depends upon the breakthrough ancient paintings (from the Knossos Palace, above), some 40 centuries old, depict. The status of women was high in Crete. Women could be in authority, for 2,000 years. Women were then to be subjugated in Greece, for 3,500 years (yes, time flies, these are big numbers: civilizational setbacks can last millennia).

Europe is named after Crete, an acknowledgment. The goddess Europa was from Crete (and one of her sons was the famous king Minos, after whom Minoan Civilization is named).

An example of self-imploding collapse is the Maya. The Maya were, for millennia, an extremely advanced civilization which seemed to be on its way to accomplish on its own something similar to the ascending superiority of Middle Earth (my term for the Mediterranean plus Egypt-Middle East-Arabia plus India area).

However, a terrible century long drought starting in the Seventh Century struck the Maya who proved unable to manage the crisis, to which they added terrible wars (the worst involving a queen, in the leading role, not just the usual demonic males). All Maya cities were destroyed. When the Spaniards landed, eight centuries later, the Maya were just shadows of their former selves (yet, they proved to be tough customers).

As Jared Diamond (2005, in his book “Collapse”) wrote, one can only be struck by “the disappearance of between 90 and 99% of the Maya population after A.D. 800 …and the disappearance of kings, Long Count calendars, and other complex political and cultural institutions.” Not just that, but much more importantly, the giant irrigation system of the Maya, with its dams and canals, was one of the world’s largest, ever: it can still be seen from space. When that centuries old irrigation system was left in disrepair, civilization became history.

In the close-by very extensive highlands of central Mexico, many powerful states also rose to high levels of power and prosperity, only to rapidly collapse. Teotihuacan (the sixth largest city in the world in the Seventh Century) and Monte Alban among those to experience dramatic collapse, with populations decline of at least 20–25% from their peak within a couple of generations (Tainter, 1988).

Civilization collapses come in many guises. Egypt cycled through more than two dozen dynasties, and a couple of century long occupations, tweaking itself every time. However, in the end it was unable to stay an independent, original civilization, undergoing thereafter 2,000 years of subjugation. 

The present civilization was born from a near-collapse. And was born thanks to a philosophical reset.

Indeed, in the case of the Greco-Roman empire, full collapse was avoided. The Franks rebooted Greco-Roman civilization, with their own Germano-Christian sauce, by the early Fifth Century (defeat of Goths who were ejected from Gaul, 507 CE, thanks to the battle of Vouille’). This is completely clear, when one inspects known facts, battles, laws, and the Storia Francorum of bishop Gregory of Tours.

The truth of what happened was masked by severe setbacks which were endured in the Sixth Century, under (Constantinople based) Roman emperor Justinian: Christian madness made Greco-Roman intellectuals flee to Persia (!), while a terrible plague (“Justinian Plague”), and a mysterious cataclysm (asteroid, volcano?) struck Earth’s climate. (The reality of what happned under the Franks was also masked by French Revolutionary propaganda, which was anxious to put all and any “ancient regime” in a bad light, and the usual Anglo-Saxon propaganda, anxious to disparage its absurdly French origins in all and any way.)

Differently from the Maya, the Franks centered in, or around Paris, and the Romans in Constantinople, were able to adapt to the catastrophes of the Fourth (Christianization, Gothic invasion), Fifth (Germanic invasions of 406 CE; then, the Huns), Sixth (as related above), and Seventh Centuries (dramatic war with Persia, followed by the surprise attack of the god crazed Arabs).

Both then defeated in the Eight Century those fanatics of war who had attacked like carnivorous locusts.   

The official “Renovatio Imperii”, the Renovation of Rome, was made formal when Carlus Magnus (Charlemagne) was endowed with the sole “Imperator Romanorum” (Imperator of the Romans) title in 800 CE, an imperial tradition which went on with say Otton II in 962 CE, and for more than a millennium (formally, Napoleon I, as leader of Francia was entitled, the Roman way, to grab back the title for himself).

Greco-Roman civilization incorporated the Cretan, Egyptian-Sumerian, Phoenician civilizations (with more than a touch of Etruscan). Then other Middle Eastern elements were included (Mythra, Great Mother Cult, Judaism, etc.) Western civilization incorporated even more: the fierce love of freedom, and women, of the Germans, and the generalized tolerance and open mindedness of the Franks (by 600 CE all citizens were Franks, and, within a generation the slave trade was outlawed by the Imperium; that latter fact was a world’s first). Interestingly the Franco-Roman synthesis incorporated traits which Crete had, but that the Hellenes had lost (for example maximum sexual equality, in at least some respects: there were female Cretan matadors, playing with ferocious giant bulls).

Conclusion? Even in an horrendous situation (the decline of the Roman empire, under fascism, theocracy, barbarity, invasions, ecological collapse, plague, unfathomable impact of a giant explosion somewhere), fresh new ideas, arising from shock philosophy can turn things around. The Franks demonstrated this thoroughly. The Chinese also did, on a more modest scale… Until Mao came, and unleashed the Dark Side onto fossilized Chinese thought, habits, and a philosophy, Confucianism, which had ruled for 26 centuries, as the symbol of ultimate wisdom (which it was not).

To repeat slowly: the Franks introduced the following reforms, in rough chronological order:

  1. The rule of warriors bound to common sense and religious tolerance (in complete contradiction with the Catholic terror, just prior). This was illustrated by Clovis’ quip that, had his Franks been there, Christ would never have been crucified. On the surface, it’s as if Clovis had understood nothing of Christianity. Indeed it looks as if Clovis had not understood that God wanted to be crucified, just to visit a guilt complex on his followers, same as with the story of the snake and the apple. Most probably, Clovis understood all too well< and made a show that he was firmly intend to violate God’s law. In any case, under the Franks, Judaism, Paganism, etc were freely practiced. Christianism with a human, even Frankish face (to the Vatican’s rage).
  2. The implementation of a modern, much less sexist, non-discriminatory legal system, applying to all by 600 CE, the Lex Salica, on top of Justinian’s refurbishing of Roman law. By 600 CE, all citizens of the Imperium Francorum were Franks (in a dramatic contrast with the situation in Spain, where the Visigoths applied Visigothic law just to themselves; same in italy where the Lombards, another type of Germans, were above Roman law)
  3. The outlawing of slavery (starting around 650 CE).
  4. Nationalization  of the Catholic Church, constitution of the largest professional army since Republican Rome, to face the humongous Islamist invasions of 721-745 CE. Destruction of the army of the Arab Caliphate (which thus collapsed in 750 CE, crushing Bin Laden and other Islamists forever thereafter).    

All these reforms were of a philosophical nature: the Vatican discussed excommunicating Charles Martel, for expropriating the Church, but concluded it was safer not to debate with a Hammer. When the Franks formed, named, and made a bishop, within three weeks, from an illiterate Frankish warrior, they were sending a message to the Vatican about who was the boss: secularism, not superstition.

Civilization survived from smarts, not just swords.

Patrice Ayme’

 

Constructing TIME

June 3, 2014

How does one usually define time? Well, I will argue, it’s constructed by machines.

This has major consequences in physics, to be evoked some other time: Cosmic Inflation theory uses time, but has forgotten to define it. Thus a philosophical-historical review is in order.

The concept of time was developed experimentally over several millennia.  Time was important in agriculture: it allowed predicting when to do some specific activities essential to agriculture (planting, irrigation works, etc.).

Mayan Calendar: No Time, No Hydraulic Civilizations

Mayan Calendar: No Time, No Hydraulic Civilizations

The Mayas, and the Babylonians discovered that astronomy, observing stars and planets, allowed to predict the seasons. Thus, they defined time. The Mayan civilization depended upon highly technological seasonally constrained hydraulics, so time was of the essence. The Mayans thrived for millennia before an inordinate drought brought ecological catastrophe and the consequential mayhem (7C to 9C).

Shortly after the equal sign was invented (circa 1500 CE), time appeared in the equations of the Seventeenth Century physics. Time was fundamental to the equations of classical mechanics that described both how mechanical forces and gravitation-imparted trajectories: every dynamical phenomenon was a function of time, and its acceleration, the double derivative relative to time, was the force.

This classical time allowed to determine longitude in navigation. The more precise the time, the more precisely navigators knew where they were in the middle of the ocean. This (new) mechanical notion of time had grown from astronomical time, and was found, de facto, to be identical with astronomical time.

Mathematics and physics were deeply entangled. Time is truly an injection of the Real Line into the space(s) the equations are about. The concept of Real Line is implicitly central to calculus. Calculus was developed for physics.

However, in the Nineteenth Century, equations were derived for a force that was not found in Classical Mechanics, Electromagnetism.

(17 C) Gravitation is what one could call (until 1916!), a “point force”: a planet of mass M can be replaced by a point of mass M (that’s Gauss theorem; it caused lots of trouble to Newton).

Electromagnetism was more complex than gravitation.  Faraday drew lines of force lovingly (and was despised for it). Maxwell transformed them into “field” equations.

A “field”, just as a field of wheat. The Electromagnetic field could turn in circles on itself, or make lobes.

Sometimes, electric charges behave like “point forces” too. But magnetic charges could not be found: they were never like point (“monopoles” in modern jargon). However, electricity would turn into magnetism, and varying magnetism into electricity. Electromagnetism was exasperatingly complicated.

A journalist asked Faraday what use the fact that a varying magnetic field created electricity had. Faraday retorted: ”What’s the use of a new born baby?

All our industry now rests on this new born baby. (By the way, Michael Faraday was directly supported personally by the top plutocrat in Britain, the king.)

A field is non local. Whereas it looked as if gravitation did not need to be described by a field (an impression Einstein would change, but that’s besides the points made here), it was certainly not the case for electromagnetism.

Any force generates an acceleration, hence a dynamic, hence a trajectory. So classical mechanics generated a notion of time (it had turned out that time from a mechanical force, a spring, was the same as from gravitation).

Similarly for electromagnetism: it’s a force, so it defines a notion of time. However, even classically, electromagnetism was non-local. So the clocks defined by electromagnetism are non-local. I call them holonomic. (Adjusting classical time to electromagnetic time is called Special Relativity; it turned out that gravity needed to be made into a field, and that time needed to vary with speed so that physics was independent of speed.)

This notion of non-local time, it turned out, was another excellent torpedo against Cosmic Inflation, and the naivety that helped built it. More later…

Patrice Aymé

 


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