[ExI] we stand on the shoulders of giants

Mirco Romanato painlord2k at libero.it
Sun Jul 5 17:33:27 UTC 2009

Brian Manning Delaney ha scritto:
> Very cool thought experiment! I used to daydream about this as a lad.

Not the only one.
>> We don't know how (great)^n grandma did it, but I would look for some
>> orange soil, assuming that is iron oxide or some kind of metallic ore.
>> OK found it.  Now what?
> I think a huge part of our early progress came from a basic "let's
> increase it!!" attitude, where "it" is, say, the size of a fire, or the
> force with which a rock is struck, or the distance one ventures out away
> from home.
> "Cool! Fire! Let's make it bigger, REALLY big!" -- I think that might be
> how metals were discovered (qua substances that could be melted, would
> harden, and retain their new shape).

This is probably true, but not for iron.
Tin, lead, copper must come before iron.
To smelt iron you need higher temperatures than any wood is able to
burn. So you need to produce coal. Vegetable coal is produced with wood
cooked without oxygen. Usually this is done amassing large pieces of
wood and covering them with earth, so there will be no air available.
Then , using small holes inside the mass, you start a fire. The heat
produced will mainly stay inside and will cook the wood making coal,
burning only a little part of the wood used.

Assuming plenty resources available (Q put them all there, near, no need
to travel 3 months to find them) and free time enough to R&D, I think we
would run out of available workforce before we start to find major
technological roadblock.
For example, to work (make holes in) hard rocks like granite we need
quartz. With a head of quartz we would be able to build rock crucible to
cook and smelt metals.

The advanced technology need enough workforce and capital base to start
building up.
So, the most important (long terms) things to do would to concentrate on
  grow the population and stay alive and healthy and keep a unifying
goal (develop technology and leave the planet).

This concept was explored in a SF book I red many years ago: The
Survivors of Ragnarok, where a spaceship of human is captured by an
hostile race and the crew and passengers (4.000 individuals) are leaved
to die on a planet called Ragnarok (not a nice place: 1.5 G gravity, few
metals, harsh climates, feral animals).

The descendants, more than a century after, would be able to rebuild
enough technology to send a distress subspatial message and trick an
hostile ship to land. Then, the human descendants accustomed to Ragnarok
would crush easily the aliens and take over the ship.


> (It might also have been the result
> of an inspection of the results of an accidental fire.)

More probable, they used tin rich rocks to build a fireplace, then they
observed that a part of the rock smelt and return solid.
Then, they started to use tin (and copper), and sometimes they mixed
them together with weird results (bronze).
After this, it is probable someone started to experiment with other
types of rock like pyrite.

> Some rocks, or
> parts of rocks, near the huge, hot fire melted more easily than others.
> (And eventually someone built a fire in a large indent in a cliff wall,
> the wind blew hard, the fire roared, and someone said "Let's figure out
> how to blow on the fire -- even harder than the wind!") People who had
> ventured far from home might then say "Hey, I saw rocks in a cave in the
> valley across the way that look like that one that melted quickly," etc.

As I told, it is improbable, wood rarely burn at very high temperature.

> On the new planet, if I were in charge of metal, I'd look around for
> rocks that seemed to have metallic strips in them (all this is
> pre-Google guessing), and put them in a some kind of fireplace with a
> bellows, and some way to catch the melting metal. But mostly I'd be
> trying to slow the aging process so that we would live long enough to
> reach the level of, say, the ancient Greeks (easily doable, I think).

Indeed, no one talked about storing foods and other stuff for
preservation. A more difficult technology to master would be the cold.
Without mastering cold, the humans there would be severely limited.
For example, building a road to a near mountain (for the ores) would
came handy to move ice down and use it in underground cellars to
preserve food and drinks. Salt would came handy for lowering the
temperature of the ice and preserving stuff.
Then, we need to move to producing paper and parchment (last more than
paper). Parchment is more easy to produce (it is a by-product of hunting
large animals) if you are able to tan the skins. Tab can be produced
from oaks seeds fermented (like inks).

Again, the bigger problem remain the man-hours this 1.000 (or 4.000)
humans can put on R&D and production and only large productions are


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