Difference between revisions of "The Wood Age: How One Material Shaped the Whole of Human History"

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}}{{author|Roland Ennos}}: {{br|The Wood Age: How One Material Shaped the Whole of Human History}}
 
}}{{author|Roland Ennos}}: {{br|The Wood Age: How One Material Shaped the Whole of Human History}}
  
It’s hard to think of a better example of the importance of [[narrative]] in recounting history — not just in engaging a reader, and providing a different perspective, but in shaping the history itself. We are used to the histories of kings and queens, of famous men, of villains, of heroines, of civilisations, of conquest and expiration. This gives conventional history a particular, heroic cadence oriented around individual lives and personal conflicts.  
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The contrarian’s history.  
  
We are in love with our cult of personality. But it isn’t plausible think that a hundred, thousand or even ten thousand individuals have shaped our species.
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It’s hard to think of a better illustration of how importance [[narrative]] is in recounting history — not just in engaging the imagination, and providing a framework from which, and through which to regard events, but in shaping and defining the events of history themselves. Our narrative engulfs us in ways we cannot see: its parameters  decide what are the interesting and valid questions — the “right” questions — to ask.  
  
On the other, hand ''wood'' really might have.  
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By and large, our histories are those of men: kings, some queens, villains, heroes, heroines, civilisations, movements: of conquest and expiration. In any case, they are anthropocentric. They have a particular, heroic cadence of human lives, human lifespans, and human conflicts.
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We are in thrall to the cult of personality, however absurd it might really be to think that one, or a hundred, or a thousand or even ten thousand individuals have meaningfully shaped our history.<ref>Go on, say, “what about Hitler”. You know you want to.</ref>
  
The observation has been made<ref>Yuval Harari for certain, and it’s the sort of thing {{author|Richard Dawkins}} would say, when not trolling Christians, too.</ref> about sheep, or wheat, that ''they'' domesticated ''homo sapiens'' and not ''vice versa'': these are amusing contrarian ideas with perhaps an element of truth (but they are better examples of the dynamic nature of [[complex]] systems where everyone co-domesticates everyone else). But it is ''far'' truer of wood: you can only ''eat'' wheat, and its domestication began only a few short millennia ago. About ten.  
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On the other, hand ''wood'' really might have. There is not a human life in history it has not profoundly affected. {{author|Roland Ennos}}’s excellent book asks whether we are not perhaps missing the wood for the trees.
  
Wood has been — ahh — part of the furniture a little while longer than that: since — well, since we came down from the trees, we have lived in it, sheltered under it, made tools and weapons out of it, burned it as fuel, and travelled in it. It is strong, flexible, combustible, shapable, carvable, and it doesn’t melt. It may have even triggered the evolution of consciousness: apes, manoeuvering through the treetops, needed a concept of “self”, because their bodies changed the world around them by bending the branches they stood upon. That is a profound thought. Those hailing the incipient triumph of the machines might consider how that differs from conditions for evolution of a [[neural network]]. What is the “bending branch” that will prompt a learning machine into self-reflection?
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The observation has been made<ref>By Yuval Harari for certain, and it’s the sort of thing {{author|Richard Dawkins}} would say, when not trolling Christians, too.</ref> about sheep, or wheat, that ''they'' domesticated ''homo sapiens'' and not ''vice versa'': these are amusing contrarian ideas with an element of truth (but they are better examples of the dynamic nature of [[complex]] systems where everything co-domesticates, or conditions, everything else). But however fair it is of wheat, it is ''far'' fairer of wood: you can only ''eat'' wheat, and its domestication began only a few short millennia ago.
  
Wood’s ubiquity, its adaptability for almost any task and its resilience — not just as a material, but as compared to any other material, up to the present day — makes for fascinating reading. Ennos repeatedly confronts and rebuts conventional wisdom with deep observations, often on topics that seem well-removed from wood. For example, how an abundance of wood has been not an accelerant of civilisation but a ''retardant'': If you have all the wood you need you are not forced to improvise, to fix and make do, to use what you have in creative and unconventional ways to make things better — from which impulse comes innovation.
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Wood has been — ahh — ''part of the furniture'' quite a bit longer than that: since, well, since we came down from the trees, we have lived in it, sheltered under it, made tools and weapons out of it, burned it, cooked with it, and travelled in it. It is strong, flexible, combustible, shapable, carvable, and it doesn’t melt. It may have even triggered the evolution of consciousness: apes, manoeuvering through the treetops, needed a concept of “self”, because their bodies changed the world around them by bending the branches they stood upon. That is a profound thought. Those hailing the [[A World Without Work: Technology, Automation, and How We Should Respond|incipient triumph of the machines]] might consider how that differs from conditions for evolution of a [[neural network]]. What is the “bending branch” that will prompt a learning machine into self-reflection?
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Wood’s ubiquity, its adaptability for almost any task and its resilience — not just as a material, but as compared to any other material, up to the present day — makes for fascinating reading. Ennos repeatedly confronts and rebuts conventional wisdom about wood, its future, its cultivation, its environmental impact and its sociological importance with deep observations, often on topics that seem well-removed from wood. For example, how an abundance of wood has been not always been an accelerant of civilisation but, especially in the period between the Roman times and the Renaissance when there little development, a ''retardant'': If you have plenty of a material that meets all your prevailing needs, you are not forced to improvise, to fix and make do, or to use what you have in creative and unconventional ways to make things better — from which impulse comes [[innovation]].
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Highly recommended.
 
{{sa}}
 
{{sa}}
 
*[[Complexity]]
 
*[[Complexity]]

Latest revision as of 20:18, 16 March 2021

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Roland Ennos: The Wood Age: How One Material Shaped the Whole of Human History

The contrarian’s history.

It’s hard to think of a better illustration of how importance narrative is in recounting history — not just in engaging the imagination, and providing a framework from which, and through which to regard events, but in shaping and defining the events of history themselves. Our narrative engulfs us in ways we cannot see: its parameters decide what are the interesting and valid questions — the “right” questions — to ask.

By and large, our histories are those of men: kings, some queens, villains, heroes, heroines, civilisations, movements: of conquest and expiration. In any case, they are anthropocentric. They have a particular, heroic cadence of human lives, human lifespans, and human conflicts.

We are in thrall to the cult of personality, however absurd it might really be to think that one, or a hundred, or a thousand or even ten thousand individuals have meaningfully shaped our history.[1]

On the other, hand wood really might have. There is not a human life in history it has not profoundly affected. Roland Ennos’s excellent book asks whether we are not perhaps missing the wood for the trees.

The observation has been made[2] about sheep, or wheat, that they domesticated homo sapiens and not vice versa: these are amusing contrarian ideas with an element of truth (but they are better examples of the dynamic nature of complex systems where everything co-domesticates, or conditions, everything else). But however fair it is of wheat, it is far fairer of wood: you can only eat wheat, and its domestication began only a few short millennia ago.

Wood has been — ahh — part of the furniture quite a bit longer than that: since, well, since we came down from the trees, we have lived in it, sheltered under it, made tools and weapons out of it, burned it, cooked with it, and travelled in it. It is strong, flexible, combustible, shapable, carvable, and it doesn’t melt. It may have even triggered the evolution of consciousness: apes, manoeuvering through the treetops, needed a concept of “self”, because their bodies changed the world around them by bending the branches they stood upon. That is a profound thought. Those hailing the incipient triumph of the machines might consider how that differs from conditions for evolution of a neural network. What is the “bending branch” that will prompt a learning machine into self-reflection?

Wood’s ubiquity, its adaptability for almost any task and its resilience — not just as a material, but as compared to any other material, up to the present day — makes for fascinating reading. Ennos repeatedly confronts and rebuts conventional wisdom about wood, its future, its cultivation, its environmental impact and its sociological importance with deep observations, often on topics that seem well-removed from wood. For example, how an abundance of wood has been not always been an accelerant of civilisation but, especially in the period between the Roman times and the Renaissance when there little development, a retardant: If you have plenty of a material that meets all your prevailing needs, you are not forced to improvise, to fix and make do, or to use what you have in creative and unconventional ways to make things better — from which impulse comes innovation.

Highly recommended.

See also

References

  1. Go on, say, “what about Hitler”. You know you want to.
  2. By Yuval Harari for certain, and it’s the sort of thing Richard Dawkins would say, when not trolling Christians, too.