Nicolas Nelson Sec1A, Week 9

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Nicolas Nelson Sec1A, Week 9

I don’t believe we were meant to do a Week 9 blog since we had a week to finish our midterm and there isn’t a category for it on the site, but I’ll do this anyway since it’s usually a good idea to be safer than sorrier.

Although I already typed an extra credit blog about nanotechnology and the caution that must be taken in manufacturing products on the safety seminar last week, this time we were provided with a broader run of topics to discuss.

But first I’ll take this opportunity to expand on something I was pondering during the aforementioned lecture that I forgot to blog about: the gold-refining process. The speaker gave what appeared to be a scrupulous description of the purification of gold, and its extraction from compounds where it would be negligibly trace to the naked eye until a fraction of a percent is saved each time, summated, and converged into a homogenous, sizable nugget. In reality, however, I’m sure that the entire, intricate processes displayed on the projector were merely a fraction of the nuances actually involved. Nonetheless, he made his point: some nanoparticle was hypothesized to slice the resources consumed to a minimum, simplifying the process of producing this yield of aurum. What interested me, however, is the direct parallel to alchemy. Modern western men of science consider the practices of alchemy and astrology to be quackery, but for all its foolishness and lack of foundation, we’re not using nanotechnology to extract a golden profit from a material that otherwise for all purposes was blatantly not gold. Stars, as it turns out, actually do have a greater role in our destinies as implied by modern quantum physics and astrology. Long story short, humanity has been rewriting this short story for a long time. The cycle of science claims that all precedents to newer, all-encapsulating theories are false, though “the reality” at their time. As our ability to see farther and farther down increases—as the powers of ten plummet into the negatives in what we can see and manipulate and discover—our knowledge of the great universe expands, and we need these newer theories to capture all that the old ones did, minus some reparations, as well as the new information. Our obsessive quest for the an explanation of life and purpose compels drastic endeavors in any field—the search for the “theory of everything” in science, the production of tinier and tinier robots in technology, the making of an entirely original (if that’s at all possible) work or method or philosophy of art, etc., etc., etc.

Now that that rant is over, I’ll move on to the tiny, quantum, Heinsberg-demolished abacus. I thought it was fascinating how something so miniscule—so wavelike—that its form arose not from matter but the probability of finding matter. My friend next to me was amused at the painstaking effort squeezed into this tiny, quite transient novelty—the world’s smallest calculator. He said that the technology discussed was not nanotechnology—that the molecules used to create the calculator existed before we could observe them. I argued that that was exactly the point; without perceiving them, we cannot hope to manipulate them in precision and witness the results. So he reminded me that there was once a field called microtechnology; we’re only dropping by powers of ten, not reinventing the atom. He chuckled and said that one day future students could be sitting in this lecture hall hearing about angstromtechnology. Not quite so cleverly, I expanded (although strictly speaking I suppose I actually contracted it) the metaphor into planck-length-technology. Who knows?

The past few weeks of lecture and the research for my final project keep igniting this recurring theme in my head: is there an asymptote to science, technology, and art that we will not be able to cross—where the speed of light, quantization of space, and depletion of new ideas prohibit any further vanishing point motion of advancement? If so, when? More importantly, will there be a point in living beyond that time?

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