Beyond Future Imperfect – Part 3: Science, Technology, and Space Travel? You’re Crazy

As you’ve seen so far, you notice that a lot of a lot of these bad predictions pertain to science and technology. After all such ideas tend to shape our lives. Yet, back when scientific theory was being formulated, there were many critics who dismissed such ideas. Sure some of it had to do with religion which usually gets blamed nowadays, particularly when we talk about certain Christian groups not wanting their kids to be taught about evolution in public schools (though as a practicing Catholic, I do believe in evolution through natural processes and divine intervention. Not sure what role God played in this, but then again, the Lord works in mysterious ways.) However, when it comes to criticizing science, it’s not always about religion. Rather it might be the fact that the theory in question seems so crazy to some people that it absolutely makes no sense to them whatsoever. Technology is also changing as well and you’ve seen a lot of how people dismissed big breakthroughs as flops, fads, or failures. One of these breakthroughs in science and technology was space travel that was originally seen as something straight out of Jules Verne. So for your reading pleasure, I now bring you my third installment of Beyond Future Imperfect.

Science? You Mean Bullshit

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Yes, I know that Galileo’s condemnation by the Catholic Church tends to serves as an example of how science and religion don’t tend to get along. However, we tend to forget that the a lot of scholars secular and otherwise didn’t think heliocentrism made a lot of sense. Mostly because they couldn’t wrap their heads around the idea of an earth in motion while everything in their world remained in place. After all, if the earth moves, you should be able to feel it.

“I am tired of all this sort of thing called science here… We have spent millions in that sort of thing for the last few years, and it is time it should be stopped.”–Simon Cameron, U.S. Senator, on the Smithsonian Institute, 1901. (And you thought the Republicans’ war on science was a new thing since so many of them deny climate change as a manmade thing that’s happening as we speak.)

“People give ear to an upstart astrologer who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon… Whoever wishes to appear clever must devise some new system, which of all systems is of course the very best. This fool wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but the sacred scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, not the earth.”— Martin Luther, 1540 (Seems like he wasn’t a big fan of Copernicus, a Polish priest who was proven right about heliocentrism by the way.)

“I can accept the theory of relativity as little as I can accept the existence of atoms and other such dogma.”— Professor Ernst Mach (as in speed-of-sound measurement), 1913 (So how is this guy a scientist? I can understand Einstein’s relativity theory with him. But atoms?)

“The most important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplemented by new discoveries is exceedingly remote.”— Forest Ray Moulton, Astronomer, 1935 (There’s still more to be discovered, man. Just watch PBS on Wednesday night.)

“Mathematics is inadequate to describe the universe, since mathematics is an abstraction from natural phenomena. Also, mathematics may predict things which don’t exist, or are impossible in nature.”- Ludovico delle Colombe, 1633 (Uh, you might want to reconsider.)

“Animals, which move, have limbs and muscles. The earth does not have limbs and muscles; therefore it does not move.”- Scipio Chiaramonti [Professor of philosophy and mathematics at University of Pisa, arguing against the heliocentrc system, 1633] (Uh, just because something doesn’t have limbs and muscles doesn’t mean it doesn’t move. For instance, the earth moves around the sun by invisible forces like gravity. Reminds me of the witch sketch from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.)

“Just as in the microcosm there are seven `windows’ in the head (two nostrils, two eyes, two ears, and a mouth), so in the macrocosm God has placed two beneficent stars (Jupiter, Venus), two maleficent stars (Mars, Saturn), two luminaries (sun and moon), and one indifferent star (Mercury). The seven days of the week follow from these. Finally, since ancient times the alchemists had made each of the seven metals correspond to one of the planets; gold to the sun, silver to the moon, copper to Venus, quicksilver to Mercury, iron to Mars, tin to Jupiter, lead to Saturn.

From these and many other similar phenomena of nature such as the seven metals, etc., which it were tedious to enumerate, we gather that the number of planets is necessarily seven… Besides, the Jews and other ancient nations as well as modern Europeans, have adopted the division of the week into seven days, and have named them from the seven planets; now if we increase the number of planets, this whole system falls to the ground… Moreover, the satellites are invisible to the naked eye and therefore can have no influence on the earth, and therefore would be useless, and therefore do not exist.”– Francesco Sizzi, astronomer at Florence. [Arguing against Galileo’s 1610 announcement of his discovery of four moons of Jupiter.] (Someone get this guy a telescope. Because that’s how Galileo discovered them. Also, there are way more than 7 metals.)

“It is difficult to deal with an author whose mind is filled with a medium of so fickle and vibratory a nature…; We now dismiss…the feeble lucubrations of this author, in which we have searched without success for some traces of learning, acuteness, and ingenuity, that might compensate his evident deficiency in the powers of solid thinking…”- Henry Brougham. [Criticizing Thomas Young’s wave theory of light.] (Let me guess who’s right here. Uh, Thomas Young.)

“Buildings and the earth itself would fly off with such a rapid motion that men would have to be provided with claws like cats to enable them to hold fast to the earth’s surface.” — Libertus Fromundus, Anti-Aristarchus, 1631 (I don’t think this guy understands how planetary motion works.)

“If we concede the motion of the earth, why is it that an arrow shot into the air falls back to the same spot, while the earth and all the things on it have in the meantime moved very rapidly toward the east? Who does not see that great confusion would result from this motion?” — Polacco, Anticopernicus Catholicus, 1644 (Uh, how about gravity?)

“There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now; All that remains is more and more precise measurement.” – Lord Kelvin, 1900. (Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is a start as far as he’s concerned.)

Technology? That’s Science Fiction

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And IBM thought the founders of Xerox could only sell 5,000 of these things. Today, the word Xerox is now synonymous for “photocopier.” So the joke’s on IBM.

“If I had thought about it, I wouldn’t have done the experiment. The literature was full of examples that said you can’t do this.” — Spencer Silver on the work that led to the unique adhesives for 3-M “Post-It” Notepads. (Boy, this guy didn’t know what he just accomplished with “Post-It” Notepads.)

“You want to have consistent and uniform muscle development across all of your muscles? It can’t be done. It’s just a fact of life. You just have to accept inconsistent muscle development as an unalterable condition of weight training.” — Response to Arthur Jones, who solved the “unsolvable” problem by inventing Nautilus. (And people have been using that ever since.)

“Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You’re crazy.” — Workers whom Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil in 1859. (Apparently, drilling for oil ended up becoming one of the most profitable enterprises ever. Hell, this world basically runs on oil drilling which isn’t helping our fossil fuel dependency.)

“The world potential market for copying machines is 5000 at most.” — IBM, to the eventual founders of Xerox, saying the photocopier had no market large enough to justify production, 1959 (Today, these are at almost every office building, school, or business you can think of. And Xerox is now synonymous with photocopier.)

“Inventions reached their limit long ago and I see no hope for further development.”— Julius Sextus Frontinus, prominent Roman engineer (c. 40-103 AD) (I can see plenty after the first century AD, thank you very much.)

“In my own time there have been inventions of this sort, transparent windows, tubes for diffusing warmth equally through all parts of a building, short-hand which has been carried to such a pitch of perfection that a writer can keep pace with the most rapid speaker. But the inventing of such things is drudgery for the lowest slaves; philosophy lies deeper…”- Roman poet Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 B.C.E.-65 C.E.) (Seems like the Romans weren’t fans of scientific innovations.)

“There is a young madman proposing to light the streets of London—with what do you suppose—with smoke!”– Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) [On a proposal to light cities with gaslight.] (Gas would be the dominant source of lighting throughout the late 19th and early 20th century.)

“Theological: It is an intervention in God’s order, which makes nights dark…

Medical: It will be easier for people to be in the streets at night, afflicting them with colds…

Philosophical-moral: Morality deteriorates through street lighting. Artificial lighting drives out fear of the dark, which keeps the weak from sinning.” –The Kölonische Zeitung [Köln, Germany, 28 March 1819] on why there shouldn’t be street lighting. (I can give you plenty of good reasons for it. For one, it keeps you safe. Second, it helps you navigate through the area. Third, it helps you determine where to avoid the horseshit.)

“Given a compact power source…the house of the future would have no roots tying it to the ground. Gone would be water pipes, drains, power lines; the autonomous home could therefore move, or be moved, to anywhere on earth at the owner’s whim. The time may come, therefore, when whole communities may migrate south in the winter, or move to new lands whenever they feel the need for a change of scenery.” Arthur C. Clarke describing 2001 in 1966. (Nice way to picture the future which didn’t happen yet, especially in 2001.)

“Printed books will never be the equivalent of handwritten codices, especially since printed books are often deficient in spelling and appearance.” – Trithemius in his treatise, “In Praise of Copying.” (Actually printed books are better in appearance and spelling, thanks to Johannes Gutenberg in the 1400s.)

Space Travel? Seriously, You’re Delusional

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And there were so many people who didn’t think this moment on July 20, 1969 wouldn’t be possible. But it happened and Buzz Aldrin is still alive to tell the tale. There were 5 other landings after that with 9 other men on the moon ever since. Unfortunately, despite it being televised, many people believed that the moon landing was faked in Arizona.

“That Professor Goddard with his ‘chair’ in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution does not know the relation of action to reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react–to say that would be absurd. Of course, he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.” — 1921 New York Times editorial about Robert Goddard’s revolutionary rocket work. The remark was retracted in the July 17, 1969 issue. (Yeah, I can see where the New York Times would regret that one. Because rockets have been sent to space since the 1950s.)

“A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.” — New York Times, 1936 (Man, it seems like the NYT is really stuck with the impossibility of rockets in space thing. Wonder how that worked out.)

“There is practically no chance communications space satellites will be used to provide better telephone, telegraph, television, or radio service inside the United States.” — T. Craven, FCC Commissioner, in 1961 (the first commercial communications satellite went into service in 1965). (Boy, that’s sure going to bite him in the ass 4 years later. And yes, we do use commercial satellites nowadays.)

“To place a man in a multi-stage rocket and project him into the controlling gravitational field of the moon where the passengers can make scientific observations, perhaps land alive, and then return to earth – all that constitutes a wild dream worthy of Jules Verne. I am bold enough to say that such a man-made voyage will never occur regardless of all future advances.” — Lee DeForest, American radio pioneer and inventor of the vacuum tube, in 1926 (Note: This was how Apollo 11 pulled it off the moon landing in 1969.)

“There has been a great deal said about a 3000 miles high angle rocket. In my opinion such a thing is impossible for many years. The people who have been writing these things that annoy me have been talking about a 3000 mile high-angle rocket shot from one continent to another, carrying an atomic bomb and so directed as to be a precise weapon which would land exactly on a certain target, such as a city.

“This foolish idea of shooting at the moon is an example of the absurd length to which vicious specialization will carry scientists working in thought-tight compartments. Let us critically examine the proposal. For a projectile entirely to escape the gravitation of earth, it needs a velocity of 7 miles a second. The thermal energy of a gramme at this speed is 15,180 calories… The energy of our most violent explosive–nitroglycerine–is less than 1,500 calories per gramme. Consequently, even had the explosive nothing to carry, it has only one-tenth of the energy necessary to escape the earth… Hence the proposition appears to be basically impossible.”– W. A. Bickerton, Professor of Physics and Chemistry at Canterbury College (Christchurch, New Zealand), 1926. (Yet, somehow NASA seemed to pull this off in 1969.)

“There is not in sight any source of energy that would be a fair start toward that which would be necessary to get us beyond the gravitative control of the earth.”– Forest Ray Moulton (1872-1952), astronomer, 1935. (How about a fancy type of gasoline called rocket fuel?)

“Space travel is utter bilge.”– Dr. Richard van der Reit Wooley, Astronomer Royal, space advisor to the British government, 1956. (Apparently, Sputnik would orbit the following year. I’d like to see his reaction.)

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