Hay You

“The technologies which have had the most profound effects on human life are usually simple. A good example of a simple technology with profound historical consequences is hay. Nobody knows who invented hay, the idea of cutting grass in the autumn and storing it in large enough quantities to keep horses and cows alive through the winter. All we know is that the technology of hay was unknown to the Roman Empire but was known to every village of medieval Europe. Like many other crucially important technologies, hay emerged anonymously during the so-called Dark Ages. According to the Hay Theory of History, the invention of hay was the decisive event which moved the center of gravity of urban civilization from the Mediterranean basin to Northern and Western Europe. The Roman Empire did not need hay because in a Mediterranean climate the grass grows well enough in winter for animals to graze. North of the Alps, great cities dependent on horses and oxen for motive power could not exist without hay. So it was hay that allowed populations to grow and civilizations to flourish among the forests of Northern Europe. Hay moved the greatness of Rome to Paris and London, and later to Berlin and Moscow and New York.” ― Freeman Dyson, Infinite in All Directions 

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Goodbye, Prof Freeman Dyson

I was saddened, though not surprised, to learn that Prof Freeman Dyson passed away on Friday in Princeton NJ at the age of 96. I admired him immensely for his intellectual might, bravery and honesty. Thanks to the internet, I have had the great pleasure of gaining from his intelligence, his humanity, his wide-ranging interests, his unconventional ideas.

I agree with all his viewpoints that I came to know about, particularly about climate change. Like him, I believe that the problem is neither urgent nor the most important. Humanity faces many problems, has the capacity to do something about some of them, and some of them are worth allocating resources to now. But climate change isn’t in that set. Continue reading “Goodbye, Prof Freeman Dyson”

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