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January 20, 2011

A Pleasantly Disturbed Thursday

They're doing construction on the building across the way here at UBC. Every time I look out my window, whether spending a moment daydreaming or trying to think, I see the red girders on the rooftop, arranged in some kind of grid-like fashion. They're obviously building another floor onto the building.

I take in the regularity of the layout, the perfect rectangles that the metal beams form, and I imagine what will eventually wrap those girders in a warm embrace. Concrete? Drywall? Both? Some find of fantastical new plastic polymer that will revolutionize the construction industry?

I see that, and I think of our own building, whether the building I'm currently working in or our condo downtown. I imagine the intricacy of what must lie beneath the walls and floors that we are encased in or walking on top of.

And I marvel.I marvel at what is holding us up so far above the ground. How all of these pieces fit together to form something so perfect that it will stand up in the wind, or even possibly an earthquake. How do we not fall through the floor? Or how does the floor support us? How is that roof supported?

Yes, I know it's all engineering and physics. But to those of us who don't understand these things, it might as well be magic. You've probably heard the old adage from Arthur C. Clarke about "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

How many things do we use every day that, if somebody from 1888 came forward in time and saw it and asked you about it, you wouldn't be able to explain how it works? Sure, you'd be able to explain how to use it. But how it works?

I recall reading something just recently (can't remember where, so if you recognize this, please let me know) that said travelling back in time wouldn't necessarily give you any advantage as far as technology goes, because you'd never be able to reproduce what you bring back. An iPhone? Sure, you could use it (though the roaming charges would be killer), but if it breaks? You'll never build another one.

Could you introduce automatic weapons and take over the world if you went back to 11th-century England? Of course not! You would have no idea how to make them. You would have a lot of knowledge the populace doesn't have, but how much of it is practical knowledge?

You can text Caesar and try and tell him to beware the Ides of March (though the cheapskate probably didn't spring for a text plan), but could you make the trip between Rome and Athens without help from the locals? Could you forage for food? Fight off bandits? (I suppose you could show them your phone and make them think you're some kind of demon, I guess, though they might just kill you right there).

Technology? Magic? What's the difference sometimes? One might as well be the other, as far as our understanding of certain things goes.

And does all of this mean I should stop looking out the window and get back to work?

This is part of Duane Scott's "Pleasantly Disturbed Thursdays" series, Volume 15. Go on over and check out the other entries!


  1. I would never want to travel back in time. I appreciate flush toilets too much to risk never seeing one again...

  2. LOL that's a good point!

    I should have mentioned that as another piece of technology that none of us could build, unless you're actually in that industry.

  3. Dave, my man... You're good at this!

    I loved it!

    And you know what? I just take for granted that the building I'm in will stay up. Now I'm scared and may sleep outside.

  4. Thanks, Duane!!!

    You're an inspiration. :)

    Sorry if I scared you, though!!


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