The more things change...

"[T]hus it is, by slow steps of casual increase, that our knowledge physical, metaphysical, physiological, polemical, nautical, mathematical, enigmatical, technical, biographical, romantical, chemical, and obstetrical, with fifty other branches of it, (most of 'em ending as these do, in ical) have for these two centuries and more, gradually been creeping upwards towards that Ἀκμή of their perfections, from which, if we may form a conjecture from the advances of these last seven years, we cannot possibly be far off."
[Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759)]
"When that happens, it is to be hoped, it will put an end to all kind of writings whatsoever;—the want of all kind of writing will put an end to all kind of reading;—and that in time, As war begets poverty; poverty peace,—must, in course, put an end to all kind of knowledge,—and then—we shall have all to begin over again; or, in other words, be exactly where we started."


  1. I'm not exactly sure where this leads, but "Eventually, we will progress to the point where we no longer need to write things down, but then at some point this will cause us to forget everything"
    ... over-reliance on digital media that we see today ? but we do make print backups ( though the paper is acid bleached and unsafe for long term archiving ).

  2. Oh I was only really posting the first paragraph. The second is just amusing.

  3. what seems to happen repeatedly is
    1 : develop theory
    2 : eagerly anticipate extension of theory to all possible problems
    3 : reach the end of what said theory can explain
    4 : sit around confused for a while
    5 : get a new theory

    implication : singularity : false expectation of the capabilities of our present scientific framework, or : unrealistic faith that new theories will spring into existence just in time for immortality ?

  4. In STS theory, what you describe is a paradigm shift. Scientists develop a theory that explains all the available facts (there are stars in the sky, they move, ergo, there are giant crystal spheres in the heavens), but as inconsistencies add up (epicycles within epicycles), another theory is developed that explains the facts and the inconsistencies with a greater degree of precision and power than the old theories.

    This explanation is a little brief, as a paradigm is a mixture of theory, mindset, and technique, but could best be described as the practice and results of a branch of science.

    I'd like to note that the fundamentals of most branches of science are fairly old. Quantum physics and statistical mechanics are nearly a century old, genetics and computer science are over fifty years old, and many insurmountable problems in science appear about as insurmountable as they did 20 years ago. We're due for a paradigm shift. Where do you think it's coming from?