Early last year, I sent a few family members an article about the work that was being done in Pittsburgh to clean Kaufman’s Clock. My daughter asked a somewhat technical question about the sandblasting technique the workers were using and my brother quickly answered it. My daughter replied:
“Interesting. I always wonder who first makes these discoveries.”
And…, my brother answered that:
“Most of the time we can’t trace them to one person but… Benjamin Chew Tilghman (1821–1901) was an American soldier and inventor. He is best known as the inventor of the process of sandblasting. Go to Wikipedia for more info — he later patented a process he called a liquid sharpener for files.”
That’s how our family is. My wife shares this trait (so Faith is doomed) of not being content with merely accepting stuff – we all want to know more, we will all conduct some research on a subject of interest. Faith’s question may have its origins in my genes though, because I often wonder who figured out the things we take for granted today.
In my day job, I have had the pleasure of listening to some of the people who figured out Graphical User Interfaces (GUI), Laser Printers, Mice and the technical stuff behind local area networks. We take all of this for granted today, but back in the early ‘80s, people were calling it crazy talk. Knowing this doesn’t make my job easier, but it makes me appreciate things more.
I started thinking about this again after reading another great post on my blog friend’s ItKindaGotAwayFromYou blog. This time, the subject was mushroom hunting. So now I have two blog buddies who seem to know how to hunt for mushrooms, check out West Virginia Mountain Momma’s blog (search for mushrooms because she has several wonderful posts on the subject).
So here’s my thing with mushrooms: Some are delicious, some can make you sick and some are poisonous with a capital POISON but who determined which kind are which? I’m sure at some point there was the unfortunate observation that a particular kind of mushroom killed some of the folks who ate it. But, how did they go forward from that point? I mean, there are about 10,000 kinds of mushrooms. Did they start testing them on the dog? The neighbor? The spouse? My wife doesn’t eat mushrooms; is that a taste preference on her part or a survival instinct?
My father once boiled some mushrooms with a silver Quarter in the pot. He said that if they were poisonous, the Quarter would turn black. Of course this was in the ‘60s, before the Internet and Snopes and when Quarters were still made with silver.
Note: there is no scientific evidence that you can test for mushroom toxicity in this manner. I have a degree in Chemistry, you can trust me.
I don’t get hung up over every discovery. Some stuff, once you think about it, makes perfect sense. Take, for instance the colors we use for clothing and painting our world. I can easily imagine some cave woman looking at a smushed berry, liking the color of the stain and saying “I need shoes and a pocketbook in that color.” I don’t think guys cared about color until cars were invented, by which time most colors had been replicated in the paint shop.
Similarly, I can see how Newton and others discovered and refined our understanding of gravity, but how did we discover how high is too high to jump from? I think somebody probably figured that out before those brainiacs came up with I’m guessing that there were several observations involved but I doubt a bunch of cavemen started by jumping off a rock, increasing the height little by little until one of them broke a few bones. It was probably more like
“Thag jump from there. Thag die. That too high.”
The flip side of this is when I “discover” things. (I mentioned this in an earlier post “Is Anything Obvious” in a rant against people ignoring obvious things). I discovered that Kanga and Roo (in the Disney Channel’s Winnie the Pooh), were kangaroos. My very young daughter looked at me and my wife with the perfect “really?” look on her face as I tried to explain that:
“No, of course I knew they were kangaroos, but their names make up the word kan – ga – roo. Oh, did you guys already know that? I …see.”
You might remember the Presidential Debate where Texas Governor Rick Perry said:
“…there are three cabinet departments I would eliminate: Commerce, Education and… (insert sound of crickets here)”
I’m having a Rick Perry moment right now. Somewhere in my notes, there are three things that I wonder who figured out. I can only find two. Oh well, I guess you get off easy today. Thanks for stopping by. If you wonder about stuff like this, please share that in a comment below.