In May 1941, the city of London was bombed and the seat of Parliament, the House of Commons, was very badly damaged. When it was being rebuilt, Winston Churchill was asked if the original seating arrangement should be altered.
He said not – the original seats had been such that government and opposition parties sat on benches opposite each other. The spacing between them was set at 3.96 m, said to be equivalent to two swords’ length, presumably to prevent sudden attacks by House members.
This is an example of “smart thinking” of the original builders of 1840. Turning now, as one does, to Mostert’s Mill. This is a windmill in Cape Town and is on University of Cape Town property. It was designed to grind wheat to make flour. It still works. Looking at the design, it is very smart. It’s easy to dress the sails and turn the mill into the wind. It doesn’t work if there is no wind (a fact that installers of modern wind turbines seem to forget). The gearing and grinding mechanisms have weak points that fail if something gets jammed, and so a jammed grindstone will not cause the mechanism to be destroyed. It was built in 1796.
Turning now (as one does) to the cathedral in York, England. It was finished in 1472. It has windows of stained glass. Some of the colours are such that today we do not know how they were created. Moving on. There is Stonehenge. Wally Wallington, of Mitchigan, US, has shown that one man can do all the lifting. But there are other smart things: ancient irrigation systems, ancient forging systems and ancient waterpower devices. Whenever these are read about or presented, somebody opines: “Wow, can you believe it so long ago?” – as if people long ago were not very bright. This is a complete fallacy. People have always been as bright as they are now. The fact of the matter is that inventions come from necessity. When the use of timber for heating in the UK began to be costly, coal was the replacement fuel. It was mined in various areas, first as seams and then as pits. When water flooding became a problem, the pits were pumped out with horse-drawn pumps. This led to the invention of a pump based on steam and this, in turn, to a stationary steam engine pump, followed by a mobile steam engine that drove railway engines. Since this allowed fabric mills to no longer be tied to a source of water power, the UK garment industry grew and grew. Ships became steam powered and no longer needed large crews to man sails and could take more direct routes to their destinations. This massive industrial revolution caused the UK and Europe to be very technically highly advanced, compared with some other parts of the world. However, just because Africans (for example) do not need fuel to last a long cold winter does not mean that they did not advance on the same path. This does not make them not very bright: not having steam engines hardly affected our lives until diamond and gold mines were established.
The message I am trying to convey is that a person who lived 2 000 years ago was no brighter than we are today and no less bright. People may scoff at this and cite modern computers and software and reusable space rockets, but all these, and similar things, are only refined models of what came before. One could claim that modern technology only exists partly because of UK coal mines. We are trained to think that what is old is somehow clunky and crudely designed. People mock things. They say “back in the day” and give a sneer. There is a growing sentiment that what was made in the past is way inferior to that which is made today. So, I say: respect the people of the past – they were as bright as you. And some were brighter.