The Evolution of the Engine
The technological-economic evolution of the human-machine civilization is composed of advances in the amount and quality of information (and how well that information is shared) as well as the efficiency with which that information is used to alter the environment and nature of the human-machine civilization.
In what follows we shall be concerned with the evolution of the means by which the environment is altered.
We call that technology which is capable of physical work – and hence the power to physically alter the environment – an engine. The idea of the engine arises when the principles of Cosmological organization and dynamics are understood to the extent that it then becomes possible to harness those principles to effectuate change.
The earliest engines were human powered tools designed to take advantage of known principles, such as the oar – which took advantage of the principle of resistance in order to effectuate propulsion. During the same era animal power was used as well, sometimes applied to systems of pulleys, levers, and other technologies. As the Human-Machine civilization advanced technologically an increase in discovered principles and the power of the previous engines combined to make it possible to make evermore powerful and effective engines. First wind and water mills, then spring and gravity engines such as clocks with springs and pendulums.
Then came the world-historical altering heat engines. These engines utilized heat, almost always from combustion, to generate physical motion capable of doing work. This is the engine that drove the first industrial revolution and continues to drive the advances of the present through the internal combustion engine. It was the advent of the widespread use of the heat engine in such applications as the locomotive, the steam ship, and the steam shovel that brought the idea of fuel into human thought. Previously work was accomplished through everyday natural events such as wind or flowing water. It was not conceived of by man before the heat engine that energy could be stored away for the future accomplishment of work. Prior to this time the primary engine of work was the human body and the primary store of the potential for that work was precious metals. Precious metals, such as gold and silver, became a medium for the storage of future human labor in market societies and most societies held slaves as a form of energy storage as well. However gold and silver is merely a medium of exchange. It acts as a store for future human labor but it was never conceived of as the direct storage of work in the way that petroleum is understood today, and the way coal was understood in the past.
For more than 200 years the heat engine and its fuel has been the effective agent of the technological-economic evolution of human-machine civilization. During that time astonishing gains have been made in discovering principles of Cosmological order and dynamics. Along with these astonishing gains have come powerful new understandings about how to effectuate change of the environment for the better of humanity. Part of this understanding is a moving away from the thinking of energy as a scarce recourse which must be controlled to control the evolution of the human-machine civilization.
We now understand that we live on the surface of a giant gravitational engine that is continuously emitting thermal radiation and electromagnetic fields and that that giant gravitational engine is revolving around a much larger thermonuclear fire ball that is constantly bombarding us with a large spectrum of electromagnetic radiation. We are swimming in a see of energy. What is called for is an intelligent putting to work of that energy as we alter the human-machine civilization and its environment toward Telos.
This is now beginning to take place through the construction of apparatus capable of transforming solar radiation into electricity and other more usable forms of energy such as ethanol an hydrogen. As this transformation takes place in the coming decade human economic activity will be fundamentally altered because the energy that powers technological change will no longer be a scarce commodity but will be virtually unlimited – thereby making the speed at which change is possible virtually unlimited.
Ah... indeed.. I read about the possibilities of building a solar array in low earth orbit which could then "generate" infinite amounts of energy for the planet.
Unfortunately, even though this is very doable, the powers that be ( the big OilCos and military-industrial complex ) won't fund such a project because of its disruptive potential.
Just imagine it, infinite renewable sustainable energy for the whole planet. Energy would truly be commoditized, In one feel swoop OPEC would become redundant !
One of the technologies that really has me excited are these solar concentrators that are being used to power Stirling engines that are being used to generate electricity much more efficiently than PV cells. Supposedly they are relatively inexpensive to build and one of them generates enough power for five houses. I would love to either build one or buy one if I can.
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