Category Archives: inventions

Top Five: Inventions

So I like making top five lists.  Top five movies, top five books, top five authors, blah, blah, blah.  Not sure why I enjoy it, especially since I go in knowing that I’m going to forget something important.

Anyhow, today I’m going with my list of the top five human inventions.

I’ve discussed this list with a lot of friends over the years and it’s a rather interesting debate because you have to define certain things before you even begin.  For example, what constitutes an invention versus a discovery?  Take penicillin.  Penicillin existed long before mankind began using it as a medicine, so it qualifies more as a discovery.  However we don’t go around eating penicillin straight, there are processes involved, techniques, things which have been invented around penicillin.  For the sake of simplicity, however, I’ve decided that an invention which refines a discovery is only valuable if the invention takes on a life of its own, instead of getting the full credit from what the discovery accomplishes.

I don’t think I expressed that as well as I could have, but… ah, hell, let’s just pretend like it makes sense.

The second issue that comes up a lot in my conversations are inventions upon which other inventions are based.  Let’s say, for example, that I wanted to list a car.  Since cars are fairly dependent upon the internal combustion engine, and the wheel, wouldn’t that mean those other two are of more value than the car itself?

It’s a reasonable consideration, and I won’t begrudge anyone who decides that in their own listing an invention gains the value of all those objects dependent upon it.  For myself, however, I will take the view that an invention is responsible only for the leaps and bounds that occur in the wave of creativity immediately following them.  That is to say that, while the wheel is an important part of a car, the car did not come about because of the wheel.  It did, however, occur within a few decades of the creation of the internal combustion engine.  In fact, it was right during the initial development of it, so the internal combustion engine can take credit for the car.

So, those rules established, here is my list:

1. Written Language

2. Sewer Systems

3. Computers

4. Irrigation

5. Hot tub

Now I feel like I should put in a couple of honorable mentions and explain why they weren’t chosen.

1. Spoken language: the argument here, made by a friend of mine when I originally listed language as my number one choice, is that spoken language is not an invention, but a development.  Essentially he felt that I was giving human beings credit for an evolutionary accomplishment.  I don’t know whether or not I agree with him, but he had a good point, so I decided to break language in half.  The written word stands, I believe, as an invention in its own right.

2. Modern medicine: Modern medicine can do a lot of amazing things.  People who, only a decade or so ago, would have died terrible deaths, are now living quite comfortably.  But there are two major issues with putting it on this list: first off, it is not a single thing but a conglomeration of an obscene number of discoveries and inventions, any one of which, on its own, has created a fairly nominal effect.  The second reason is that it isn’t nearly as developed as I think we perceive it to be.  Nor is it particularly well administered.  It is a field of study which is very much in its inception and which is spreading and growing far too slowly.

3. Beer: I have been recently informed that the creation of beer is part of what allowed civilizations to develop.  It’s a fascinating story and I’m interested in learning more sometime in the future.  But it didn’t make the list.  Why?  Because I’m not a big beer guy.  what can I say?

4. Rockets:  I should explain, rockets are on my top ten list of greatest inventions both because they allow for accelerated travel, which is nice, and because they’ve allowed us to start sending stuff up into space.  Those and computers.  I think that we, as a species, are in the midst of two great revolutions.  the first is the computer revolution, where our entire society is shifting as we become more reliant on, and more aware of what can be done because of computers, and the second is the revolution of our understanding of the universe, which is possible because we are now able to see it more clearly, because we can send ships out to take pictures of it.  But the rocket revolution is too slow, plus it’s totally dependent on computers, so, you know, computers make the top five and rockets don’t.

So what do yo think, did I nail it?  forget something?