Monday, April 16, 2012

Steam-Engine Time

I was reading a book the other day - "The Science of Discworld III - Darwin's Watch" and they mentioned a concept called "Steam-Engine Time". According to Urban Dictionary this means:

A period of time when many inventors all over the world, despite isolation from each other, and with no contact with each other in any way, begin inventing a similar technology with a coincidental commonality of ideas.
The invention of the steam engine didn't occur in only one place but was invented independently and in isolation by many inventors all over the world.

Another example of steam engine time includes the independent invention of the aeroplane by people in isolation from each other in many different regions of the world, leading to arguments about "who" invented the aeroplane first.

Although the book in general was not as good as the first one (in my opinion), I found this concept very interesting. It also reminded me of a similar concept in Rav Tzadok HaCohen who writes:

התורה הוא מפת העולם כמו שאמרו (בראשית רבה ריש פרשה א' א') במשל דדיפתראות ופינקסאות וכן ישראל [שהם ואורייתא חד כנודע כי אור הנפשות דישראל הוא עצמו אור התורה וכמו שמובא (זוהר חדש שיר השירים כ"ד ב) דיש ששים רבוא אותיות לתורה] שבכל דור הם מפת העולם באותו דור כפי ההתחדשות שבנפשות מישראל בכל דור כן התחדשות העולם באותו זמן, וכמו שאמרו (יבמות ס"ג א) אפילו ספינות וכו' בשביל ישראל. וכמו שהנפשות משתנות מדור לדור כן התורה והיינו התורה שבעל פה שמתחדש בכל דור חדשות על ידי חכמי ישראל, ועל ידי כל חדשות התורה שבעל פה יוצא לאור נפשות חדשות מישראל ועל פיהם נתחדש גם כן ענינים בעולם וממצב העולם בכל דור נוכל להתבונן על מצב נפשות ישראל שבדור וכן על מצב התורה שבפיות תלמידי חכמים האמיתים שבאותו דור [ולכן אמרו (חגיגה ה' ב) אבדה עצה מבנים נסרחה חכמתם (ירמיה מ"ט ז') עיין שם ומובן]:
(Tzidkat HaTzadik 90)

The Torah is the blueprint of the world, as it says (Bereishit Rabba 1:1) with the metaphor of the parchment and books. Similarly, Yisrael (who are one with the Torah, as is known, for the light of the souls of Yisrael is itself the light of the Torah as is brought (Zohar Chadash Shir HaShirim 24:2) that htere are 600,000 letters in the Torah) in every generation is the blueprint of the world in that generation. According to the innovations in the souls of Yisrael in each generation are the innovations in the world at that time. As is said (Yevamot 63a) "even the ships that go from Gaul to Spain are blessed only for Israel's sake." Just as the souls change from one generation to another, so the Torah - meaning the Oral Torah, which is renewed in every generation with innovations through the sages of Yisrael. With every innovation in the Oral Torah the potential of hte souls of Yisrael is revealed, and through them come all the innovations in the world. From the state of the world in every generation we can understand the state of the souls of Yisrael in that generation, and also the state of the Torah in the mouths of the True Torah scholars in that generation. (That is why the Talmud (Chagiga 5b) interprets the verse "Counsel is lost from those of understanding and their wisdom is vanished" (Yirmiya 49:7) - Look there further.

1 comment:

  1. Not surprised you're a Prachett fan.

    My favorite example...

    Elisha Gray invented the telephone. However, it was a side-effect of his search of a way to carry numerous telegraph conversations over the same wire (by switching on-and-off different notes on different pitches). So, Gray didn't bother patenting his toy right away.

    He finally did get around to filing for a patent nearly 20 years later -- just hours after Alexander Graham Bell.

    I think what generates this phenomenon is that every event is the convergence of numerous causes. We talk as though there are causal "chains", but it's more like a net.

    The inventor is but one of the items that have to converge in order to produce the invention. If all the other pieces are in place, the field is ripe for any one of numerous inventors to fill the void.

    I usually bring up this "network of causes" idea in a very different context. There being numerous causes for every event means that saying that some person or group's action caused a tragedy doesn't mean they are to blame. Some causes carry guilt, others not. There would have been no Holocaust had the Jews not... (congregated in one part of Europe and treated it like home, succeeded in areas much of the Europian Middle Class did not, or whatever.) But that doesn't remove blame from the Nazis. Hashem told Avraham He was putting everything in place for an exile -- but the blame-carrying cause was still a set of decisions the Egyptians made. Etc...

    There is a general solution here for free will and Providence, but that's even further afield.