Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Let Us Not Forget the Wheel

When my son was a toddler, he was obsessed by cars. The full sized ones, and the toy ones. He loved playing with them. He’d place his head on the floor, looking sideways, and push a toy car back and forth on the floor, gazing intently at how the wheels turned on their axles, rolling along the floor. He could do this for hours.

I used tell my friends that he was saying to himself:

“Wow, what a great invention.”

Of course I wasn’t completely joking. Clearly it wasn’t an obvious invention. The whole of the New World, including the Maya and the Aztec, never came up with the idea. They had astonishingly sophisticated calendars, but the concept of a wheel seemed out of their reach.

And why is it such a difficult invention? My daughter and I were just talking about that. She says – because the calendar can be deduced from the natural world, from the movement of the sun and the moon and the stars. There is no wheel in nature. It’s a completely man-made invention. It requires a leap of imagination. It’s not derivative.

The internet tells me that the oldest wheel was found in Mesopotamia and is about 5,500 years old. I can’t help wondering who invented it. Was it a man or a woman? (Ok, probably a man, but I can dream…) I’d like to see that person. The Einstein or the Edison or the Pythgoras of his time. Perhaps he slipped and fell, tumbled down a hill, got up and said:

“Eureka! I must file a patent! Quick!”


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