A Monster for Every Season: Summer 2
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    Default What are technologies that a time traveler could easily introduce to ancient times?

    Consider the following limitations:

    • You (the time traveller) are not an engineer, mechanic or scientist. So if the average person in 2021 could not adequately explain how to build a specific item of technology from scratch (e.g. a radio or an internal combustion engine), then this technology is ineligible for this thought experiment.
    • You arrive naked like a Terminator. That means no books, blueprints or anything of the sort. All knowledge must be in your head. You are allowed only a few hours of research and reading before you are sent to the past.
    • You speak the language of the time and place you arrive in, but do not have any special status or wealth that would allow you to immediately embark on ambitious projects, such as architecture or shipbuilding. Any technology that requires lots of manpower and resources to implement will have to wait until your first few "inventions" have earned you some recognition.
    • "Technology" can include knowledge. However, it should be knowledge that can easily be proven/demonstrated. For example, the germ theory of disease is hard to prove to people from ancient times unless you can invent a microscope. Crop rotation and the toxicity of lead can only be proven via large-scale and long-term experimentation, so you certainly won't be sparking any revolution on those fronts on year 1 of your arrival.


    I have no specific time period in mind; just name technologies that could smoothly be introduced to a much earlier era of human history than the time of their invention.

    I think the wheelbarrow is a strong candidate.
    Last edited by -Sentinel-; 2021-06-21 at 11:25 AM.
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    PaladinGuy

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    Default Re: What are technologies that a time traveler could easily introduce to ancient time

    Waterwheels - and why overshot is better than undershot.
    The Horse collar if you have gone back far enough
    Simple suspension (eg leaf springs) and you could probably explain pneumatic tyres even if you personally cannot make them (ditto spokes v solid wheels)

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    Default Re: What are technologies that a time traveler could easily introduce to ancient time

    The classic examples are the Stirrup and/or the Trunnion, depending on era- technologies that were possible all along, but noone thought of them until much later.

    Arabic numerals and the zero.
    possibly schooner rigs, if you happen to be a sailing afictinado (but not engineer) before going back

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    Default Re: What are technologies that a time traveler could easily introduce to ancient time

    How ancient are we talking? Do you have a choice of what is available nearby?

    Penicillin might be possible to make relatively easily anywhere. The germ theory of disease might be hard to convince people of if you are just a random naked guy that turned up, but if you were the random naked guy that turned up and made a wonder medicine you might get taken more seriously.

    Porcelain could be introduced earlier, but arguable the reason Europe outpaced China in terms of tech was because we didn't have porcelain, meaning our glassworking advanced far further which permitted chemical research.

    Lenses can make telescopes, but are not particularly easy.

    Float glass isn't a massive deal, but could make you wealthy.

    Concrete isn't too hard to make, if you know what you are looking for. Lime mortar in particular isn't hard. Depending where you end up there is a decent chance they know more about it than you though (there is some suggestion that the pyramids were made of lime concrete cast blocks).

    Easiest by far though is the aerofoil, or more particular, the use of lift in triangular sails. Ships capable of crossing oceans are made possible with them, and windmills can be far easier to make work well. That can rapidly change the world.

    Silage is quite an important advancement, often overlooked, and quite easy to do.

    Gunpowder isn't particularly difficult, but without good metallurgy for cannon is quite hard to make more than a curiosity.

    A sun centric view of the universe did get somebody locked up, so philosophical/theological advancements are probably not a good idea.

    Batteries and electric motors are surprisingly easy, but might get you burned for witchcraft.

    If you can build a decent HV supply (easier than most people think, I've done a simple one with lego), CO2 lasers are possible. It took us decades to make the most of lasers, but early understanding of them isn't impossible.

    I'm sure there are many more.

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    Default Re: What are technologies that a time traveler could easily introduce to ancient time

    The locations of unknown areas and navigation techniques. The largest thing you can do it get crops to intermingle between continents and end Eurasia's wheat based famine cycle early.
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    Default Re: What are technologies that a time traveler could easily introduce to ancient time

    Bessemer converter for creating steel, maybe? You just need a large vat, enough temperature to melt iron, and a pump to force air through the stuff to burn the carbon. It was the first industrial scale method of creating steel, and the tech is just about simple enough that you can see it being created wth ancient technology.

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    Default Re: What are technologies that a time traveler could easily introduce to ancient time

    Quote Originally Posted by factotum View Post
    Bessemer converter for creating steel, maybe? You just need a large vat, enough temperature to melt iron, and a pump to force air through the stuff to burn the carbon. It was the first industrial scale method of creating steel, and the tech is just about simple enough that you can see it being created wth ancient technology.
    Wasnt the biggest hurdle the temperature to melt iron, that doesnt also melt your vat?

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    Default Re: What are technologies that a time traveler could easily introduce to ancient time

    Under the show up somewhere stark naked as a complete stranger condition, I think you are most likely to end up enslaved or dead in relatively short order. You are supremely unlikely to access to the money/labor and raw materials necessary to actually build or invent anything, for roughly the same reasons wandering around a modern city in the buff is unlikely to result it people handing you a million bucks and the keys to a research lab.

    Add to that the simple fact that the amount of technology most people understand well enough to construct is pretty minimal, and I can't see most folks being able to change history at all. Like sure if you went back to 1100 AD or so with a solid understanding of simple steam engines and were guaranteed a spot in the local aristocracy, you could do a lot. But under the scenario conditions, the time traveler is going to experience a vast amount of physical and psychological misery, likely followed in short order by death from some combination of exposure, starvation and disease.
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    Default Re: What are technologies that a time traveler could easily introduce to ancient time

    Quote Originally Posted by warty goblin View Post
    Like sure if you went back to 1100 AD or so with a solid understanding of simple steam engines and were guaranteed a spot in the local aristocracy, you could do a lot.
    You'd also have to have a good knowledge of metallurgy on top of the simple steam engine. A significant amount of work being done by the engine means high pressures, which means stronger alloys to withstand the forces in play. With older alloys, you'd probably be limited to low energy engines, like ones to drive mechanical looms.
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    Default Re: What are technologies that a time traveler could easily introduce to ancient time

    You can (almost?) always fall back on bronze. It's stupidly easy to make and get a very good alloy, but the raw material costs are a significant downside. But if you can afford it, you get a fantastic material that outclassed steels in heavy duty applications until the 19th century. I have no clue how to make high grade steel, but 9 parts copper to 1 part tin to be heated until it's liquid is something everyone can do without advanced knowledge in metalurgy.

    If it's so far back that people don't already use it, recommend silver for surgical instruments. It's expensive, but like copper it's a material that bacteria have a really hard time growing on.

    Something that is very easy snd very useful is a plain old scythe. These things have been invented thousands of years ago, but somehow never made it to India, where they are being introduced as an improvement over sickles only in the 21st century. (I guess while merchants travelled all over the world for centuries, farmers didn't actually get to talk shop with each other until now.)
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    Default Re: What are technologies that a time traveler could easily introduce to ancient time

    Quote Originally Posted by -Sentinel- View Post
    Consider the following limitations:

    [LIST][*]You (the time traveller) are not an engineer, mechanic or scientist. So if the average person in 2021 could not adequately explain how to build a specific item of technology from scratch (e.g. a radio or an internal combustion engine), then this technology is ineligible for this thought experiment.
    Weirdly enough, not a huge problem. Merely knowing that something can be done, and how the end product works can be extremely helpful in recreating it.

    Written language has only been truly independently invented 4-6 times. All the rest come from either slow divergence, or was inspired by another language. For instance, the Cherokee language was invented by a Cherokee man who had enough contact with other languages to want the advantage of written language for his own people, and to create a syllabary from whole cloth. It should be noted that he didn't even speak or read English...he merely observed the advantages from the manner of use.

    Goin' back in time to the fifties and saying "cell phones are tiny, bubble cities and flying cars don't exist, fusion is still a maybe" would be immensely helpful in telling researchers what assumptions of the future are worth pursuing and which aren't. You, the person, don't need to understand any of these techs at all to do this.

    Disease does pose a major problem, though. The stuff vaccinated against...cool. But many ancient diseases are not much like their modern counterparts. Over time, diseases tend to become less lethal. Yeah, maybe vaccinations or exposure to an attenuated variant might grant resistance...but depending on the illness, it might not. Our hapless traveller could either be a vector for new illnesses to which the population has no resistance, or could become ill in turn.
    Last edited by Tyndmyr; 2021-06-21 at 03:13 PM.

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    Default Re: What are technologies that a time traveler could easily introduce to ancient time

    The scientific method springs to mind.

    Also nitrocullulose if you go to a time of a more medieval persuasion with alchemists (although you'll need to know the alchemy names for the two key chemicals you treat the cellulose source with, Aqua Fortis, and Oil of Vitriol)

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    Default Re: What are technologies that a time traveler could easily introduce to ancient time

    Thinking again, if you were very far back, soap would be a valuable one.

    There is an argument to be made that the most influential invention on civilisation was the washing machine, due to freeing up an enormous amount of labour time. A basic design for that could make a big difference, and spark the industrialisation of the home. A rotating drum with paddles in a soapy pool is not hard to build.

    The Bessemer process needs you to already have some way of making a vessel, a blast furnace to get the raw steel, a large air pump, and a lance of some description to deliver the air. You can push a civilisation a couple of decades forward at most, unless you also know enough about blast furnaces too. Even then this falls prey of being a large project. It was a big breakthrough, but an incremental one rather than something that could occur in different circumstances.

    If you went back to ancient times I expect they would have better navigation technique than the average modern person, even after a few months of reading never mind a few hours. Modern navigation basically boils down to very accurate clocks, very accurate IMUs, and satellites for triangulation. The actual techniques are pretty simple.

    Initially, staying alive would definitely be a challenge. The ability to read and write, as well as basic mathematical ability could get you noticed, but unfortunately without better than average intelligence I doubt people will take you seriously for long. Best case scenario you get noticed by a smart 'friend' who keeps you around while they exploit your insights. More likely somebody notices what you are doing, does it themselves, and leaves you starving.

    Bronze is fantastic stuff, but copper and tin are not that common, and finding them together almost never happens. Bronze is generally heavily reliant on international trade. Arrive before that anywhere other than Cornwall and your bronzemaking reading is useless. Once international trade started up and people started recasting imported metal bronze was discovered almost immediately, almost certainly repeatedly. Iron ores are far more ubiquitous, so if anything bronze should be your ideal metal with wrought iron being your safe fallback. Kicking off the bronze age early is next to impossible, because the bronze age is basically defined by trade (bronze doesn't exist without it, and naturally emerges when you have it).

    The scientific method is great, but unless you are actually as smart as Galileo you are not going to be able to sell it. Nitrocellulose is a good idea though, if you are late enough to buy nitric acid or able to make you own (as a curiosity why didn't you immediately jump to nitro-glycerine? No harder to make and far safer).

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    Default Re: What are technologies that a time traveler could easily introduce to ancient time

    Quote Originally Posted by Fat Rooster View Post
    Initially, staying alive would definitely be a challenge. The ability to read and write, as well as basic mathematical ability could get you noticed, but unfortunately without better than average intelligence I doubt people will take you seriously for long. Best case scenario you get noticed by a smart 'friend' who keeps you around while they exploit your insights. More likely somebody notices what you are doing, does it themselves, and leaves you starving.
    Indeed. In the classic version of this trope A Connecticut Yankee in King Athur's Court (which clearly isn't sufficiently widely read based on how often questions along these lines get asked - it can be read free and more people should do so), the titular Yankee acquires his position at Arthur's Court by pretending he controls the sun via a convenient eclipse. Without some similar trick all the knowledge in your time traveler's head isn't very helpful.
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    Default Re: What are technologies that a time traveler could easily introduce to ancient time

    Quote Originally Posted by Bohandas View Post
    Also nitrocullulose if you go to a time of a more medieval persuasion with alchemists (although you'll need to know the alchemy names for the two key chemicals you treat the cellulose source with, Aqua Fortis, and Oil of Vitriol)
    Or gunpowder, now that I think of it, sulfur, saltpeter, and charcoal all go back a long way I think

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    Default Re: What are technologies that a time traveler could easily introduce to ancient time

    Antisepsis. If you can concentrate ethanol enough it should be potent enough.

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    Default Re: What are technologies that a time traveler could easily introduce to ancient time

    Ryan North (The Dinosaur Comics guy) had a poster and wrote a book on this sort of thing. Haven't read the book, but going by the free preview of the poster:
    • Pasteurized milk
    • Tungsten lightbulbs
    • Compass
    • Cowpox as an alternative to smallpox


    And also some more involved ideas, such as how airplane wings work, electromagnets, radio, lattitude/longitude, and insulin. Also says here that (the chemical element with the symbol Al and atomic number of 13, you know the one, I'm not opening up that can of worms of how to spell and pronounce it) can be more valuable than gold and gives instructions on how to extract it.
    "Okay, so I'm going to quick draw and dual wield these one-pound caltrops as improvised weapons..."
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    Default Re: What are technologies that a time traveler could easily introduce to ancient time

    Quote Originally Posted by Rakaydos View Post
    Wasnt the biggest hurdle the temperature to melt iron, that doesnt also melt your vat?
    They were perfectly capable of doing that during the Iron Age--that was why they called it that.

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    Default Re: What are technologies that a time traveler could easily introduce to ancient time

    Quote Originally Posted by OracleofWuffing View Post
    Ryan North (The Dinosaur Comics guy) had a poster and wrote a book on this sort of thing. Haven't read the book, but going by the free preview of the poster:
    • Pasteurized milk
    • Tungsten lightbulbs
    • Compass
    • Cowpox as an alternative to smallpox


    And also some more involved ideas, such as how airplane wings work, electromagnets, radio, lattitude/longitude, and insulin. Also says here that (the chemical element with the symbol Al and atomic number of 13, you know the one, I'm not opening up that can of worms of how to spell and pronounce it) can be more valuable than gold and gives instructions on how to extract it.
    I have the book.
    It really depends on when and where you end up.
    Most advancements require infrastructure and other prerequisite technologies - eg guns require good metallurgy, not just the recipe for gunpowder.

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    Default Re: What are technologies that a time traveler could easily introduce to ancient time

    Quote Originally Posted by Arcane_Secrets View Post
    Antisepsis. If you can concentrate ethanol enough it should be potent enough.
    Building on that: distillation. Very simple distillation should be doable even with bronze vessels and water cooling.

    Thinking a bit further afield about things I know:

    If we're early enough, crop rotation. That should be easy enough to explain.

    Algebra? I mean, my high school education is a while ago, and I couldn't explain calculus to anyone (or even do much of it), but I could introduce arabic numerals and from there, a few simple things like quadratic equations or long division.
    Last edited by Eldan; 2021-06-22 at 02:40 AM.
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    Default Re: What are technologies that a time traveler could easily introduce to ancient time

    Non-euclidean geometry.

    Not necessarily the specifics of it, but the idea that the fifth poatulate doesn't hold on a curved surface is easily demonstrated with a ball-shaped object and a straightedge.

    Quote Originally Posted by GeoffWatson View Post
    I have the book.
    It really depends on when and where you end up.
    Most advancements require infrastructure and other prerequisite technologies - eg guns require good metallurgy, not just the recipe for gunpowder.
    Well you can do more with gunpowder than just make guns. You could also make explosives for mining. And also grenades
    Last edited by Bohandas; 2021-06-22 at 03:30 AM.

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    Default Re: What are technologies that a time traveler could easily introduce to ancient time

    Quote Originally Posted by Eldan View Post
    Building on that: distillation. Very simple distillation should be doable even with bronze vessels and water cooling.

    Thinking a bit further afield about things I know:

    If we're early enough, crop rotation. That should be easy enough to explain.

    Algebra? I mean, my high school education is a while ago, and I couldn't explain calculus to anyone (or even do much of it), but I could introduce arabic numerals and from there, a few simple things like quadratic equations or long division.
    Distillation is a good point and I wish I had thought of that. I think some cultures had crop rotation with legumes even if they didn't know they were capable of nitrogen fixation. I'm hard pressed to think of how you could introduce calculus without introducing zero first because of the way that the definitions for derivatives and integrals work.

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    Default Re: What are technologies that a time traveler could easily introduce to ancient time

    Khedrac spoke to this one already, but Jerry Pournelle, in King David's Spaceship , hit on the same idea: The rigid horse collar .

    From the wiki:

    Quote Originally Posted by Wikipedia
    From the time of the invention of the horse collar, horses became more valuable for plowing and pulling. When the horse was harnessed in the collar, the horse could apply 50% more power to a task in a given time period than could an ox, due to the horse's greater speed.[1][2] Additionally, horses generally have greater endurance than oxen, and thus can work more hours each day. The importance and value of horses as a resource for improving agricultural production increased accordingly.

    The horse collar was very important to the development of many areas of the world. Wherever oxen were used and could be replaced with horses, the use of horses boosted economies, and reduced reliance on subsistence farming. This allowed people more free time to take on specialized activities, and consequently to the development of early industry, education, and the arts in the rise of market-based towns.
    In the Pournelle story I linked, travellers from another planet disguise themselves and infiltrate an iron-age world.
    They "invent" rigid horse collars entirely accidentally while on their primary mission -- and in so doing, inadvertently set up for the abolition of slavery in a century or two.

    Pournelle explains it this way: Before the invention of a horse collar there wasn't a particular utility to horses over human slaves. A horse can do five times the work of a man but it also eats five times as much as a human slave. But with the invention of the collar a horse can do ten times the work of a man while eating only five times as much. Result: Human slavery is no longer economical compared to animal labor, with the result that human slavery becomes far less common. It will still linger and prove a hard monster to kill (in fact, it still exists) , but it's the first great stepping stone away from a slave economy and towards an industrial one.

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    Default Re: What are technologies that a time traveler could easily introduce to ancient time

    Depends on how ancient we're talking, and where. Send me to the right place and time, and I could introduce such revolutionary technologies such as firemaking, the wheel, written language, algebra and martial arts.

    Really, unarmed martial arts is one thing I'd be able to teach in any era, a different question is if it would be in any way useful enough compared to existing combative methods of those eras to catch on. Like send me back far enough and I can be first ape to hit another ape with stick to steal their food, but what effect that'd have, I couldn't tell.

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    Default Re: What are technologies that a time traveler could easily introduce to ancient time

    Movable type would be easy if they have an alphabet. Pyramid schemes are pretty effective, they usually take a few bubbles before governments catch on.

    The concept behind morse coding is a big one. Semaphore towers led to telegraphs, which conversely led to Heliographs which could have been built anytime after glass but the language didn't exist then.
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    Default Re: What are technologies that a time traveler could easily introduce to ancient time

    If we disregarded the no books rule, you could kickstart the computer age 2000 years early by getting Charles Babbage's designs with Lady Lovelace's annotations into the hands of the people who built the Antikythera Mechanism

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    Default Re: What are technologies that a time traveler could easily introduce to ancient time

    I feel like a lot of people think that what common knowledge is may be much more than what common knowledge actually is.
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    Default Re: What are technologies that a time traveler could easily introduce to ancient time

    Quote Originally Posted by Eldan View Post
    If we're early enough, crop rotation. That should be easy enough to explain.
    Came here for crop rotation. It's ancient (6000 BCE or so), but it's very easy and very valuable... even a two-field system, with grazing on the other half, can do a lot of good.

    SM Stirling's Nantucket Trilogy goes into all of this, somewhat. They make a smallpox vaccine from either cowpox or the blood of those who survived, IIRC. Introduce stirrups. They have a fair bit of an advantage, though, in that they have an entire island worth of people, a full library, working power supplies, and a Coast Guard training ship with a full crew. His Emberverse series starts from the opposite end, with modern people having to cope with modern technology not working (and then meanders into a low-fantasy epic across the former United States, and then I lost interest).
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    Default Re: What are technologies that a time traveler could easily introduce to ancient time

    Quote Originally Posted by Eldan View Post
    If we're early enough, crop rotation. That should be easy enough to explain.
    Bolding mine:
    Quote Originally Posted by -Sentinel- View Post
    Consider the following limitations:

    • You (the time traveller) are not an engineer, mechanic or scientist. So if the average person in 2021 could not adequately explain how to build a specific item of technology from scratch (e.g. a radio or an internal combustion engine), then this technology is ineligible for this thought experiment.
    • You arrive naked like a Terminator. That means no books, blueprints or anything of the sort. All knowledge must be in your head. You are allowed only a few hours of research and reading before you are sent to the past.
    • You speak the language of the time and place you arrive in, but do not have any special status or wealth that would allow you to immediately embark on ambitious projects, such as architecture or shipbuilding. Any technology that requires lots of manpower and resources to implement will have to wait until your first few "inventions" have earned you some recognition.
    • "Technology" can include knowledge. However, it should be knowledge that can easily be proven/demonstrated. For example, the germ theory of disease is hard to prove to people from ancient times unless you can invent a microscope. Crop rotation and the toxicity of lead can only be proven via large-scale and long-term experimentation, so you certainly won't be sparking any revolution on those fronts on year 1 of your arrival.


    I have no specific time period in mind; just name technologies that could smoothly be introduced to a much earlier era of human history than the time of their invention.

    I think the wheelbarrow is a strong candidate.
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  30. - Top - End - #30
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    OldWizardGuy

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    Default Re: What are technologies that a time traveler could easily introduce to ancient time

    If you come in at just the right moment -- the cure for scurvy. Just bring along lemonade or orange juice or dried citric fruit on your long sea voyage.

    Only if you hit that sweet spot where people are taking long ocean voyages but haven't figured it out.

    But, of course, it's not that easy. At least a few Europeans were actually aware that certain fruits cured or prevented scurvy since before 1497 [ref]. James Lind did a controlled experiment to prove it in 1747. Yet, tens of thousands -- maybe hundreds of thousands -- of British sailors were still dying of scurvy through the 18th century -- 300 years later.

    Seriously, go read the Wikipedia article on the history of scurvy before you think that just knowing an important fact will change anything. I know I'm being a spoilsport, but people on this thread are massively underestimating the gap between knowing a scientific fact and being able to apply it at scale.

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