If science is a game, as Karl Popper, Isaac Asimov or Martin Gardner, among others, have pointed out, with even more reason are technique and technology, which are science in action, science in motion. In a first approximation, it could be said that the most theoretical science is a board game and technique and technology are field games, which are developed in a delimited field and with the help of a wide range of objects and instruments.
Technology is science in motion, and the movement, between theory and praxis, is back and forth, a continuous swing, an interaction that becomes fusion. For science, technique and technology cannot be defined separately because they are not separate or separable things; to begin with, they are not even “things”, but processes, or, better said, complementary aspects of the same process, of an incessant dialogue between doing and thinking, between the hand and the brain, between matter and mind. Our tendency to reason in a non-dialectical way, to see the world as a set of fixed and individualized “things” has surely given us some evolutionary advantage, especially when it comes to making quick decisions, which are so important for survival. But when it comes to reflecting and understanding, we have to think about processes and interactions if we don’t want to get stuck in the paradox of the chicken and the egg.
The game, in which our opponent is nature, began when our remote ancestors began to use sticks and stones as tools. Or as weapons. There are no definitive rules, since the game consists, to a large extent, in discovering its own rules and basic techniques as we play. We have learned a lot in the last millions of years, but we still have a lot to learn. The game has never been as fascinating or as dangerous as it is now.
From roller to wheel
The evolution of the wheel, the most versatile and omnipresent of simple machines, provides us with a good example of the continuous dialogue between theory and praxis, between science and technique.
The wheel arose in Mesopotamia around the 5th century BC. C., as a result of a fortunate “accident” that led to the merging of two much older and rudimentary means of transport: the roller and the sled. The merger began as a mere superposition: the sled skis glided better on rollers than directly on the ground and, in doing so, they were wearing down the trunks of the rollers, opening grooves in them that, on the one hand, gave greater stability to the system and On the other hand, they allowed the sled to cover a greater distance before having to put more rollers in front of it, the diameter of the part of the roller in contact with the ground being greater than that of the worn part in contact with the skis. The next step was to remove the wood between the two grooves and fasten the sled to the axis thus formed by means of side pegs. And from this serendipitous fusion of the sled and the roller, the different types of wheels arose, which have not stopped evolving and diversifying ever since.
From the game to the story (and vice versa)
Actually, I just told you a story. Gathering scattered clues, drinking from different documentary sources and throwing a little imagination, we have built the story of the origin of the wheel. Science and technology are games, and the first game, the basis of all the others, is the one played by the imagination inside our heads, inventing stories that sometimes reconstruct reality and other times question it. Or anticipate it. Like the stories that we will be offering you week after week, in which technology will be the protagonist. Or the antagonist…
The texts in this series are brief narrative approaches to that “great game” of science, technique and technology, three inseparable threads of the same braid, which is transforming the world faster and faster and in which we all must participate as players, if we do not want to be mere toys.