Anything you can do, I can do better.
I can do anything better than you.
– Annie Get Yer Gun
I’ve long since come to terms with the fact that this isn’t so. In our modern, high-tech world, there are many things I can’t do at all, much less “better.” Repair a car. Program a computer. Trouble-shoot an air exchanger.
And that’s OK. No one could do all these things, and I’m sure I have other skills.
Can you bake a pie?
Neither can I.
– Annie Get Yer Gun
Well, OK, my skills are more theoretical than practical, perhaps. But I’m sure if I were dropped into the far distant past, I would shine, what with all my modern knowledge. I mean, think what I could teach them. I’d have to learn how to do some things with more-primitive technology, but that would just be a matter of time.
Or would it? Look at what Samuel Morison has to say about boat-building methods, starting in the Middle Ages and running up until about 1945.
The builder first selects a “slip” at the head of tide, slightly inclined so the vessel will launch easily, and places big oak blocks evenly spaced to support her when built. Some small vessels were doubtless built by eye, but the larger ones were carefully planned with compass and divider, the members “laid down” in a mould loft with chalk or charcoal, and templates of them made with thin pieces of light wood. . . .
Oak is preferred, not only for its strength but because limbs growing from the trunk at different angles make natural crooks for the ribs or frames, the knees, and the curved stem piece. Builders would carry a wagon-load of templates into the oak grove, match them against standing trees, cut down those they wanted, and shape them with ax or adze.
– The Great Explorers (emphasis added)
Now the Middle Ages ran from about 500 to 1500 AD (476 – 1453, to be precise but the other numbers are easier to remember). I suppose boat-building know-how improved over that span, but here’s the point. If I were dropped back into any part of that, I would be as useless for building boats as I am for building cars, and I’m not sure *my* know-how would improve appreciably. Primitive technology my foot.
If I have seen further,
it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.
– Sir Isaac Newton
I can’t even claim to have seen further, but if I have taken a boat ride, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.
And in case you’d like to enjoy this classic song in full . . .