Reason for a New Age

Posts Tagged ‘paper’


Posted by publius2point0 on 2010/01/29

Yep, paper.

One might say that a far more important discovery than paper was language and writing, but the importance of those is probably well enough understood as to not merit being covered in this blog. The value of paper is undervalued in its role in history.

The problems with spoken language are that it’s impermanent and has limited range. Writing, minus paper, still suffers the limit of range. Stone tablets just aren’t very good for trading around.

Within any generation, there are only a small number of people with the ability to develop anything new. The people who might be interested and capable of developing an idea might not live anywhere near to one another geographically nor in time. For the ones ideas to get to the other to be analyzed and improved, you need a method of transmission that is relatively permanent and can be easily passed about. You also need it to be easily enough produced that it can exist as something more than a curiosity.

The Wikipedia has a History of Paper, but to give my own analysis:

The original versions of paper was papyrus, made by weaving together pressed reed-pith so that it formed a rectangular sheet of material that could be drawn or written upon. Being an uneven surface and prone to cracking or otherwise falling apart, it wasn’t a very good method for writing long texts nor preserving them for particularly long periods of time. Being difficult to produce, they were often horded by the government and churches. The common man did not have access to paper and even among the nobility it wasn’t seen as something that one could simply doodle about with and write ones thoughts on.

In regions where the sort of reeds that papyrus could be made with didn’t exist, an alternative was found–parchment–essentially just stretched dried animal skin. This was easier to write upon and more durable, but more costly to produce than papyrus. It was still principally horded by churches and government.

Within ancient Greece, the words of particularly wise men was held to be of sufficient value that their students took it upon themselves to take down their teachings as though it was as important as religious texts–in the case of Plato and Aristotle, some of it was indeed seen as a religious explanation of the world.

While it was certainly useful to have the recorded word of some of history’s geniuses, the value of parchment and papyrus was great enough that anything written was given an air of fact. The medium was too costly to spare on random thoughts and ideas, only on things which were viewed as certainties. This is why I distinguish between paper and these earlier attempts at the technology.

The first form of a true paper arose in China in the 2nd century BC and as testament to the ease of its production, you might note that it was already used to wipe ones behind by the 6th century AD.

Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about Chinese history, but it does seem like there was a fairly immediate uptick on the state of things shortly after the introduction of paper. With the introduction of paper into Arabia, there was the Islamic Golden Age, and when it was introduced into Europe there was the Renaissance.

The benefit of paper is, like I said, for the intellects of the age to exchange ideas and advance others work. The entirety of human capability ultimately rests on human ideas. It’s when those ideas can be exchanged like trading cards that the world truly starts to grow. Until paper arrived, any place on the planet can scarcely advance and is stuck believing that whatever the last guy who could sound smart is infinite, undying wisdom.

It’s also worth noting that Europe could have gained paper far earlier than it did. The Renaissance was probably supposed to start in the 12th century, but the Pope feared that Islamic influences would make their way into Europe and banned the production of paper. The re-introduction of paper into Europe began when religious bans of usury (charging interest on loans) were first ignored and enterprising individuals were able to gain capital to set up paper manufacturing plants. With loans and paper, Europe took its first steps towards becoming the dominant force in the world and eventually starting the modern way of life.

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