Luddism and New Ideas:
The endlessly beguiling journal NATURE has published a comment (In Praise of Luddism, David Edgerton NATURE vol. 471 no. 7336 March 3, 2011 page 27) about the Luddite movement.

I had thought that there was really a man named “Ludd,” but apparently he was a fiction.  There was a movement that used that name for issuing proclamations.  What the Luddite’s most characteristically and famously did was to break up machinery that was being used in large mills and was driving private producers out of work as spinners, weavers and to forth.  That is not in fact what the article is praising, although it gives it rather better press than usual.  Most people regard those acts as both criminal and foolish.  But the truth may be a dark shade of gray.

The interest of the article is in new ideas.  Now I suppose you think, as I do, that new ideas are a good thing.  New investments, new laws, new standards, new but not contributory words and such like I regard with suspicion or outright hostility.  But new ideas, there should not be any harm in thinking about what we are doing. 

Blogs and chat rooms provide the person without credentials the opportunity to be read.  Sometimes I’m sure it leads to something, but I cannot call an occasion to mind.

Well the article takes the position that by and large new ideas are a Bad Thing and stifling them is a Good Thing, a thankless but valuable and even vital task because there are so many of the dratted things around that we would get nothing done if we considered them all.

Odd how times change.  Not that many years ago my favorite column in NATURE was a regular feature called Daedalus by one David Jones.  Every week he would concoct a new idea to be featured, always good fun, always outrageous and always with due attention to the laws of science.  He even solved a problem I had grappled with for years.  It had to do with moving a charge through space without moving a charged particle through that space.  He even responded when I pointed out that his scheme (if it worked; neither of us has actually tried it) had applications far beyond what he had envisioned. 

Many years ago I saw a brief scene on black and white television.  The bad guys were having a meeting to discuss a problem their nefarious scheme had in the form of a mysterious and intrusive stranger.  Suddenly a dagger came through the open window from the night outside and to general consternation quivered in the wall inches from the face of the biggest and baddest of the guys.  Impaled on the blade was a note from Zorro. 

So I took a look at the article and wondered, “Is it addressed to me personally?” 

Against: If Brother Edgerton is telling the truth, then there are uncounted thousands of people with new ideas pouring out every day.  In that case, where is my Daedalus column? 

For: Well it did scrape my nose, didn’t it?

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