Mental Exercise 7/28/21

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

Sometimes I like playing mental games with myself.  The idea is to figure out how to get out of a far-fetched situation.  For example, one of my favorites is to consider the situation in which I am transported to the Renaissance with all of my knowledge from today.  How could I convince the local king that I am a valuable wizard to get his protection? 

Today, we know more than we did in the Renaissance, but there’s the additional constraint by the resources that would have been available.  For example, with a strong enough magnet and wire, I could create an alternating current electrical source, but magnetism was a discovering of the nineteenth century with the discovery of magnetite.  As easy as a generator would be to create, it really cannot happen without a powerful magnet.

With Zinc, I could create a battery, but it wasn’t discovered until the mid-eighteenth century so that’s a no-go.  However, the ancient Egyptians had “battery jars” they made from perhaps vinegar and a couple of types of metal.  I could do that.  I know how to create a magnet from two different metals and their ores along with a simple acid like vinegar.  But would the king care?  Would it be powerful enough to be of practical value?  It may only be powerful enough, for example, to cause a small electrical shock, but putting enough of them in series I could ramp up the voltage to any power I desire.  It could easily be used for electroplating to protect metal from corrosion, or for torture or even to kill somebody (the Renaissance kings loved their unique forms of torture).  And I certainly could use it to separate hydrogen from water to create a bomb, although to do that would require an additional problem as I don’t know what they would have had in the Renaissance that could hold hydrogen.

Some practical knowledge would be useful.  Certainly, irrigation would come in handy, but irrigation had been known perhaps as long as 6,000 years ago.  It was probably known in the Renaissance.  So that wouldn’t help.  But alchemy would have been in full swing, so I would have access to laboratory equipment if I could get funding.  Now we’re into a problem of timing.  I wouldn’t have money early on, but could I do enough to not only get the king’s protection, but also the king’s money?

With a hollow reed I could show how to breathe underwater, but that may already have been known.  Certainly, I could have distilled some materials, but they knew distillation.  There are some things that can be done to improve hygiene and crops.  Using human or animal waste or food waste like fish heads to fertilize crops would go quite far.  Using things like aloe (assuming it would be available wherever you physically ended up) to treat burns might be impressive.  Showing hygiene and how to protect against the plague would be very important, but all of these would take time to prove that you’re getting better crop yields or more people are surviving, so this might not be good for quick demonstrations.

Actually, soap would be good, except that soaps date back to about 2800 BC.  Whipping soap to make it float is a new development.

It’s a difficult problem.  I know so many things that were not known then, but I don’t think quantum theory or electronic configuration would be impressive.  Well, if I made a clay furnace capable of withstanding very high temperatures, I could melt salt.  Salt melts at temperatures well below iron, so the technology existed.  Combining this with batteries as discussed earlier, one can separate sodium metal from chlorine gas.  Chlorine is highly toxic and would be an effective chemical weapon.  It’s heavier than air, so used strategically in a battlefield would be devastating.  It could be stored in sealed and varnished clay pots, although you would want large pots to do so.  Sodium metal, on the other hand, explodes in water.  Also of great value in battles, but it could also be used in construction, for example, in clearing tree stumps. 

I’m really struggling.  I’ve thought about this for quite some time, but the practicality of the ideas, especially in light of history and available materials is quite challenging.  Of course, I lean towards science because that’s who I am.  But it’s a fun mental exercise.  I might be better at first aid than most of them just using common sense and hygiene.  But, I’ll leave you to pick up the exercise from here.  Good luck!

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