Low Tech Discoveries


Discovery. Simplicity. Both are fascinating. And when a single phenomenon comprises both, it makes me smile, no matter how mundane.

Hideki Watanabe has found a simple way to harness the apparently chaotic motion of warm-hot liquids to produce a pot in which the soup will stir itself. It’s just a matter of shaping the bottom and building channeling grooves into the sides.

The first thing you think is: how brilliant of him. The second thing you think is: how is it that no one has ever thought of this before? It isn’t as though building shapes into pots and pans is new technology. The ancient Greeks could have done this.

The next thing I think of is the way that some stuff that has been around forever is much less intuitive than this. Eating whipped cream set this off for me… What in the world made someone stir their milk around so madly for long enough to make whipped cream and then butter? Why would anyone who didn’t know something would happen do such a thing?

So here’s where I’m going with all this: How many simple things like whipped cream and self-stirring pots are there that we HAVEN’T yet stumbled on to?! When we meet our first alien civilisation, I think the biggest surprises won’t be about their advanced technology, but about the low technology. I think E.T. is likely to have had self-stirring pots since its ancestors emerged from the pods, but maybe we’ll also make its big green eyes pop out: “Whoa! You get THIS by beating cream!? Who knew!?”