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Robert Boyle and the future

Summary:
Those who think that humanity has already picked “the low-hanging fruit,” and that future technological and innovative advances will be more difficult to achieve, would do well to study the life of Robert Boyle. He lived from 1627 to 1691, and was one of the founders of the Royal Society. He is generally recognized as the father of modern chemistry, and established the relationship between the pressure and volume of a gas, the famous “Boyle’s Law.” He wrote a wish list (Desiderata) of discoveries and inventions that he wanted to come about to improve the human condition. None existed in his day, but he listed the things he thought would enhance people’s lives and achievements. It is a remarkable list:The Prolongation of Life.The Recovery of Youth, or at least some of the Marks of it, as

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Those who think that humanity has already picked “the low-hanging fruit,” and that future technological and innovative advances will be more difficult to achieve, would do well to study the life of Robert Boyle. He lived from 1627 to 1691, and was one of the founders of the Royal Society. He is generally recognized as the father of modern chemistry, and established the relationship between the pressure and volume of a gas, the famous “Boyle’s Law.”

He wrote a wish list (Desiderata) of discoveries and inventions that he wanted to come about to improve the human condition. None existed in his day, but he listed the things he thought would enhance people’s lives and achievements. It is a remarkable list:

The Prolongation of Life.

The Recovery of Youth, or at least some of the Marks of it, as new Teeth, new Hair colour’d as in youth.

The Art of Flying.

The Art of Continuing long under water, and exercising functions freely there.

The Cure of Wounds at a Distance.

The Cure of Diseases at a distance or at least by Transplantation.

The Attaining Gigantick Dimensions.

The Emulating of Fish without Engines by Custome and Education only.

The Acceleration of the Production of things out of Seed.

The Transmutation of Metalls.

The makeing of Glass Malleable.

The Transmutation of Species in Mineralls, Animals, and Vegetables.

The Liquid Alkaest and Other dissolving Menstruums.

The making of Parabolicall and Hyperbolicall Glasses.

The making Armor light and extremely hard.

The practicable and certain way of finding Longitudes.

The use of Pendulums at Sea and in Journeys, and the Application of it to watches.

Potent Druggs to alter or Exalt Imagination, Waking, Memory, and other functions, and appease pain, procure innocent sleep, harmless dreams, etc.

A Ship to saile with All Winds, and A Ship not to be Sunk.

Freedom from Necessity of much Sleeping exemplify’d by the Operations of Tea and what happens in Mad-Men.

Pleasing Dreams and physicall Exercises exemplify’d by the Egyptian Electuary and by the Fungus mentioned by the French Author.

Great Strength and Agility of Body exemplify’d by that of Frantick Epileptick and Hystericall persons.

A perpetuall Light.

Varnishes perfumable by Rubbing.

What is remarkable is that nearly all of his wishes have been fulfilled. From the art of flying, to ships that need no wind, from malleable glass to mind-altering drugs, from constant light to the way of finding longitude, the list is a bold leap into what for him was an unknown and unknowable future.

A similar list made today might look at things that now seem as unattainable to us as that list did to Boyle’s contemporaries. The list radiates optimism about humanity’s ability to achieve the seemingly impossible. He foretold of the limitless creativity and resourcefulness of humankind, the inventiveness that is “The Ultimate Resource.”

In this space we will be compiling a list of some of the things that seem difficult or beyond achievement today, but which would bring great benefits to the life of humanity. These will not be inventions on the point of discovery, but similarly bold wishes for the currently inconceivable, just as Boyle’s were in his day. We are optimistic that they will be achieved, and that the future will be better than the past.

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