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Technology

From the invention of the telegraph and photography, media and communications technology proceeded so quickly that future historians may see them not as separate technologies, but as different phases in the development of one thing.

and

Until the Unprecedented Era, technology and natural philosophy were separate. When gunpowder was developed, it was because it worked, not because anyone realized that sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate could be combined to produce an explosive (as opposed to nitroglycerin, which was developed from chemistry). When medieval peasants spread marl on their fields, they didn’t know they were returning calcium and magnesium to the soil. They had no idea what was happening. They just knew it increased yields.

Which doesn’t mean that a natural philosopher, if asked, would not have come up with an explanation of why it increased yields. Great men of learning, with long forked beards and impressive academic robes, did not get to their status by shrugging their shoulders and mumbling “I dunno.” If anyone ever inquired, they would have had long and elegant theories, rife with Aristotle and Plato. And if any other natural philosophers had been within earshot, they probably would have produced their own theories, leading to extensive and erudite debate.

And they all would have been wrong. Just because you have an explanation–even an impressive explanation–doesn’t mean that explanation has the slightest connection to reality.