[LMB] Intelligence intersecting Microscopy

pouncer at aol.com pouncer at aol.com
Wed Feb 5 17:19:54 GMT 2020

Louann Miller notices: 
>> Matching up parts of Penric's childhood as we know it  
>>(ripping through all available books in sight before age  
>>ten, for example) with what he achieves under pressure,  I 
>>realize both how intelligent he's always been  -- the equal 
>>of Miles I'd say -- and how little anyone realized it 
>>before Desdemona. Including him. 
Lois replies: 
>LMB:  Ayup.  Pen grew up in a world completely without IQ  
>tests, and with very little written matter available to him.   
>So he went off to be an outdoor boy, learning other skills  
>from everyone around him, which was actually pretty good for  
>him at the time. And later. When he did finally get access 
>to significant book learning, from age 19 on, it was a  
Following on with the discussion of "elite" protagonist,  we  
have a number of protagonists who we, OUTSIDE the story,  are  
happy to recognize as intelligent, but who are unappreciated  
for that trait by their fellows INSIDE the story.  Not that  
the other characters don't appreciate the protagonist ...  
(with a notable exception)   But that the fellowship doesn't  
recognize the trait in the way we do.  A person may be  
competent, clever, sly, educated, worldly, glib, skilled,  
quick-witted, inspired, whatever. Gifted in languages or  
arithmetic; deft with crafts; able handling animals or tools.   
But it's a modern idea that there exists a "general  
intelligence" that represents a capacity for acquiring skills  
or for problem-solving.   Pen, we recognize as intelligent.  
Caz too. Fawn is unrecognized and unappreciated by nearly all  
her family but beloved by Dag for (aside from being  
extraordinarily cute) being BRIGHT/SMART.  Her brother Whit  
is similarly smart, sparking off profitable ideas and  
discerning the mechanics of boat-handling almost immediately  
upon encountering issues.  The bookish and bespectacled Baron  
Wegae kin Pikepool is another -- mastering his education  
suddenly and speedily,  after decades-long delay by poor  
Pikepool is great prop box character for examining the idea  
of augmented intelligence.  (Rather like Simon Illyan and his  
PDA/voice recorder).  Growing up in a culture with eyeglasses  
and hearing aids and wheelchairs and joysticks we might not  
notice how much enabling over physical problems augments and  
reveals mental abilities.  In the 5GU the one enabling  
technology we see so far is lens-making.  And Pikepool runs  
with it hard and fast and far.   
(How alloys of spring steel in the WGW enable Dag's cleverly  
made "hook" clasps, I leave for other discussion.)  
In the real histories of periods like those of the WGW and  
5GU, lens crafting seems somewhat similar to Aztec wheels and  
European wheel barrows -- simple tech but notably absent.  
Small lenses were crafted as beads -- sphere formed as molten  
glass cooled.  Some spherical glass globes were sawn to  
provide semi-sphere type lenses.  There is archeology that  
suggests many Viking polished quartz items found and once  
thought to be jewelry were actually lenses -- fire starters,  
perhaps, or hand-held in pairs as telescopes.  But far and  
wide and over long centuries lens work languished.  Not  
because the general idea was difficult or the math not worked  
out or quartz or polishing or glass making techs not know.   
But because of the chemistry -- or alchemy -- of glass was  
still in development.   If I recall correctly, (and I'm  
willing to be corrected here) the production of useful clear  
glass was more or less an accident.  Glass is smelted from  
sand and ash.  At some point in the 17th century, wood was  
growing scarce.  Burning wood to get ash or bothering to  
collect ash from funance wood was expensive.  And so glass  
makers in coastal parts of both England and Italy began  
harvesting seaweed, and kelp, to dry like straw or hay, then  
burn.  It produced a consistent grain of fine ash -- and as  
much by accident as design that ash produced a clear glass  
(where wood or other ash had impurities that tinted glass  
rose or green or blue)  Careful work on particular kinds of  
seaweed led to development of clear  "High Index" glass    
(higher concentrations of metals like lead or strontium or  
whatever) that distorted light.  This, considered as a  
feature not a bug,  led to lenses rather than windowpanes.  
And so -- telescopes.  Microscopes. And eyeglasses.  And  
lenses as a whole new category of simple machines enabling  
vision in whole new ways.   
Back to Pikepool -- Martensbridge is a crafting city on the  
banks of a large body of water so I infer that the lens- 
crafters there have stumbled over the secret of seaweed ash.   
I don't recal that the 5GU yet reveals telescopes.  But any  
minutes -- or as soon as a plotline needs it.  
The WGW does not yet seem to me to be on the verge of such a  
breakthrough.  The coastal city (name forgotten) seems a bit  
remote from the beach where driftwood and presumably seaweed  
wash ashore.  There is no shortage of wood for fires.  And  
innovating industry is farther upriver.  Glassforge is doing  
a lot of work with glass, yes, but not apparently high index  
very clear glass.  Lenses are still a ways off, I think.   
(Unless a plot requires them. )  I think that if Pikepool is 
as clever as he appears and as excited, as it appears, about 
how lens-crafting can open new worlds, figuaratively, he may  
be in position to become the 5GU's Galileo and open up their  
new worlds more literally. 

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