is one of the greatest inventions of humanity, going back 2000 years in China and even farther back to ancient Egyptian times, when they made paper from the pith of the papyrus plant that grows in the Nile River Valley...

Chinese Arts Page 5 - Papermaking

From our companion wikispace, Greatest Inventions, here is a wonderful brief essay about the importance of papermaking in the history of our civilization, by Clifford Pickover, a genius of our time.

Papermaking by Clifford Pickover, published in 2000

Papermaking by Clifford Pickover, published in 2000.

In A.D. 105, Ts’ai Lun presented samples of his paper to the Chinese Emperor Ho Ti. Ts’ai Lun was a member of the Chinese imperial court, and I consider his early form of paper to be humanity’s most important invention – and the progenitor of the Internet.

Although recent archaeological evidence places the actual invention of papermaking 200 years earlier, and thus beyond the confines of your time frame, Ts’ai Lun played an important role in developing a material that revolutionized his country. From China, papermaking moved to Korea and Japan. Chinese papermakers also spread their handiwork into Central Asia and Persia, whence traders introduced paper to India.

Today’s Internet evolved from the tiny seed planted by Ts’ai Lun. Both paper and the Internet break the barriers of time and distance and permit unprecedented growth and opportunity. In the next decades, communities formed by ideas will be as strong as those formed by geography. The Internet will dissolve away nations as we know them today. Humanity becomes a single ‘hive mind’, with a group intelligence, as geography becomes putty in the hands of the Internet sculptor.

Chaos theory teaches us that even the smallest actions have amplified effects. Now, more than ever before, this is apparent. Whenever I am lonely at night, I look at a large map depicting 61,000 Internet routers spread throughout the world. I imagine sending out a spark, an idea, and a colleague from another country echoing that idea to his colleagues, over and over again, until the electronic chatter resembles the chanting of monks. I agree with the spiritualist Jane Roberts, who once wrote, “You are so part of the world that your slightest action contributes to its reality. Your breath changes the atmosphere. Your encounters with others alter the fabric of their lives, and of the lives of those who come in contact with them.”

CLIFFORD PICKOVER is a research staff member at IBM’s T. J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York. He is the holder of more than 50 patents relating to computer interfaces, and he has written some 40 books on a broad range of topics, including black holes, time travel, computer art, and the possibility of alien life. Pickover’s primary interest is in finding new ways to expand creativity by melding art, science, mathematics, and other seemingly disparate areas of human endeavor. His Internet website has attracted 2 million visitors.