May 11 2008

Non-Space MEPs — A Brief 21stCenturyWaves Perspective

Surprisingly, one of the most reliable indicators of an approaching Maslow Window has nothing to do with space; we call them Non-Space Macro-Engineering Projects (MEPs). Our definition of an MEP is adopted from a former president of the Society for the History of Technology, Eugene S. Ferguson; An MEP is 1) at the state-of-the-art of technology for the time, 2)extremely expensive (multi $ B) and usually physically large, and 3) sometimes practical in purpose, but often aimed at satisfying intangible needs of a spiritual or psychological nature and 4) it is always highly inspiring.

One lesson of the last 200 years is that each Window (except the first in 1801) is decorated with at least one MEP. Typically, one MEP is especially ascendant, but the secondary MEPs are often precursors of the approaching Maslow Window and a measure of real-time “ebullience”.
For example, the Mackinac Bridge, which connects the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan, began construction in 1954 after many decades of frustrating attempts. It opened in 1957 for a total cost of $ 1 B (2007 $). In 1959 an Air Force pilot deliberately flew his RB-47E Stratojet (a reconfigured bomber) under the bridge and promptly lost his wings! (Who could resist?!)

Secondary to the Panama Canal, the main MEP of the 1903-1913 Maslow Window, was the luxury passenger ship, the Titanic. Unless you haven’t been paying attention for the last 10 years, the words “Titanic” and “ebullience” definitely go together; if you haven’t seen the 1997 video, go rent it. Likewise the MEP jewel of the 19th Century was the Suez Canal, but it was preceeded by a gargantuan ship called the Great Eastern. Intended as a passenger ship, the Great Eastern only found use laying the first trans-Atlantic cable (another mid-19th Century secondary MEP).

Today the world is littered with so many plans for non-space MEPs you can almost hear them screaming, “Maslow Window approaching in 2015!” The current non-space MEPs include the 2001 foot Tokyo tower (due 2011) to be the tallest free-standing antenna in the world, the new 1,588 Kowloon Tower in Hong Kong (3rd tallest commercial building in the world), a proposed $ 16 B canal project in South Korea, Moscow’s $ 4 B Crystal Island development (due 2014) to be the largest building in the world and was recently compared to the biblical Tower of Babel by the LA Times (2/2008), mega-projects in China, mega-projects in Dubai, and many others.

Perhaps the best evidence for early ebullience is provided by the Panama Canal Expansion Project. At an estimated $ 5.25 B it will slightly exceed the original Panama Canal cost, and the original Panama Canal was the greatest MEP in the last 200 years until Apollo. In 2006 the Panamanians approved the risky, expensive project in a national referendum by 76.8% of all votes, and the president of Panama recently stated that the revenues from the expansion will transform Panama into a first-world country.

These and many other non-space MEPs will be tracked in future Wave Guide 8 posts for consistency with our expectations and forecasts for the increasing affluence and ebullience characteristic of an approaching Maslow Window.

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Non-Space MEPs — A Brief 21stCenturyWaves Perspective”

  1. Mike Zornon 19 May 2008 at 9:48 pm

    [I may have submitted this comment in part an hour or so ago]

    The Great Eastern was the work of the great Victorian engineer Isaac Kingdom Brunel. He was born thinking big.

    That one sits right near the top of the wave that peaks about 1857. That was a golden age in England and Europe. There were dozens of first-class people working then: Brunel, Babbage, Wheatstone, Faraday, Fourier, … the list goes on.

    One thing stands out about the earlier MEPs and explorations: the were mainly driven by one man. De Lesseps, Brunel, Livingstone (see also Stanley), Lewis & Clark, Amundsen (and Scott). (And of course the pyramids, driven by the pharaoh.) I don’t think JFK can take the credit as the originator of the space program, he only [an inadequate word!] crystallized what was on a lot of people’s minds at the time.

    Nowadays, the MEPs are too large to start with one man. (Or maybe not.)

    One thing to consider is the project’s goal. Not just “let’s put a cable across the Atlantic”, but “lets link the continents by wire”.

    China’s Three Gorges comes to mind as this century’s MEP. It has a significant cultural and environmental cost.

  2. Stephen Ashworthon 30 Aug 2009 at 11:31 pm

    Hi Stephen,

    Thanks for your comments. The Olympic-class ships are an interesting topic that fits the Peary/Panama Maslow Window quite well. But it’s easier if I reply to each line…

    You state that the passenger ship the Titanic was the main MEP of the 1903-1913 Maslow window. But I would suggest that it does not make sense to refer to the Titanic in isolation.

    Somehow I confused you on this; sorry. The primary MEP of this Maslow Window was clearly the Panama Canal. Titanic and the other Olympic-class ships — Olympic and Gigantic (later called Britannic) — were secondary MEPs.

    Firstly, of course, there were three, almost identical, sister ships. The Titanic’s less well known elder sister, the Olympic, launched a year earlier, had a long and successful career and was eventually scrapped in the 1930s. The youngest sister, the Britannic, was sunk by a German mine during the First World War, and never saw peacetime passenger service …

    The Olympic-class ships can be thought of as similar secondary MEPs, although it’s important to remind ourselves that the technical definition I’ve adopted from the historian of technology Eugene Ferguson, does not include every large, expensive, state-of-the-art engineering project. In fact, a prospective MEP (even a secondary MEP) must also be exciting, inspirational, and gain the attention of a large, usually international, audience. This last factor, for example, is what sets Great Explorations (e.g., Lewis and Clark) apart from explorations that are merely great (e.g., Clarence King in late 19th century), but do not resonate as much with the public. Often it’s just a matter of long wave timing and all the things that go with it.

    Your description indicates why the Titanic eclipsed the other Olympic-class ships with the public. It had a famous, romantic quality (including its demise) that set it apart, which amazingly persists even to this day. This is supported by the fact that the 1997 movie “Titanic” is still the largest grossing movie in history (US box office: $ 600 M+).

    How does this compare with your proposed 56-year cycles? Clearly, after the outbreak of World War I the growth in liners and the construction of new ones slowed down, due also to the end of free immigration into the United States, so you could argue that this was a consequence of the cycle going into a downturn.

    WW I definitely ended the “ebullience” associated with the Peary/Panama Maslow Window. Although it may seem like a subtle, psychological point, once the Maslow Window ebullience is ended, nothing like it exists as the long wave descends until the next one pops up “unexpectedly”. I think of this ebullient state during a Maslow Window as a societal “phase change” where for a brief period, many people ascend the Maslow Hierarchy and find Great Explorations and MEPs not only intriguing, but almost irresistible. Ebullience is fleeting and decays due to a war and/or economic downturn that is characteristic of the close of Maslow Windows.

    But on the other hand I think there was steady progress in steamship technology and use from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. I don’t know enough about this period to be dogmatic, but I suppose you might say that there may have been one spurt of growth mid-century with the Great Eastern and the first Oceanic, sufficient to establish the technology on a growth trend, which lasted through the downturn and reached its peak in the next upturn just before the First World War.

    Incidentally, the Great Eastern was a secondary MEP of the mid-19th century Dr. Livingstone Maslow Window.

    It appears to me that advances in science and technology more-or-less continue during all phases of the long wave, over the last 200+ years. What makes the Maslow Windows different is rapid growth of widespread of affluence-induced ebullience, triggered by major rhythmic, twice-per-century economic booms. The powerful, but brief effects of ebullience were described above. A similar situation will occur near 2015, despite our current global recession; such contractions are typical (except for the 1960s Maslow Window) of the decade just before Maslow Windows.

    But I’d have to read up on it more before I could confidently say it supports the view of a cyclical economic pattern.

    Long-term business cycles with a 55-60 year long economic wave (proposed by Kondratieff in the 1920s) have been well-established economically, historically, and energetically (the 56 year cycle was discovered in 1989); See “A Short Intro to Long Waves” and many other posts here.

    In the 1990s, I noticed that Great Explorations and MEPs (both primary and secondary) cluster around energy cycle peaks and economic booms; there was already a large literature on how major wars and long waves interact, although I was unaware of it back then. The close association of these activity clusters with the long wave over the last 200+ years is what motivates 21st century forecasts.

    There’s a lot more to talk about and I hope you’ll check out more of the articles and posts on this website.\

    Best wishes,

    Stephen Ashworth
    Oxford, UK

    Best regards, Stephen,
    Bruce

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