Mobile version
spiked plus
About spiked
What is spiked?
Support spiked
spiked shop
Contact us
Summer school
Top issues
Arab uprisings
British politics
Child abuse panic
For Europe, Against the EU
Free speech
Jimmy Savile scandal
Parents and kids
View all issues...
special feature
The Counter-Leveson Inquiry
other sections
 Review of Books
 Monthly archive
selected authors
Duleep Allirajah
Daniel Ben-Ami
Tim Black
Jennie Bristow
Sean Collins
Dr Michael Fitzpatrick
Frank Furedi
Helene Guldberg
Patrick Hayes
Mick Hume
Rob Lyons
Brendan O’Neill
Nathalie Rothschild
James Woudhuysen
more authors...
RSS feed

abc def ghi jkl mno pqrs tuv wxyz index
Survey home
Survey responses
RSS feed
Anjana Ahuja
Julian Baggini
Philip Ball
Marlene Oscar Berman
Gustav VR Born
K Eric Drexler
Marcus Du Sautoy
Edmond H Fischer
John Hall
Tim Hunt
Wolfgang Ketterle
Leon Lederman
Matt Ridley
Raymond Tallis
Frank Wilczek
Lewis Wolpert
Professor Jonathan Ree
Freelance historian and philosopher

There are two kinds of technical breakthrough: those that quickly reach a kind of plateau of perfection where they sustain themselves for ever, and those that alter and proliferate so that each generation renders its predecessor obsolete. The wheel belongs to the first category, and so do buckets, bicycles and wheelbarrows. The second category includes the political state, along with computers and cookers, airplanes and houses. As you can probably tell, I prefer the first kind - the ones that can settle into a stable state of near-perfect simplicity.

And as someone who lives by the written word, I have no hesitation in choosing my favourite technical innovation: the alphabet. The idea that the amazing complexity of spoken languages could be captured in a notation comprising roughly two dozen signs strikes me as the most awe-inspiring intellectual achievement of the whole of human history: the inventor of the alphabet deserves a million Nobel prizes. Before alphabets were invented, who would ever have imagined them possible, and now that they are - what on earth would we do without them?

Books: Philosophic Tales (buy this book from Amazon(UK)) and I see a voice (buy this book from Amazon(UK)).

Jonathan Ree is a freelance historian and philosopher and holds part-time posts at Roehampton University and the Royal College of Art, London.