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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.