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History of Science and Technology/naturally occuring recording medium


QUESTION: i was wondering if it is possible for there to exist a naturally occuring recording medium. let me elaborate a bit. we can record using a webcam on a magnetic medium. earlier there used to be punch cards which could record entire computer programs. is it just possible that in nature there exists some medium which can naturally record the events occuring around us. i am merely asking if we can theorise this. if such a material (or a group of materials) could exist where would we be looking ? i hope i have made myself clear. sorry my english is not that good.

ANSWER: Hi Rakesh—if by ‘recording’ you mean ‘preserving evidence of past events that can be recovered at a later date’, then yes, many natural processes record events.  We use tree rings and ice deposits to determine temperatures, precipitation levels and amounts and kinds of plants that existed in the past.  Mud captures impressions of plants and footprints for us to see millions of years later.  If you’re interested in these kinds of natural recording mechanisms, you might want to talk to a biologist, palaeontologist, geologist, or other scientist who studies these phenomena, rather than a historian.  

Years ago I heard a story about how some archaeologists had been able to play back sounds from grooves made in ancient pottery, but unfortunately it turned out to be a hoax!

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QUESTION: dear carolyn, yes i know about preserving evidence, that is different. it is what the forensic people use all the time. i also understand that there is nothing at the moment which will play back past events like a film or sound. but i am talking about the theory behind all this. what my question is, is that if we could sound and movement in a naturally occurring medium, what would that the most likely medium be?
And most important of all, is there any group of scientists active in finding such a medium ?
I mean history would be more clear if we could have a window in the past to play back what occurred right ?

Hi Rakesh--it sounds like what you want to know has to do with materials science; you might want to discuss your question with a materials scientist.  The discipline of history is not really about discovering exactly what occurred, as that is impossible--even when you talk to two people who were physically present at the exact same event you hear two different descriptions and two different interpretations.

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Carolyn Dougherty


I can probably answer most general questions about the history of science, technology and engineering from ancient to current; if I don't know a specific answer I can probably refer a questioner to an appropriate source. I have done original research in the history of computing and in British science and engineering in the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries.


I am a PhD student at the University of York, writing about the carrying trade in the 18th century; my previous work at the university includes the early history of plate railways. I have taught courses in the history of science and engineering at York and other universities, and have presented several papers on various subjects in this field at academic conferences. I am also a practicing civil engineer.

BA--Berkeley, MSc--Berkeley, MA--York, currently working on a PhD at York.

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