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Sometimes it’s not the answer that is important

Editor Phil Ross of Climate Control News argues that sometimes, asking a different question might show the way forward than seeking answers.

| | Dec 9, 2010 | 12:07 pm
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Editor Phil Ross of Climate Control News argues that sometimes, asking a different question might show the way forward than seeking answers.

The human race has advanced over thousands of years because we have made technological changes to the way we do things.

As a species, we have been unfailingly inquisitive, a constant “what if” has run throughout history. Sometimes the answers have been useful, sometimes the answers have been destructive. But even with the negative changes, the following generation’s learnt lessons.

Every now and then, an extreme leap appears that leads to a higher benchmark for the rest of the world to catch up. These occur in all fields of endeavour, whether it be Einstein’s theories, Hillary’s mountain climbing, the Internet or even the advent of refrigeration. All those achievements occurred in modern times, but there have been enormous changes throughout history in all forms of science, human endeavour, arts and culture.

Generally, however, change is incremental. We get caught up in working with what we know and understand then tweak around its edges to make it perform better.

But, every now and then, someone asks a different question, and, thankfully, every now and then, they get the opportunity to find out.

When I started working here at CCN, I decided to look back over old magazines to get a feel for the industry. One 2008 issue mentioned a government grant given to an engineer who had come up with a new way to exchange heat. While the grant was relatively minor, I was intrigued to see if this was just another waste of public money. It is not often I am right, but it would appear I was wrong again!

Sattler Consulting has come at the whole issue from a totally different perspective. Instead of trying to improve thermal dynamics, David Sattler has gone to a molecular level to achieve quite astounding coefficients of performance never before dreamed of.

Yes, it may be some time off from being commercialised, but you get the feeling this could promote a change in thinking for climate control.

Am I a technophile? I guess I am. It appears to me that civilisation has not advanced by going backwards. It has not even advanced by sitting still. Even the most basic of civilisations advances relatively when a better tool has been introduced.

Denying progress is tantamount to death. Naturally, as mentioned before, science has made mistakes. We would not have had the danger of a hole in the ozone layer if it were not for the wonder of chlorinated fluorinated refrigerants. However, if it was not for those early gases, society would not be as far advanced as it is today. After all, Time magazine in 2000 nominated air conditioning as the invention of the millennium. Plus, it was the knowledge gained in the manufacture of CFCs that allowed chemical companies to research and develop their ongoing replacements.

Science and technology are always asking questions, even when there is already an answer. As the late American palaeontologist, evolutionary biologist and historian of science, Stephen Jay Gould wrote: “In science, ‘fact’ can only mean ‘confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.”

Just as the natural world evolves to cope with external environments, so too does the human race. No species ever survived by going backwards or even standing still for too long.

In the continuing question as to where is the trade heading – commercial interests would like to see trade skills relaxed to allow more people the right to install air conditioning systems. Is this answering a short-term need that may stifle the trade’s future in the long term?

Should not the industry aspire to help all to climb the mountain rather than make base camp too welcoming?

What do you think?

This is an excerpt from the Editorial of the December 2010 issue of Climate Control News. Article reproduced here, courtesy Climate Control News.

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