The Form: A Prototype

If I suggest a brief consideration of all human history, ranging from that which is fully known and understood to multitudes that have been destroyed by fire or natural aging, or buried under layers of ocean or earth, I conclude that we have a rather “narrow” basis to work from and formulate hypotheses upon.

For instance, if I might draw from the writings of Plato’s Republic, Plato writes: “There are many beds and tables—Of course. But there are only two forms for these two articles, one of the bed and one of the table—yes.  We also usually say that the makers (craftsmen) of these articles look to the form,  when they make one of the beds, the other of tables, which we use. And so with other things, the form itself is not the work of any craftsman, for how could it be?—It could not. Now consider what you call this kind of maker—what kind? The one who makes all the other things which any and every artisan makes—you are talking of a clever and wonderful man!”

So, here, Plato, born around 428 B.C., an adolescent understudy of Socrates, gives us a simple, logical definition using two common household home furnishings, a table and a bed, and describes how they are dissimilar and unique based on the artisan that produced them (also considering materials, size dimensions, decorations, finishing, etc.) and we see a vast array that I would think is beyond description.

This leads to a basic question: does everything created by men come from a single prototype or do multiple prototypes generate ex nihilo across centuries of time and vastness of geography on the continental scale? I think nobody knows the answer to this question but based on growing archeological evidence of cultures and sites around the world, we know that technologies began and evolved simultaneously in cultures on different continents speaking different languages, so we can probably safely assume there are no absolute prototype for some basic things like furniture, cooking and eating utensils, and the like.

I would like to explain how, after observing and musing at various jewelry collections displayed in museums and libraries around the world, I discovered several important facts that loosened my preconceptions about the pursuit of prototypes (or Plato’s term Form). First, I discovered that wire ( gold, silver, bronze, etc.) was drawn by the ancients artisans with many different processes over thousands of years in different places. Second, although this wire was often shaped into a ring, bracelet, or amulet in a spiral or coil shape, that did not mean that the wire coil was used for that purpose alone, as I was sure that someone, somewhere discovered there was a springy property to that item and who knows what other uses it might have had, even if just for one time. Third, I discovered that the ancient artisans had learned how to make torsion springs, often referred to as fibula, that were in fact, decorated safety pins.


My search for the origination of the technology of bedding and sleep related instruments was somewhat liberated from an old paradigm of thinking to an opening of exploration for more examples of prototypes or forms, whether they be described in ancient writings, visually inspected on steles, wall carvings, grave stones, art, or the actual artifacts still in existence.

I know, from my time spent in the bedding industry, that quite often “inventions” are stumbled upon by accident or as a by-product from a search for something else. i’m certain that this is the case for many, if not all inventions, and it has probably been the case throughout history. For sure, we will never know the answer to that.

In concluding this discussion, I would like to borrow from another ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle and his discussion about causes: “Cause means (1) that from which (as immanent material) a thing comes into being e.g. the bronze of the statue and the silver saucer, and the classes which these include. (2) The form or pattern, i.e. the formula of the essence, and classes which include this (e.g. the ratio 2:1 and number in general are causes of the octave) and the parts of the formula. (3) That from which the change or the freedom from change first begins, e.r. the advisor is a cause of the action, and the father the cause of the child, and in general the maker a cause of the thing made and change-producing of the changing. (4) The end, i.e. that for the sake of which a thing is, e.g. health is the cause of walking. For why does one walk? We say “that one may be healthy”,and in speaking thus we think we have given the cause. The same is true of all the means that intervene before the end, when something else has put the progress in motion (as e.g. thinning or purging or drugs or instruments intervene before health is reached); for all these are for the sake of the end, though they differ from one another in the some are instruments and others are actions.”

We may likely be in continual astonishment of the findings of research and exploration of archaeological sites around the world. Let’s use the example of an artifact found on the seafloor in a shipwreck expedition in 1901: the artifact named The Antikythera Mechanism  which was a metal calendar computer dating from 80 B.C. Follow this link to this story and then ask yourself what limited the ancient people had in resources of ideas, technology, and materials—and if there is really a true prototype to anything?





Ancient Greek ‘Computer’ Came With a User’s Guide