Thomas Lisankie

Our superpower is building longer levers

Welcome to Longer Levers!

Longer Levers is a blog about the tools that humans develop to extend our capabilities and how those tools end up influencing us. The name comes from the quote from Archimedes: “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” This quote speaks to the capability amplification that tools provide to humans. Given tools that are powerful enough, people can accomplish feats they never thought possible and would have actually been impossible without use of the tool. As we develop better tools, we become more powerful and more reliably achieve self-determination as a species. As our levers get longer, what we can do changes and we change as a result of our newfound capabilities.

In fact, humanity’s tool-use is its singular superpower that has propelled it to be the dominant species on Earth. I am not just talking about obvious examples like axes and hydraulic presses. Culture and governance are tools for human cooperation and survival. Writing is a tool for thinking, communicating over distances of time and space, and facilitating record-keeping (which in turn facilitates creating governance structures that organize larger groups of humans). The scientific method is a tool for discovery of how our world works. Some other species make primitive use of tools, but humans are unique in the sheer quantity, variety, and complexity of our tools.

If it was not abundantly clear already, I am using a loose definition of “tool.” It is not the day-to-day definition of the word. This is not going to be a blog about power drills and wheelbarrows (though they are certainly not off limits). My definition here is approximately “any construct that allows for one or multiple humans to do things that they simply could not as individuals.” We will be touching on everything from large language models to nanotechnology, culture to the scientific method, money to the written word. If it plausibly amplifies the capabilities of an individual baseline human, it’s fair game.

The reason I want to have such a wide scope for this blog is because I’m someone who is interested in lots of things. I enjoy writing online but one problem I’ve had in the past has been the scope of the blog I create either being too wide (anything goes and I suffer from the tyranny of choice) or too narrow (I want to write about something off-topic and don’t end up publishing anything at all). Being able to plausibly write about anything at all is overwhelming and only being able to write about one subject area makes me feel like I’m in a box. Thus, I needed a subject that was pretty wide-ranging but not so wide-ranging that I can write about quite literally anything. I considered what most of my interests over the years have in common and it came down to “how can we create tools and techniques that extend our capabilities?” That’s very wide-ranging but still provides some constraints.

With that said, welcome. Let’s enjoy the ride.

Also published on Substack.

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