Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum upon which to place it and I shall move the world
Are things in life generally working for you or against you?
Sisyphus, who you can see in the image below, was a figure from Greek mythology who was condemned to repeat the same meaningless task forever; pushing a boulder up a mountain only to see it roll back down again.
He’s certainly no ideal role model; who would want to be condemned to perform the same meaningless task over and over again? But perhaps you can think of one area in your own life that feels something like that…
Most people can come up with at least one or two Sisyphus situations that they’re experiencing without too much effort. They can include:
- Yo-yo dieting
- Paying off debts
- Keeping up an exercise programme
- Seeking a soul mate
And many more!
Now, let’s see a very different example that also involves moving boulders about. Walter ‘Wally’ Wallington, a retired construction worker, was curious about how ancient civilisations were able to move massive stones that were so large, heavy and cumbersome that they’d even present a challenge to today’s modern technology.
Wally’s website gives some of his ideas about leverage and how this can allow a single person to move massive loads. The simplicity of Wally’s ideas are just as impressive as the loads he moves single-handedly and it’s very possible that such methods were used by our ancient ancestors when they constructed such impressive landmarks as England’s Stonehenge.
You can click over to some footage from Wally
As you can see, Wally shows the mechanical advantage that can be gained with various forms of leverage. It’s simple and very effective. The thing is that leverage is almost too simple to see.
So what is leverage?
We could say that leverage is one of the most fundamental universal dynamics. If Archimedes could move the world through leverage then, in theory, a suitable fulcrum point could shift the whole universe.
In mechanical terms, levers are placed into three categories and examples include:
- Class 1: A pair of pliers
- Class 2: A wheelbarrow
- Class 3: A pair of tweezers
Each of these allows a person to apply their energy and effort more effectively and efficiently.
The most elusive aspect of leverage could be said to be that of thinking. One example could be that of a belief. There is a high chance that as a child your parents warned you about speaking to strangers and it would have been very valuable advice at that time. In later years, you will have discovered that being proactive and introducing yourself to people is a necessity if you want to engage with the world.
Your parents probably never told you that it was now okay to talk to people you don’t yet know. Most likely you built up a store of memories and experiences over time that helped you discern who would be good to talk and who was best avoided. You will have updated your belief to suit the context of being an adult in a certain kind of situation. In effect, you tipped your childhood belief into your adult belief through lots of smaller and incremental belief changes.
Another form of leveraged thinking is where a person learns to think ‘outside the box’. This is where they develop the ability to suspend reality for a while so their imagination has more time to play and entertain new possibilities. They give their mental critic a short vacation.
I like to give examples wherever possible so here’s an opportunity for you to engage your imagination and think outside the box…
Shifting a really big boulder…
Earlier, you saw how Wally thinks outside the box so that he can envision how ancient civilisations might have used leverage techniques to help them lift and move heavy objects.
Now we are going to look at how we can apply outside the box ‘leveraged thinking’ to see how a larger scale puzzle can stretch your ideas.
In Lebanon’s Becca Valley stand the ruins of what was the largest Roman Temple in the world, the great acropolis of Baalbek. In Figure 1 below, the large centre block is some 14 x 12 x 64 feet and weighs in at an estimated 800 tons (700,000 kg). By the way, if you hadn’t already noticed, that is a man in the bottom left hand corner to help give you an understanding of the magnitude and scale of the ruins.
How these and stones of similar size (often termed megaliths) were transported has confused science to this day: even with the latest technologies, moving stones this huge would be quite a feat especially as the stones in this picture were not local. It is believed that they were transported hundreds and maybe even thousands of miles from source to destination.
How did they do it? I don’t know the exact answer but after suspending my critical thinking, one possible solution that is almost too simple eventually popped up. Placing myself into Wally’s mind-set led me to asking some outside the box style questions.
If you would like to engage your mind, please do not scroll down until you have played with idea of leverage with a leveraged mind. This could prove to be a great test of thinking outside the box (or circling your way around it…just a hint to get you started!)
Note – Please don’t scroll down until you have played with some ideas.
A leverage-based potential solution…
When looking at this 800 tonne block and wondering how on earth it could have been transported, I found lots of theories and ideas and it could well be that the real solution was a combination of many of these.
One idea was that the stone might have been transported on wet sand as, at a certain level of wetness, sand develops a slippery surface. Of course, even with an adequate source of water to create a surface with low friction, the amount of men and horses needed to push and pull the stone would have been quite an army—especially as the land was not always flat. So perhaps a soap or natural oil type used to create a surface with even less friction.
The idea of rollers has also been considered. It’s been suggested that cylinders made from tree trunks could have been utilised. But, even with the hardest of woods and sufficient logs, it would have been quite a challenge to distribute the weight of the stones. The logs would all have to be a fixed and consistent size as any larger ones would carry more weight and would be more prone to cracking. Larger logs would also dig into the ground as they would be carrying more than their fair share of the weight.
There are many more ideas to consider and I’m only sharing a sample to help lubricate your thinking. I hope you found some interesting ideas for yourself.
One clever way to transport an enormous stone would be by making the block itself into an axle. What if a wheel had been built around each end of the block and it was rolled along? Maybe in practice more than two wheels were built around the length of the block to distribute the weight and keep the block from breaking. Rolling the stones could be one way to move them and, if we take this and also consider the tricks that Wally and other people have discovered, it would seem that a whole host of ideas and techniques were brought together. Lots of smaller solutions created one huge solution.
As a last thought, my favourite quote is that of Einstein’s “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”. I believe leverage thinking offers a way to tackle life’s problems by looking for what is often too simple and obvious to comprehend until we engage our ‘outside the box mind-set.’
Your next mission, if you choose to accept it, is to come up with a few ideas on how the heavy blocks at the acropolis of Baalbek were arranged on top of each other. How on earth did they elevate and position such huge stones into place?
- Leverage is a dynamic that helps us think differently.
- Leverage is all around us each and every day. It is often so obvious that it can be very elusive.
- Big solutions are made up of lots of smaller solutions.
- Leveraged thinking is what is often called ‘thinking outside the box’. Think of the box as all your habitual thought patterns and mind-sets; you know the ones… Yes! They’re the same ones that keep you following Sisyphus’s example, doing the same thing over and over again while thinking that they can solve a problem they helped create in the first place!