If you think of basic building blocks as
There are actually several ways that things happen.
A couple of notes
“Exploiting” is itself a multistep process with its own loops. The Technology readiness level - TRL system gets at this fact and still ignores the dispersion aspect of technology that might be necessary before it can be used sufficiently to lead to an observation or theory. However, an observation or theory can also come from an incomplete exploitation.
Theory -> Observation -> Exploitation
This is the Karl PopperIan cycle that is also encoded in the idea of basic-applied research. It is the broad outline of how the Manhattan project worked - theory predicted that a critical mass of fissile material should explode, informing experiments where that was observed, leading to the exploitation of that phenomenon by building the bomb. The explosive, era-defining example of this mode embedded it in many minds.
I didn’t realize until after writing this that theory doesn’t ever seem to lead directly to exploitation. The closest might actually be in computer science - especially cryptography where there is a very small gap between theory and reality.
These cycles are how different axes of research affect each other. Research has many orthogonal and non orthogonal classification axes
Through this lens, I worry that thanks to specialization-driving forces in the 21st century (Competition and lack of slack creates specialization) we are putting more and more effort into chain #6 and #7, without actually completing any loops. Uncompleted loops could absolutely lead to Stagnation. If this narrative is the case, we need to start asking ‘how can these phenomena we’re exploiting lead to better observations or theories about different phenomena?’ Phenomena-based cycles are stuck