Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
Have you ever wondered about the sum total of human knowledge and endeavour? Think about how discovery and invention are highly interconnected activities. Just as “Apps” are written now for SmartPhone operating systems, building upon the software, infrastructure and eco-system of a particular company, in the past every single human advancement has been built on the achievements of others in whole or in part and by accident or design.
Collectively and over time the human race has achieved incredible things.
Best Age to Live in
My grandfather on my father’s side lived from 1885 to 1972, when I was about 12 I remember him saying that he truly felt he had lived in an era of unprecedented progress. He grew up in London where the horse and carriage was the popular mode of transport, but he had witnessed the development of the motor car, trains, the underground, transatlantic crossings by boat and aeroplane. He had seen speed records broken in giant steps on land, air and sea and finally he had witnessed man conquering space and landing on the moon. What would he have thought about today’s world?
Everything we know so far
Now there are lots of excellent books chronicling discovery and inventions in the many different field of human endeavour but there doesn’t seem to be much that takes a total picture. I was initially inspired by the title “Everything we know so far”, from a video given to Porsche 911 owners which I had. Of course Porsche was marketing its 911 model which has evolved subtly through many generations but I thought it was a great title.
So I started on a MindMap with the centre being everything we take for granted today fanning out to all of the inventions and discoveries I could think of right back to the dawn of civilisation and using reference to Wikipedia for dates and names I pieced together a pseudo-chronological jigsaw of all of the accomplishments of the human race so far. Now I am sure that people will say but you’ve forgotten this or that and yes I would agree and of course I have been subjectively selective. However on this single sheet of paper you will find everything from ‘The Wheel’ to ‘The Internet’. I have also included the logical dependencies for certain threads and the cross links where possible. Click on the diagram for a larger image, notice the level of connectedness and the evolution and combination of ideas. When I looked at the dates I think my grandfather was right he did live in a timeframe of incredible, tangible change.
Take the mindmap and print it out on a larger sheet if it helps or just search it on screen. Take a look at the dates and the interconnections and then try this simple exercise.
a) What single item sums up human achievement?
If you think about a single item that embodies “Everything we know so far” what would it be? What would you take back to a scientist, engineer or inventor from the past to show how far we have come and how we have built on their understanding?
b) If you could go back in time who would you show it to?
Having selected your item, “who would you take it back to”, who is the most relevant person to that artefact, who would ‘get it’ and be blown away by what has been achieved?
I think I would take a SmartPhone back to Archimedes, how about you?
c) Comment and let me know
Just leave me comment on this site with the item and the person whose work you think this item mostly depends on, I will use the results for a future post.
Also tell me what you think about what would happen if we lost just one generation of the human race, would all that we take for granted today just crumble and die? Would our global civilisation be lost like some of the civilisations in the past?