Screenshot from "When Knowledge Conquered Fear" episode of COSMOS: A SPACETIME ODYSSEY

Testing the Power of ‘Our’ Knowledge

We are constantly hearing that we, as humanity, know so much, have become so powerful – but what is the state of *your* power and knowledge, really?

Education nowadays is, for a larger proportion of people than ever before, a much less restricted endeavor than it has ever been.

There may be (functionally) illiterate people even in developed, industrial, “rich” societies with compulsory schooling, and there are those who would like to keep women or the young in general – or everyone – from learning those “dangerous” ideas that don’t agree with their (oftentimes religious) convictions.

Yet, there is more learning, and it is more widespread, than ever before. You don’t need to be a monk or a member of a high class to study and practice your reading and writing, you are expected to acquire that skill anyways. And it doesn’t end with the reading of religious scriptures, either, but many more areas of knowledge are usually being taught.

Access to information and potential knowledge is much easier, too, whether in the form of books or in the shape of the various tools offered online.

But, what do we really know, let alone are capable of explaining or doing with that knowledge, as individuals?

The thought had struck me as I was watching (the new) “Cosmos. A Spacetime Odyssey.

Screenshot from "When Knowledge Conquered Fear" episode of COSMOS: A SPACETIME ODYSSEY
Screenshot from “When Knowledge Conquered Fear” episode of COSMOS: A SPACETIME ODYSSEY

Imagine yourself thrown into one of the scenes of the past that they present in animated drawings. If your schooling wasn’t half bad, you’ll have heard about the things they talk about before.

From the heliocentric universe and the Newtonian Laws of Motion to the basic tenets of biological evolution and the quantum character of the subatomic world, at least something of it is usually taught. It feels somewhat familiar.

What, however, if you were there, thrown back in time?

It’s easy to watch what’s being presented on the screen and shake one’s head, be that in puzzlement or in agreement over things heard before, wondering about a time when such (often basic) ideas where hotly debated questions – but how much of it do you understand; to what extent would you even be able to point Newton in the right direction in which his answers lie, for example?

The issue only becomes all the more puzzling when we look at how the technological future of mankind is often presented as our saving grace.
We certainly have come a long way. From the very first generation of electricity and the first telephone and wireless transmissions to wireless access to high-speed optical-fiber-transmitted internet and smartphones, it’s been quite a rush.

But what of it could we repair and rebuild if push comes to shove, given how few people know anything much about the way these things work and are built, as well as how specialized (and geographically spread out, but at the same time, concentrated) their production has become?

It’s a good thought for realizing how (inter)dependent we are, how powerless we are alone – and at the same time, considering how much small local communities have been able to do and how much more we would (or should we say, could?!) now know.

It’s an observation by which to get motivated to actually learn more of what we think we know, develop some of the skills that have always been a part of life but are oftentimes lost as consumer society encourages us to forget about them in favor of the convenience – if that’s what it really is – of just buying everything.

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