A couple of days ago I finished reading Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, an excellent read with loads of details I didn’t know (and loads of details I’ve probably already forgotten), very well presented and fun to read. There are four major things I’ve gleaned from the book;
- We don’t know didly squat. No, really, we think we know a lot and in a sense we do but compared to all that we “know” we haven’t understood yet and all that it leads us to believe must exist but that we can’t begin to grasp yet, what we know is ridiculous. One of the good images Bryson provides in that direction is this one;
… the whole of our understanding of human pre-history is based on the remains, often exceedingly fragmentary, of perhaps five thousand individuals. “You could fit it all into the back of a pickup truck if you didn’t mind how much you jumbled everything up,”
- There have been some truly brilliant people finding out things through incomprehensible insights and insane amounts of work. People focusing on one targeted, seemingly insignificant, subject for decades, sometimes for virtually all their life. Some others have shown an incredible breath of interest and brilliance, making major break throughs in 2, 3 sometimes 4 fields.
- It’s kind of incredible, realizing how little we know and how much of what is “known” is built on instructed guesses, estimates and theories, that there is so much resistance to new ideas. All through the book we see theories rejected or pushed back for decades because they go against established ideas, even when those said ideas are resting on a pile of guesses. The time lost on that friction is incredible. (I’m not talking about discussion and analysis here but outright rejection)
- Imagine where we’d be if we had been “firing on all cylinders”. Even today, women are often kept out of some fields or so grudginly admitted that they have to waste huge amounts of time going jumping through hoops that men don’t have to. For the
longestpretty much all of our history we’ve been giving access to knowledge and research to only half the available population. Nuts. (And even that “half” is mostly amongst the well to do)
Oh and; we’re insignificant. I already knew this of course but from the insignificance of our star to that of our planet, to the space we can live in on that planet to the time we’ve been around, to the magnitude of some past changes we haven’t had to live through, to the number of other species that have failed, all reviewed through 500 pages? Insignificant.