I’m often seen as a negative person because of my worries about the global economy, the corruption of our leaders, and the way the central banks tends to make our problems worse by pumping more money into the hands of the rich at the expense of everyone else. However, I do not believe that the world is coming to some kind of harsh end, and there are some very positive developments if you’re willing to look.
Throughout the history of science, great minds from Aristotle to Roger Bacon to Isaac Newton have been trying to describe our world. Many theories have been tried and tested, and common scientific knowledge for thousands of years has been turned on its head. One example was Aristotle’s theory of eyesight – that rays coming from the human eye sought a view of the world, and this could be elegantly described using Euclidean Geometry. In the late 10th/early 11th century, Ibn al-Haytham released his theory of how light came into the eye, and that only the perpendicular rays rather than the skew ones would make it through to shape our view of the world. A much more well known example was the common knowledge that the earth was the center of the universe as described by Aristotle, with gravity being the simple attraction for all objects towards the center of the universe. The idea of the sun being the center was often proposed because it helped somewhat with the mathematical calculations predicting the position of the planets, but it didn’t help much with the stars, and it didn’t really describe the universe either. Newton’s theory of gravitation finally turned that on it’s head – and though it’s taught as obvious today, the idea that “all matter attracts all matter” really isn’t intuitive at all, because you never feel pulled toward mountains.
These heroes of scientific discovery sought knowledge like crazy. There were huge movements translating classical Greek and eastern works into Arabic, and then later translating the Arabic back into Latin. Books were rare, expensive, and hard to get. Scientific discoveries and translations required the financial backing of kings, wealthy nobles, and large institutions like the church in order to progress and spread at all. The discovery of paper later, and then the printing press really helped to launch the modern age as it allowed an educated class of citizens to build on all of these theories and try to put them into practice in real-world applications such as mining. This began to expand basic education and scientific knowledge into the middle class, but for the large part, the poor were still destined to be poor regardless of their individual intellectual aptitudes or potentials.
Contrast that with today … even in most poor countries, the literacy rate is fairly high. Books are not only inexpensive, but with the advent of the computer/internet age knowledge of anything is at your fingertips. If you really want to know why the sky is blue, ask google and it will provide links with very good answers. In fact, the Einsteins of the world who just cant help but be fascinated with nature and how things work can often find ways of furthering their self-education even from the poorest backgrounds. The latest scientific knowledge is available at your fingertips with the aid of a simple computer and an internet connection – available at internet cafe’s and public libraries around the world.
We are in the golden age of knowledge. Where we’re headed is always impossible to tell – the flying cars from The Jetsons or Blade Runner never came into being, and nobody back then would have imagined Google’s self-driving car (well, perhaps not until the 1980’s with JohnnyCab in Total Recall). If you think about it, the advances in medicine, electronic devices, movies, video games, production, and so on have been moving at an amazing pace over the last 20 years. The problems of urban congestion have been helped by the advent of Uber and Lyft, which are cheaper and quicker than cabs in more remote or suburb type areas. This is because cabs tend to focus really well in busy streets and airports, but they cant keep busy driving from one remote suburb to another. The driverless car will be one step ahead of this, it could potentially make taxis so inexpensive and convenient that many in big cities like Los Angeles will be able to choose to forgo the expense of owning and parking a car.
Scientific theory and space technology has not slowed either. We had a probe round Pluto recently, the European Space Agency orbited a comet, sent a probe to the surface, drilled into it, and analyzed its chemical composition. Theories have developed attributing the bulk of gravitational attraction to the Higgs Boson particle. Gravity-waves are described emanating from black holes. Space probes were sent to the asteroid belt using new Ion-Propulsion drives that allow them to have controllable thrust over a period of many years with relatively small quantities of fuel.
I encourage everyone to take a step back from the inherent negativity of the political and economic realms and just think about the amazing possibilities that are arising in numerous fields of science. Like Nasa and Nova in facebook. Stay positive, and be awed for a minute. We truly are in the golden age of knowledge.