Our expectations about how much stuff we should have around us have changed significantly. And by “stuff” I don’t mean just “things”, but also the amount of “information” available.
Right now we have a situation where the amount of information locked in place around us is staggering.
This is not just the trivia information you can access in your free time, but also everything that’s been done/said/written in your field.
From the modern man’s point of view, scholars up until the 19th century appear superhuman because they would be walking libraries of all the knowledge in their respective fields since they would have read almost every book they could lay their hands on.
Bear in mind that they didn’t have access to many languages, they would only get all their books in English, or Latin, or Greek, or Arabic, or whatever.
Let us remember that the Greek classics were as good as lost in Europe until the Arabs brought them back to Europe:
Reconquista, which everybody (in Europe) thinks of as reconquering Spain from the Arabs (from the Moors) also represents reconquering classical Greek knowledge.
This was possible mainly because the Arabs were much nicer than the Christians in terms of allowing communities of Jewish, Christian and Arab scholars to live and work together. It is due to Arab tolerance that we in Europe still have so many works by Aristotle and Plato.
How was it possible to lose the Greeks? Let’s ask ourselves that. The recovery starts in the 11th century; pretty late, if you consider that the works of the Greeks were written centuries before Christ.
What happened? Well, the library of Alexandria got burned and all that, but a thousand years? Isn’t that excessive?
In Europe we had Greek philosophy, then we misplaced it. For about 1000 years. Imagine what that does to the European psyche; to lose something as great, as profound as Plato, Aristotle, to lose (most of their books).
Thank you Arabs for your tolerance (and wisdom) in these centuries.
Where is our gratitude towards Arab philosophers? Can we even pronounce their names?
Everybody’s now pissed off at the Middle-East because there’s always something horrible going on, but these cultures didn’t just produce suicide-bombers or the jihad concept.
These are just recent manifestations of a culture which started with Mohammed and enabled us to recover the Greeks. Islam taught Christians (the value of) tolerance.
How difficult is it to grasp this from the current point of view when we think that Islam is poised to destroy civilisation? When we think that Christian societies are so much more tolerant?
I suppose the main reason for this newfound tolerance is that European countries are not really Christian anymore.
There is a lot of knowledge around us, but all this knowledge has come to us because somebody (many somebodies) has worked to preserve it.
There is so much knowledge which can be easily accessed that we feel lost in a sea of information.
It is possible that all these apocalyptic scenarios express our deep desire to go back to a world where there’s less stuff and information around us.
Somebody who is now trying to understand 1 thing will never be able to read all that is relevant to this 1 thing; even with the Internet, it would take you months to get all this stuff in one place (i.e., one head).
Consider all the knowledge that we have about “fire extinguishers”.
Can you imagine making a fire extinguisher? All the different things which go into making a fire extinguisher…
All the knowledge that is stored inside things is forever beyond our grasp.
We have all these structures around us that promise us access to any kind of information, but we have a limited time on this planet.
Accordingly, we feel that we are incompetent most of the time: We don’t know all that we should know.
Imagine people living 2000 years ago. Let’s say somebody who’s making buckets: These could be manufactured in a couple of days even by a child. The craftsmen who lived in those days would have felt that they had all the necessary knowledge.
Nowadays, even the people who are directly involved in making a fire extinguisher would probably not have access to all the required information: One person might be knowledgeable about the chemical substances that go into this fire extinguisher and how they’re supposed to interact, but that would be it.
One person living today would not have at their fingertips all the information about fire extinguishers, as would be perfectly normal for somebody who’s making buckets (which prior to the 20th-century would’ve been the tool used for extinguishing fires).
How do you make a bucket? First you get some metal. How do you get the metal? There are some guys who dig the iron ore out of the earth, and then they put it in an oven and then it becomes a molten lump, which you beat the crap out of with a hammer, and then you shape it as much as you can as a cone without the sharp end, and then that’s it. Now you have a bucket, (hopefully you can put a handle on it as well) and then you use this as a fire extinguisher by just getting water from the river nearby.
How much information do you need to input in this bucket? It’s still a lot, imagine all the knowledge for crafting, the right way of hammering, the means of retrieving the minerals and so on.
However, this is completely different from the complexity of a fire extinguisher, where we cannot even grasp where the label (or just the ink on the label) came from…
It is virtually impossible to see the source of the label or the ink, let alone the chemicals that are integral to its functioning, the machining of the metal parts…
There’s a lot of knowledge stored in the things around us so we feel overwhelmed:
There’s too much stuff around us.
Does this explain our desire to go back to earlier times (the good ol’ times), when there was less interest in having all this information?
When was this? When we lost the Greeks in Europe? When we only had one book, the Book? Is that where we want to go back to?
In all these so-called deviations (which are the Inquisition, the jihad movement, suicide bombing etc.), we see the logical branching out of a religion claiming that the Book is the only one worth keeping.
Burn all the rest, if you don’t want people to go astray. Or just burn all the rest to be safe, because it makes life much easier, for a lot of people.
Burning all the other books means
“Okay, now I don’t have to worry about all the knowledge out there”
Why does it make us so nervous? Because there’s so much of it, because it makes us feel small, because our place in the world doesn’t feel as big as it might have been for somebody who knew how to make buckets.
What would have been his “job title”? The blacksmith of the town; “the” points to a specific one, in most cases the only one.
Now, what do we have? An engineer? “an” is a function word marking a general, anonymous position. There is a very simple explanation for this:
The population of the planet has increased in the meantime; there’s a bit more than there used to be, as in roughly 6 billion more than there used to be.
How do we deal with this? Do we need to deal with this? Do we need to feel so much anxiety about this huge mass of information and things around us? Up to a point, yes; but that’s how the universe is.
We’ve gradually learnt that we are not at the centre of the universe, that our planet is not the centre of the universe, that we’re not the only thing: People used to think that we live on a plate and that’s it, if you go to the margins you could fall off the edges: That would be the end of the world.
This is not how the world is:
We are just a globe that’s spinning around a star, forming one system which is one among hundreds of billions of other systems making up a galaxy, which is also one out of billions of other galaxies.
That’s the reality, whether we want to open our eyes to it or not.
Why would you want to shut your eyes? To keep one book only and give yourself peace of mind? Perhaps it would give you peace of mind for a brief moment, but if you have to kill everybody else and burn everything, how would that count as “peace of mind” in the long term?
No, that’s not the way. We can only get peace of mind when we realise our place in the universe.
Newsflash: It’s a small place.
Let’s try to understand our place, among the billions [of people] among the billions [of stars] among the billions [of galaxies] among the billions of…