Just in my lifetime, there has been a lot of new knowledge accumulating. Science and technology lead the way. My father was a Science man. I am a Science Man. This is the age of great discovery. It is challenging but I try to keep on top of it.
Darwin's great idea was spot on. Alfred Wegener said the continents move; he was right, too. The Earth is very old, 4.5 billion years old, to be quite exact. Radiometric dating makes this a fact. Watson and Crick elucidated the structure of DNA and now we
know the genome of living organisms from E. Coli to an Elephant. Astrophysicists push back the frontiers; subatomic particles- quarks,leptons . What is the Higgs Boson? Can you grasp the concept of Dark Matter? Understand E=mc2? Black holes?
I am not
one of those who contributed this knowledge. I can see that these folks are trying to make their discoveries known. Not just to the Science community but to everybody. They write books, create DVDs, teach in the schools and Universities, even make public speaking
appearances. Some people avail themselves of this opportunity to learn. Many do not.
I have a Science Library in my home. I add to it often. I read a lot. I have a collection of DVDs from the "Great Courses" which I watch for a while every day. From time
to time, I get some negative feedback. Like, "Why do you buy more books? You have enough books." Or, "Why are you listening all the time to those Science guys?"
I hear, "Knowledge makes people proud." Paul in Corinthians said "Knowledge puffs up".
A quotation ascribed to Socrates was, "The only thing I know is that I know nothing". I am sure this is not right. Even 2000 years ago, everyone had some knowledge. Most people were illiterate. Tradesmen knew how to build a house. Farmers knew how to grow
grapes. A pastoralist could care for his sheep. Some people studied the stars and the sun. Aristarchus tried to use parallax to measure the ditances to the Sun and Moon. His geometry was good but observation data was off. There was a great Library in the city
of Alexandria which was unfortunately destroyed by fire, started by the Romans. What knowledge was recorded there was soon forgotten. For the next 1500 years there was just the base knowledge [how to grow grapes, build a house, raise sheep]
time, there was a prevailing notion that the answers were in for everything. If you did not know something all you had to do was ask the village priest. If you could read, the answer was in the Bible. When you think you know the answers [but you don't] this
is what is called ignorance.
As long as you remain ignorant, you will not even look for knowledge.
At this point, I would like to record the the dictionary definition of knowledge: "Facts,information and skills acquired by a person through experience
Do not confuse Wisdom and Knowledge. They are not the same thing. Wisdom is about judgement and "Common Sense". It is possible to have a large fund of knowledge but little wisdom. I know some doctors like this.
In current times, everyone
still has a base of knowledge. This will be required to live in our urban society. And we need to do our jobs. Many jobs require a considerable base of knowledge. [ Engineer, Lawyer, Accountant ] Teachers need to know their subject. Tradesmen need skills and
facts at their command. The fund of knowledge that a person posseses and the focus of this knowledge will obviously vary widely. Nobody knows everything. A Lawyer may know very little about Geology. A Criminal Lawyer may not be comfortable with problems of
So what I have been talking about here is what I call Basic Life Knowledge. There is another kind of knowledge which I propose to call "Knowledge-knowledge". This is what some folks like to call, "knowledge for the sake of knowledge". This
knowledge may not be of any use to you in your job. You just know stuff. This would help you in the unlikely event that you were a contestant on the show, "Jeopardy". An example would be a University graduate with a Batchelor of Arts degree who
has knowledge of History and English Literature. He or she cannot find a job.
So this does not sound too good. Should we Homo sapiens spend time acquiring knowledge-knowledge? In this Western world, many of us have the time/opportunity. If we decide to
acquire knowledge-knowledge should there be particular area we need to focus on?
I believe there is a priority area for our knowledge-knowledge. Before I go any further let me say I have no problem with the person who decides to devote their time to mastering
a musical instrument, going to night school to learn to speak Spanish or joining a drama class that enjoys Shakesphere-- even when they have no plan to play in an orchestra, move to Spain or join the cast at Stratford on Avon.
That being said, we need
to remember that we are Homo sapiens. The weakest, the slowest. Unable to catch a rabbit, even. For thousands of years, easy prey for any carnivore. But now we are using our brain to achieve . Achieve amazing stuff. But now we need to use this brain to understand
our place. Homo is said to be perpetually curious. Hungry for the truth? OK. The truth is being discovered, as we speak. By some of us [a relatively small number].These few have/are ,step by step, revealed/are revealing, what is true. The discoverers
are excited by these findings; they are not afraid, in denial. They are trying to pass on this knowledge-knowledge. Let us listen.
Evolution has given us the largest, most complex brain. We need to stop the
part of our behaviour which is idiotic. Stop believing in absurdities. Show some awareness of the future. You do not need a scholar's level of knowledge.Some basic facts would do for a start, then you could progress to reading a book. My apologies to
those who already know what I will outline below. I fear I risk being condescending, but I can't ignore the results of surveys which seemed to show that 25% of Americans did not know that the Earth orbited the Sun.
So here is my capsule of knowledge[
not theories, just facts]
1. The Earth is 4.5 billion years old. It is 93 million miles to our nearest star, the Sun. We orbit the Sun every 365 days. The Earth's axis is tipped at 23 degrees, giving us seasons in the northern and southern hemispheres.
The Earth rotates on its axis once every 24 hours [day and night].
2.The size of the Earth [8000 miles in diameter], the distance to the Sun and its 24 hour rotation are all critical for permitting the evolution and sustaining of life. [We are said
to be in the "Goldilocks zone"]
3. Life, which has a metabolic system, creating energy and the chemistry for replication, arose about 3 billion years ago, probably in the ocean depths around hydrothermal vents. Such life was unicellular [bacteria] for
2 billion years.
4.All life on Earth evolved from these microscopic ancestors. The first complex multicellular animals are preserved as numerous fossils in sedimentary rock 540 million years ago. [Cambrian times]
6.DNA shows us that we are all related. DNA codes for basic metabolic processes are the same in bacteria as in Elephants, humans, mice, fruit flys and us.
[Homo sapiens] are not a special creation. We are Primates, our closest relative being the Chimpanzee. DNA indicates that the common ancestor of the Chimp and Human separated about 5 million years ago. Homo sapiens[us] evolved in Africa about 250,000
years ago. Homo sapiens ancestors, the Australopithecines, Homo habilus and Homo erectus, are all extinct.
8.Our Sun, like other stars, creates its energy by nuclear fusion. [hydrogen atoms fuse to form Helium with release of energy] The fuel supply
of the Sun will last another 5 billion years, then it will swell to Red Giant, engulfing the inner planets. This will be the end of Earth. Stars are being born and dying throughout the Galaxies. Our Galaxie is the Milky Way. There are billions of stars in
the Milky Way. There are trillions of Galaxies. The closest Galaxie to our Milky Way is Andromeda, 2.5 million light years away.
9, A light year is the distance that light travels in one year. The speed of light is 186,000 miles per second. So one light
year is about 6 trillion miles.
10.The death of the largest stars is explosive, with tremendous heat, [A Supernova] and in its agonal phase the remaining elements of the periodic table are created. The Universe is filled with the dust of exploding stars.
It is from this dust that new stars and their planets are formed. Ninety two elements made up our rocky planet Iron, oxygen, Silicon and Carbon are the commnest in the crust and oceans.
11.We are made of Carbon, Oxygen, Nitrogen, Calcium, phophorus,
Magnesium, sulfur, iron and other trace elements, like copper, zinc and chromium.
We are made of stardust.
Here is a book for you:
Wonders of Life by Brian Cox and Andrew Cohen