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History & Progress

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorSeptember 28, 2009 6:08 PM


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From 3 Quarksdaily, an intriguing post flows from this question:

Will historians and archaeologists a few thousand years from now believe that scientists in the mid-twentieth century split the atom? That they even created a nuclear bomb? There's a good chance the answer will be "no."

The author, Sam Kean, argues that our collective behavior (or non-actions, when it comes to such problems as climate change), will make future generations wonder how humans in the 20th century could have been so clever as to split the atom and send a man to the moon. Perhaps, but what would make me just as as suspect, if I were looking back at history in 2200, would be the tremendous technological leap between, say, 1870-1970. Quality of life, for those fortunate enough to reap the benefits, improved immeasurably. It's hard to believe that happened in such a short time span. Kean makes a more solid case when discussing our depth of time problem--that we have a habit of shortchanging the achievements of past civilizations:

A span of thousands of years is both extremely short and impenetrably long. It's short because human nature will not change much in that time. Which means our human tendency to discount the past and pooh-pooh the achievements of antique cultures will not have diminished. Dismissing technical achievements in the remote past is especially tempting. We're willing to believe that people philandered and murdered and philosophized uselessly like we do today, but we conveniently reserve the notion of technical progress for ourselves.

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