Sunday, June 28

Very Cool!

Nice that some things worthwhile are still free. Like these films in the National Archive made available by Google...

Also, on a hunch I looked up Isaac Asimov, my favorite author (now deceased) and one of the biggest influences on my thought processes growing up. And what do you know...


I sit could sit and watch all these interviews, newsreels, and films of historically significant moments, pontifications about our place in the universe, analysis of events at the time they were still "current events," and so on for months without getting tired of them.

What a great way to see history. And nothing to buy or even rent. The Internet has certainly been a great boon for seekers of knowledge.

Getting back to Asimov, it's amazing how prescient he always was. In the talk before the American Humanist Association in 1989, and actually much earlier than that according to books on the environment I actually own and have sitting on my book shelves going back into the 70s and even 60s, he talks about greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and the general disruption of the earth's 'carbon cycle' and how it may be endangering out very existence upon the planet. He talked about devices which were essentially personal computers (not to mention robots with brains made of such devices which has been miniaturized and made sophisticated far beyond where we still are in 2009) long before the real things were considered feasible or even possible by many respected scientists and engineers, nevermind society in general. His best friend and fellow Sci-Fi and Sci-Fact author Arthur C. Clarke (also now sadly deceased), laid out designs and listed many practical uses in 1945 for what famously - 20 years later - became the geostationary orbiting communications satellite.

Thanks to Clarke (though the idea would probably have been thought of by someone, but perhaps not as soon), satellite communications such as international news broadcasts were born.

And Isaac Asimov, in hindsight seemingly one-upping his friend yet again, wrote (also in the 1940s) of a galactic library of human knowledge accessible from anywhere through the 'sub-ether' of space. Though at the moment we are constrained to the Earth and vehicles in its orbit, we now have that technology, though sadly Asimov never lived to really see it for what it would become: The Internet, and more specifically the World Wide Web which rides atop that network, which is all connected together by "Ethernet" connections or wireless technology.

Men (and women, had they been allowed more education and empowerment) with the extraordinary imagination and clarity of thought to extrapolate from the present to the future, people such as Leonardo da Vinci, Jules Verne, Charles Babbage, Nikola Tesla, and most recently Clarke and Asimov, are extremely rare. It is to these visionaries that we owe much of or our current society (for better or worse), though millions of others had to do the "grunt work" of making such visions into reality, though likely very view of them realized that was what they were doing.

Like great visionary scientists - Galileo, Newton, Maxwell, Darwin, and Einstein - who have added extraordinarily to our knowledge of natural law, and like socioeconomic visionaries like Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes, and so on, who collectively predicted the rise of capitalism (and some like Marx and Engels who predicted its downfall, which has yet to be pronounced upon!), the visionaries of technology and even "psychohistory" (another idea of Asimov's which may yet oneday bear fruit in the confluence of ideas now separately labeled chaos, complexity, emergence, psychology, and sociology or group behavior) have literally changed the course of humanity out of all proportion to their stature as mere individual organisms amongst billions.

It would make an interesting study to see what brings phenoms like these - polymaths, geniuses, visionaries - into being in the first place. Is it inevitable given a large enough population, like people flipping coins and someone through sheer chance eventually getting 20 heads in a row, and this occurance repeating itself periodically, given the sheer number of "flippers" involved, at some statistically determined rate? Or is there some other factor at work? Do genetics conspire (beyond mere chance) to produce geniuses out of the froth of normal people in some way? Does the human species act as a meta-organism or giant neural network, in a way analagous to an ant colony, to produce "extra-human" intelligence or behavior that is only explicable as an emergent property, the way "consciousness" emerges from billions of tiny, ostensibly non-conscious neurons? Does this manifest itself as great thinkers and leaders who then direct our "colony" in an advantageous way somehow?


An Gabhar Ban said...

Good links, more stuff to watch. I will be watching videos till I'm old and white haired.
I think chance is the only factor really. I think there are more people born who COULD become these great thinkers but chance, in the form of nurture and nature, causes a good portion of them to either not live up to their genetic potential or be forced to become something they are not.

Metamatician said...

Thanks for the comments. And good point about many, many people being kept from reaching their potential by circumstance. It's a shame, really.

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