Thousands of years ago, our ancestors took it upon themselves to make sense of the world they lived in. Though they knew very little about the laws that governed the physical world, they were fascinated by how they worked — with precision and unmistakable continuity. If anything, they may have been humbled by the realization that there’s more to the mystery of this world than their minds would ever be able to grasp.
Nevertheless, the pursuit of knowledge and truth, as far as our recorded human history is concerned, never came to a perpetual halt. What happened in the years leading up to 3000 BC, we might never know. But the aggregate of human knowledge after this period is fairly preserved in one form or another. We can look back with a debt of gratitude and recognize that the older generations played their parts well. Now we, standing on their shoulders, have a moral responsibility to expand the horizons of human knowledge. Although our present understanding traverses a vast range of disciplines — from the deeper realms of quantum to the laws of nature on the grandest scale — we still have a long way to go.
If we look back, there’re many distant souls to be held in high regard for the astounding contributions they made to science and to the aggregate body of human knowledge. Anaximander, for example, came along around 600 BC to recognize for the first time in history that the planet we live on is free in space and doesn’t need to sit on something. Aristotle, a prodigious researcher, philosopher, thinker, and writer appeared around 300 BC to add his own set of unprecedentedly great contributions, resting his name among the greatest polymaths of all time. Euclid arrived at about 325 and, in the course of his gifted life, prepared the most famous mathematical work ever written in the history of human quest. Avicenna showed up in the late 10th century, earning his prestigious standing in the annals of science and leaving behind famous works like The Canon of Medicine which remained a standard textbook for centuries in many medieval universities.
Fast forward to the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, we have Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Issac Newton, Michael Faraday, and James Clerk Maxwell who revolutionized our understanding of the laws of nature. Then, in the not so distant past, the genius of Einstein unraveled one of the two pillars of modern physics with his famous mass-energy equivalence equation: E = mc2 .
Who were these men of extraordinary contributions? They were the curious minds who never said enough and who never stopped questioning. In Einstein’s Old Man’s Advice to Youth:
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.”
Well, how curious are we to try merely to comprehend a little of the mysteries we encounter each day? Do we believe we too have a responsibility to contribute to the body of human knowledge as did the past generations? If that’s too hard a duty, shouldn’t we even try to understand what’s already been understood, done, and handed down to us? It’s a sad situation that individuals who make up the majority of the so-called knowledge-society principally don’t have a clue how science and technology work. If a room is full of today’s literate individuals, how many of them do you think would have a sound understanding of how electricity works for example? In my opinion, not very many. We have become a generation of entitled beneficiaries whose only job is to relish the results of the work done and passed on by individuals of the past.
It’s time we realized we have a responsibility to share too. There’s a joy in curiosity and we should learn how to cultivate it. The generations who preceded us gave us their unique gifts in the form of scientific discoveries and technological innovations. The generations who will follow us should not be dealing with a heritage of hunger, poverty, global warming, and all the rest of the problems our indolence, lack of curiosity, and lack of empathy could cause. They should not be looking at our contributions in the fields of science, technology, and human progress and, in their utter disbelief, dub us “the bone-idle unit” of the human family who ever lived.