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Restarting Civilisation Episode 7


Richard Feynman once said: ‘If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis that all things are made of atoms-little particles that that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence, you will see, there is an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and thinking are applied.’

So, we asked the people featured in this app what scientific idea they would like in their back pocket in the event we had to restart civilisation.

Fourier’s theorem is actually a remarkably powerful mathematical way of understanding things

Yeah, Fourier’s theorem, that’s from mathematics; I’m not a mathematician but I did work on the physiology of the brain and we know that the output of the brain is full of complex random signals, but what Fourier’s theorem shows is that any complex signal, irrespective of how complex it is, can be broken up into simpler sine waves, you can decompose complexity into simplicity and understanding that enables you to build systems in the way that the brain builds up complexity from much simpler systems.  So I think Fourier’s theorem is actually a remarkably powerful mathematical way of understanding things as diverse as human behaviour and thought.  And, actually, it applies beyond mathematics and psychology, it applies to biology, in fact, just about every area where data can vary, understanding Fourier’s theorem allows you to do the correct analyses.