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Restarting Civilisation Episode 2


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.

It does not matter what your opinion is.  At all.  Nature exists outside of your brain.

I think the most important thing – if you destroy civilisation and nothing’s left and you leave one thing, one idea, that can be passed on as you rebuild civilisation – is the scientific method, which is that it does not matter, it’s very simple to state, it does not matter what your opinion is.  At all.  Nature exists outside of your brain.  It exists outside of your sensory experience, it is there, and the way to understand it is to look at it and measure it and then test your ideas, your hypotheses, your opinions, against the measurements.  If it disagrees with the measurements it’s wrong.  As Richard Feynman always famously said: you jettison the idea, it doesn’t matter who you are, how famous you are, how many people agree with you, if it disagrees with nature it’s wrong and that’s it.

That simple thing, that you understand nature by observing it, it is, I think, for some reason, was very difficult to come by, probably because of the arrogance of humanity in general.  Probably because people get very attached to their opinions and find it very uncomfortable when their opinion is shown to be completely and utterly worthless in the face of a measurement.