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Restarting Civilisation Episode 4


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.

I couldn’t build a wall, I couldn’t build a shelter, I couldn’t farm anything.

I think if you’ve dismantled everything and you have to have one bit of information as a starting block, I would take how to make bread as the first piece, um, and then cheese and then wine and I think we’re sorted from then on in.  It’s one of the things that I sometimes have weird dreams about this, the idea of…I’m part of a Western culture and I live in a very civilised part of the world and I use lots of technology and lots of people who don’t really know me and assume I know more than I do assume that I’m very, very integrated with my technology and I’m really not that good.  But, you know, I have a computer and a laptop and a mobile phone which connects to the internet and I’m, you know, really keyed into information all the time. And then if everything ended and I was suddenly stranded on a desert island with nothing, I couldn’t build a wall, I couldn’t build a shelter, I couldn’t farm anything; we, the people who are apparently most sophisticated in the world and most at the forefront of modern thinking are the last people you’d want if you were trying to rebuild things from scratch.  I’m utterly frightened of being one of those people, it’s a nightmare.  But my wife knows how to make bread so she’s in.   Once you’ve got bread and cheese then people can work out the rest.  But wouldn’t it be frustrating if they’ve robbed…if they’ve taken it all away and then you’re there going, ‘Well I remember this, I remember computers’.  That’s so far down the line of what you’re going to build, but that’s the things we’d be remembering most.  There’s an internal combustion engine, I’ve heard of it, I know there is one, let me just think about it…we are so far away from getting to the level of technology where we can actually enter the game and contribute anything and we’ve lost…most of us have lost those skills along the way, the building blocks to get there, so, bread and cheese, they’re the important ones, and stonecutting, which you can hear in the background of this interview.  Which is why we had to shut the window – which is why I’m very sweaty incidentally – he’s just opened the window and the noise has got louder.  We were doing it for you.