Sunday, June 14, 2015
Dartnell, L. (2014) The knowledge: How to Rebuild our World from Scratch. New York: Penguin. Written by a research scientist responsible for popularizing science, The Knowledge begins with ways the world might end. Nuclear war is the worst case because it would destroy so much infrastructure as well as people; a sudden depopulation by pandemic would be the best case “end of the world”. He proceeds from this best case to consider immediate survival, the preservation of knowledge and material during the “grace period” before it is destroyed by time and environment, and then describes in the style of a how-to manual the rebuilding challenges facing a small group of survivors: agriculture, food and clothing, substances (chemicals, energy, soap, lime, acids), materials (clay, mortar, metals, glass), medicine, mechanical and electrical power, transport, communication, advanced chemistry, and the scientific method. There is insufficient detail for this collection to constitute a genuine how-to manual for societal survival, but as a starting point to think about the problems, it is brilliant and thought provoking. One of the most important lines of thought to arise from considering a civilizational reboot, is, why do we live the way we do today? The answer usually has more to do with interests than necessity.