Monday, August 24, 2015

Plato's History Recalled

The older I get the more I understand and accept Platonic epistemology, the idea that everything we know, we have already been taught; each soul existed before birth, so we aren't learning, we are relearning.

I don't really believe in reincarnation, per se (I believe in the tranference of energy; another subject for another blog post) but the part about learning what we already know rings true for me. I think humanity as a whole constantly forgets and relearns advances made in medicine, technology, engineering, and more, which affects our level of progress as a species. Entire generations forget or ignore the wisdom from previous generations, either out of stupidity or pride. We never learn from history, and as the saying goes, if we don't remember history, we are doomed to repeat it (I can just picture the elderly librarian who coined that phrase, looking down her nose past her spectacles at the arrogant little pricks that ignore the history section and only take out friggin Divergent books or whatever the equivalent was at the time). That's the pattern humanity has mostly followed. We don't remember history, so any improvements in society come very slowly (if at all) because we have to spend time relearning the same damn things over and over.

The ego of newer generations is often devastating. "There has to be a better way!" Well, not always. In Australia, bush fires have ravaged the land for centuries. Over the last few decades, however, they have become much worse, largely because officials have decided to forgo the techniques used by Aboriginal Australians.

There are countless examples of solutions to problems/inventions/structures that confuse modern generations because of the seemingly advanced technology or engineering involved. Some people go so far as to claim "aliens" must be responsible because nobody could have been capable of such achievements in the past. The pyramids are a prime example. How could they possibly be made by humans without modern technology? Even nowadays, such a project would take years! How could they even move those giant stones?

Turns out, pretty easily. Yeah. We should have figured that one out a while ago.

Medicine is another field that often ignores lessons from the past. There are literally books about "forgotten cures". So we discover cures for diseases, or ways to prevent diseases, and once they are almost eradicated, we get lazy and overconfident. When the diseases inevitably come back, we have forgotten how to defeat it. Let's hope that particular cycle doesn't continue

So much of humanity's knowledge has been destroyed, sometimes willfully, sometimes accidentally and many times out of necessity. There's no way to keep every document or record forever. Historical artifacts are lost or ruined. Entire buildings, societies, belief systems are all wiped from existence and our collective consciousness all the time. Data storage is a huge market and there's good reason why; maybe computers will one day be able to store, and therefore access, the accumulated knowledge throughout history and make decisions or create new ideas and solutions based on that knowledge. As long as the technology doesn't turn on us, which it might when it realizes how stupid we all are, we could have real progress.

To look at this on a micro level, have you ever helped a child with their homework? How much of it can you do from memory? It's the idea behind Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader? It's not that they are smarter, they are simply being actively taught; the knowledge is fresh in their minds. Adults forget most of what they learn in school, and once most people are out of high school or maybe college, they don't do much active learning. Many simply become stuck in their ways and content with their level of knowledge. Of course, the world moves on and they are often unable to adjust. These people become Conservatives (jk kinda).

Entire generations are like stubborn little kids, insisting on doing everything their way and not listening to elders trying to teach them. Sometimes this leads to great breakthroughs and new, more effective, creative solutions, but it often leads to new, unexpected problems. Don't get me wrong, I'm a postmodernist and I love tearing down old structures and systems, especially when those systems are corrupt or broken, but we can never be so arrogant to think we can not learn from the past. 

It doesn't help that some people go out of their way to erase or rewrite history for their own benefits or warped reasoning. When people in positions of authority sincerely claim the Holocaust never happened, or that Iraq was behind 9/11 and had Weapons of Mass Destruction, or that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery, it's hard to progress as a civilization. 

History is ugly and brutal, and we only learn from it when we face it head on. We can't attempt to bury it to make ourselves feel better. 

Own it. Learn from it. And do better. 

Also, save everything on a flash drive. 

I Love You All...Class Dismissed. 

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