For as long as we’ve been human one resource has always been valued above all others: knowledge. The success and progression of civilisation is measured in just one way: the extent of our knowledge.
We pride ourselves on how developed we are. How much more more civil we are compared to our barbaric ancestors. We sure have come a long way from the grunting, cave-dwelling proto-human. Guns. Medicine. Democracy, equality, liberty; these concepts, these inventions are fine examples of our ever-expanding body of knowledge, our scientific research and the evolution of thought.
Civilisation is like a machine, with each and every one of us playing the role of cog or spring in the great, universal machine. It spans the complete evolution of humanity through time and space and, if we avoid extinction, it will be everlasting.
And that’s how we power this machine: knowledge. Knowledge goes in one end: ‘metal conducts electricity’ — and out the other end comes invention: ‘computers’. Grossly simplified but you get the idea. This machine needs to be fed constantly. It doesn’t differentiate between new data or rehashed, time-worn knowledge: that’s what makes it so devastating! It creates and destroys with ambivalence. Cultures, ideologies, religions; all have fallen or been cut down into their constituent parts only to be reabsorbed — reconstituted.
It seems to do OK with regurgitated, reabsorbed data as long as there’s something new being added from time to time. Imagine a big cauldron of soup — wouldn’t it get a little boring if you never added a new ingredient? The soup would probably dry out even. Our greatest gains definitely come from pouring new knowledge in.
And where to find the new knowledge? Exclusively within the domain of exploration. Pushing the boundaries is the greatest thing we can do to perpetuate the machine of civilisation, of humanity.
That’s the crazy thing: all of the knowledge we need to survive is already out there waiting to be discovered. It’s like turning over rocks and finding wriggly worms and millipedes. It’s like turning over a rock and finding data that solves an unknown — ah, so that’s the solution… Eureka! But these rocks might be at the top of the highest peaks or the trough of the lowest marine trenches. These figurative rocks might be in the petri dishes of science labs or on the whiteboards of a particle physicists.
Wherever they are, these rocks need to be turned. It doesn’t matter by who, ultimately, as it all becomes part of our great machine. The magic becomes mundane and the entirety of civilisation surges forward, simply by flipping a stone and reporting your findings.
Problems arise when people stop exploring, when we cease pushing against the boundary. The machine continues to churn — it can’t stop — but with a lack of new data errors begin to appear. Our world-view begins to stagnate. Data is re-analysed and new, erroneous, contrived conclusions are drawn. False progress, bureaucracy, fads and pseudo-science can grip society in a stranglehold.
Before our very eyes exploration has become the black sheep of governmental spending: Research, science, space travel and the like all shunted onto the back burner and the back of our mind. There is knowledge out there just waiting to be discovered and assimilated into our culture, knowledge that will propel our civilisation into the next era. But it’ll have to wait. We have more pressing issues at hand apparently.