(Ancient) Alexandria and the Modern Potential for Thought

When Alexander the Great founded the city of Alexandria, he sought to combine both the Egyptian and the Greek peoples (each of which were fully developed in terms of their cultural glory). He succeeded for a variety of reasons, creating a unique city that was the pinnacle of its day.

Creating a melting pot of knowledge was one of his primary goals, and aside from setting up a stunning academy (with hundreds of rooms each hosting 20 students and a professor) featuring the brightest minds in the Western world, he sought to compile all known written material into a single library.When these brilliant scientific and philosophical minds (who, among other things, first realized the world was round, and accurately calculated its circumference) gained access to these books and scrolls (which included all of those from the Far East and all points in between), and shared their ideas amongst each other, the achievements in understanding grew exponentially.

Key to this success was the access to the information contained within, from the complex and original ideas to new ways of understanding the world. Alexander knew that with access to multiple forms of thought (from all over the world), new depth could be added to almost any topic.

Though we all know how the story of the Great Library eventually ended (it burned), what we can gain from this story is the knowledge that the more we increase and diversify what we learn, the more we understand a subject completely.

For one of the few times in human history, virtually all of the written knowledge of the world is at our finger tips. We have but only to access it, to gain from it in a meaningful fashion rather than being absorbed into the flood of trivial information and constant stream of news.

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Google offering 1 gigabyte/per second internet service in Kansas City

I was rather shocked to hear this. What amazing news:

http://arstechnica.com/business/2012/11/google-fiber-is-live-in-kansas-city-real-world-speeds-at-700-mbps/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+arstechnica%2Findex+%28Ars+Technica+-+All+content%29

Google is now offering internet service at a gigabyte per second, for $70 per month. Right now in Maine, Road Runner Turbo is 5 mbps, and it costs $55 a month. To say this is a stunning step forward in America’s high speed internet potential is an understatement. Depending on how quickly they expand, this will make instantaneous steaming of high quality video a complete reality.

Will we hit the maximum amount of bandwidth, if it exists? Time will tell.

On the removal of fiction from our English classes

In the past few years, significant attention has been given to the fact that the skills of reading comprehension and language competency of high school graduates have been declining. Increasingly, more and more high school graduates are unprepared for intro-level college courses, requiring them to pay for remedial courses (for which they receive no college credit).

A new solution has been introduced to attempt to remedy this problem, highlighted with this report from NPR:

In summary, President Coleman of the College Board is mandating “a sweeping cirricula change” where nonfiction mostly or completely replaces fiction in English classes.

I’m of divided opinion on this theory. There is significant value in classical fiction (classical is anything pre-80s in this age of quickly evolving technogenerations) and the lessons portrayed therein, but it is true that classical fiction may simply be uninteresting to the modern young mind. Worse yet, it could be alienating all together (in its language, issues, and perceived relevance), turning the young mind away from the genre all together.

In our media-intense modern world, the traditional book struggles for a spot in our fast-paced lifestyles. It has been repeatedly proven that the younger generations prefer video, audio, or illustrative media over purely written material. Accepting that, we must then realize that the very real values portrayed in classical nonfiction have less chance of reaching their audience unless we transform them into modern media. That has been happening in some cases (such as the story of Moby Dick and its lesson of chasing the white whale, which has had a few decent iterations, both directly and indirectly), but most “lessons” of our culture are losing air time to the vapid wastes of mass media (where poor behavior is highlighted).

On a personal level, I value books (fiction and nonfiction) greatly, and I do think that fictional novels should still be a part of the cirriculum. Perhaps the required reading should be focused on modern fiction (as in from the past ~2 years), which has successfully kept pace with modern thought and issues. Classical books could be delved into later at the choice of the reader.

The complexity of the human mind

As a biologist well aware of the complexity of the natural world, I had to really be sold on the idea that the human mind is unique in its complexity and capability. Are we really that special?

It turns out, we are. Aided in part by sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson and his books, and by the breakout book World Wind Mind (http://www.amazon.com/World-Wide-Mind-Integration-Humanity/dp/1439119147), I came to understand just how amazing our brains are, and can be. In the latter book, the author makes the statement that our brains are the most complex thing in the universe (we have more neural connections in our single brain than the number of known elementary particles in existence in the universe). The potential variety in how each brain can be arrayed is simply astounding.

With these brains of ours, we can learn, remember, and conceive virtually any thought, especially as we practice growing and enforcing our neural pathways. We can also train ourselves to be nothing more than we need to be, existing essentially as efficient programs operating within routine. The challenge is to grant realization to any brain of its amazing capacity– and to prevent the false perception of limitation from crippling as many minds as possible.

In the beginning

Technology is constantly changing. The accessible “processing power” of the human mind has soared with our increased population and our newfound capability of instant global communication. Is there a limit to what we can achieve? Have our achievements in creating virtual realities changed something integral about the human experience? It is too soon to say anything for certain, but that does certainly not mean there is nothing to be said.

As this blog progresses, we will explore the amazing developments of technology and its novel applications, and we will look at the evidence of how we are and may be changing (for better or worse). Image