Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

A little thought exercise

  1. Jul 22, 2008 #1
    Well I thought it'd be nice to do a little thought exercise. Earlier today I was thinking about how much knowledge & wisdom we've acquired over the years, and was wondering what would happen if something truly disastrous was to happen to the planet...

    Now I'm going to set up a situation and I'd like some thoughts on it. Say we knew something was going to happen to the planet, and that the vast majority of the people would be wiped out along with a lot of infrastructure. Now suppose you were tasked with gathering together the most important knowledge/wisdom from mankind's life on earth and were to write a book containing the information. (How this book survives, or why it survives doesn't matter for this discussion...just it's contents)

    Let's assume the book has to be limited to a maximum of two volumes (each volume is of reasonable size...like 500 pages...nothing like 20,000 pages or something). What would you put in these books? How would you fit so much information into these books? Write in a way that layers information (so each sentence means multiple things)?

    Just a thought. I'll add my thoughts in a bit, I just want to see how others would go about it. :)
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 22, 2008 #2


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    It would have to be a book on how to survive. Just basic survival techniques and possibly how to do basic things, hunting, fishing, how to butcher and preserve, gathering food, what's poisonous, how to find medicinal cures, basic farming, building shelters, making fire, etc.... In a world like that, just learning how to stay alive would be important.

    Or you could write about great works of literature and other things that won't be of any help and they could eat the book as they were starving to death. :rolleyes:
  4. Jul 22, 2008 #3
    Only suckers quit :smile:

    It doesn't matter how impossible it might be, I would use my team to help find ways to escape.

    As for book, I would only write "don't eat apples".
  5. Jul 22, 2008 #4
    Id just put all that info on a computer chip the size of a stamp.........

    I dont think there is much thought behind your thought exercise. In other words, I dont see what going through this thought exercise is going to gain in terms of insight into anything.
  6. Jul 22, 2008 #5


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    How to pull birds in a decimated society and how to build an empire.
  7. Jul 22, 2008 #6
    I'd write a book called "Chicken Soup for the Post-Apocalyptic Renegade's Soul," with contributors like Whoopie Goldberg, J.K. Rowling, and Amanda Bynes; the type of women who can really connect with teen girls.
  8. Jul 23, 2008 #7
    Well I mentioned that infrastructure would be destroyed...meaning computers (seeing as they're very valuable nowadays), guess I should have been specific. If the majority of the world is destroyed along with the majority of the people...how are you going to read the information of the chip? would people even know how to build a machine that could read the chip?

    Basically I was just seeing how people thought we would pass on knowledge of the world in the event of a catastrophic natural disaster that wiped out most of our infrastructure. We've become so dependent on computers and the internet recently in our society...what would happen if we lost the internet and/or our ability to use the internet along with a lot of our current technology? What information would you put into the book to allow our current kids who grew up living on technology to survive and create a society without technology?

    I was looking to see what kind of information you thought was valuable enough to be passed on, and what you thought was useless knowledge that didn't benefit the world.
  9. Jul 23, 2008 #8


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    I don't think a book is very nutritious. Typically, books are used for other purposes. I'd give both books to an African. The books would last longer. The average American would need 50 lbs of books just to get through one year.

    Kurt Vonnegut would approve. That would also leave more pages for other uses.

    :rofl::rofl::rofl: Best response of all.

    500 pages per book wouldn't be much at all. The books have to have lots of pictures since there are nearly 7,000 languages in the world. Mandarin Chinese is the most common and is only spoken by about 14% of the world. In a post apocalyptic world, I doubt there will be very many people fluent in multiple languages (except people living along the border of two different cultures). Whatever language you write the books in will soon become an extinct language since languages change continuously.

    So, at minimum, one book could have lots of pictures and be a tutorial on the language the second book was written in and "Chicken Soup for the Post-Apocalyptic Renegade's Soul" would be be as effective as any other topic. After all, once teen girls read about the luxurious lifestyles of the women in Western civilization, they'll demand the same from their future husbands, providing the drive necessary to rebuild civilization.
  10. Jul 23, 2008 #9
    i would have a computer complile all of our information to be printed extremely small by the best of our laser printers so that we could fit most if not all our information in these two books and then have each page laminated so no smudging occurs... in the first section of the book in regular print would be instructions on how to build a powerful microscope so as to read the rest of the book.

    problem solved! ;-)
  11. Jul 23, 2008 #10
    Well, lets be real here. If there isnt a SINGLE computer or laptop that you could find laying around, I doubt you would be alive too.

    This dont make a whole lot of sense because its not a realistic question.

    Well, then you have a fundamental misunderstanding or appreciation for knowledge to say one is 'more useful' than another. ALL knowledge is useful, in some way shape or form.
  12. Jul 23, 2008 #11


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    I hope the first chapter covers electricity and how to generate it. Otherwise, the computer's lifetime is reduced to the life of the battery.

    The knowledge imparted by the book (assuming it could be created in a format that would ensure it could be read in the future) would have to be something usable with no technology, and knowledge that would preferably speed the development of technology?

    I still have a lot of issues with the format. I just have a feeling that the info imparted literally would wind up being something like, "Don't eat apples." In fact, I think the format issue is a bigger problem than figuring out what info to put in the book.

    I still remember watching an episode of 90210 with my daughters where some guy winds up paralyzed and wheel-chair bound due to a skiing accident. There's huge emotional issues that wind up at some dance and some huge lesson about life is learned, and it was so hokey I had to ask my daughters semi-sarcastically, "And what did we learn from that show?" My youngest replied, "Don't bam into trees?" Funny thing is, I don't remember what lesson you were supposed to learn from that show anymore - in fact, the guy crippling himself by "bamming" into a tree is the only part I remember. I remember that part because my connection with the person imparting the "knowledge" was a lot stronger than my connection with any of the characters in 90210.

    Unless the format connects immediately with someone trying to stay alive in the wilderness, no one will bother to learn how to read the book, let alone gain any useful knowledge beyond "don't eat apples" and "don't bam into trees". A little like the diary in the movie, "Limbo". Raising foxes in Alaska would never have provided enough interest to read the diary except for the connection the castaways developed with the unknown girl that had left the diary behind.
  13. Jul 23, 2008 #12
  14. Jul 23, 2008 #13
    lets face it... technology is very useful and awesomely powerful but it is not vital to our existance! life would continue but would not be as interesting...
  15. Jul 23, 2008 #14
    On the first page I would teach the post apocalyptic reader how to make a pencil.
    On the second page I would tell the reader, "fill in the book for me."
  16. Jul 23, 2008 #15


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Exactly. Unless the people who were left alive were already well in touch with the land that they lived on and had these skills already, that would be the most valuable book of all. I can imagine survivors like city-dwellers having no clue about how to till land, which vegetables to plant to optimize yield, and which ones keep well for long times with little or no processing (squash, turnips, carrots stored in a cool root-cellar), and which ones can be dried for use over the winter.

    It would also be a good idea to teach people how to fertilize with naturally available materials, like fish, and how to plant complementary plants like the native Americans did, with squash, corn, and beans in the same hill, fertilized with fish either caught or found washed up on the shore. Basic midwifery would also need to be in the book - there is some valuable information that needs to be passed on to ensure survival of groups of humans, and in Western cultures, a lot of child-birth, nurturing, etc has been taken over by health-care professionals. There is a LOT of common knowledge of 100-150 years ago that has already been lost to the general population by our over-reliance on our infrastructure.
  17. Jul 23, 2008 #16


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Would that actually work? Could city dwellers tossed into the wild actually survive by following directions in a book? In a book that has to be shared among how many people?

    I just kind of assumed the folks that didn't know that sort of thing already would die off within days, or maybe a few weeks at most if canned goods survived. Hence, most of the audience for whatever book you provide will know how to survive in the wilderness and your goal will be to motivate them/teach them how to rebuild civilization in the image of our own civilization.

    Otherwise, why even give them a book? With the technology of the more advanced cultures gone, a few of the hunter-gatherers will be stronger than their neighbors, defeat them in battle, and build an agrarian civilization based on slavery. Eventually one or two of the agrarian civilizations will be prosperous enough to support a technology that restarts the industrial age, etc.

    Following this train of thought does help focus the range of info the book should contain. Slavery wasn't the best part of human history and any knowledge that would help a future civilization bypass that particular phase would be well worth the effort.
  18. Jul 23, 2008 #17
    Did all the supermarkets get zapped too?

    Id just walk into one and grab some food.
  19. Jul 23, 2008 #18


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Go for the vending machines in schools and workplaces, instead. Everyone that survives will think of supermarkets and you'll have to survive shoot-outs with other looters. It will take a while before people think of looting the vending machines in Microsoft, Boeing, etc, meaning you'll have less competition for food.

    Of course, I sure hope that vending machine guy remembers to restock. :uhh:
  20. Jul 23, 2008 #19
    I thought everyone else was dead??

    See, this is why the question sucks.

    Besides, I'm not a looter, im 'finding' things...

  21. Jul 23, 2008 #20


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Isn't that a tatoo on that girl's arm? I'm pretty sure she's a looter, not a finder.

    And is that black guy holding a superlarge box of tampons? Come on, any guy carrying tampons has to be a finder, not a looter.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?

Similar Discussions: A little thought exercise
  1. Thought (Replies: 15)

  2. Exercise (Replies: 29)

  3. Exercise concerns (Replies: 18)

  4. Eye exercises (Replies: 5)

  5. Little Caesar's (Replies: 30)