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Most important piece of scientific knowledge

  1. May 17, 2013 #1
    In Six Easy Pieces, Richard Feynman said

    If such a cataclysm actually occurred, and you could preserve just one piece of scientific knowledge for a future race, what would it be?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 17, 2013 #2


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    I would try to preserve knowledge about scientific methods - with that, you can discover the existence of atoms again.
    It is useless to know about atoms, if you have no reasonable way to do science, and the development of the scientific method took way longer than the discovery of atoms.
    If knowledge about the scientific method is free, I think atoms are a good choice. The study of those atoms will eventually lead to subatomic processes and quantum mechanics.
  4. May 17, 2013 #3


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    I suggest the most important idea is captured in Galileo's famous quote, which I have seen paraphrased as,

    "The book of nature is written in the language of mathematics."
  5. May 17, 2013 #4


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    If the next generation of creatures is as technologically simple as a cave man, then to give him his start on the way to investigation and discovery I would just give them something simple as the Pythagorean theorem, and with time hopefully they could expand upon it to invent mathematics and geometry, which would be more useful to them than atomic theory could ever be at their level of knowledge.

    Feyman speaks to an audience already versed in science and technology, those who do not need much, if any, explanation of the point he is trying to bring across. His statements are most reflective upon our present state of knowledge and how far we have progressed to understand the world in which we live.
  6. May 17, 2013 #5
    Thanks for the interesting and on-point responses guys.
  7. May 17, 2013 #6
    Actually it's quite a coincidence but I answered the question to myself before I read the post and answered it in the same way that Feynman did.
  8. May 30, 2013 #7
    Great minds think alike? Haha.

    Sorry about getting banned.
  9. May 30, 2013 #8


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  10. May 30, 2013 #9


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    All of reality is logarithmic and humans can only observe the must mundane middle points.

    EDIT: My hope would be that this might prevent some of the more extraordinary claims of religion from cropping up again (assuming they were also destroyed by this hypothetical cataclysm).
  11. May 30, 2013 #10
    What does the equation in your user title represent?

    Sorry, I don't understand what you mean.
  12. May 30, 2013 #11


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    As a species we're very poor at understanding scope. Visible light is the smallest part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Our tallest mountains are dwarfed by those on other planets. A tiny grain of sand has 1020 atoms in it; more than all the humans that have ever lived (or might EVER live). The distance a human will walk in his lifetime is trivial compared to the closest cosmological bodies.

    To our species: far, close, fast, many, tall, big, hot, cold, slow, small, a short time, and a long time are ridiculously infantile descriptions.

    A campfire is hot in a trivial way.
    A field is big in a trivial way.
    Cheetahs are fast in a trivial way.
    Seasons are long in a trivial way.
    A mountain is tall in a trivial way.
    There are a lot of trees in a forest in a trivial way.

    Et cetera...
  13. May 30, 2013 #12
    I think that is a very good point too. :smile:
  14. May 30, 2013 #13

    jim hardy

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    I'd want a 1950-ish slide rule. It contains most of the math that was known until, well, whenever they became fluent with transcendentals.

    It'd also make a good conversation starter should aliens land. :)
  15. May 30, 2013 #14
    Cool. What does it look like?
  16. May 30, 2013 #15

    jim hardy

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  17. May 30, 2013 #16


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    I would say the idea of atoms is not very helpful, they would not know what to do with it and it took 2 millenia at least after the first intuition to get anywhere with it. So I would tell them everything is made up of tiny bits of electricity, what you can see when you comb a cat etc. That would be really useful because it is a just noticeable but seemingly quite minor unimportant phenomenon - so telling them it is the Secret Of The Universe is giving them some really useful information. Once they started taking it seriously in a century they had really moved things.

    Alternatively I would give them some instructions on how to make clear glass. In biology and astronomy that opens whole new worlds literally, in physics you get spectra, interference etc., chemistry would be a whole lot slower if you could never see anything happening inside a vessel, and it is so convenient we use it without thinking even when sometimes we could use something else.
  18. May 30, 2013 #17
    That would definitely be more practical, though I'm not too concerned with practicality.

    Yeah, someone else suggested teaching them fire too, like Prometheus. :smile: We need fire before we can have glass.
  19. May 30, 2013 #18
  20. May 30, 2013 #19
    Scientific knowledge.
    Your right hand is to the right and your left hand is to the left. Very confusing concept.And it might be 'just a theory'.
    You can kill animals with pointy stuff then eat them.(people are animals too)
    The Cartesian Coordinate system.
  21. May 30, 2013 #20
    While I like the idea of passing on the scientific method, there's something even more fundamental that I'd like to pass on (and something which addresses what I consider to be the biggest flaw in the human psyche):

    "It requires competence to recognize competence; be wary of those who only sound competent - ask them for proof."
  22. May 30, 2013 #21
    Many of you focus on practicalities which is not what I'm really concerned with. And cannibalism?

    This is what I'm looking for. great.
  23. May 30, 2013 #22


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    mnyah mnyah, there are people here, young fellow, who can remember astounding their classmates with this magic thing that could calculate these tedious divisions in a trice!

    It was considered the badge of the engineer.

    Some memorable recommendable sliderule things and moments:

    a Harold Lloyd film where the young genius with all the innocent genius defects wins any prize by calculating with his sliderule;

    the moment in When Worlds Collide, a film that came just before The Forbidden Planet and is a better film IMHO but you hardly ever see it, when the Chief Scientist throws his sliderule on the table in anger;

    the autobiog 'Slide Rule' by Neville Shute, who before becoming a novellist was an engineer who worked on the doomed R101 airship, the British Hindenburg disaster, and other plane ventures in the (too) small world of pre-WW2 British aviation, De Havilland etc., fascinating.

    I'm sure others could add examples like that.
    Last edited: May 30, 2013
  24. May 30, 2013 #23
    Been arguing with one too many cranks? :smile:

    The second part is kinda obvious, the first part really strikes me. "It requires competence to recognize competence"
  25. May 30, 2013 #24
    Haha. Sorry man, times change.
  26. May 30, 2013 #25
    The definition for length & time; i.e. the constant c

    what more could anyone want to know? :smile:

    SR fan here

    As was said before the "scientific method" would be the best one I think. What a ridicules amount of time for it to come about, or for the "belief" side to back -off.
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