The Loss of Wisdom is Such a Waste

loss of wisdomA great conversation starter is: “What three people from history would you most like to have dinner with?”

It sets minds racing on who was the most brilliant thinker, explorer, adventurer, leader, artist, singer, ruler or politician.  It is hard to weigh up the respective merits of science, medicine, philosophy, astronomy, art, culture or discovery.

I’m fascinated to hear other people’s short list. There are dozens of people that immediately come to my mind on who I’d like to share a meal with.  Although, I change from time to time on who I’d like to chat with. Common names on my short list are: Leonardo da Vinci; Genghis Khan; and Admiral Zhang He.

Wouldn’t it be fascinating though to have a chin wag with a great story teller like Abe Lincoln, to hear Louis Armstrong play an after dinner tune or to get Governor Macquarie’s take on modern Australia?

How about some of the great women of history too? How did Cleopatra astutely manage relationships with both Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony and the turmoil of a Roman civil war? What inspired Marie Currie’s scientific curiousity?

The Arrogance of Modernity

One great arrogance we tend to fall prey to is the presumption that we are so much brighter than our ancestors. They were all so backward and suddenly the human race has been enlightened and ‘what a clever bunch we are now’.

Sure we’ve developed electricity, jet flight, microscopes and computers, but has the human race moved that far forward? Really?

1-DSC_1917 OPTWhen I recently visited the ruined city of Ephesus in Turkey I was impressed by the advanced state of the Terrace Houses. Plumbing pipes ran through the walls down into access cavities under the floors. Not much different from today.

The city itself was also impressive. Established by the Romans, it was the second largest city in the world with a population of more than 250,000 in the 1st century BC.

The issues of life have not changed a lot. Death and taxes remain inescapable. The Ephesians were subject to myriad laws, regulations, tariffs and fees. Their chambers of power were crowded with similar vested interest groups jostling for influence and advantage. That is the dark side of humanity. Sadly, not much has changed there at all.

There is also a lot to celebrate about the human condition. Great artistic endeavours, personal sacrifice and dedicated lives. There were countless ordinary men and women who simply believed in working hard to provide for their family, raise their kids and pass something on to the next generation. Without them, we literally would not be here.

Evolution has a cruel twist though. Each death results in a terrible loss of wisdom. Unless they were a renowned author or published scientist, much of  the knowledge, wisdom, talents and skills they accumulated just disappeared with them. All the knowledge they accumulated through a lifetime of trial and error just faded away. Lost!

In the Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins states:

“No matter how much knowledge and wisdom you acquire during your life, no one jot will be passed on to your children by genetic means.

Each new generation starts from scratch.

A body is [simply] the gene’s way of preserving the genes unaltered.”

The Arrogance of Youth

I think of my grandfather’s skills as a tradesman and how few (my wife would allege none) of those skills I took the time to learn from him. My other grandfather was a horseman with deep knowledge of the care and training of horses. How I wish I knew even a small part of what he knew. And what about those great recipes my grandmothers knew?

If only there was a way we could share the lessons of life too. The real things that hold a family together, deliver satisfaction and the reward of accomplishment. If only we could give our descendants a short-cut to the essentials that result in a life well-lived.

I guess they will have to find their own way. I just wish things were different and there was a way to pass on the knowledge I’ve crammed into my head from thousands of books and documentaries and all those years of study. I can write book reviews or make lists of my favourite movies or songs, but it seems so inadequate.

The way technology is headed this problem will one day be solved. There will be a way to capture and log the great moments of life: the highs and the lows; the drama and the lessons; and to record the best of that for future generations. It will just take the development of a clever unobtrusive device that is coupled with a massive storage system. One day it will be a reality. Editing it to manageable brevity will be the bigger challenge.

Will they listen though? Or, like many of us, will the arrogance of youth compel them to blunder through making their own mistakes and gleaning their own values and knowledge. I expect so.

A young man remarked that when he was a teenager he thought his father didn’t know much at all.

When he matured and started his own family,

he was surprised how much  his father had learned

in such a short time.

Photo by Katrina Chow


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