The world today has become a pragmatic and cynical one, suspicious of the spiritual and mysterious. We want to know how stuff works, who’s who, what’s what and why’s why. When we don’t we Google it to find out. We want ingredients listed, names named and we want to know things! This is the Information Age and we’ll be damned if we can’t find stuff out we want to know! And it’s all laid out there for us on the internet, the greatest research library ever assembled, right here at everybody’s finger tips. What’s the capital of Tunisia? Bam! Tunis, of course! What’s that skinny English guy’s name on the Daily Show? John Oliver! What exactly is bauxite? It’s the ore from which aluminum is extracted! A good recipe for Haggis? Hell, there’s 103,000 of them to choose from, now gimmee a hard one…
Which is all well and good, and wonderful for those of us who love to fill our heads with arcane and unrelated facts (which we were doing anyway before the internet triggered this monumental avalanche of available information cascading down on all of us, sending us fact junkies into trivia overdrive). But (And there’s always a huge but in these things things, isn’t there?), there comes a point where the ancient observation of an anonymous wise man starts to make even more sense: “The more you learn, the less you realize you know.” Never has that been more true than now, when the average man has access to more information in a single month that Plato, DaVinci, Newton, Edison, Lincoln, Jefferson, Galileo and even Einstein combined had in their entire lives. Of course, none of them were average men, and therein lies the difference.
And so you say, well, yeah, but we are more informed and full of facts than any previous generation ever! Granted, but towards what end? Doesn’t appear to be a whole bunch of neo-Einsteins out there, taking the available facts and formulating ground breaking theories with them. No, Mr. Einstein used his incredible inborn genius and his equally astounding gift of intuitive leaps, that mysterious unconscious marshaling of learned data to form a speculative theory that through logic and mathematics and a lot of brain-busting hard work could be explained and proven. There have been entire volumes written on how Einstein’s mind worked and how it was able to leap over, around and through the many obstacles and the lack of hard facts to back up his intuition and come up with mathematically precise and absolutely correct theories on the most complicated subjects imaginable. So far no one really knows exactly how or why an Einstein is born or how his noggin worked.
And Albert Einstein did not work with computers, a modern laboratory full of shiny, accurate instruments and an extensive staff of white coated PhDs, but rather with a pad and a pencil in solitude, using only his remarkable mind. Of course he had access to the information of all the other scientific breakthroughs made by others before him, and mentally collated and tested all their ideas, all within the grey matter under his unruly head of white hair. Isaac Newton, Galileo and Leonardo DaVinci worked with even fewer information resources than Einstein, and often with the vocal and physical opposition of church authorities, who liked nothing better than to throw a monkey wrench into the works of a first-rate mind that was attempting to explain the previously inexplicable.
People tended to like having stuff explained to them and were getting more than a bit weary of the Church’s paternalistic explanations of the workings of the physical world as being an extension of their own mysterious spiritual dogma. When a man proved that the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around, that simple bit of information we all take for granted today shook the world to its very foundations back then. The miracles the Church claimed for their own were now being created from the minds of laymen and that bugged them no end. One minor miracle is that Galileo was not put to death and all his works burned. But the truth was too powerful to deny and it would not be very long before the printing press ignited the First Information Age (Or perhaps it was the Second Information Age, with the advent of written language representing the First and this one we have now being the Too Much Information Age?) and literacy and knowledge was made available on a scale never before even imagined. Just like today’s internet, exactly nobody predicted the rapid revolution in the lives of ordinary people and the widespread dissemination of free information.
And of course the invention of the printing press was opposed by both the Church and the ruling elite of the day, fearing their iron grip over the people wold be lost forever. And it was, although the transformation took centuries to occur and is a process still not completed. There are parts of the world still living a Medieval existence and many governments earnestly trying to censor the internet and stem the flow of information to their oppressed peoples, the modern equivalent of book burning. Good luck them, they’ll be about as successful as the popes and bishops who tried to stifle Galileo and ban the printers from turning out translations of The Bible, none of whose names readily spring to mind. Meanwhile, the names of Galileo, Newton, Einstein, DaVinci, Gandhi, Pasteur, Salk, Jefferson, KIng and countless other advanced thinkers are known to everyone, and the truths they discovered and shared with us have been the basis of our aggressive scientific research and the social progress that never stops. The seeds of the First Information Age were planted in fertile soil, the curious minds of men.
But again, the explosion of literacy and general information back then did not produce a thousand Newtons per generation, just as today’s Internet Age has not produced a thousand Steven Hawkings, just the one. Great genius appears when it appears, and there is no place to Google it and find out when it will come next. That information is beyond us. Literary, political and musical genius seems to be more common than scientific and social genius, but just as unpredictable in its appearance. We can no more wish into existence another Mozart or Jimi Hendix, James Madison or Abraham Lincoln, a Dickens or a Twain than we can another Curie or Einstein. What this dissemination of information has done for us, then and now, is to enable bright minds to build on the work of the geniuses, alone or in groups, to achieve great things. This way each of us can gain the maximum benefits that our existing society has to offer, using the knowledge and insight of these giants to improve our lives and our minds, and that of others with whom we come into contact and with whom we share our knowledge.
And somewhere out there is a man or a woman absorbing what we are all absorbing, learning what we all learn, yet asking very different questions of the universe than the rest of us. There are no search engines that can give ready answers to this person’s questions, no existing frame of reference for the context of their thinking. And so they will wonder and work towards the answers to their questions and they will shock us all someday with a profound truth, perhaps as simple a concept as gravity or as complex as the Theory of Relativity, but their work will once again shake the foundations of all human knowledge and make us the richer for attaining the next plateau of human understanding. The mind of this person will be a deep well of insight and a springboard to further progress.
Perhaps this person’s work will trigger yet another Information Age, or an age of something that has of yet occurred to none of us. But it is occurring to somebody somewhere, and with any luck for the rest of us this person will have the education, the energy, the discipline, the intuition and the opportunity to fully explore their genius and to further open our eyes. We as a people are curious seekers of truth. Whether we fill our heads with arcane facts or undertake a precise and comprehensive study of one particular subject, our restless minds never cease looking for more. Who will provide the next great revelation? That is a mystery and it will be interesting to find out. We will be grateful and astounded at their achievements and remember that person’s name forever, enshrined with our other geniuses. Meanwhile, there’s always Google. Are there any pictures of The Blue Man Group without their makeup? And what the heck is the name of that country that used to be Burma again? Let’s find out…