The Day the Universe Changed is a documentary (9.1 on imdb) from 1985 that covers the effects of science and technology on western society. I was introduced to the show in grade 8 social studies and I clearly didn’t appreciate the message of the documentary when I was 13-14 years old.
Unfortunately it’s not viewable online. However, this first 10 minutes of the first episode should be enough to get your gears turning.
In short, it’s about trying to understand how do we know what we know and how has it shaped us to be who we are. Funny enough, in the writing of this post I learnt that James Burke has recently gone a bit viral! I really miss James Burke’s style.
It's 1985. James Burke is walking around in some hills. And then he delivers a scintillating piece to camera about how politics is going to change in the digital age.— Carl Miller (@carljackmiller) April 28, 2019
Now you’ve seen the very beginning and the very end of this 10 episode documentary. Episode 2 is worth watching too if you do not have access to the full series.
I had watched the documentary again recently so it was still fresh on my mind and found myself applying it to a few recent conversations I’ve been having.
Two conversations were around folks watching the Flat Earther documentary on Netflix. I haven’t watched the documentary, but I always thought considering a model where the Earth is flat is an interesting brain puzzle. Like the intro linked earlier alludes to, if the Earth was flat, how would that change what we perceive? If a child asked me to explain why the world is a sphere (and we know that’s not entirely correct either), how can I do that? I simply take it as fact. I only understand (and could explain) a tiny fraction of my everyday life and I can still thrive.
After listening to yet another excellent Econtalk podcast episode about mastery, specialization, and range, I learnt about how pre-modern people sometimes cannot make logical reasoning based on abstractions. For example, if you say “the ground in Yellowknife is frozen solid most of the year, would it be suitable for farming?”, their answer would be “I don’t know, I’ve never seen Yellowknife”. Despite the clue that would suggest a reasonable answer of “No, I can’t imagine a place with frozen ground growing crops”, they base their answers on first hand experience. Yet another reminder to step out of one’s own brain to understand how much trust (faith) we put in our abstractions.
Back to the Flat Eather debate. Could one consider this a breakdown in the faith of our abstractions? Or am I leaning too heavily on abstractions and I ought to test things out myself once in a while?
Religion vs Science?
I enjoyed how the show didn’t pit religion against science. To me it showcased that they both can have the same goals in mind. Give you what you need in order to make decisions with your life. It strengthens the statement “Everybody worships” said by David Foster Wallace in 2005 at the Kenyon College commencement address.
Science is still limited in that it cannot quite decribe the “why” of so many things. It’s great that we have Philosophize This! to go to when feeling lost.
Rewatching this today reminded me that I’m much less sure about everything these days than I was before. But that’s a good thing, because I was overly certain about things before. I feel like I have more gratitude for the everyday mundane things that simply just work.
It’s also renergized me about the promise of the Internet and the World Wide Web. In these days of concerns around privacy and questionable platforms, it’s good to remember that posting a web page to a system with no centralized orchestral can be viewed by anyone with an Internet connection (and isn’t under a regime that censors the media) is a powerful and amazing thing. Perhaps it’s time to dust off the ol’ blog and write up all the thoughts (I refuse to call it content) that I’ve been keeping buried for the last couple years.
If you’re in Berlin and would like to watch the whole series, let me know. I may update this post with watching notes next time I go through the series. Which is something I will be revisiting frequently now.
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