The paper revolution

The paper revolution

For a long time all writings were done in single copies, on materials such as bones, stones, leather, bamboo and silk.

It was in China, between the 2nd and 6th centuries, that paper, ink and printing were invented, thus permitting many copies of a work to be made and distributed.

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Carl Sagan's Cosmos: 11. The Persistence of Memory

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Extending the brain

Tens of thousands of years ago we reached a point when we needed to know more than could be stored in our brains.

We were forced to invent ways of storing information outside of our body:

  • Carving in stones and bones
  • Painting on bamboo and silk
  • Scratching onto wax

We have come a long way since then. In the last millennia we advanced to printing books and storing information digitally.

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Europeans catch up

It took 1000 more years for the Chinese inventions to reach and catch on in Europe.

Together with the invention of movable type printing, they enabled Europe to grow its body of written knowledge significantly. Between 1450-1500 Europe advanced from a few tens of thousands of hand written books to 10 million printed books.

Learning became available to anyone who could read.

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Libraries

All written knowledge was made accessible through libraries.

Over time libraries expanded to store more and more information. From the Library of Alexandria that had 1 million papyrus scrolls to the New York Public Library that has 10 million books.

If you read 1 book per week for your entire life, at the end you'll have read a few thousand books. That's less than 0.1% of what's available in a modern library. The trick is to know which books to read.

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The magic of books
  • Books take us inside the minds of other people
  • Books enable us to travel through time and tap the wisdom of our ancestors
  • Books bind together people that never knew each other

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Carl Sagan

The units of biological evolution are genes. The units of cultural evolution are ideas.

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Our reign as sole understanders of the cosmos is rapidly coming to an end. We should not be afraid of this. The revolution that has just begun may be understood as a continuation of the process whereby the Earth nurtures the understanders, the beings that will lead the cosmos to self-knowledge. What is revolutionary about this moment is that the understanders of the future will not be humans but cyborgs that will have designed, built themselves from the artificial intelligence systems we have already constructed. These will soon become thousands then millions of times more intelligent than us.

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Gaia Will Soon Belong to the Cyborgs - Issue 83: Intelligence - Nautilus

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The "overview effect"

This state of mental clarity occurs when you view Earth from far away and become overwhelmed and awed by the fragility and unity of life.

One of the astronauts on the Apollo 8 mission said that they originally went to focus on the moon, but looking back at Earth may have been the most important reason they went.

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Something profound happens when astronauts see Earth from space for the first time

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Using 10% of our brains

The source of this figure isn't entirely clear.

People's capacity to develop any skill is a combination of practice and talent. A person can get quite good at almost any skill if they practice hard at it.

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4 common but harmful myths about how your brain works

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