Saturday, 14 September 2013

The Discovery Of The Past

Two days after posting about a visit to York, and therefore also about York in Poul Anderson's fiction, I have just reread Anderson's article, "The Discovery of the Past" (Anderson, Past Times, New York, 1984), which enumerates several of his possessions, including:

"...a bit of oyster shell recovered at a Viking site in York." (p. 185)

- so the historically significant city of York makes it into Anderson's non-fiction as well.

Anderson quotes Korzybski's description of man as "a time-binding animal" and explains:

"Our minds join past, present and future in a way unique upon this planet, impossible and inconceivable to any of the beings that share it with us." (p. 184)

(i) So imagine a planet full of life but none of it "time-binding" - like if the dinosaurs had survived? Maybe some small bipedal dinosaurs would have developed opposable thumbs, larger brains and cooperation but maybe not.

Next, Anderson points out that:

"...there does not seem to have been anything simple in the development of civilization -

towns and cities,
hierarchical government,
nations and empires,
everything beyond the life of Paleolithic hunters and gatherers.

"It seems to have happened just three times, in three independent areas from which these ideas diffused." (p. 188)

(I prefer to write and read lists as visible lists so have re-arranged the text but have quoted Anderson's words accurately.)

(ii) So here is a second pessimistic scenario: human beings gather and hunt but never farm or build because the climate remains favorable for an indefinite period. Then it suddenly changes too quickly for them to adjust...

Remembering Anderson's fictional works, The Shield Of Time and "Requiem," we can envisage two more dystopias:

(iii) slave-owning, tribute-gathering empires rise, fall and rise again and prevent any scientific, industrial, democratic or social revolutions;

(iv) a technological civilization does exist but soon destroys itself in a nuclear war or is destroyed as the dinosaurs were.

It begins to seem that our ancestors were not only industrious, intelligent and inventive but also unreasonably lucky - and we cannot count on the luck continuing.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

I absolutely agree! It's FOOLISH for us to blindly persist in keeping all our eggs in the one basket we call Earth. We should have LONG ago founded colonies and bases on the moon, built O'Neill colonies, etc. And by now we should have founded bases on Mars and sent exploratory expeditions to the asteroid belt.

But I'm preaching to the choir, with you!