I have recently fallen in love with this series on History Channel called Ancient Discoveries. It’s entire premise is to explore and uncover some of the surprisingly advanced technological and scientific accomplishments that existed centuries ago. Interestingly, I stumbled upon it not through surfing Hulu or my television, but during my search for science videos on YouTube. This has solidified my growing respect for YouTube as a good source of knowledge, provided one knows how to sift through the junk.
The following are some of the ones I’ve seen thus far. Again, it’s very fascinating stuff, and I encourage you all to take a look.
They’re not too difficult to search for either – just typing “Ancient Discoveries” yielded pretty much every episode of every season. Most of them have been uploaded by a user named BraveManNewWorld2, whose services I’m quite grateful for. I’ve always noted how heartening it is when average people can come together on the medium of the web and exchange useful knowledge to one another. It’s strange to think that instead of consulting the traditional sources of knowledge – libraries, bookstores, documentaries – all I had to do was go on a website and do a seconds-long search. To me, this defines the most crucial aspect of the internet: the ability to find almost anything at anytime, and to contribute what you can to the great pool of data (albeit not all of it being golden of course; as with anything, one must learn to filter out the corrupt and unreliable elements).
But these videos have got me reflecting on an old source of amazement that’s always gripped me: the remarkable capacity for mankind to innovate and progress far above it’s own cynical standards. We humans gives ourselves short thrift, and to be fair it’s not entirely unfair to do so. We have a lot of stains on our history, and most of our existence has been characterized by an overwhelming proportion of humanity being gripped by ignorance, fear, misery, violence, and disease. This seems to especially be the case the father back on our timeline one goes.
But that’s what makes things like these ancient discoveries so encouraging. As a humanist, I strongly value the accomplishments, ingenuity, and raw potential of our race. Through all the corruption and moral decay – in-between our animalistic drive for power and territory – we’ve always had this spark for greater things. Somehow, even in our most primitive intellectual and ethical state, we’ve managed to produce some respectable mark of civilization, higher intelligence, and integrity. We’ve shown that there is potential for us to transcend our collective deficiencies in self-control and reason, if only for a brief moment. It’s remarkable to see such scientific and cultural progress juxtaposed with some of the most militant and despotic societies of the ancient world; if we can persevere even within our most debased societies, than one wonders how much will be unlocked as develop (relatively speaking) freer and more educated civilizations.
It gives me hope that perhaps we may tap into this at a time that we’re progressing more rapidly than ever, while in the face of unprecedented environmental degradation. Our innate curiosity and creativity has survived millenniums of ignorance and violence, so surely we can bring it to bear on our growing social and ecological challenges. Indeed, we don’t have a choice.
But if these videos help me to reflect on the best that humanity has to offer, they also remind me of the very worst. After all, a lot of these ancient developments are being rediscovered precisely because they were neglected or destroyed in the face of war, oppression, and resurgent ignorance. Imagine how far we would’ve come had it not been for our equally natural proclivity for fear and intolerance. Think of all the libraries that were burned, the sages and inventors that were killed, and the ancient centers of learning that were shut down by autocrats fearful of freethinking. Where would we be today, had the better part of our nature persevered and been allowed to continue?
It will never cease to fascinate me how we can simultaneously be commit horrible acts of destruction and stupidity alongside advancements of reason and creation. We’ve struggled with this paradox for our entire existence. Though it’s asking a lot, I can only hope that we learn from our long and ambitious history just what can potentially lie ahead. As always, I remain cautiously optimistic.