— James Burke (science historian) British broadcaster, science historian, author, and television producer 1936
Connections (1979), 10 - Yesterday, Tomorrow and You
Kontext: The question is in what way are the triggers around us likely to operate to cause things to change -- for better or worse. And, is there anything we can learn from the way that happened before, so we can teach ourselves to look for and recognize the signs of change? The trouble is, that's not easy when you have been taught as I was, for example, that things in the past happened in straight-forward lines. I mean, take one oversimple example of what I'm talking about: the idea of putting the past into packaged units -- subjects, like agriculture. The minute you look at this apparently clear-cut view of things, you see the holes. I mean, look at the tractor. Oh sure, it worked in the fields, but is it a part of the history of agriculture or a dozen other things? The steam engine, the electric spark, petroleum development, rubber technology. It's a countrified car. And, the fertilizer that follows; it doesn't follow! That came from as much as anything else from a fellow trying to make artificial diamonds. And here's another old favorite: Eureka! Great Inventors You know, the lonely genius in the garage with a lightbulb that goes ping in his head. Well, if you've seen anything of this series, you'll know what a wrong approach to things that is. None of these guys did anything by themselves; they borrowed from other people's work. And how can you say when a golden age of anything started and stopped? The age of steam certainly wasn't started by James Watt; nor did the fellow whose engine he was trying to repair -- Newcomen, nor did his predecessor Savorey, nor did his predecessor Papert. And Papert was only doing what he was doing because they had trouble draining the mines. You see what I'm trying to say? This makes you think in straight lines. And if today doesn't happen in straight lines -- think of your own experience -- why should the past have? That's part of what this series has tried to show: that the past zig-zagged along -- just like the present does -- with nobody knowing what's coming next. Only we do it more complicatedly, and it's because our lives are that much more complex than theirs were that it's worth bothering about the past. Because if you don't know how you got somewhere, you don't know where you are. And we are at the end of a journey -- the journey from the past.