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What do humans *need* to know? (Edited OP) Answered

Without a core set of really basic skills, civilisation is impossible.

What do we really, as human beings, need to know in order to maintain a healthy, happy, stable society?

I don't mean "how to solder" or "how to change a tyre", but really basic, grass-roots skills.

You may be wondering where this question came from, but I was inspired by the Long Now Foundation's concept of future deep-time storage and its Digital Dark-Age Blog.

So, let's have your ideas - list skills we need to preserve, in any area of expertise.

If you can, provide a reference as well - a link or the name of a book.

...and maybe we'll inspire a few Instructables as well.

  • Another thing to think about as well - how could we store this information in an enduring, millenia-stable way?



I recently voiced my fears to the team involved in The Clock of the Long Now, and they agreed:

...I cannot help but think, though, that something is missing.

What is missing is hard copy.

The Long Viewer and Long Server will only work as long as we are able to maintain power to the computer network that supports them.

If humanity loses the ability to generate electricity, these projects will be lost.

Even if the loss is short-term, a few years following some global disaster, then there will be a huge loss of information - knowledge and skills will die with those that know them.

Those skills - even things as basic as farming and obtaining metals from the raw materials - need to be preserved in a way that will outlast any traditional or foreseeable computer network.

It needs to be recorded in a form as unmistakeably monumental as the Pyramids or Stonehenge, but even more durable, and in ways less obscure.

Indeed, I picture "the ultimate hard copy" to be henge-like in nature - strong, metres-high slabs of a material such as titanium or a durable glass. Arranged in a spiral or labyrinth pathway, the first slabs will have the most basic skills explained in pictographic forms, images of farming and metalwork, carpentry and building, hunting and weaving, with times of year shown with icons of Sun and Moon.

More and more detailed information would be encountered in a variety of languages as people find the need to venture deeper and deeper into the monument.

Glassmaking, pottery, medicines, animal husbandry, generating electricity, navigation, brewing and distilling, no skill should be considered too basic to be included, and it would be impossible for a single individual such as myself to even begin to list all the subject areas that would need to be covered, or even to decide what order they should be recorded.

What is clear to me, though, is the need for this permanent archive, something that would enable humanity to bring itself back from some unknowable future disaster, at least to the level of being able to preserve and extend life through surgical and chemical techniques, to feed significant populations and to travel and communicate long distances with relative ease and efficiency.

It is also clear that there should be more than one of these archives - humans, being only human, could easily go to war to control a single archive, and fate, being fickle, could also ensure that a single archive could be destroyed by whatever catastrophe also reduced humanity to the point of needing its help.

Regards

In reply, they pointed me towards their Digital Dark Age blog, but that is not what I meant - they are talking about saving files. Skills are different, especially the kind of ground-up skills I'm talking about.

If I google for "How to Make Iron", what I get are lots of references to "How to make Iron Oxide" and "How to make Iron-on transfers".

What I do not get is a clear link to the knowledge I need to be able to turn a pile of brown rocks into metallic iron using only what I can find or make from what I find. Come the comet, though, that's the skill-set I'll need.

Amazon is no better at coming up with paper books on the subject.

Heretical though it sounds, even this website is not what is needed, simply because it is digital in nature. Come the comet, off goes the power and this entire, wonderful edifice vanishes with the dot on the CRT.

Somewhere, somehow, we need to gather these skills into a huge and durable text book. With copies.

The questions are, of course, what is stored, where, how, and who pays for it?

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rachel (author)2009-01-21
I believe the question needs further definition. Kiteman says "to maintain a healthy, happy, stable society". Many of the responses so far are survivalist. Are these skills that everyone should have, or are we allowed to consider specialization? Lost-in-the-woods is very different from society (at least a society with minimal levels of healthiness & stability). In fact I think there are probably 3 skill set definitions of interest here:

  • individual survival without societal support
  • individual skills to produce happy healthy society
  • societal skills for survival and health of members

There is a lot of overlap between the first and third but the third can be much larger.

In fact there is possibly a fourth category: an ordered set of skills to return a society to current technological levels, if they happen to be dumped naked on a desert island (or after an extraordinary catastrophe, etc).

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Kiteman (author)rachel2009-01-22

Thanks for that, Rachel. I am probably thinking about, 4th, then 3rd, 2nd, 1st. I had assumed that anybody interested enough in gaining the skills to smelt iron or weave woolen blankets has probably survived whatever disaster created the need for the basic skills in the first place.

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Goodhart (author)Kiteman2009-01-22

I had assumed that anybody interested enough in gaining the skills to smelt iron or weave woolen blankets has probably survived whatever disaster created the need for the basic skills in the first place.

Indeed, but surviving an incident is still not surviving in the long term. And let's face it, many city folk, wouldn't last 2 weeks out in the woods, whether in the winter or summer.

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Kiteman (author)Goodhart2009-01-22

By "survived the incident", I didn't mean "just staggered out of the dust-cloud, smouldering but alive", I meant "still alive and reasonably healthy a significant time later".

Bear in mind, the kind of "incident" I'm talking about would be rather major, be it comet-fall or global pandemic.

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Goodhart (author)Kiteman2009-01-22

Ok, understood :-) Forgive me my ramblings based on my misunderstanding

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Kiteman (author)Goodhart2009-01-22

No, it's becoming clear that this whole idea needs a lot of thought and planning. Several of my original vague ideas (particularly the monolithic-scale texts I originally envisioned) have been changed or corrected or redirected. Questions are good - they clarify the thoughts.

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kelseymh (author)Kiteman2009-01-22

What, you mean that intellectual debate and intercourse can have a positive outcome?!? Shhh....don't tell the conservative pundits! They'll all be out of jobs if too many people figure this out.

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skunkbait (author)kelseymh2009-01-23

Hardly so! That's what keeps them in business. What would they do with nobody to make fun of?

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gmjhowe (author)Kiteman2009-01-22

Another good yet related question is. What if we all retained our technological expertise, but, all technology and every tool, was taken away and we only had raw materials. Would we then have to start off with breaking rocks etc.. and work our way back up to current tech?

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Goodhart (author)rachel2009-01-21

Yeah, I was concentrating on the first needs, the subject can definitely be expanded to an immense level way beyond just survival....which is just the first step in a long road back.

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Weissensteinburg (author)rachel2009-01-21

If it helps, the original context was in the case of some sort of catastrophe that set society back thousands of years, technologically.

The original post

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Tool Using Animal (author)2009-01-22

What a human needs to know is how to assess and respond to dynamic situations. There's a quote somewhere that sums up my thoughts, it is along the lines that you shouldn't over prepare for any one eventuality, because that leaves you in the wrong position when events don't turn out how you thought.

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Bartboy (author)2009-01-22
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Weissensteinburg (author)2009-01-21
I had been thinking about this since you first mentioned it in the other thread, and a thought came to mind about organization:

Would it be better to sort things by the field of skills, and then the level of sophistication, or vice versa?

Example:
  • Shelter > Basic Shelter
  • Basic skills > Shelter

I think it the best method would be a time line of technologies from as far back as we know. That would allow a time tested progression of technology.

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Kiteman (author)Weissensteinburg2009-01-21
That is why this needs lots of heads - I was just at the point of "this needs done".

I would go by field first. How are these for fields?

  • Shelter
  • Agriculture
  • Animal husbandry
  • Food - cooking and preservation.
  • Energy (Heat & cookers)
  • Materials - fabrics, metals, building materials.
  • Health - medicines, first-aid, childbirth, surgery etc.

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Weissensteinburg (author)Kiteman2009-01-21

Where would hunting fit into that? I also think that science (chemistry, physics, transportation) and art (a very important part of society for as far back as we've known) should have a place. Past shelter, architecture/engineering techniques would be very important to include.

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I do think that the one solid copy should be presented in levels of how advance it is, a step by step guide to restoring the world. Individual sections could than be skills inside a field Does that make sense?

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Kiteman (author)Weissensteinburg2009-01-21

It does. The vague idea I had was for a huge henge-scale monument, with skills recorded on a titanium-walled labyrinth. The deeper in you go, the more detailed the skills.

Or, do you know what a Thuktun is?

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Kiteman (author)Kiteman2009-01-21

Actually, I'm going to refer to this archive as the Thuktun from now on.

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Weissensteinburg (author)Kiteman2009-01-21

The only problem with the titanium walls is that for all the money you (or governments) spend acquiring materials and land and all that for one location, you could probably make 100 smaller versions.

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Kiteman (author)Weissensteinburg2009-01-21

Or 10,000 hand-held ones? Maybe lots of copies would preserve it better than a few single huge and unlosable copies? The Long Now Foundation has produced a hand-held disc that archives thousands of languages on one surface, etched microscopically by laser. That's no good for the Thuktun (see?), because you need a level of civilisation capable of producing a microscope to read it. If a ciovilisation can produce microscopes, it doesn't need most of the Thuktun.

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Weissensteinburg (author)Kiteman2009-01-21

When you mentioned the rosetta project, i looked it up and saw that...much too small. I think engraving ~100 large sheets of metal would work well. Then you'd just have to find a suitable material to encase it in. Sheets of metal are also fairly stable and resistant to aging/destruction.

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Well...rocks are everywhere...and they're cheap and tough...

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Kiteman (author)Lithium Rain2009-01-22

Rocks erode. Many simply dissolve in the rain.

It is also hard to make engravings that are information-dense enough to be useful, yet also clear enough to withstand aeons of weathering.

Thuktuns were carved right through metres-wide blocks of stone, with metre-plus margins around the text, just to survive the wear-and-tear of time.

We don't have the technology to burn hair-fine lines through so much rock, and I now realise that a certain amount of portability is required, so the monumental nature of the original Thuktuns is not appropriate.

I am now thinking about Thuktun that could be carried by a single human, even if it is in two arms or a rucksack.

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Weissensteinburg (author)Kiteman2009-01-22

Like my sheet metal idea? Thin sheets can easily be cut through and are light enough.

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But metal rusts and gets tossed around in the wind or buried under leaves and debris if you leave it lying around and is fairly easily bent and destroyed.

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Wherever I posted it originally, I explained that they would be kept in a sealed container. I'm not versed well enough in metallurgy to recommend a particular metal for the sheets or the encasement, but they would be easy to produce, light, (relatively) cheap, and mass producible.

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Yeasayer (author)Kiteman2009-01-21

A solar powered DVD player with a Lexan protected LCD or plasma screen, Extreme temperature tolerant, with solar array manufactured to NASA Critical specs. also Armour protected with a rom operating system that could index and display video files by button push choice. When exposed to a light source, The opening or boot up screen would point to start button which would in turn point out additional buttons to locate the desired file. Or maybe run a short video It would be similar to a mobile phone except the larger screen for detail and self contained power generator. Can you imagine the power this would give to the finder? Instant Kingdom, Witch doctor, Mad Scientist. The longevity of electronic circuit boards and memory structure materials may limit the usefulness Of this The containment box should be hermetically sealed with argon or other Inert gas. to prevent oxidation or contaminants. There is a place in Norway on an Island named seed bank, they are gathering seeds world wide and placing them in hibernation. Its an old coal mine shaft very deep so temperature is constant. could be One proper place to park the Thuktun Note; Solar Cells Have been replaced by billions of batteries? Not Happy!

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Remember, whoever actually needs this would not have the means to travel to the seed bank, nor might they know that it's there. It has to be something easy to produce in large quantities and extremely durable. That means the less moving parts, the better.

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You are 100 percent correct ,This is not a convenient location If it were the only one. Note I said (1) place to locate a Tutor. It is likely that Kitemans original Idea of a symbolic style Monument would protect the Thuktun from vandalism. As Adrian suggested, Rock is durable and has already been time tested by the caveman who's messages are still legible. The use of marble Granite and limestone in a monument of carved graphics. would survive many kinds of disaster if placed underground. where Survivors would seek shelter . The expense of one shuttle launch would buy several Thousand of the DVD units to distribute world wide and we here in the US would not even notice that the shuttle missed one of its scheduled launches

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Yeasayer (author)Yeasayer2009-01-22

No, The Island is not named the seed bank. Glad I saw this first.
Here is the Link.
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/12/071227-seed-vault.html

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An idea that occurred to me was to make was some sort of sealed box with smaller engraved tablets/sheets of metal inside. They could be located all over the world in easily accessible locations. Possibly places to be found via star navigation?

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they could even lead people to the greatest treasure of all man, this has the makings of an extremely awesome movie!

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skunkbait (author)Kiteman2009-01-22
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Kiteman (author)skunkbait2009-01-22

Hmm... paper and ink are essential, I agree, but is anything more complex actually essential to civilisation?After all, Britain ruled an empire by snail-mail.

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skunkbait (author)Kiteman2009-01-22

Snail mail's basically fine, but I was thinking even more basic. I was thinking intertribal and international linguistics.

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whatsisface (author)Kiteman2009-01-22

And a pretty big one at that.

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Is the goal to help restore to former technology, or just to help us survive?

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purduecer (author)Kiteman2009-01-22

I feel it necessary to add math, the gateway to most of quantitative science

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purduecer (author)purduecer2009-01-22

also k'nex guns, so we can fend off predators ;-P

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Yeasayer (author)Kiteman2009-01-21
The Mote In God's Eye, a science fiction book by Larry Niven and Jerry pournelle Select as Best AnswerUndo Best Answer

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Gjdj3 (author)Kiteman2009-01-21
I think those sound good! Maybe it could be organized from most important field to least important...

Ex.

  • Shelter
  • Food
  • Health
  • So on and so forth...

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Sandisk1duo (author)2009-01-22

stuff and things, that pretty much sums it up...

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Lithium Rain (author)2009-01-22

I think CPR and very basic first aid should, as others have said. be high priority.

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NachoMahma (author)2009-01-22

. Midwifery would have to be at the top of the list.

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purduecer (author)2009-01-22

...and maybe we'll inspire a few Instructables as well.

Well, if you're willing to wade through a considerable amount of detail, I just published my instructable on arbitrary length multiplication in a way that is more efficient than the standard algorithm. Check it out if you have a free moment

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gmjhowe (author)2009-01-22

I suggest a website, where people upload 'how-to' guides for everything from basic survival to life skills, to creating complex projects.

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