A Philosophical Wednesday Afternoon

Ahhh. Wednesday afternoon and it is time to downtools to address Fandango’s Provocative Question. This week he’s asking whether it is true when people say they’ve seen it all before – how well do we innovate new ideas.

There is a semi-flippant answer to this question. In terms of our knowledge, I think we do innovate. For example, in the whole of human history, nobody ever had an iPhone 10 before. Is that the latest one? I don’t keep track. But even if you had an older phone (presumably at one stage, there was an iPhone 1!) their latest gadget must be barely recognisable.

Whilst I think the iPhone is evidence enough, I think we can always find more elegant examples in human history. Once upon a time, nobody had any idea about the sky or the stars – nighttime might as well have been somebody drawing a curtain over the earth. Only later did we learn about our atmosphere, other atmospheres, stars, hydrogen, fusion….

So I conclude that our (humankind’s) knowledge increases with time, and probably not linearly either – we have probably learned more in the last hundred years than we did in the previous thousand. The limit? Well, I suppose physics is the limit*.

However as I read Fandango’s question, my mind instantly sprang to a quote by Spanish philosopher George Santayana:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

George Santayana

I’m sure that this quotation will ring true for many of us. How often have we seen politicians, especially, make the same mistakes time and again?

My post today will not be a long one (sighs of relief). Probably that quotation is enough, but I would also point out its origin. From his The Life of Reason, written in 1905-6. Over a hundred years ago. Why do we think he wrote this? Because, way back in 1905, he witnessed those same mistakes, made over and over again. Just as we have in the hundred years since.

* – until we find otherwise