The things we can't experience
I've been thinking about the things that I can't experience.
The big things.
For example, I will never know what it's like to live in a world without electricity.
Now, there could be a global power cut tomorrow and we'd all be living in a world without electricity, but that's not the same. I can't undo the fact that I have already experienced it (short of soap opera levels of amnesia). I can't know what it was like to have only candle and moon light to navigate the night.
I have, on the other hand, experienced a world without smart phones. Though I can't know what it was like to be an adult without them (by adult I mean having responsibilities like rent, mortgage, career etc...).
So what are some of the others?
I've had computers as long as I can remember and as a software engineer/manager I'm a professional computer guy.
I always been drawn to them and can't really imagine what I'd have ended up doing with myself if not for the existence of computers. Probably something else sciency.
Pre commercial air travel: Oh, you want to go to another country? That'll take a few weeks and there's a good chance you'll die. See you when you get back. If you get back.
The notion of air travel is now so deeply ingrained in society that all over the world we trick children into eating by simulating airplanes with tiny spoons.
The first commercial flight happened in 1914, a little over one hundred years to go from brand new to the consciousness of a baby.
In 1873 Jacob W. Davis and Levi Strauss & Co patented the 'blue jean'. The only became really popular in the 1950s however, after the movie 'Rebel Without a Cause' starring James Dean was released.
That's less than 70 years to become a social standard for casual wear.
I rarely wear anything other than jeans and wonder what way fashion would have gone without them. I guess I'd be wearing slacks everywhere - or something else that I am incapable of imagining.
Commercially produced toilet paper didn't exist until around 1857.
Let that sink in for a minute.
Before that they did have flushable toilets, though they were still pretty new.
Early wiping utensils included a sponge on a stick, bare hands, corn cobs, and various other things that are a far cry from modern aloe infused double ply comfort.
I've always been able to call someone on the phone. I've also always hated talking on the phone, but the option is there.
How different would the world be right now if we couldn't communicate instantaneously all across the globe? Impossible to imagine. Advanced communication is a catalyst for so much of our progress that to remove it would completely rewrite human history.
Cars, buses, trains
It takes around 5 hours to drive from one side of Ireland to the other. It's hard to imagine having to walk that distance, but people used to travel insane distances on foot.
There's no way modern consumerism could exist without the transport infrastructure we have now... Would you be bothered to walk for three weeks to buy a fidget spinner? Or even wait three weeks to have someone deliver it to you?
There was a time when people had no concept of dinosaurs.
The bones were there, just waiting to be discovered, but before 1820 we knew nothing of dinosaurs.
Knowledge of dinosaurs and evolution are two things that definitely shaped me as a person so it is impossible for me to imagine life without them.
Planets, stars, nebulae, supernovae, neutron stars
There was a time when the Earth was the centre of the universe. Everything moved around us.
Now we know that space is this weird expanding thing that curves and is somehow the intertwined with time itself.
There is so much up there to be fascinated by, yet for the vast majority of human existence they were just dots in the sky.
Dots that helped our ancestors navigate the world around them, both literally as navigation tools and figuratively as a source of mythology.
Once you set off down this train of thought you can't help but start to look back further at the discoveries of mankind.
To not have experienced the concept of a book you need to go back for thousands of years, which is pretty amazing. For art you need to go back tens of thousands of years.
I have a lot more examples but this post is getting out of hand so probably best to move on.
What does it all mean
There wasn't really any point to this post - I just think it is worth thinking about the things that we not only take for granted but have no concept of what life would be like without. We can't even comprehend it because we will be forever tainted by the knowledge of it having existed at some point.
Maybe we can cut our ancestors some slack when it comes to some of the horrible things they did because we’re incapable of putting ourselves in their shoes. If I can't even imagine life without computers how could I imagine life in ancient Rome?
Maybe I would have loved seeing slaves being killed by lions in the Colosseum. It's not like I would have had Netflix or professional sports to keep me entertained, and I would have had plenty of company up in the stalls.
Maybe we can even apply this thinking to other cultures. It's easy to be xenophobic when you have no concept of what it is like to grow up in a different culture.
There a saying in psychology that goes:
What's it like to be a bat?
The point of this statement is that if we can't imagine what goes on in the tiny and relatively simple brain of a bat, how could we possibly understand what's going on in the mind of another human?
It's very easy to judge people - but you don't know, can't know, what it's like to be them.
Having said that, there are a lot of assholes out there...