From Blake, Bradbury, to Asimov: How a Tiger, a Fireman, and a Robot Can Teach You How to Be Human

In thinking about wisdom, the paradigm goes, there's two types of intelligence: street smarts and book smarts. But what happens if you weren't raised on the streets and you don't really read books? Then what?

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

*Special thanks to Steve Little, and as always Rachel Fox for lending their voices to this project.

Our memory is collective. The only reason we know more than the previous generations isn't that we have genetically superior brains (in fact, research shows the opposite), it's because the previous generations left us their CliffNotes, from building cars to curing diseases.

Without these notes, we'd know less than they did. If you put us and someone from a thousand years ago on an island, we'd die immediately whereas they'd have a shot at survival. Because we don't actually know more than them, we just have more access to information than them. We live in houses, yes. But who between us and our ancestors would actually know how to build shelter offhand? Without access to information, we're nothing. And now we take this access to information for granted.

If history teaches us about the mistakes of the past, then it also teaches us, for most of human history, the average person had no freedom. We were either slaves or serfs. If the fear of not studying history is the doom of repeating it, then it's not so inconceivable that we can return to a time when the common person had no freedom. Because that's the historical status quo.

The humanities and the arts are the life manuals that took us thousands of years to create, that teach us how NOT to go back to a time when we had no humanities—when we had no freedom. When we couldn't even conceive it. But if we ignore these manuals, then we'll return to the time of our ancestors...

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Things Discussed

  • "The Tyger" by William Blake

  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

  • I, Robot & "Reason" by Isaac Asimov

  • Arts & the humanities

  • Knowledge, freedom, & power

  • Tools of tyranny

  • The cycles of history

Books I Recommend:


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