Ben Franklin, Exobiology and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Learn Continuously

“God made the idiot for practice, and then he made the school board.”
© Mark Twain

A key strategy in identifying and managing Excession Events is to be constantly learning. This type of education doesn’t have to take place in a school. By fostering a mindset of learning,we never get stuck in our worldviews.Ben Franklin, a passionate learner, never went to university.

He started working at the age of 12 in a print press. School was not a big part of his life, but he continuously learned.

Ben Franklin contrarian

My favourite line about Benjamin Franklin is old, but it’s still amusing to me. He was once getting chewed up by his local priest because he fell asleep in church.
The vicar said to him,”Mr. Franklin, if you can’t stay awake during my sermons,I’d rather you didn’t come at all.” Ben Franklin said, “That’s great.” He never went to church again.

 

Clearly, Franklin was a contrarian who defied the status quo. This attitude served him well: By questioning everything,he discovered the Gulf Stream, invented the lightning rod, and created bifocals, among hundreds of other significant achievements.

 

Polymath

Franklin lived in an era where a man could be a polymath,a Renaissance man, a “Scientist of Everything.” This was easier back then because all you needed was enough time and enough access books to read and learn. Because we knew so little in Franklin’s era that it was possible for all of that information to fit in one person’s head. A well-stocked library of the time might contain a few hundred books. Thomas Jefferson’s extraordinary library was sold to Congress in 1815 and contained 6,000 books. Today, that isn’t true anymore. If you talk to a doctor and then you talk to a specialist, the answer you get from the specialist can be completely different. The General Practitioner doctor probably learned a piece of medicine 15 years ago that had a half-life that may not hold up today. What they know may no longer be relevant. So the whole idea of having any education in which you learn things and then a working environment in which you do things means that all your information will ossify. So-called “knowledge” will

become part of the groupthink, and will stay there, regardless of whether or not it is true.

 

Wide Ranging Learners

This is why we must consciously try to be wide ranging learners. Our education system is not on board with this.You don’t get a degree. You get a degree in marketing, or a degree in computer science, or a degree in astronomy, or a degree in whatever. You don’t get an overall degree because it would, in some sense, be viewed as meaningless. But having an overall degree that gave you the ability to see the connections between different things would be very useful.

Progress today in science, and therefore in technology, comes from an expiration effect. James Burke once observed that the information in the deserts between the disciplines is where there is such fertile ground now.

A computer scientist may know a bunch of things and the next discipline along also knows a bunch of things. Where it gets interesting today is that there’s data that each one doesn’t know that the other one would find useful.

The Dead Sea scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls have been unintelligible since being rediscovered in 1947 because they are fragile and many of them are burnt. Archaeologists didn’t know what to do with

them. They tried unwrapping a few, but they were just too fragile. Then a man who built MRI scanners found out about the project and said to the archaeologists, “I know how to

do this. I could read your scrolls even though they’re wound up, even though they’re burnt.” So now they’re using MRI scanners to scan and read 4,000-year-old documents.

It worked because two worlds that would never normally have met interacted with each other. There are a lot of opportunities for groups with different disciplines to work together. Exobiology as a discipline exists, which is a little surprising considering that there isn’t any known exobiology. Bringing astronomers, geologists and biologists together to work means we can learn an awful lot more about the universe than we could when each one was looking at it on their own.

Exobiology

You show an astronomer a series of Martian rocks, he doesn’t know what he’s looking at. But bring in a geologist and a biologist, and suddenly you’ve got, “This looks like coral beds, and therefore this location may have had coral in it before.” Knowledge, shared across disciplines, opens amazing opportunities.

Learning never ends

Learning doesn’t end the day you graduate. The world is always at our fingertips. Many people go and join a gym and do an hour’s worth of exercise, but they don’t go and

do an hour’s worth of mental exercise. I’m not talking about Sudoku, either. Go read a book about something that’s actually happened, learn about a thing that isn’t in your house,

or go and watch “the other guy’s news.” When I left school at 18, my headmaster said, “Dudley, you’ll never amount to anything.” It was a lovely thing for a headmaster to say. Three years later, while selling fax machines, I got my equivalent of my W2 form. It was a large sum of money. So I faxed my old headmaster my “W2,” circled my salary for the year, and wrote on it, “From the boy who would never amount to anything.” As a 21-year-old fax machine salesman, I out-earned the high school headmaster.