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In ever living memory...

A recent article in Salon has me thinking a bit more about how members of current and future generations will be remembered by posterity. In light of the many advances in science that are occurring quickly in physiology and medicine, microbiology and genetics, there are some interesting wrinkles to the question that are not probed by the author of that article. In the article the author references a quote stated by Machiavelli concerning his views of those that would go on beyond their death to be alive in the minds of future men.

In fact, in his Discourses on Livy (c. 1517), he even provided a formula for predicting who might be famous in, say, 500 years' time. The first rank of glory belonged to those "who have played the chief part in founding a religion." Next came those "who have founded either republics or kingdoms." At the end, he adds: "Some modicum of praise is also ascribed to any man who excels in some art ... and of these the number is legion."


This quote is interesting in what he leaves out, science. At the time the renaissance about a century away from the true peak of the enlightenment where the fruits of scientific investigations long dormant in Europe began to bare fruit as a resurgent interest in science by people like Galileo and Newton would put science above many fields as a way for Man to truly commute with the mechanistic function of nature. Machiavelli was judging the future based on the lens of art and religion in which Florentine Italy and the movement of the Renaissance was fully steeped. He could not have possibly understood the significance of Science and surely had no regard for what would emerge later from application of Science to the physical world...engineering.

I assert that lasting achievements by Man will from this point on predominantly be retained within areas where new processes or methods solution are found repeatedly useful over time. There was a time when being able to build an ox cart was critical knowledge but today the importance of knowledge of construction has moved to the tractor. Only when old technologies are rendered obsolete by newer ones will those technologies slip from the collective memory of the future...however, our current time holds an important caveat.

We are among the last generation of humans who genuinely lack a choice about dying, conservative estimates of the advances of knowledge in determining how and why we age may achieve increasingly long lived humans in the next 20 years...before 30 years humans will be able to live indefinitely if that is their wish. In such a world, and coupled with technologies for retaining massive amounts of information about the present and past in tiny areas, the collective memory of generations will still have detailed memory of many of the achievements that had we not become superhuman beings (essentially) would die out over the hundreds and thousands of years to come as those achievements are made increasingly mundane before the grander achievements of advanced human societies. Who will care that Michael Jordan was a star in the NBA in 1,000 years when hundreds of years of vastly different sports will be the leisure games of interest? Who cares about Marilyn Monroe or Kurt Douglas in 600 years...when a cavalcade of thousands of other actors and actresses from all over the world would have come and gone? Still as this generation has a standing memory of these people what is likely to happen is an exaggerated remembrance in all human history to come of this time, as those who are alive now...and likely will be for centuries to come continue to push forward what they found important. If people who are the last active conveyor of knowledge live longer and longer than the time before obscure areas of knowledge are forgotten will also spread out into the future in an ever living memory concentrated around the last 50 years and moving forward into times yet to come.

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