Today’s stren, #50, will astound you. It explains a concept that is essential to self-understanding and thereby to human survival. Once we assign meaning in simple terms to the one word symbol, asymptote, it will turn on profound enlightenment. Don’t let the dictionary definition1 throw you; focus on the explanation that follows. An asymptote is a curve that draws increasingly nearer to a line without ever touching it. Let’s now look at an asymptotic curve and assign meaning that turns on the immense power of knowledge:
The horizontal line represents time and the vertical line indicates increase in human knowledge. Knowledge of cause-and-effect relationships is the means by which we increase our power to influence our self and all that is about us.
The curve in this simple chart illustrates that we have grown knowledge very slowly until the introduction of the scientific method. The time line could begin with the first life on earth, 3½ billion years ago. We could also mark the time line’s starting point with the appearance of intelligent humans circa 150,000 years past, or our ancestor’s invention of sophisticated language, which inspired a quantum leap in the growth of civilization some 50,000 years ago. Wherever you begin the time line, the observation remains the same: the line representing knowledge was almost flat until the development of the scientific method about 300 years ago. The further back we go, the flatter the line, indicating the growth of knowledge was virtually imperceptible. Our ancestors were intelligent but they had limited knowledge. Notice that the dramatic upturn of the curve representing increased power that comes with knowledge began very close to the end of the chart, and the introduction and proliferation of weapons with ultimate destructive power is occurring NOW during our very generation, an instant in historical time!
As we grew knowledge to make ourselves more powerful creators we rapidly increased our population to almost seven billion. With more scientists alive today than all of history AND with our recent technology for mass communication, we are now accelerating our constructive and destructive power in rapidly diminishing smaller periods of time.
1An asymptote is “a line considered a limit to a curve in the sense that the perpendicular distance from a moving point on the curve to the line approaches zero as the point moves an infinite distance from the origin.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.
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