Wednesday, August 05, 2009

People from the past, part 2

A few weeks ago I wrote about who you might bring from the past to see what they thought of today's world, and particularly I focused on people from the world of music. Perhaps the most obvious focus though is those who were actively engaged in making the world of their future: scientists and technologists and futurists. Which ones would you pick?

Kepler is an early choice on my list because I think he would really appreciate the chance to see which parts of his work were timeless, insightful, essential truths that we still learn and teach today, and also to see which ones fell aside with the passing of time. But I wonder what he would think of the fact that religion and science are still pitted against one another in the minds of many people. I'd also wonder what he thinks of the statement sometimes made that he was the first author of a science fiction story.

I would have to consider Hypatia not as much for the chance to see how she reacted to the modern world (though that, in itself, would be fascinating; one would imagine she'd be far more ready for it than many of her contemporaries, but even so, it's a huge gulf to cross) as for the chance to meet her, because she must have been a fascinating personality.

Goddard's story is in its way heartbreaking because he spent his whole life in relentless pursuit of a seemingly impossible goal which was achieved within a few decades of his death, and when he died, he still couldn't be totally sure it was possible, despite the huge strides he'd made. And yet he would be quick to accept the current state of things. Consider this quote of his from 1920: "Every vision is a joke until the first man accomplishes it; once realized, it becomes commonplace."

And of course we must consider Babbage, particularly if we can also get Ada Lovelace as part of the same deal. During Babbage's visit, we would also have to bring him to see the Difference Engine made from Lego. I wonder what he would think of that.

One person I absolutely would not want to bring is Darwin, because I can't understand why some people are even still arguing about his work, and I imagine (perhaps I'm being self-indulgent here) that he would be similarly frustrated: gratified to see the overwhelming evidence that has been gathered, fascinated by the works of those who followed after him and the tremendous improvements in the concept, but ultimately, disheartened that to the general public, people still think "but it's just a theory" is actually a sensible thing to say.

Who would you bring, and why?

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