The moment we started to believe in innovation

    Innovation has become commonplace.

    And we are not talking about such modern “innovations” as ray tracing technology on Nvidia’s RTX graphics cards or 50x zoom in Huawei’s new smartphone. These things are more useful to marketers than users. It's about true innovations that have greatly changed our approach and outlook on life.

    For 500 years, and especially in the last 200 years, human life has been constantly transformed under the influence of new ideas, inventions and discoveries. And this is a fairly short period for human history. Prior to this, development seemed very slow and unhurried, especially from the 21st century person.

    In the modern world, change has become the main constant. Some statements of 15 years ago, which at one time were quite normal, can now be perceived by people as something inappropriate or offensive. Part of the specialized literature 10 years ago is no longer considered relevant, and seeing an electric car on the road is already considered the norm not only in developed countries.

    We are accustomed to the destruction of traditions, to revolutionary technologies and to constant information about new discoveries, which so far have little understanding. We are confident that science and technology do not stand still, and we believe that new discoveries and innovations await us in the future. But why are we so sure of this? When did we start to believe in technology and research methods? What was the cause?

    In my opinion, Yuval Noah Harari reveals these issues in sufficient detail in his book “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humanity” (I think that it is worth reading to every sapiens). Therefore, this text will largely rely on some of its judgments.

    The phrase that changed everything

    Throughout their history, people constantly recorded empirical observations, but their value was not high, since people believed that all really needed knowledge by mankind was already received from ancient philosophers and prophets. For many centuries, the most important way to acquire knowledge was the study and implementation of existing traditions. Why waste time looking for new answers if we already have all the answers?

    Fidelity to tradition was the only chance to return a glorious past. Inventions could only slightly improve the traditional way of life, but they tried not to encroach on the traditions themselves. Because of this bow to the past, many ideas and inventions were considered a manifestation of pride and were thrown into the bud. If even the great philosophers and prophets of the past failed to solve the problem of hunger and pestilence, then where do we go?

    Probably many people know stories about Icarus, the Tower of Babel or the Golem. They taught that any attempt to go beyond the limits allotted to man would have terrible consequences. If you did not have any knowledge, then you most likely turned to a wiser person, and did not try to find the answers yourself. And curiosity (remembering “eat an apple”) was not particularly respected in some cultures.

    No one needed to discover what no one knew before. Why should I understand the structure of the spider web or the functioning of our immune system, if the ancient sages and scientists did not consider this something important and did not write about it?

    As a result, for a long period, people lived inside this vacuum of traditions and ancient knowledge, without even thinking that their worldview was quite limited. But then we made one of the most important discoveries that laid the foundation for the scientific revolution - ignorance. “I don't know” is perhaps one of the most important phrases in our history that prompted us to look for answers. The idea that people do not know the answers to the most important questions made us change our attitude to existing knowledge.

    The lack of answers was considered a manifestation of weakness and this position has still not disappeared. Some people still do not recognize their ignorance in certain issues and put themselves up as “experts” just to not be from a position of weakness. If even modern people can be hard enough to say “I don’t know,” it’s hard to imagine what it was like in a society where all the questions were answered.

    How ignorance has enlarged our world

    Of course, statements about human ignorance were also in antiquity. It is enough to recall the phrase “I know that I know nothing”, which is attributed to Socrates. But the mass recognition of ignorance, which entailed a passion for discoveries, came a little later - with the discovery of a whole continent, which by chance or mistake was named after the traveler Amerigo Vespucci.

    Here is a map of Fra Mauro made in the 1450s (an inverted version that is familiar to the modern eye). It looks so detailed that it seems as if Europeans already know every corner in the world. And most importantly - no white spots.

    Fra Mauro map

    But then in 1492, Christopher Columbus, who for a long time could not find patrons for swimming in search of a western route to India, sailed from Spain to bring his idea to life. But something more grandiose happened: on October 12, 1492, the forward looking on the ship “Pint” shouted “Earth! Land!" and the world ceased to be the same. No one thought to open the whole mainland. Columbus, for the rest of his life, clung to the idea that it was just a small archipelago east of India. The idea that he discovered the continent did not fit in his head, like many of his contemporaries.

    For many centuries, great thinkers and scientists talked only about Europe, Africa and Asia. Are the authorities wrong and did not have the fullness of knowledge? Have the scriptures lost sight of half the world? To move on, people needed to throw off these shackles of ancient traditions and recognize the fact that they do not know the answers to all questions. They themselves need to find answers and explore the world anew.

    To master new territories and rule new lands, a colossal amount of new knowledge was required about flora, fauna, geography, Aboriginal culture, land history and much more. Old textbooks and ancient traditions will not help here, we need a new approach - a scientific approach.

    Over time, cards with white spots began to appear, which even more attracted adventurers. One example is the 1525 Salviati map below. No one knows what awaits you behind the next cape. Nobody knows what new you will learn and how much it will be useful for you and society.

    Salviati planisphere

    But this discovery did not change the consciousness of all of humanity at once. New lands attracted only Europeans. The Ottomans were too busy with their traditional expansion of influence through the conquest of their neighbors, and the Chinese - it was not at all interesting. This is not to say that the new lands were too far from them, that they could not swim there. 60 years before Columbus discovered America, the Chinese sailed to the eastern coast of Africa and their technology was enough to begin the development of America. But they did not. Perhaps due to the fact that this idea too encroached on their traditions and went against them. Then this revolution had not yet occurred in their head, and when they and the Ottomans realized it was too late, since the Europeans had already captured most of the land.

    How we started to believe in the future

    The desire to learn unexplored paths not only on land but also in science is not the only reason why modern people are so confident in the future emergence of innovation. The thirst for discovery gave way to the idea of ​​progress. The essence of the idea is this: if you admit your ignorance and invest in research, things will go smoothly.

    People who believed in the idea of ​​progress also believed that geographical discoveries, technical inventions, and the development of ties would increase the total amount of production, trade, and wealth. New trade routes across the Atlantic could be profitable without undermining previous trade routes across the Indian Ocean. New goods appeared, and the production of the former did not decrease. The idea also quickly gained economic expression in the form of economic growth and the active use of credit.

    At its core, credit is raising money in the present at the expense of the future, based on the assumption that in the future we will have more money than in the present. Credit existed before the scientific revolution, but the fact is that people did not want to provide or take loans because they did not hope for a better future. Usually they thought that the best was in the past, and the future could be even worse than the present. Therefore, if in ancient times loans were issued, then for the most part for a short period and at very high interest rates.

    Everyone believed that the universal cake is limited, and maybe even gradually reduced. If you succeeded and grabbed a large piece of the pie, then you cheated on someone. Therefore, in many cultures, “making money” was a sinful affair. If the Scandinavian king got more money, then most likely he conducted a successful raid on England and took part of their resources. If your shop makes a lot of profit, it means you took the money from a competitor. It doesn’t matter how you cut the pie, it won’t become anymore.

    Credit is the difference between what is now and what will happen next. If the cake is the same and there is no difference, then what is the point of giving out a loan? As a result, new enterprises practically did not open, and the economy was stamping out. And since the economy did not grow, no one believed in its growth. The result was a vicious circle that lasted for many centuries.

    But with the advent of new markets, new tastes in people, new discoveries and innovations, the cake began to grow. Now people have the opportunity to enrich themselves not only by taking away from their neighbor, especially if you are creating something new.

    Now we are again in a vicious circle, which is already based on faith in the future. Constant progress and constant growth of the pie gives people confidence in the efficiency of this idea. Trust generates credit, credit leads to economic growth, economic growth generates faith in the future. When we believe in the future, we are moving towards progress.

    What to expect next?

    We changed one vicious circle to another. For better or worse, everyone can decide for himself. If before we were marking time, now we are running. We run faster and faster and cannot stop, because our heart beats so fast that it seems to us that it will fly out of our chest if we stop. Therefore, we are more likely not to believe in innovations, we cannot afford not to believe in them.

    Now we are moving forward, in the hope that this will improve the lives of future generations, make our lives more convenient and safe. And we believe that innovation can or at least try to cope with this challenge.

    It is not known how far this idea of ​​progress will take us. Perhaps, over time, our heart will not withstand such stresses and still make us stop. Perhaps we will continue to run at such a speed that we will be able to take off and become a completely new look, which will be difficult to call a person in a modern form. And this view will build a new vicious circle on ideas, which are still incomprehensible to us.

    The main weapon of man has always been two things - ideas and myths. The idea of ​​taking a stick, the idea of ​​building such an institution as a state, the idea of ​​using money, the idea of ​​progress - all of them form our approach. The myth of human rights, the myth of gods and religions, the myth of nationality, the myth of a beautiful future - all of them are designed to unite us and consolidate the power of our approach. I don’t know if we will use these weapons in the future as our marathon, but I think it will be very difficult to replace them.

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