How to rebuild the world from scratch

Adam Taggart
By Adam Taggart on Tue, Nov 7, 2017 - 4:43pm

If our technological society collapsed tomorrow, what crucial knowledge would we need to survive in the immediate aftermath and to rebuild civilization as quickly as possible?

Human knowledge is collective and distributed across the population. It has built on itself for centuries, becoming vast and increasingly specialized. Most of us are ignorant about the fundamental principles of the civilization that supports us, happily utilizing the latest—or even the most basic—technology without having the slightest idea of why it works or how it came to be. If you had to go back to absolute basics, like some sort of postcataclysmic Robinson Crusoe, would you know how to re-create an internal combustion engine, put together a microscope, get metals out of rock, or even how to produce food for yourself?

Lewis Dartnell explains how every piece of technology rests on an enormous support network of other technologies, all interlinked and mutually dependent. You can’t hope to build a radio, for example, without understanding how to acquire the raw materials it requires, as well as generate the electricity needed to run it. But Dartnell doesn’t just provide specific information for starting over; he also reveals the greatest invention of them all—the phenomenal knowledge-generating machine that is the scientific method itself.

Here is an intriguing TED Talk of Dartnell speaking on this topic. It's worth the 20 minutes to watch:

I've sent an invitation to Dartnell to be a podcast guest on Hopefully he accepts :)


Cornelius999's picture
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 17 2008
Posts: 381
Please see my post on The

Please see my post on The Oldest Civilization in DailyDigest today.

Cornelius999's picture
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 17 2008
Posts: 381
Stephen-Knapp has written

Stephen-Knapp has written some books claiming Vedanta ie. Indian civilization is oldest. He also says it's worldwide.

Cornelius999's picture
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 17 2008
Posts: 381
Satchitananda = truth

Satchitananda = truth consciousness bliss - the subjective experience of ultimate reality in Hinduism, Brahma. I know the bliss is real. A friend stumbled across it for a maybe 15 mins. It felt like breathing perfume as a sensation of pure pleasure crept up his back. His main concern was if it entered his brain, could he bear the pleasure! It didn't and it
slowly subsided.

He hasn't been able to recapture it. This apparently is typical of these yogic type raptures. He says it didn't change him fundamentally apart from taking yogic disciplines very seriously.

Mircea Eliade's " Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy " is an academic tome on this stuff. George Feuerstein is easier to read on yoga etc.

Cornelius999's picture
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 17 2008
Posts: 381
Don't mean to hijack the

Don't mean to hijack the thread but have just found new Graham Hancock video on UTube: Death; Consciousness is everything

sand_puppy's picture
Status: Diamond Member (Online)
Joined: Apr 13 2011
Posts: 2033
Rebuilding Civilization Afterwards

That WAS interesting, Adam

Here is Dartnel's book on amazon, How to Rebuild Civilization in the Aftermath of a Cataclysm

(Don't get the Kindle version!!!!!)

Larry Niven and Gerry Pournelle teamed up to take on this same theme in one of the great visionary Sci-fi novels of all time, The Mote in God's Eye.

Humans discover a civilization on a planet located in a galactic cluster called God's Eye.  These ape like creatures (the "moties") are very intelligent and have a sophisticated civilization.  Unfortunately, they are also imbued with an overwhelming instinctive need to reproduce, a deep biological imperative that they cannot reign in.

Late in the story, humans come to understand the great secret that the moties are hiding is that they reproduce until population pressure destroys their civilization.  And that this cycle of overpopulation and cataclysmic global destruction has been enacted repeatedly.  After a few hundred years of stone age existence, the surviving moties begin to rebuild civilizations.

The moties have worked out a system to help their unborn descendent climb back out of the stone age.  Museums are created scattered around the surface of the planet, sealed and hidden deep underground where they can be rediscovered a century or two after the cataclysm.  Buried deep enough to withstand nuclear blasts, ensuing wars and the savage die-off periods that follow.  These museums are pictographic and lead the primitive non-writing descendents in a stepwise path to recreate civilization.  They learn how to sharpen a stick in a fire, build a furnace, smelt metal ores, shape a wheel from wood with an ax, tan leather, make soap, build a cart.  Later portions of the museum include water wheels, electricity, motors, light bulbs, etc. Seed packets are preserved with pictures of how to plant and harvest.


Another approach to this by Ph.D. theoretical physicist turned Missouri farmer, Marcin Jakowbowski.  He started an open source ecology building farm equipment using basic shop equipment and off the shelf materials.  His approach depends on the availability and metal working skills of a (powered) modern shop, and the availability of bearing, motors and stock steel pieces.

Here is 4 minute TED talk:


Uncletommy's picture
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: May 3 2014
Posts: 633
Necessity is the mother of invention?

Matt Holbert's picture
Matt Holbert
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 3 2008
Posts: 145
Do We Need Specialists?

Note: These comments will make more sense if you watch the talk...

I was struck by the expectation that we are going to repeat the mistakes of the past, i.e. specialization. While a certain amount of specialization is necessary, I'm with those that think that when civilization had enough abundance, "superior" folks like kings and priests showed up and that was not a good thing. We should all learn how to grow food. At the proper scale it has got to be one of the most gratifying occupations.

The speaker mentioned twice that he does not expect collapse. This is an example of the dangers of specialization. Any active-minded generalist and systems-oriented person knows that collapse is well underway and there is absolutely no way we're going to pull ourselves away from all the distractions to slow it down.

Dartnell needs to do one more calculation in the supermarket example (55 years of food; 63 if you are willing to eat dog and cat food). He needs to divide the time by the number of people who shop at the store. He'll have plenty of competition for the food. If you divide 55 years or 20075 days by say 5000 shoppers you come up with slightly over 4 days supply of food per person.

Fortunately, there are a couple of millstones in the yard at the family farm...

Here is a link to my favorite TED talk:

Brief summary of key points courtesy of Gawker:

As for one simple take away ... I don't have one simple take away, one magic idea. That's kind of the point. [...]

'Innovation' defined as moving the pieces around and adding more processing power is not some Big Idea that will disrupt a broken status quo: that precisely is the broken status quo.

One TED speaker said recently, ;If you remove this boundary ... the only boundary left is our imagination.' Wrong.

If we really want transformation, we have to slog through the hard stuff (history, economics, philosophy, art, ambiguities, contradictions). Bracketing it off to the side to focus just on technology, or just on innovation, actually prevents transformation.

Instead of dumbing-down the future, we need to raise the level of general understanding to the level of complexity of the systems in which we are embedded and which are embedded in us. This is not about 'personal stories of inspiration,' it's about the difficult and uncertain work of demystification and reconceptualisation: the hard stuff that really changes how we think. More Copernicus, less Tony Robbins.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Login or Register to post comments