Cultural anthropology of the distant future?
In a provocative post at 3 Quarks Daily Sam Kean asks: "Will the Manhattan project always exist?" raising interesting possiblities about future representations of the present, which by then will be a distant past. He writes:
"Will historians and archaeologists a few thousand years from now believe that scientists in the mid-twentieth century split the atom? That they even created a nuclear bomb? There's a good chance the answer will be "no." If nothing else, there's reason to think this could be a contentious point among men and women of learning, debatable on both sides."
"A span of thousands of years is both extremely short and impenetrably long. It's short because human nature will not change much in that time. Which means our human tendency to discount the past and pooh-pooh the achievements of antique cultures will not have diminished. Dismissing technical achievements in the remote past is especially tempting. We're willing to believe that people philandered and murdered and philosophized uselessly like we do today, but we conveniently reserve the notion of technical progress for ourselves. It's really a poverty of imagination: They didn't have the tools or libraries or scientific understanding we do today, so how could they have accomplished much? We tend to conflate science and technology, as if one cannot exist without the other. But without much science the Greeks did calculate the circumference of the earth; the Chinese did invent paper, gunpowder, and the printing press eons before Europeans; the Polynesians did navigate thousands of miles of open ocean on tiny barks; and the Egyptians (among many others) did log as much about the movement and appearance of stars and planets as astronomers know today. Nor are those special examples, or even unique-many technologies arose more than once."