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debris would they le a rn w hat went w rong an d why? W h a t help would be the t r a c t o f a G reen lobbyist, the press release o f a m u lt in a t io n a l power com pany, o r th e rep o r t o f a governm en ta l com m ittee? T o make th ings worse for our survivors, th e objective view o f science is nearly in com prehensible. Scientific p ap e r s and books a re so a rc an e th a t scientists can understan d only those o f th e ir own speciality. I d o u b t if th e re is anyone, a p a r t from these specialists, who can u nderstan d more th a n a few o f the papers p u b lished in Science o r Nature every week.

Scan th e shelves o f a bookshop or a public lib ra ry for a book th a t clearly explains th e p re sen t condition and how it happened. You will not find it. T h e books th a t a re th e re a re about the evanescent th ings o f today. Well w r i tten , e n te r ta in in g o r in fo rm ative they may be, b u t alm ost all o f th em a re in the c u r r e n t context. T h ey take so m uch for g r an te d and forget how h a rd -w on was th e scientific knowledge th a t gave us the com fo rtab le a n d safe life we enjoy. We a re so ig no ran t of those in d iv id ual acts o f genius th a t estab l ish ed c iv iliz ation th a t we now give equal place on our book-shelves to t h e e x t r a v a g a n c e o f a s t r o l o g y , c reation ism and hom eopathy. Books on these subjects a t first en te r ta in ed us or t itilla te d ou r hypochondria. We now take them seriously and trea t them as if they were rep o r t in g facts.

Im ag in e the survivors o f a failed c iv iliz ation. Im ag in e them try ing to cope w ith a cholera epidem ic using knowledge g a th e red from a ta t te re d book on a l te rn a t iv e medicine. Yet in the d eb r is such a book would be more likely to have survived a n d be readable th an a medical text.

W h a t we need is a book o f knowledge w ritte n so well as to constitu te l i te ra tu re in its own right. Something for anyone in te rested in the s ta te o f the E a r th and o f ourselves — a m anual for living well and for survival. T h e q u a l i ty o f its w ritin g m ust be such th a t it would serve for p leasure, for devotional read in g , as a source o f facts and even as a p r im a ry school text. I t would range from sim ple th ings such as how to lig h t a fire, to ou r place in the Solar System a n d th e U n iverse. I t would be a p r im e r o f philosophy and science — it would provide a top down look a t the E a r th and ourselves. I t would explain th e n a tu r a l se lec tion o f all living th ings, and give the key facts o f medicine, in c lud ing the c ircu la tio n o f the blood and th e role o f the organs.

T h e discovery th a t b ac te ria and

ILLUSTRATIONBYANTHONYCOLBERT

v iru ses cause infectious diseases is rela tiv e ly recent; im agine th e consequences if such knowledge were lost. In its tim e the Bible set the constra in ts for b eh av io u r and for health . We need a new book like the Bible th a t would serve in th e sam e way b u t acknow ledge science. I t would explain p ro p e rties like tem p e ra tu re , the m eaning o f th e ir scales o f m e asu rem en t and how to m easu re them . I t would list the periodic ta b le o f the elem ents. I t would give an account o f the a ir, the rocks an d th e oceans. I t would give schoolch i ld ren o f to day a p ro p e r u n d e r s ta n d ing o f ou r c iv ilization and o f the p la net it occupies. I t would inform th em a t an age w hen th e ir m inds were most receptive and give th em facts they would rem em b e r for a lifetime. I t would also be th e survival m a n u a l for ou r successors. A book th a t was readily available should d is a s te r happen. I t would help b r in g science back as p a r t o f our cu l tu re a n d be an in heritan ce. W h a t ever else m ay be w rong w ith science, it still p rovides th e best explanation we have o f th e m a te r ia l world.

IT IS N O USE even th ink ing o f p re sen tin g such a book on m agnetic or optical m ed ia , o r indeed any kind o f m ed ium th a t needs a com pu te r and e lec tric ity to read it. W o rd s sto red in such a form a re as evanescent as the c h a t te r o f the I n te rn e t and would never survive a ca ta s tro phe. Not only is th e sto rag e m ed ium its e lf short-lived b u t its rea d in g d epends upon specific h a rd w a r e and the softw are. In this technology ra p id obsolescence is usual. M odern m ed ia a re less reliable for long-term sto rag e th a n is the spoken w ord. I t needs the su p p o r t o f a high technology th a t we can n o t take for g r an te d . W h a t we need is a book w ritte n on d u ra b le p ap e r w ith longla s tin g p r in t. I t m ust be clear, unb ia s sed, a c cu ra te an d up to d a te . M ost of all, we need to accept and to believe in it a t least as m uch as we d id , and p e rh a p s still do, in th e W orld Service o f th e BBC.

In the d a rk ages o f ou r earlier h is to ry th e religious o rders in th e ir m onasteries carried th ro ugh the essence o f w h a t makes us civilized. M uch o f th is knowledge was in books and the monks took care o f th em and read th em as p a r t o f th e ir discipline. Sadly, we no longer have callings like this. T h e vast collection o f knowledge th a t is now availab le is more th an any one person could hold. C onsequently it is d iv id ed and subdivided in to subjects. E ach subject is th e province o f professionally em p loyed specialists. M ost are expert in th e ir own subject b u t ignora n t o f the o th e rs — few have a sense o f vocation. A p a r t from isolated in s t itu te s like the N a tio nal C en tre for A tm ospheric R esearch perched on a m oun ta in side in Colorado, th e re are no equivalents o f the monasteries. So who would g u a rd the book? A book of knowledge, w ritte n w ith au th o rity and as sp lendid a read as T y n d a le ’s bible, m ight need no guardians. I t would e a rn th e respect needed to place it in every home, school, lib ra ry and place o f worship. I t would th en be to h and w hatever h appened. #

James Lovelock, CBE, FRS, is the author o f G a ia , th e P r a c t ic a l S c ie n c e o f P la n e ta r y M ed ic in e .

R e s u r g e n c e N o . 181 1 7

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