The mathematics of cooperation of men and tools is interesting. Separated men trying their individual experiments contribute in proportion to their numbers and their work may be called mathematically additive. The effect of a single piece of apparatus given to one man is also additive only, but when a group of men are cooperating, as distinct from merely operating, their work raises with some higher power of the number than the first power. It approaches the square for two men and the cube for three. Two men cooperating with two different pieces of apparatus, say a special furnace and a pyrometer or a hydraulic press and new chemical substances, are more powerful than their arithmetical sum. These facts doubtless assist as assets of a research laboratory.
And this is the ultimate lesson that our knowledge of the mode of transmission of typhus has taught us: Man carries on his skin a parasite, the louse. Civilization rids him of it. Should man regress, should he allow himself to resemble a primitive beast, the louse begins to multiply again and treats man as he deserves, as a brute beast. This conclusion would have endeared itself to the warm heart of Alfred Nobel. My contribution to it makes me feel less unworthy of the honour which you have conferred upon me in his name.
For three million years we were hunter-gatherers, and it was through the evolutionary pressures of that way of life that a brain so adaptable and so creative eventually emerged. Today we stand with the brains of hunter-gatherers in our heads, looking out on a modern world made comfortable for some by the fruits of human inventiveness, and made miserable for others by the scandal of deprivation in the midst of plenty.
Every breath you draw, every accelerated beat of your heart in the emotional periods of your oratory depend upon highly elaborated physical and chemical reactions and mechanisms which nature has been building up through a million centuries. If one of these mechanisms, which you owe entirely to your animal ancestry, were to be stopped for a single instant, you would fall lifeless on the stage. Not only this, but some of your highest ideals of human fellowship and comradeship were not created in a moment, but represent the work of ages.
It would appear... that moral phenomena, when observed on a great scale, are found to resemble physical phenomena; and we thus arrive, in inquiries of this kind, at the fundamental principle, that the greater the number of individuals observed, the more do individual peculiarities, whether physical or moral, become effaced, and leave in a prominent point of view the general facts, by virtue of which society exists and is preserved.
It has been said that he who was the first to abuse his fellow-man instead of knocking out his brains without a word, laid thereby the basis of civilisation.
A parable: A man was examining the construction of a cathedral. He asked a stone mason what he was doing chipping the stones, and the mason replied, “I am making stones.” He asked a stone carver what he was doing. “I am carving a gargoyle.&rdquo. And so it went, each person said in detail what they were doing. Finally he came to an old woman who was sweeping the ground. She said. “I am helping build a cathedral.”
...Most of the time each person is immersed in the details of one special part of the whole and does not think of how what they are doing relates to the larger picture.
The story of civilization is, in a sense, the story of engineering—that long and arduous struggle to make the forces of nature work for man's good.
The beginning of civilisation is the discovery of some useful arts, by which men acquire property, comforts, or luxuries. The necessity or desire of preserving them leads to laws and social institutions. The discovery of peculiar arts gives superiority to particular nations ... to subjugate other nations, who learn their arts, and ultimately adopt their manners;— so that in reality the origin as well as the progress and improvement of civil society is founded in mechanical and chemical inventions.
In all the history of mankind, there will be only one generation that will be first to explore the Solar System, one generation for which, in childhood, the planets are distant and indistinct discs moving through the night sky, and for which, in old age, the planets are places, diverse new worlds in the course of exploration.
There will be a time in our future history when the Solar System will be explored and inhabited. To them, and to all who come after us, the present moment will be a pivotal instant in the history of mankind. There are not many generations given an opportunity as historically significant as this one. The opportunity is ours, if we but grasp it. To paraphrase K. E. Tsiolkovsky, the founder of astronautics: The Earth is the cradle of mankind, but one cannot live in the cradle forever.
A human infant begins to achieve maturity by the experimental discovery that he is not the whole of the universe. The same is true of societies engaged in the exploration of their surroundings. The perspective carried by space exploration may hasten the maturation of mankind – a maturation that cannot come too soon.