Sometimes it seems that we have forgotten what it was like to live without penicillin. No vaccines of any kind. We also seem to have forgotten that not long ago 15% of women died in childbirth .
That, until recently, it was believed that certain plants can effectively cure cancer (although in some countries such as India they still do). Or that Thursdays are not the best days to start any new project. Or that in the big toe there are a series of points specifically endowed with the ability to control the digestive system.
Sometimes, it seems that we have forgotten that all of us register the phenomena of the world through the brain, and therefore there are many filters that cloud the truth with what we believe to be true: paraphrasing Francis Bacon in Novum Organum
So we seem to have forgotten that just three or four centuries ago, when we didn’t have a tool that goes beyond our first sensitive impressions and falsifies any claim , all of us (including the smartest people on the planet) were victims of the same biases.
Victims of the bias imposed by our genes and evolution, they limit our ability to penetrate reality because we have not evolved to understand all of reality but enough to continue surviving and reproducing ourselves. The bias of the psychological and social stamping, since our environment also influences how we interpret the phenomena . And even the language bias, because it is not easy to transform thoughts into verbal expressions.
So we seem to have forgotten that for the first time in millions of years we have a tool to not only know how things work (to a much deeper degree), but also to assess how we know we know those things , and that if the connection cannot be ascertained then the knowledge is unreliable.
Sometimes we forget all that and stumble upon the fascination produced by distant and exotic cultures, those that seem more connected with nature. Sometimes that fascination leads us to end up consuming their remedies, all those remedies that we used a thousand or two thousand years ago and that were not subjected to the rigors of contemporary tools.
Sometimes, even the most painted, forget that there is first class knowledge and second class knowledge , and this distinction resides exclusively in the way in which the knowledge has been obtained, not in the knowledge itself (because knowing the way in which It has been obtained and knowing if it has complied with certain rules or can be continuously re-evaluated, it is more reliable).
Sometimes we forget all that. Even that we cannot trust people, nor scientists, and much less enlightened people, people who are designated as geniuses and narrators of sacred truths. We can only trust the aforementioned tool. Without it, we would all go back. To that time of suffering, disorientation and darkness in which we have existed for most of history and which we seem to have forgotten, as Matt Ridley reminds us with a few strokes in The Rational Optimist :
The war death rate typical of many hunter-gatherer societies (0.5% of the population per year) would equal two billion people killed in the 20th century (instead of one hundred million) … Infanticide was a common recourse in difficult times. Diseases were always close, too: gangrene, tetanus, and many kinds of parasites would have been great killers. Did I mention slavery already? It was common in the Pacific Northwest. Wife abuse? Routine in Tierra del Fuego. Lack of soap, hot water, bread, books, movies, metal, paper, cloth? When you meet one of those people who go so far as to say that they would rather have lived in an ancient, supposedly more pleasant age, just remind them of the Pleistocene sanitary facilities, the transportation options of the Roman emperors, or the lice of Versailles.