I wish we knew now what we knew then

By Bruce Firestone | Architecture

Jan 01

Over the Christmas holidays, I was rereading The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne. I read it when I was a kid and enjoyed it, so I thought I’d see what I think of it now.

It’s about five Union soldiers who escape Confederate captivity during the US Civil War in a balloon that is swept by a hurricane thousands of miles… all the way to crash on a strange island in the South Pacific. As a child, I enjoyed the adventure, but what I found interesting this time was comparing in my mind how these five men in the 1860s do on a deserted island compared with say 5 modern humans.

The former know metallurgy, boatbuilding, sailing, navigating, agronomy, astronomy, hunting, fishing, construction, animal husbandry, pottery, chemistry, battery-making, electricity, telegraphy, soldiering and much more.

They land on the island with absolutely nothing but their lives and clothes yet, within a few years, they are living very comfortably.

They are also infallibly polite, know how to give and take orders and have discipline and faith.

I suspect modern humans would not do as well.

In fact, I recall, in an early season of the reality TV show, Survivor, my frustration watching modern people stranded together on a tropical isle trying to make fire. They knew for months before their appearance on that show that each skill they would be able to bring to the competition would mean their chances of sticking around would improve (ie, not being voted off the island). Yet none of them, after days of futile attempts to master what was arguably one of the most important lessons learned by early humans, could do it.

It got so bad that the host, an irritating man at the best of times, finally had to bring each of the tribes a box of matches lest they starve to death.

Why is this relevant?

Well, lots of folks today are talking about how to not only decrease their environmental footprint on this planet but also how to make actual improvements in the natural environment, how to be more self-sufficient, how to grow (more) local, how to make and build things locally, how to produce energy locally and so forth.

They might do well to read Jules Verne’s novel first published (en français) in 1875 and marvel over all the things they knew then that we (most of us) don’t know today.

The book is out of copyright, so I can give you my copy, https://www.dropbox.com/s/b5xrnpylydxku6b/The%20Mysterious%20Island.pdf?dl=0

Happy new year,

Prof Bruce

January 1st, 2021

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Image source: Originally drawn by Jules Férat – Hetzel edition of The Mysterious Island, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66142

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Bruce is an entrepreneur/real estate broker/developer/coach/urban guru/keynote speaker/Sens founder/novelist/columnist/peerless husband/dad.

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