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The Way We Are: It Started with the Greeks 

The Ancient Greece based origins of modern Western Civilization's primary value of individuality driven curiosity that drives it to question and explore reality.






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Episode cast overview:
James Burke ... Himself - Host


The Ancient Greece based origins of modern Western Civilization's primary value of individuality driven curiosity that drives it to question and explore reality.

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19 March 1985 (UK)  »

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We are What We Know.
31 October 2012 | by See all my reviews

According to Burke, it all started in Ancient Greece with philosophers, one of whom used geometry borrowed from the lazy Egyptians to deduce things we didn't know, from things we did now. Fella named Thales.

The title -- "It Started With the Greeks" -- suggests that this episode is another one of those tours of the Golden Age, featuring Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Anaximander. But it's not. Burke just shows how simple, high-school geometry, derived from elementary axioms, can lead us to solve problems. For instance, if you want to find out how far a ship is anchored off shore, you don't need to row out to it and back again, while measuring the distance you've traveled. You can just measure its distance by viewing it from two different points on shore and figuring it out.

And with that, it's good-bye Ancient Greece. We get a quick glimpse of the each of the episodes to come, which will deal with navigation, medicine, electricity, and so on.

More broadly, Burke introduces us to the notion that we are what we know, and what we know is constantly changing. Cultures differ because what they know is different. The Tibetan Buddhists don't want change; many of us embrace it. The parts we don't want changed are bound in rituals like the marriage ceremony. We're having a slight difficulty with marriage vows at the time I'm writing this, because some of us want the bond extended and some don't.

Without using the term "dynamic system," Burke introduces it towards the end. He holds up a computer chip on the edge of his finger and asks what would happen if this made it possible for all of us to work directly from home. Sure, it would be more convenient, but what would happen to the guys who build highways for a living? What would happen to the automobile industry and the oil industry? What would happen to MARRIAGES? It's as past paced as all the other episodes, with Burke ducking off the screen and appearing on another continent, and you have to pay attention to what you're hearing if you're not going to lose track of his reasoning. The separate parts of his argument may not all hold together than well. How come we want rapid change and the Buddhists want none at all? It's not enough to say the contrast is the result of differences in world view. That's circular reasoning. But we get his general idea.

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