David Barnett

British Council

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If you went back in time 250 years, what would you be able to teach people? What would you have to learn?

These days if there's a black-out, people freak. They don't know what to do without their fridges, TVs, computers and mobile phones, such is our dependence on them. Our workforce has also become so specialized that many skills are becoming lost...baking bread...fixing a car...building a shelter... . It hit me, that if I went back in time, I would barely be able to explain how electricity works...never mind help progress...I'd probably be more of a burden than anything else.

  • Feb 9 2012: I think in 250 years time,Is too long to be teachable.We would know what we're talking aboutbut I don't think we would come off as sane. They would throw us in a den or a jail and throw away the key ! Wow what we could learn tho ! How awesome would that be? To truly live off the land, to really appreciate this planet !
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    Feb 8 2012: I could teach people about germs and disease, diet and cleanliness.
    (Or I could have ripped off Charles Darwin and published his book in my name before he wrote it).
    • Feb 9 2012: But could you? Would you be capable of explaining and proving that germs exists, the whys of nutrition and what cleanliness would actually do? I mean, you can't just share a bunch of things you know, you would have to provide the entire framework which makes them reasonable in the first place.

      Would you be capable of producing a book of similar quality as "The Origin of Spicies"? Like on the spot just provide everything required for it?
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      Feb 9 2012: Yeah, I'd thought about that too...I agree that you could teach people about hygiene, but would they listen to the tiny, invisible creatures explanation?
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    Feb 22 2012: Well... I have a completely different perspective to what others have contributed. I completely understand that we have become too much technology driven and technology dependent, but at the same time, education has always been the same.

    the Moral and Ethical Values will always remain same, and the world is surviving on them, so, if given a chance to go back in time 250 years, I would still be able to teach the same value to the people around.

    Hope, I made some sense :)
  • Feb 13 2012: Hum. I would paint. And I would write stories that people would call fictions. I would write about the future, about utopian cities, and paint things from the future. Yes, i would definitely write. I would write fictions about peace, about non violence, about computers, about new education, about women, about kids rights. I would make books for kids and adults. I would write books called science fiction, about the industrial revolution and the impact it has on the environment.
    So, this way, people won't think I am too crazy... Just an artist. And I hope that over the years, people will start realizing that, I was good at telling the future and would start taking my worse stories seriously. And then, I hope, that I would manage to inspire people in such a way that years later, they will think, oh, that author was so pessimistic in some ways, we never had any world war I or II during the 20th century, or, how did she come with such ideas as that guy in her book.... Hitler could ever get that much power?
    I think I would rather be a male thus if that could serve for good. Hum, I don't know.
    I would like to learn more about local handmade textiles too, and the art of making colors in painting.
    And I would like to meet the intellectual sphere of the time. They would have so much to teach me. And I could tell them, "what if", or "imagine if"....
    And I would try to lead by example, treating everyone equally.
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      Feb 13 2012: So, you'd do your best to change the future...tempting but dangerous.
      • Feb 13 2012: Well, the only fact I would be in the past would change the future anyway, wouldn't it? Or would it not? Who can answer that? I don't know how much the most insignificant change in the events could influence history. And suddenly appearing in the past, that is quite an event, i mean, i could get killed strait away, or i could have a life with almost no impact on history. But could i make myself almost inexistent, strait way after appearing in the past? If I could not come back.... If i was alone... I would not want to commit suicide or put my life in danger, I don't think. I could live simply. I could be a hermit in the mountains? Well, would I be a woman, with no name or family, or friends, speaking in a weird way, that would be quite risky during those days, wouldn't it. I could go in a religious place and lock myself in a room pretending I cannot speak... Great! Would I appear in my home country, France, in 1762... Would I go and find Jean jacques Rousseau, hiding in switzeland to ask for help!?? I could immigrate. Would it be better if I went to England? Would I immigrate to russia? Would i be tempted to go to america? I'd better be a foreigner, don't you think? Could you be more specific and let me know where I would appear, under what appearance... the one i have now? And if I could go back or not, and if I could communicate with the future, and if I am alone or not, and if I can get a false identity, can I just watch and learn without being seen.... etc! And, oh! Would i appear where i am right now? In china!!! Well that would be also pretty challenging! Wow! I better go back to my book and become quickly fluent in Chinese! Haha! I like your question!
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          Feb 13 2012: Rather than change the future or try to educate those in the past I'd concentrate on educating myself. I love the idea of the renaissance man...people like Leonardo that were gifted mathematicians, linguists, physicists, artists, engineers. Today everybody's role is so specific...I believe studying everything equally helps the brain connect and link things better, providing a better overall perspective.
      • Feb 13 2012: Well. I will have to partly disagree on this one. I mean, I clearly agree that some of us should try and study everything equally.
        Now, I do think that today we have greater opportunities to overlap disciplines, to cross disciplines, and to find knowledge all around us. we have more tools than ever to get an overall perspective. But the world is probably more complex thus.
        The 18th century is the age of enlightenment. And disciplines had pretty clear boundaries at that time.
        Leonardo da Vinci lived 500 years ago when disciplines had not so clear boundaries yet. And well, he just looked like he was coming from the future anyway!
        It would not be impossible for us living in the 21st century, to memorize most of the knowledge accumulated until the renaissance. But anyway, this is not what Leonardo da Vinci did. He could not attend a school were classical education was provided. He thought, maybe what they are learning at school is not really true. I will find by myself. And he was one of the first ones to invent and use scientific methods.
        It would be nice to go in the past and study the lost knowledge (I am thinking of very practical things like ways to dye textile).
        It would not be possible for any of us to study half of the practical and scientific knowledge accumulated until today, Anyway, you can get access to some of the knowledge in a click now. The thing is, what do up you do with that? I would say, be creative!
        How about going In the future.... Our brain might be uploaded with encyclopedia's and tools to speak a language in a second! Scary?!
        I do agree that we should work on being whole, on educating the mind and keeping our body healthy.
        Wow, yes, I would love to be Leonardo da vinci's student, I would open wide my eyes and ears and be fascinated!
        Here is a link I love:
        http://www.leonardobridgeproject.org/
        It would be great to be able to bring leornardo da Vinci in the present time and show him that he was right.... His bridge can be build! So futuristic!
        • Feb 14 2012: "It would be nice to go in the past and study the lost knowledge (I am thinking of very practical things like ways to dye textile)".

          This reminded me of Lydia, a seller of purple mentioned in the Bible.

          Did you know that "purple materials were luxury items, accessible only to the rich.

          Although different sources for purple dye were known, the best and most expensive-used for treating fine linen-came from Mediterranean shellfish.

          A single drop of dye could be extracted from each mollusk, and some 8,000 shellfish had to be processed to obtain just one gram of the precious liquid; thus, cloth of that color was very costly."

          Can you imagine going through 8,000 shellfish Manue??? Still want to study dyes? or maybe now the farm and milking cows sound butter, ooops I mean better...hahaha

          BTW did you hear that the singer Whitney Houston was found dead in a hotel. She was 48 years old. This morning they did a tribute to her and a pop singer sang one of Houston's songs.....part of the lyrics go like this....."I will never change all my colors for you".....this made me think of you my TED friend from France living in China.....

          Be Well.
      • Feb 14 2012: Sorry David, I did not know how to reply to Mary on this one (without using private messages...)

        Dear Mary,
        I have a special passion about purple!! Wow!! Yes, I know a lot of stories about purple and that special dye you are talking about. I went twice to visit the museum of silk in Bsouss. Lebanon, and they have managed to recently (more than ten years ago) dye some silk in purple with the murex, following ancient recipes. I would love to go to Tyr one day too.... That would be great!
        Imagine you could get killed for wearing purple!
        Now, I have to admit some dyes can stink and the process of making the dye can be very hard work. but I am still interested in studying it! Last year I collected, prepared and dyed indigo by hand.
        Thank you for your kind words. They are truly appreciated!
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          Feb 14 2012: Don't mind at all- especially to talk about purple...probably my favourite colour. Aubergine purple and Burgundy....as for dyes...a very interesting conversation....same goes for painting and those blues they used to use in Gothic painting...lapis lazuli...5 times more expensive than gold...very difficult to get a hold of. Personally, I think it wonderful that something as basic as colour was so highly valued.
        • Feb 14 2012: @ Manue and David, It would be interesting to make dyes at home to show the kids the process. Perhaps I will do some research on youtube and see if any artists have posted video showing how to make dye using natural processes.

          The closest I have been to dyes is one summer camp making tye-dye t-shirts....you tie the white t-shirt with rubber bands and dip them in differest colors..

          I would imagine that dealing with animal life would involve all kinds of smells.

          David, interesting fact on lapis lazuli. Thank you.
  • Feb 9 2012: I love this topic!!!!

    Love to read historical fiction books...so what would I teach people....can't think of anything, except maybe hygiene.

    I would be in it for the knowledge of the old days.....I would want to learn how to make soap and candles. I would want to learn how to make quilts, and how to grow vegetables, and raise chickens and pigs. I would love to learn how to make my own log cabin, and my own furniture. I would love to learn to hunt and skin a deer.

    I would love to make all my own clothes by hand, and churn butter and milk cows, and ride horses.....There is just something about working with my hands on a farm that calls out to me. I am not afraid of hard labor.

    I was, unfortunately, born and raised in a city.....but I am a country girl at heart.

    Oh, it's nice to dream, isn't it???
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      Feb 9 2012: I'm with you on this one. I am becoming more and more convinced that we can only be truly fulfilled being close to nature. When I worked in cornfields in France, I was physically exhausted at the end of the day, but I could think about what I wanted, I was mentally relaxed, happy and had a great body into the bargain.
    • Feb 13 2012: Hey Mary! I love this topic too!
      I was raised in the countryside. And I love nature.
      But.... Well, I know a lot about the childhood of my grandmother in the countryside. She would be 101 years today would she still be with us. She was born in a farm in a small village in Lorraine. She earned a scholarship but was forced by her father to stay and work on the farm. They were 5 brother and sisters but only two survived and reached adulthood. i can tell you, that I would not want to work in a farm 250 years ago. At least not as a women, or not in France.
      • Feb 14 2012: Your grandmother sounds like someone I would have loved to have met.

        My grandmother died at the age of 84 in 1990. She lived with us her entire life. Now my parents are in their eightys......I love them both very much and can't imagine my life without them.

        You know, I was in France in 1987. We just visited Paris, then drove to Switzerland. The countryside is beautiful. I would love to go back as an adult, with my family.

        I love French cooking.....Every time Julia Child's old cooking programs come on and she invites bakers to make French bread, my mouth waters......as I still remember the wonderful bread each morning for breakfast in Paris.

        Be Well.......you must let us know when your book is finished.
        • Feb 14 2012: You mean: she lived with us your entire life! ;)
          Yes, my grandmother lived with us too.
          I am glad you loved Paris. Yes, it is a great city. Let me know if you go back to France!
          I am glad chinese also enjoy wine! It is easy to find here. But they usually don't like cheese.
  • Feb 8 2012: Haha, I've thought about this quite a lot, and my my conclusion is; I wouldn't be able to do much at all, chances are I'd get decapitated while trying to convince others of my futuristic knowledge that I somehow can't explain.

    The smartest thing I would be able to come up with would probably be how to construct toilet-piping to make it not smell and to make the flushing work.

    Also, if I found something that we kind of use now as well, but in a different shape, I may be able to figure out why the shape changed and improve the whatnot it is I'm looking at.