Videos

Lewis Dartnell: How To Rebuild The World From Scratch

If our technological society collapsed tomorrow, what crucial knowledge would we need to survive in the immediate aftermath and to rebuild civilization as quickly as possible?

Ask yourself this: If you had to go back to absolute basics like some sort of post-cataclysmic Robinson Caruso, would you know how to recreate an internal combustion engine? Put together a microscope? Get metals out of rock? Or produce food for yourself?

This week’s podcast guest is Lewis Dartnell, author, presenter, and professor of science communication at the University of Westminster. He’s best known to the public as a popular science writer, especially for his book The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch. In that book and in his related TED Talk, Lewis explains how every piece of our modern technology rests on an enormous support network of other technologies, all interlinked and mutually dependent:

Get The Timeless Reading eBook in PDF

Get the entire 10-part series on Timeless Reading in PDF. Save it to your desktop, read it on your tablet, or email to your colleagues.

There's the fundamental fact that the economic system the developed world has based itself on capitalism which has this core assumption that you can forever continue generating wealth by growing your economy, by making more things, by extracting more raw materials and ingredients and environment. And in a sense, that's served us very well since even before the Industrial Revolution when, in a sense, the planet, the Earth, was very, very big compared to the demands of the human population living on it. But that assumption is no longer true anymore. With over 7 billion people on the planet all wanting to have a decent and comfortable standard of living, that puts an enormous amount of demand on the natural systems on our planet for producing those raw materials. That's everything from agriculture and the degradation of the kind of soil and the growing environment through to how many minerals and metals there might be that we're trying to dig up. So there is this limitation.

And even if there never is an apocalypse, and I certainly hope that there isn’t one, over the next couple of decades, we really are going to have to root deeply and reassess how we go about things. Not just try to grow as quickly as possible and not extract as much energy and raw materials as we possibly can. We need to act in a much, much more sustained and careful manner, otherwise we're going to degrade the environment around us to such an extent that it will no longer support us, and there could then be some kind of crash or collapse.

And what a lot of people talk about is a post-oil world in that we are rapidly sucking up all of the easily suck-up-able crude oil around the world. And it's very much a finite resource. It is going to run out. There are signs that it's already starting to run out. They’ve already passed peak oil. And so we need to be thinking very carefully about what we're going to next system. How could we fuel our cars and our transport network without using diesel or gasoline, using petrol? And how can we do a lot of industrial processes? And how can we create things like artificial pesticides and herbicides and plastics and pharmaceuticals which all come from oil as their base stock?

In writing The Knowledge, I wanted to engage in a thought experiment that asks: What's going on behind the scenes to support our everyday lives and all the stuff that we just take for granted nowadays?

In the long term, if you're not just talking about wilderness survival skills but how to go about rebooting the whole of civilization, the key issue is all that we use today is inextricably linked to everything else. There's this vast iceberg of understanding; much of it is under the surface. You don't really interact with it or are aware that it's there. Even the simplest things like how to make a toaster requires this entire infrastructure of capability and knowhow to create things, and where to go to get particular things from the natural world and the environment around you. So I try to explore all of that, as well as how to start reconstructing this network of scientific understanding and technological inventions.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Lewis Dartnell (39m:45s).

Transcript

Chris: Welcome, everybody, to this Peak Prosperity podcast. It is November 28, 2017. I am your host, Chris Martenson. And today, we're going to engage in a very useful, thought experiment posed by our guest. Here it is: If our technological society collapsed tomorrow, what crucial knowledge would we need to survive in the immediate aftermath and to rebuild civilization as quickly as possible? Now, human knowledge is collective. It's distributed across the population. It has built on itself for centuries, becoming vast and increasing specialized and decentralized. Most of us, including myself, are ignorant about the fundamental principles of the civilization that supports us, happily utilizing the latest or even the most basic technology without having the slightest idea of why it works or how it came to be.

Now, if you had to go back to absolute basics, like some sort of post cataclysmic Robinson Crusoe would you know how to recreate an internal combustion engine? Put together a microscope? Get metals out of rock or even how to produce food for yourself? With us today is Lewis Dartnell, an author, presenter, and professor of science communication at the University of Westminster. He is best known to the public as a popular science writer, especially for his book The Knowledge, How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch. In that book and in his Ted Talk, recently posted to the Peak Prosperity website, Lewis explains how every piece of technology rests on an enormous support network of other technologies, all interlinked and mutually dependent. You can't hope to build a radio, for example, without understanding how to acquire the raw materials it requires, as well as generate the electricity needed to run it.

But Lewis doesn't just provide specific information for starting over, he also reveals the greatest invention of them all, the phenomenal knowledge generating machine that is the scientific method itself. Welcome to the program, Lewis.

Lewis: Hi there. Thank you very much for having me.

Chris: It's very wonderful to have you here with us. Let's start here. Lewis, how is it that you came to write this particular book, The Knowledge? What drew you to this idea of a post-apocalyptic rebuild?

Lewis: It was just a project borne out of sheer curiosity, to be honest. So the Knowledge is my third book. I'm just about to submit my script for the fourth, and in all of my books I've researched and written so far, I've written a book that I've wanted to read, looked for on the bookshelves or online and realized it didn't exists yet, so I thought I would sit down and make it myself. And this idea behind The Knowledge book was, to be honest, it's not actually got anything to do with the end of the world. It's not a prepper or survivalist manual. It's intended for everyone on the high streets or going about their day to day lives.

As you hinted at in the introduction just then, I wanted to be able to peek behind the curtain, look under the hood of your home automobile and see how the machinery of civilization works. What was going on behind the scenes to support our everyday lives and all the stuff that we just take for granted nowadays? And I think in a lot of these things the book links very nicely into your interests in Peak Prosperity about just being a little more aware about where stuff comes from, how it's made, raw materials used, how much energy has gone into its production, where does it come from, how is it being transported, the different components coming from places all over the world. And I guess I hoped that when people read the book they'll appreciate that stuff a little more, to look around the world that we live in and understand just a little better where it all comes from and how it was built over history.

Chris: I think that's such a worthwhile pursuit because as I've gone down that same rabbit hole of curiosity about how this modern world works I've stumbled across something quite unexpected for me which is gratitude. So, for instance, after having looked at what's going into a 747, three million components in that plane. All of them have to work, or it will be grounded until maintenance gets to it. and so now when I take off, that first moment of acceleration, just reveling in the power of it, and the idea that I'm going to be flying in this metal tube at nearly 600 miles an hour; it's just astonishing. I get this little fist pump on takeoff now, and the people next to me are maybe settled in like, oh it's a long flight. But I'm actually deeply grateful for this lifestyle that we have and that it affords me the ability to have the free time to be curious in the first place. It's actually an invitation to understand it's miraculous, this world we live in.

Lewis: Yeah. Absolutely. And my father was actually, before he retired, and aeronautical engineer. He worked for British Airways. And I've never been particularly practical or good with my hands myself, but I assume it's from him, from my dad, that I inherited this curiosity of how things work, and as an engineer how you get them to work in the first place. Engineering is very much a practical and applied art. It's so much more than just knowing the theory or the basics of how some things work. You’ve got to actually get it to function correctly as you hope, and almost bug-hunt a bit of machinery or technology that doesn't work properly.

And then, I totally agree with you about this sense of awe and wonder every time you take off in a plane. You know, it's become commonplace nowadays. You don’t really give it a second's thought. And what's going on behind the scenes is absolutely incredible, with all these different components made from different materials are being perfectly designed by people to form this function of allowing to soar over clouds. It's something that was mythological just a few centuries, a millennium, ago. People wrote myths and legends about people that could fly. And we do it nowadays without batting an eyelid.

Chris: It's absolutely true, and so I think underneath all this people have a sense, as well, that this is somewhat miraculous. And sometimes miracles come, and sometimes they go. Lewis, I'm interested, people are both drawn to – and, of course, repelled by the idea of apocalypse. We love it in our movies and our books and our fantasies, but maybe not the actual prospect itself, of course. I'm interested, in your book The Knowledge, have people been drawn to it from the savor angle of it being an interesting thought experiment and gone that route, or have some or more people also maybe been seriously considering that it might be something that we really need to consider as a real possibility?

Lewis: Yeah. The Knowledge did pretty well in terms of sales in the U.K. and Germany. It did pretty well in Japan, bizarrely. And I think that's because people got the – at the end of the day, it was a conceit. It's this idea of a post-apocalyptic world, you're trying to reboot civilization and avoid the dark ages. This was just conceit to explore our everyday world. The book isn't really about the future or post-apocalyptic, it's about today and how things work. But curiously, the book didn't do particularly well at all in the States. And I would have thought there would have been a ready to go in a shrink-wrapped audience with these people who have been thinking about these things far more deeply and for far longer than I have in terms of preppers and survivalism.

And I wonder if that might have been the problem with the book. The index is a history of science and technology. It's a book about how we got to where we are today. And it's not really about the end of the world or the collapse of society. But I think that might have gotten a little confused in the marketing in the States, and it was taken at face value that people assumed it was a prepper book about how to stockpile cans of food and weapons, and didn't think it was the book for them. I think maybe if we'd been less subtle with the book cover and the marketing.

But what's been wonderful about the book, about The Knowledge, has been all the conversations it's triggered with me, with people around the world who got in touch just by emailing or visiting the book's website which is the-knowledge.org, the-knowledge.org. And there's a discussion forum, a chat room there, and its kicked off this really fascinating discussion between lots of different people from very, very different backgrounds about what you actually might be able to do if this ever did happen, if there were a collapse of civilization, what would be the most useful knowledge and knowhow you'd want to hope was never lost to history again. What would be the most useful bits of machinery and tools you'd want to maybe hide in some kind of bunker or you can retreat that you’ve prepared for such an eventuality. I've treated it as a thought experiment, as a way of addressing the curiosity of how the world works.

But I generally think that if you could only save a single book from being burned or lost when civilization collapsed that you try to use it as a genuine manual for restarting everything. And I think the knowledge is pretty much there in providing the breadth and the depth of information that you need across the vast different areas of knowledge that – it took us a millennium to build up and slowly accumulate through trial and error the first time around as we're going through our history.

Chris: Well then, perhaps we could help have that book on the shelf of bunkers in the United States, at least.

Lewis: There's another project you may already be aware of: The Long Now Foundation had started, and in fact, Alexander Rose is the CEO there, and they're based in San Francisco. And the Long Now Foundation deals with this whole theme, this whole idea of looking to the deep future and making sure things are sustainable and don't collapse. And I chatted with him about two years ago when I was first researching the book about this idea that, well, if you did take this seriously, then clearly a popular science paperback book couldn't possibly contain all the detailed knowledge you need. And actually, what you want to set up and try to compile would be some kind of library of civilization, some kind of manual for rebuilding. And the Long Now Foundation is sort of doing that. They’ve been taking submissions from lots of different people recommending sets of books from different areas of knowledge that people want to try to preserve. And they’ve got this library, physical books on shelves in their offices, in their headquarters in San Francisco Bay. And again, I think that's fascinating, trying to think very carefully about what you would hope would never be lost. It would take so long to try to rediscover, redevelop if you ever had to start from scratch again.

Chris: This is a really fascinating thought experiment because it does really illuminate the tremendous complexity of the world we live in and get us thinking, I think, in a more basic way. Like how did this come about? And you mention three main building blocks of any reboot: food, of course, fire, and then knowledge. Maybe, perhaps, we'd put shelter and water in there depending on where we live, but I want to focus on this idea of knowledge. As a scientist, this is really important to me. And as the curator of a website called Peak Prosperity where, I think, if I had one word that was going to bind our tribe together with it would be curiosity. I'm really keen about not what we know but how we go about implementing that and how we think. So what's the simplest way to think about handing over the distilled essence of knowledge that future people could both grasp and then implement?

Lewis: One of the ideas I talked about in the very introduction to The Knowledge was a quote from Richard Feynman. He's a very, very famous physicist. And in his series of lectures, in one part of it he's talking about if you could take a single statement, a single sentence that you would be allowed to transmit to which ever beings arose and try to build a civilization after a collapse of our own, what would you say? What single concept contains and embodies within it the greatest amount of deep understanding? And Feynman's thought was you would try to explain atomic hypostasis, the idea that everything you see around us, all matter, is made of tiny little particles called atoms which combine in different ways to give you chemistry, and give matter its solidness.

And so what I was playing with in The Knowledge is if you weren't quite so restricted to just a single sentence, could you write a book that encapsulated, and importantly, tried to boil down to the very core essence of all these things we've discovered. As I said, a millennium of history, that would get a society back on its feet. So talking about things like how can you more than understand modern knowledge, know for a fact that the water you're about to put to your lips and drink isn't going to kill you. How do you know it's not laced with cholera or typhoid or all these other water borne diseases that have scourged humanity for millennia? And also the basics of shelter and constructing things.

But in the long term, if you're trying to reboot a civilization, and not just talking about wilderness survival skills, and there's been plenty of really great books that have been written on how to survive in the desert or the forest if you got no one coming to help you, but I think the deeper question, one that I've never seen explored anywhere before, was how to go about rebooting the whole of civilization. And you’ve hinted at, the key issue here, is all that we use today is tightly linked and inextricably linked to everything else. There's this vast iceberg of understanding. Much of it is under the surface. You don't really interact with it or aware that it's there. But even the simplest things like make something simple like a toaster requires this entire infrastructure of capability and knowhow to create things and where to go to get particular things from the natural world and the environment around you. So I try to explore all of that stuff, as well as how would you start reconstructing this network of scientific understanding and technological inventions.

Chris: Now, there were a number of books that were really instrumental in my thinking along these lines. One of them was called The Origin of Wealth by Eric Beinhocker, and he talks about the science of complexity, and in particular, a very fascinating piece where he talks about the number of stock keeping units – SKUs and retail partlence. So my jeans might have several SKUs in them if I were a manufacturer. The zipper and the button would be separate items. It would have to be sourced somewhere. The thread would come from somewhere, and the material itself. So he notes the explosion in SKUs from say, an early agricultural society with maybe a thousand to two thousand separate units of things we might identify in the village. Today, when he wrote the book there were over ten billion stock keeping units. Just this explosion of complexity. And you overlay that chart of that explosion in complexity, and it overlays very nicely with the explosion in population, which overlays very nicely on our extraction of resources and all of this.

And so there's this great sense that I have that this massive amount of complexity, which I really – that's what you're drawing upon here – is this idea that even to build a toaster there's much more complexity embedded in it than people would understand in terms of where all the components came from. The knowledge required just maybe to make the nickel heating elements. So much metallurgy and mining and distributing and all this. Enormous complexity. So as we look at this, really what we're talking about is what maintains complexity in a system, and when we look at natural systems, all order and all complexity is maintained by energy flowing through that system.

So the earth is a very complex web of life on the surface of the planet maintained by this thing called the sun. If it blinks out, it becomes a lot simpler. So what we're talking about is a very complex world that owes all of its maintenance of complexity to, really, the flow of energy through it. In your work, did you come across the idea that potentially we may not – I'm thinking back to this preservationist work that's going on. Realistically, is it possible that we can continue to both expand our complexity or even just preserve it going forward, or is there some inkling here that we might need to skinny down to something more sustainable?

Lewis: Well, yes there's the fundamental fact that the economic system that the Western world, the developed world, tends to base itself on, on capitalism, has this core assumption that you can continue generating wealth by growing your economy, by making more things, by extracting more raw materials and ingredients and environment. And in a sense, that's severed us very well since even before the Industrial Revolution when, in a sense, the planet, the earth, was very, very big compared to the demands of the human population living on it. But that assumption is no longer true anymore, and with around seven billion people on the planet all wanting to have a decent and comfortable standard of living, that puts an enormous amount on these natural systems on our planet for producing those raw materials.

And that's everything from agriculture and the degradation of the kind of soil and the growing environment through to how many minerals and metal ores there might be that we're trying to dig up. So there is this limitation. And even if there never were an apocalypse, and I certainly hope that there wasn’t one, in the coming years, the next couple of decades, we really are going to have to root deeply, reassess how we go about things, and not just try to grow as quickly as possible and not extract as much energy and raw materials as we possibly can. But we need to do that in a much, much more sustained and careful manner. Otherwise, we're going to degrade the environment around us to such an extent that it will no longer support us, and there could then be some kind of crash or collapse.

And what a lot of people talk about is a post-oil world in that we are rapidly sucking up all of the easily suck-up-able crude oil around the world. And it's very much a finite resource. It is going to run out. There are signs that it's already starting to run out. They’ve already passed peak oil. And so we need to be thinking very carefully about what we're going to next system. How could we fuel our cars and our transport network without using diesel or gasoline, using petrol? And how can we do a lot of industrial processes? And how can we create things like artificial pesticides and herbicides and plastics and pharmaceuticals which all come from oil as their base stock?

And this is where I think people like Elon Musk have been really, really interesting that he's made some phenomenal advances is private space flight in building his own rockets, but he's also been really shaking up other industries is terms of how we generate and store electricity. So energy storing batteries, how we could have autonomous vehicles and electric cars and how we make them a core, integral part of our society rather than just a bit of a sideline thing at the moment. So I'm watching all these developments with great interest, and crossing my fingers that we can make that transition before it becomes too late.

Chris: Well, absolutely. And all our fingers are crossed over here at Peak Prosperity, as well. And there's an idea here if I could just maybe – we're dancing around it a bit, or maybe I am. So let me pause a devil's advocate position, perhaps echoing, probably mischaracterizing the work of Daniel Quinn. Is civilization worth rebooting? That is, is it so worth saving that we'd attempt to etch its myriad workings in some survival able tone for future humans to replicate so differently. If it were our technological prowess that caused our fall, would we want to rebuild that as some sort of a multi-millennium pendulum of human folly? You book seems to rest on the thesis that technology is worth rebuilding as rapidly as possible, but what if it's true that our technological prowess, our ability, that part of our brain to build technology, is outstripping our cultural ability to use that technology responsibly?

Quick example: I love GPS. If I don't have my Wayz or my Google maps, I get lost in Boston or any major city. I love it. But when I look over to the fishing industry, we can chart the real collapse of fishing grounds about the same time GPS came up, and my theory is that instead of sailing out six, eight, twelve, twenty-four hours to some random dot in the ocean by dead reckoning, people can now take their hundred-meter-wide trawler nets and start six inches to the left of where they stopped last week, and they’ve absolutely left no hiding places, and so they’ve overdone it. What I'm suggesting is that the culture of fishing wasn't ready for the technology of GPS when it came along, plus the other improvements. Those two have to go together, and you're mentioning a piece of that which is, isn't it great that we've got Elon Musk as a single person, in essence, busy doing the right things, and I think, grounded for the right reasons, but we need something much larger than that, so we can uncross our fingers and say, yeah, we've got this. How does cultural knowledge get woven into this?

Lewis: Yeah. In terms of your first point, I do absolutely think that a technological civilization would be worth trying to preserve and worth trying to reboot after an apocalypse because what you probably don't want to have to do, to be forced to do, is to live in some kind of regressed society that might equate to something in the 1500s of our own history where you don't have a lot of the conveniences and the safety nets of the modern world. You don't have unspoiled tricks and you die, and your children die of a very simple infection. You don't have electricity, so you have to go to bed every time the sun sets, and your lifestyle is dictated by the natural world around you.

So those are just two examples of how the very fundamental way that we live and survive is supported and enabled by technology. But I think your point is, nonetheless, a very good one that with technological capability needs to come a sense of responsibility and carefulness as to how that technology is exploited, and to make sure you don’t over exploit the natural world around you or what you’ve got available to you. And so I try to be very careful in the book, in The Knowledge, to not make any moral statements or moral judgements. And the book makes it clear if this doesn't happen, if this hypothetical scenario comes about and you're trying to rebuild society after an apocalypse, you can build whatever society you want to. You can use whatever form of governance or what kind of economic system. All these kind of societal decisions, it's your society. You make those decisions in the best way that you can. It's not for me or anyone else to dictate what might be the best society to try to build.

But on the assumption, that perhaps you do want to have some degree of technological capability to make your life easier and safer, here is the book that you can use to redevelop all of those things. Here is the knowledge. And you can pick and choose. You can choose to use some of that information, you can choose to ignore some of that technological capability. It's very much down to you how you choose to do that. Because at the end of the day, knowledge and the technologies that we construct out of the understanding, it's amoral. It has no moral value in its own. You can put a technical understanding to a very beneficial cause, or you can put it to a very destructive and dangerous cause.

And some of that – explosions - I think makes that point very well that perhaps, and something I wrestled with when I was writing the book, perhaps you'd want to leave out how to make explosives because they use them for gunpowder and weapons and killing people and bombs. And those are, of course, bad things. But they're also used for mining and quarrying and digging tunnels and digging canals. And what you probably don't want to do if you're restarting your society from scratch again is be forced to have to use your own muscles, to break your own back with a pickaxe to dig things up and to get what you need.

So here's the recipe for explosives. You can do what it what you will. I won't make any judgement, but not knowing how to do something is potentially disastrous. It might take you centuries to randomly stumble across some scientific discovery or some technological capability. And so what The Knowledge attempts to do is provide all that core knowledge to help you recover as quickly as possible, to accelerate history a second time around.

Chris: Indeed. And I was just really advocating, maybe devil's advocating, for this idea that if there is a fall and it's in any way precipitate by our own activities that we might want to use that as a moment of reflection to ask more carefully what we're going to build and rebuild. My assessment, or maybe a judgment that I'm holding is that we're so enamored with technology that we often look only at the positive attributes of it, but fail to understand that sometimes there's another edge on that sword.

Quick case and point might be we're now discovering that children that are raised exclusively on screen time are being changed in very fundamental ways at the brain chemistry level, and the wiring and social interaction skills are all being altered. And we might say, oh, they're being altered in great ways or other ways, and we're discovering there's some down side to this as well. So one of the things is to come with this humility that says simply because we can do something doesn't necessarily mean we should. And my own particular moment of concern is I'm really enamored with what CRISPR technology, which is a gene editing technology, what it can do. And I'm also concerned that a person like Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, and two years of training and 100 grand and one of these machines could really use that inappropriately, as well.

So it has both aspects wrapped in there, and unless we have the cultural understanding of how we're going to manage the technology, it takes a long time to discover what the negative aspects were if we're not willing to conform those openly on the front end, which just means being curious and open and really holding that scientific method which is here's this new technology; how is it being used; what’s happening; and what can we learn from? Both sides, pro and con.

Lewis: I think you are absolutely right in all of that. And one would hope that if there were a collapsed civilization that you were trying to reboot afterwards that perhaps they would learn some lessons from our mistakes and know not to repeat them, to maybe not let technology run away and allow it to develop in step with this cultural intelligence. But I'm just not convinced that would happen. And I think people tend to be short-termist, at least on the course of their own lifestyle and that of their children. And a lot of these problems only become apparent over much longer time spans.

And climate change is a very obvious case of this. The people understood well over a hundred years ago about the problem of carbon dioxide being released from burning coal and oil and how that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can start warming up the planet. And it's something we need to keep and eye on, but we still are all just going to run as quickly as we can, and it's the problem. Because I think at the end of the day society is nothing more than a group of individuals trying to do what they think is best for them. This is also what the Long Now Foundation is all about is that long term thinking and how you can use that to inform decisions made by society and by the governments that we elect and live under.

Chris: Well, I'm really intrigued by what you wrote in your introduction as well where you said, "By the time you put down this manual you'll understand how to rebuild the infrastructure for a civilized lifestyle." And I'm intrigued by what's in your book because it actually provides, not just a manual for what to do after the fall, but it provides a lot of insights into how things are actually organized and how they're working right now which, again, I think is just a marvelous way to step back – take that crucial step back, like we should all at various times in our lives take that moment of introspection to ask where we've been; where are we now; where are we going, but just to really, I think, have the opportunity to marvel in the abundance that we are currently surrounded by. And then most particularly the opportunity that provides to do whatever you want with an extraordinary amount of free time compared to people of any time in the past or possibly the future. I think it's an astonishing gift once we understand what's possible and that we can both discover that amount of free time that we've got, really, beyond the basics of survival, and then to use our gifts to build on things other people have already built for us. It's astonishing where we are. It's an amazing time to be alive, I think.

Lewis: Absolutely. And that is very much what I was trying to explore in The Knowledge. As I've said. It's not really about the end of the world at all. It's about the here and the now and how the whole world works and what enabled it to process and develop over centuries and history. And therefore how you can go back to that process more quickly if you ever try to recover. And I think what I was trying to address is the sense of being disconnected from the modern world. Like anything I need in my life, and anyone else in developed nations – I pop down to supermarket if I get hungry, and I get some food off the shelves that's just magically appeared there. If my Smartphone breaks I don't have the foggiest idea how to repair it. I can't even change the battery in my phone anymore. It's all been sealed, and the manufacturers disincentivize you from doing that.

I think this is an enormous, maybe sense of hollowness and a disconnection from the everyday reality of these lives that we live. And in our parents' generation, certainly in our grandparents generation, people were just so much more aware of where things came from They maybe grew some of their own vegetables in their backyard. If their wireless radio went on the blink, you might take a screwdriver, and pop off the back, and try to work out which bit of a mechanism had stopped working, and then reconnect it or find a replacement and repair it yourself. We just don't do that anymore.

And alongside The Knowledge there's been a number of other projects and movements that have been trying to readdress that, that loss of understanding, that disconnection of how things work and where they come from and how they're made. And it’s lead into loads of – it stems around the world, kind of maker spaces, and people using dwinos or rasbypines to learn about electronics and how to control things. And I think there's been a huge resurgence in fundamental craft skills as well. People are starting to pick up knitting needles and sewing thread and other tools and materials to make things for themselves. And I think the reason that they do that is it's so much more fulfilling and satisfying to have made something yourself, and to have gone through that process and seeing how it works rather than just getting something probably much more cheaply, something that's being mass produced by a machine somewhere on the other side of the world. But you don’t get that connection with it. It's so much more personal and fulfilling, as I say, to have done something yourself and to see behind the background of where it's come from.

Chris: It's that connection that I think is so important, and it's part of what I think emerges from your work is this understanding that once upon a time we were connected. We were connected to all sorts of things. As you hinted earlier, we were intimately connected to the cycle of the sun. When it went down, you went to bed. But also, the moon and nature. We evolved to be connected, and one of the great things that happens with this abundance is we don't have to work very hard to maintain ourselves. The downside of that, to, again, to illuminate the other side of the coin in this story is that our sense of meaning and purpose often are connected not just to what we do but how we do it.

And I look at this highly materialist, consumer driven culture as being really the pendulum swung very far in a direction which, if you look at any culture of the past, they were also connected not just to the physical, but to the spiritual or to something else that imbued a sense of meaning and purpose to this all that goes beyond just, hey, it's all Newtonian if you can just account for the billiard balls bouncing around, that's you. There's more to it than that, and so I think that's what I pin a lot of my hope in is watching people begin, through these maker cultures you’ve described here, coming back to the sense of hey, wait a minute, it's not just I'm growing a couple of vegetables because I'm worried that maybe the supermarket won't be there – maybe I start there if that's my orientation, but I become reconnected to the process of food and how it's grown and the mystery of that. You put a seed in the soil and it's amazing. It turns into a whole plant. It's astonishing, right. But I'm now connected back to something that I think we're wired for at a very deep, visceral level, and that's a reclaiming of something really important in this story.

Lewis: Absolutely. Absolutely. And as I say, I hope there never will be some kind of apocalypse or some kind of regression in a post oil world. And even if that never happens, all the things you’ve just been talking about and all the things I put into the book are still important because it's that connection between yourself and the world around you and other people around you. And like you're saying, even if you think the supermarkets aren't going to disappear next week, growing just some herbs or some simple fruit and veg in your backyard is so enlivening and so fulfilling. And you could enjoy cooking your meal at the end of the day knowing that you yourself have grown that food. It's just a different way of living your everyday lives, and so I think it adds a lot more.

Chris: I totally agree because if you ever had to try to explain to a four-year-old what happens when you put a seed in the ground, I mean really explain, it's just magic. Come on. And so reconnecting with that magic is amazing. And so, hey, everybody, our guest today had been Lewis Dartnell. The book, his book, is The Knowledge, How to Rebuild our World from Scratch. It's an astonishing manual for the rebuild. In there you will discover lots of the building blocks, but most importantly the building blocks of rebuilding a civilization rooted in knowledge, and that's rooted itself in curiosity. So everything should have that book in their library. Absolutely pick it up. And Lewis, please, tell people how to find your book, your prior two books before The Knowledge, as well as your future book, and also, how to follow your future works and writings more closely.

Lewis: Yes. You can pick up a copy of The Knowledge in any good bookstore or online. If you search for the book's website, which is the-knowledge.org or the-knowledge.org you can buy the book through there as well, and that helps me out a little bit more. There's an enormous amount of content we had to edit out of the book just for the sake of it being too long. So there's loads and loads of additional content on the book's website. There's lots of recommended reading lists, so books and novels you can read that also deal with this idea of starting from the ground up. Some things from Robinson Crusoe or The Martian, which was recently made into a film with Matt Damon, but is basically the same question – how do I do things for myself but on another planet in that case. And there's all sorts of videos you can watch and the kind of projects I went through when I was researching this book. So look up the website. It should be very interesting.

Chris: Fantastic. We'll provide a link to that below this podcast. So, Lewis, thank you so much for you time today, and just fantastic work. You’ve been an excellent guest.

Lewis: Grand. Thanks ever so much for having me. Cheers. Bye-bye.