Congratulations on living at a fortuitous moment in history. We enjoy a stable society that brags about technology, progress and opportunity. It proves difficult to imagine that all this -- our governments, our culture, our storytelling, our creations -- could fold up and collapse. How could our lofty glass-and-steel edifices fall into ruin? How could our proud national story shrink to a few lines in history texts of the future? How could our venerated deities go the way of Neptune and Kukulcan and Osiris? How could our culture degrade to the unremembered?
These possibilities feel distant, but you would have had exactly the same trouble envisioning collapse if you lived in the brawny empire of the Romans, or during the Golden Age of the Athenians, or during the pinnacle centuries of the Egyptians, the African Mali, the Babylonians, the Mesopotamians, the Toltec, the Anasazi, or any of the other societies that have risen and fallen before us.
An astounding number of great civilizations have collapsed. Centuries of progress and development have caved in on themselves, leaving nothing but archeological ruins and scattered genetics. Sensitive literature, inspired mathematics, and bold architecture have sunk down into the vapors of history. When it comes to looking at the civilizations that have come before us, hindsight is not 20/20. It's tragically hazy.
These are problems that almost all civilizations face at some point; those that survive have either been lucky or have developed new technological strategies to evade these unrelenting challenges.The most compelling reason to study collapse is to avoid it. The mysteries of disappearing cities and nations and civilizations have attracted thinkers and researchers to sift through the evidence to discern what happened. Although there are many vanished civilizations, they share in common a handful of reasons for collapse. Foremost are disease, natural disasters, poor information flow, political corruption, economic meltdown and resource depletion.
But we may be luckier than most of our predecessors, because we have developed a technology no one else possessed: a rapid, growing communication network that finds its highest expression in the Internet. I will present the case in this book that this technology obviates many of the threats faced by our ancestors--and that our largest threats may already be counterbalanced by our most popular technology. The advent of the internet represents a watershed moment in history that just might rescue our future.
Not too long ago, I scanned a 3,000 mummy. What can (and can't) be concluded based on his perspicuously elongated skull shape, known as dolicocephy (elongated head)?
McGovern Award for excellence in Communication
David was honored to receive the 2014 John J. McGovern Award for Excellence in Biomedical Education from the American Medical Writers' Assocation. Noted past recipients include authors Oliver Sacks and Abraham Verghese.
The secret life of the lab
Want to know more about the inner workings of a neuroscience lab? Watch a video profile of David and his students on NOVA Science Now.
SUM at the Royal Opera House
SUM has been turned into an opera at the Royal Opera House in London (Composer: Max Richter, Director: Wayne McGregor). The London Evening Standard hails the opera as "immersive, meditative and sweetly fascinating". Read about the background of the collaboration in Wired.