Fluttering For A Day – An Elegy

Image result for we are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever

No matter how eloquently put by Carl Sagan, the thought is still agonizing. We have too little time. Eighty years? Ninety years? Is that enough to live a happy and meaningful life? I cannot say. Is it enough to gain an adequate amount of knowledge? No. Let alone research, it is not even enough to complete the current past records of our own species. It is not even enough to complete one form of the records of our species.

According to Google, in 2010 there were 129, 864, 880 unique books (~130 million) in the world. (source) Imagine if a person lives for 80 years and begins reading one entire book a day ever since he learns to read at the age of 10. That translates to a mere 70 \times 365 = 25550 books. That is a little less than 0.02 percent of the books our species currently possesses. Of course this is only a ballpark figure as a lot of books probably containing similar information but it is not inaccurate to claim that even a life spent in the pursuit of information will result in an individual gaining an almost negligible slice of what is present.

How do we resolve this tragedy? My own take is not to think of knowledge as something to be completely acquired by an individual but more like a network of ideas and information collectively owned by the entire species. Somewhat akin to a distributed file system or a cloud architecture like the one used for Google’s page ranking or Facebook’s TAO abstraction. A researcher caches a small slice of this entity in his or her lifetime and uses it to (if he or she is fortunate) add a yet undiscovered and exciting piece to the entity, leaving it larger and more elegant than what it was before.

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