I’m in awe of some people who can solve difficult math or especially logic problems: given some seemingly inconsequential input, they can deduce conclusions that seem at first glance to bear no relation to what they started with.

But think about what we as a species have accomplished over the course of our existence.Plopped down on what appears to be a flat plain and with mouths constantly in need of feeding, various dangers scattered around us, and all sorts of other distractions, we’ve managed to figure out—even before we equipped ourselves with the powerful sense-augmenting and computing machines we rely on today—that we’re living on the surface of one of nine or so round worlds, each tilted on its axis and orbiting a giant fiery ball that weighs about 2 × 1030 kilograms at a distance of about 149.6 million kilometers. We figured out that all the rocks, trees, animals, and even air surrounding us is made up of indescribably small pieces of various sorts with different but predictable properties. Starting with the addition of objects to form sums, we’ve worked our way up to quaternions, fractals, and Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, all of which have real-world uses. We know how magnets work. We figured out how to preserve indefinitely the words we speak and, later, the images we see and the scenes that play out before our eyes.

I’m amazed to see a fellow human solve puzzles that I can’t make head or tail of; so how much awe should we feel at the accomplishments we as a species have racked up, starting with nothing but the evidence of our own senses and the reasoning of our intellect?

To be clear, what I’m marveling at is not that humans are smarter than other animals. I’m smarter than animals, but I still can’t solve complex logic problems. But we as a species can and have figured out things many orders of magnitude more complicated and obscure than the hardest logic problem I’ve ever encountered. What I’m marveling at is how much smarter humanity is than me, or any other individual.

Cross-posted from Empire Avenue.


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