Did the first person or people to work out or find out how to reliably create and recreate and maintain fire know what a far-reaching, enlightening and important thing they had done? How long did the whole process take to get from the ooh-look-a-spark! stage to the hey-this-makes-meat-easier-and-safer-to-eat! stage? With these sorts of thing can there be said to be a single moment at which the idea or thought or process emerges or did it take a few minutes, a couple of weeks, a year or two or generations? How many similar ideas or moments have reached the brink of discovery but never quite made it?

At what stage up the developmental ladder of evolution from self-replicating molecule to prokaryote to eukaryote to multicellular proto-organism to planktonesque tinyweething to sort of tube thing to vaguely wormlike thing to fishy sort of thing to slightly different fishy thing with a vaguely organised nervous system to fish with vaguely sturdy crutchlike limbs to amphibioid tetrapod to primitive mammal to slightly less primitive mammal to early primate to possibly semi-aquatic thingby to early proto-hominid to hominid to human did the first occurence of the thought "I wonder what they're thinking?" occur? When was the first shimmer of realisation of self? What was the first animal to idly ponder what something was idly pondering and did it realise at the time that it had just had one of the most important thoughts in the development of conscious intelligence? What we understand now to be run-of-the-mill standard conscious cogitation must once have been new and incredible rather than standard and no less incredible but appreciated as such far less often but did it think so at the time? Was there a sudden flash of realisation or a more gradual drift into view?

Is someone somewhere on the earth at the moment planning or thinking about or scientifically tinkering with something which is part of the next giant jump in what we're capable of achieving? If so, do they know they know? Is it ever possible to be aware of something as momentous as something truly momentous when it could be so far beyond what we know now? Are we smart enough to know what (or if there is anything) we're missing?


Almost a century ago the fine structure of the atom was just getting clarified. Whilst the representation of the structure is still considered broadly correct we now know that on the sub-sub-atomic level things get a little tricksy; it's a bit like being told that respiration is oxygen + sugar > carbon dioxide and water only to find out about the Krebs cycle a couple of years further up the syllabus. Rutherford and his pals would have known that the representation of an electron as a wee ball whizzing round some bigger balls was simplifying things somewhat but didn't know about any of this strings-vibrating-in-ten-dimensions stuff (which itself is still only a way of mathematically representing what's going on without actually in any way accurately physically describing it). We probably mostly know what we don't know even if we don't know what we don't know about whatever it is.

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