Scientific medicine is one of the nicest things about living in the future. No matter how much fun it is to imagine swinging from the rigging of a pirate ship, if you cut yourself shaving back then, there was a chance the cut would go septic and eat your face until you died. Even 150 years ago, medical care had barely advanced beyond Hippocrates and Galen. If you were shot during the Civil War, for instance, your doctor’s options were basically limited to drugs that got you high, drugs that made you throw up, and cutting things off with a saw that wasn’t necessarily washed between amputations.
Besides the ubiquitous “If a tree falls in the forest” logic problem, innumerable mysteries continue to vex the minds of practitioners across all disciplines of modern science and humanities. Questions like “Is…
The world has been about to end for a long time. In fact, if there’s a single philosophical idea that runs like a connecting thread through thousands of years of history, it’s that we definitely don’t have thousands of years left to live. People have been predicting the end of the world – any day now – since before we started smelting iron. The study of humanity’s indecent eagerness to see the world end is so common, it has its own name: eschatology.
In many ways, modernity can be viewed as little more than the the product of centuries of dumb luck. As you are about to see, some of the world’s most significant milestones were the result of nothing more than happy accidents.
Accidental Discoveries: Penicillin
In August 2014, after a ten-year odyssey through the solar system, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft finally rendezvoused with its target, a comet named 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Three months later, Rosetta sent down Philae, a lander, to dock on the surface of this mass of rock and dust hurtling through space 300 million kilometers from earth. Philae skipped off the comet’s surface twice before skidding to a stop in a shadowy niche. The Europeans had done it. For the first time in history, humans had caught up with a comet and landed a probe on its surface.