That year was 331 BC a second-largest city and a major port city in Egypt fell to the Macedonian forces led by Alexander the Great who we often said, if not one, was the greatest war general ever. But I am not going to talk about Alexander the Great, but the city he had just fallen, at that moment of course. Located in the north of Egypt, Alexandria is an important port city that connects Egypt with the outside world. Located near middle east countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. It was also directly opposite to Macedonia and Asia Minor, making Alexandria an important port city for Alexander the Great in his plans to conquer the black continent.
After his conquest, Alexander turned Alexandria into a world center city in the Hellenistic era. All human cultural and intellectual developments are centered there. And to confirm its status a large library was created. Under the auspices of the Mouseion institution founded by Ptolemy as a forum for worshipers of Muse, the goddess of science, literacy, and art. At first, this library was built to show the glory and wealth possessed by Egypt.
In its development, they made a massive expansion by sending agents all over the world with large funds to buy any books from all over the world. It is said, ships that dock in Alexandria will be asked to load their books to be copied. This makes Alexandria the largest and most comprehensive library, but also the intellectual property of mankind.
The heyday of the library of Alexandria lasted for several centuries even after Alexander the Great’s death, until the year 48 BC. At that time, Julius Caesar besieged the city of Alexandria and burned half of the city including the library of Alexandria. It is said, 40 thousand papyrus scrolls burned down at that time. At its peak, the library had nearly 500 thousand.
Fast forward to the 21st century, on 6 February 2018, Space X launches the Heavy Falcon rocket which is declared as the most powerful thruster rocket ever. Space X, which is often referred to as a leading company in technology, confirms this title, the Heavy Falcon rocket’s booster can return completely to the ground as we often see in space fiction films such as star wars or star trek. The February 6 incident was a milestone in the entire life of mankind on earth, with the launch of Space X, humankind declared that they were ready to venture between planets or even between interstellar.
During the Heavy Falcon launch, Elon Musk also launched a dummy-driven Tesla roadster named Starman into Mars orbit. The launch of this Tesla Roadster could make us wonder, what is the purpose? Before the launch, it was equipped with various kinds of human cultural references (the United States of course). The sound system in the roadster plays David Bowie’s Space Oddity repeatedly. While the dashboard has the inscription “Don’t Panic” as a reference to Douglas Adams’ novel, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Exploring outer space has long been the dream of humankind, this can be seen from our culture and arts, which often carry the theme of outer space. Just look at the many Hollywood films with the outer space theme. Just named it, Interstellar by Christopher Nolan which tells a story of damaged earth, fields that can only be planted with corn, and massive dust that covers the earth, making humans try to find other planets to live in, with all the limitations of technology and human understanding of outer space. Or the film Ad Astra, played by our favorite actor Brad Pitt, tells about human beings who already capable of space-traveling between planets and live on different planets. Matt Damon in The Martian was forced to live on Mars because he was left behind. And the legendary 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick certainly goes without saying.
Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
All kinds of cultures, dreams, human endeavors to explore space today are manifested in the figure of Elon Musk. A lunatic with a vision to go to mars, to commercialize space travel. He has all the resources, technology, and knowledge to make humanity’s dreams come true.
Back in Alexandria, as you know, the old world society had such advanced technology more than we know. In about 1800 BC the people of Babylon were the first civilization to documented the movements and positions of the sun and moon. Eratosthenes, who lived in the ancient Greek era, calculated the earth’s circumference and the tilt of the earth’s axis and took into account the existence of leap years. Mayan tribe that takes into account the movements of the sun, moon, planets, and harvest times to calculate calendars. The Chinese people noticed a star that suddenly appeared among other stars and it was believed that what they were observing was a Supernova.
So you can imagine, from the thousands of papyrus scrolls that are in the great library of Alexandria, various kinds of invaluable knowledge are stored. It has often been debated whether mankind would have advanced much further if only the great library of Alexandria had never been burned down, or at least had the scrolls saved. We may have already set foot on Mars. This does not mean that the old civilization had the knowledge and technology to Mars.
Science is indeed the fuel that drives human civilization to progress and develops, but what we often forget is how to protect what we already have from being lost or destroyed. Technology has indeed developed tremendously, books have been digitalized into e-books. The burning of the great Alexandria library may not be repeated in modern times. But if there is a nuclear war, won’t everything be destroyed and we as human beings are back to square one. Physical risks and threats will continue to exist just as humankind is a threat to others.
However, what is essential than the papyrus scrolls and the thousands of e-books in our cloud storage today, is how we keep our civilization to define us as thinking humans. Like Descartes’ words “Cogito Ergo Sum” which means humans can think and learn the knowledge they get so that the more knowledge they get, the higher their ability to think.
I think therefore I am should form a mindset, culture, and civilization based on the ability to think critically and logically. Especially in today’s modern era where the role of science in social life has an important and vital role in the continued existence of mankind for the next few millennia. Have you ever heard or read the rumor “they have thought how to colonize Mars, while we are still fussing over religion, social and political”, how do you respond to it?