>>Chapter 4: What’s the point of school anyway>> <<Chapter 2: Making sense of stuff that doesn’t make sense<<
You are always studying foreign lanugages
Hello, my little Alien friend. And how are you today? Bad? Because you had French? Well, remember how last time I said I’d tell you about a couple of the big ideas that will help you make sense of this world? Ancient Greece, and Ancient Rome are where fancy words like xylem and phloem come from. You know, every time you learn something new, like about photosynthesis, it’s like learning a new language. And you already speak at least two, right?
Why is it two thousand and something?
Right. So what year is it? Right, and it’s we are in the 2000’s because it’s just over 2000 years after Jesus Christ was born. Have you heard of Jesus Christ? Christianity? Religion? Not really? I’ll have to ask your parents what kind of religions or philosophies – beliefs and ideas – you have on your planet.
What’s a religion?
Well, a religion is like a list of rules about how you should live your life, and beliefs about how the world works. Religions have Gods, sometimes just one, and sometimes quite a lot of them, who a lot of people believe are invisible, all-powerful beings who created the world and who control everything.
A lot of people believe that if you pray to God, or to the Gods – ask them for things – they might listen to you. Yes, a bit like invisible superheroes. No, there’s no scientific proof that gods exist either, but people want to believe in them anyway. Well … beliefs are important. Sometimes they help us. Sometimes they make amazing things happen. Sometimes they cause A LOT of problems.
Who is that guy?
You’ve seen pictures at school of a man on a cross right? That’s Jesus Christ, whose ideas, which include the idea that that he was the son of God, started a religion called Christianity. The part of the world we’re in, Europe, has mostly Christians, but there are five or six other important religions in this part of the world. And a lot of them have different calendars. Religion is more or less important depending on the country you live in. Here in Italy it’s pretty important.
Want to rule the world? Then build an empire.
So, our calendar is based on when Jesus Christ was born, just over 2000 years ago. And Jesus Christ was born during the Roman Empire, in Ancient Rome. Today, Rome is the capital city of Italy. Let’s just do an internet search for “Rome ancient monuments”, click on images – look, all of these buildings were built in Ancient Rome, around 2000 years ago, and you can still see them today.
And you can see buildings like this all over Southern Europe, and in England and parts of Germany, and in parts of our neighbouring continents, Asia and Africa, because the Ancient Romans decided just over 2000 years ago, that they were so advanced, and had such good ideas, and lived so much better than everyone else, that they should rule the world. With this in mind they went into lots of parts of the world, with their armies, and told the people there that they were part of the Roman Empire. Some people were quite happy about this, and welcomed Roman ideas, culture and technology. Others disagreed with the Romans, and usually it didn’t end well for them. And that’s what an empire is. There have been a lot of empires in history. What are you studying in history at the moment? The Second World War? That’s all about the Germans deciding they should rule the world and start an empire.
In European history, a hundred years is a millimetre long
Can you get your ruler out? There are 30 centimetres on your ruler. Let’s imagine 10 cm represents a thousand years, and 10 cm is when Jesus was born, so today, 2017, we are just after where it says 30, right? OK, the Ancient Greek civilisation – a period of discovery, advanced learning and ideas – started about 500 years before Jesus was born, “before Christ” – BC – so show me where that is on the ruler. Good. And it ended about 150 years AD, which is Latin for “after Christ”, at 11.5 cm. And the Roman Empire started 27 years BC, and it ended about 500 years AD, at 15 cm.
Can you see all that space between the end of the Roman Empire and where we are now? The time before the end of the Roman Empire was our “smart time” and the time from then until about 500 years ago, which lasted around 1000 years, was a period the British call the Dark Ages.
Historical times when we are smart
Smart times in history are when we humans have good ideas and invent things. Unfortunately, a lot of inventions come from wanting better weapons to fight each other with, but while we’re inventing better swords, guns and bombs, we also invent things that help feed us, cure diseases, help us share information, organise ourselves and entertain ourselves.
Historical times when we believe anything we are told to believe
The Dark Ages is when we stop trying to think like a scientist and looking for answers which we can prove are true. Instead we make up reasons for things, like, “because God says so,” or, “the sun, like all the other planets, must move round the Earth because, obviously, Man is at the centre of the universe.” 400 years ago, the scientist Galileo proved that the Earth orbits – goes round – the sun, and not the other way round, but the Christian leaders who made all the important decisions at the time refused to accept it, and Galileo must have been a great guy, because they didn’t kill him, which they normally would, they just imprisoned him.
So, we humans have been around for a long time, but we don’t necessarily get smarter the longer we stay around on this planet. We have times when we’re really smart, and then times when we become afraid of new ideas.
Important Ancient Greek thinkers
In Ancient Greece, the Ancient Greeks were really smart. They had philosophers, great thinkers, scientists and artists like Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Hippocrates, Homer, Archimedes, Euclid, Pythagoras, who came up with important ideas for maths, engineering, medicine, politics, art, and other things – which we then forgot about for 1000 years. Today we still use their ideas all the time. So next time you hear a name like Pythagoras or Euclid in a maths lesson, for example, remember that they came up with their ideas around 2,3000 years ago in Ancient Greece, and we lost their ideas for a very long time.
Superheroes in Ancient Greece
The other things the Ancient Greeks had were lots of gods, who really were like super-heroes, and in some cases, super-villains. The Ancient Greeks told such great stories about their gods, that the Ancient Romans decided to have the same gods, but with different, Latin names. We still tell the stories of the Ancient Greek Gods today, because they’re so amazing. Today we use the names of the Gods all over the place.
Midas, a company you see around which sells spare parts for cars, is named after an Ancient Greek King whose super-power was to turn everything he touched into gold. Which sounds great, except when he accidentally turned his daughter into gold. That really upset him, and when he asked the Gods to take back their super-power, they gave him donkey ears instead.
So this is why we use fancy Ancient Greek and Latin words
So when we make scientific discoveries, we need words to describe the new things we’ve found which are often things like other things, but not quite the same. So we often use words from Ancient Greek and Latin. So xylem is from the Ancient Greek for “wood”, because it’s hard, and helps plants grow upwards, and phloem is from the Ancient Greek for “bark”, like the skin of a tree, because it’s more like skin.
Why is phloem like skin? Skin is like a flexible, elastic bag that holds everything together and protects the rest of our body from cold, heat, and injury. I imagine the phloem does something similar for plants.
Ok. You ask great questions, and it’s important to be curious, but, I don’t have time for any more questions today!