If you’re reading this, then it’s because you have access to an internet connection. Maybe it’s on your phone, or in your home, or at your library, or through a friend. Maybe you live next door, or maybe you live oceans away from me. But no matter who you are or where you live, you’re reading this.
I’d like to take a moment to appreciate just how amazing that is.
In Goethe’s iteration of the tale of Faust, the titular doctor is frustrated (quite literally) to hell. He’s an academic at heart, but he’s at the limits of what he can learn with the resources available to him, so he summons spirits and elementals so that they can help him continue his education. That same thirst for knowledge eventually attracts the notice of the demon Mephistopheles, who offers Doctor Faust the education he craves in exchange for his immortal soul.
And this wasn’t an isolated incident, apparently. Books like the Ars Geotia and the Dictionnaire Infernal listing off demons and spirits who could be summoned to teach you astronomy, herb lore, or liberal science. And in a time and place where most of the population was illiterate, books were worth their weight in gold, and medical students had to hire grave robbers if they wanted to study human anatomy, summoning a demon might have seemed like the only possible way to learn more about the world around you.
In the modern day, there’s still some soul-selling involved in pursuing an education (these days we just call it student loan debt), but you don’t have to summon a demon to pursue knowledge. There are literally dozens of websites curating free online university classes to those who want an education (if not the degree that comes with it). Literature is opened up to the masses through libraries, ebooks, and sites like Project Gutenberg. Youtube is brimming with tutorials for anything from applying makeup to properly repairing a dishwasher. You can talk to people from around the world and learn about perspectives you never would have imagined possible. Anywhere you go, you’ll find websites and applications devoted to teaching you to speak new languages, to code, to design games, to meditate. And if all that fails, a little bit of courage and a working email address (or social media profile) can get you in contact with experts in any field that exists.
We live in a world where a fifteen-year-old Canadian kid was able to grasp such an intricate understanding of Mayan astronomy that he was able to predict the location of a lost city– and then contact a team of archaeologists to confirm his find.
We live in a world where you can tweet your science questions at Neil DeGrasse Tyson, for crying out loud.
We live in a world of miracles.