Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Useless Knowledge

A couple of years ago, my partner and I both read a series of essays by Bertrand Russell called In Praise of Idleness. One of those essays was entitled Useless Knowledge and it included this:

Curious learning not only makes unpleasant things less pleasant, but also makes pleasant things more pleasant. I have enjoyed peaches and apricots more since I have known that they were first cultivated in China in the early days of the Han dynasty; that Chinese hostages held by the great King Kanisaka introduced them into India, whence they spread to Persia, reaching the Roman Empire in the first century of our era; that the word "apricot" is derived from the same Latin source as the word "precocious" because the apricot ripens early; and that the A as the beginning was added by mistake , owing to a false etymology. All this makes the fruit taste much sweeter.
A splendid attitude, me thinks. In the spirit of Bertrand R. let me offer a couple of little facts that strike me as rather cool and basically useless (to me):
  • A quarter of all mammal species are bats. (There are about a thousand bat species and... wait for it... about four thousand mammal species.) There are eighteen bat species in the UK; seventeen are known to be breeding here.
  • More than 10% of languages spoken today are spoken only in Papua New Guinea. Around 800 languages are spoken in PNG today out of a world-wide total of just under 7000; that's all happening in an area about twice the size of the UK.