Could a person from 5000 years ago learn high school math and physics? 10,000 years ago? 50,000 years ago? 100,000 years ago?

If you are teaching someone high school mathematics, but they're having a deeply existential crisis over the concept of "zero" and nothingness ... that will slow you down. Maybe not with geometry, but high-school physics builds upon earlier complex mathematics.

Cognitively: Yes, if you took an infant from any of those periods and raised them in the modern world, they'd be able to learn high school math and physics after mastering basic arithmetic, reading, writing, and so forth.

However, if you were to pluck an adult from one of those eras, they would likely need a crash education first: all those things we learn from the ages 2–14: basic arithmetic, reading, writing, etc.

5,000 years ago: Complex maths (arithmetic, algebra and geometry) were emerging 5,000 years ago in Mesopotamia and Egypt. An educated person from that period would potentially already be learning high school level algebra and geometry. Physics would be tougher, but would build upon those skills.

10,000 years ago: Humans lived in pre-literate societies without writing systems. Writing (cuneiform script) emerged around 6,000 years ago. This would complicate learning high school level math/science, as they'd need to first master a writing system. Imagine if you had to master ancient Chinese in order to learn physics. Not impossible ... but it certainly raises the bar.

50,000 - 100,000 years ago: The Sapir–Whorf hypothesis is a concept-paradigm in linguistics and cognitive science that holds that the structure of a language affects its speakers' cognition or world view. (from Wikipedia)

Would someone from 50,000 - 100,000 years ago think in a profoundly different manner that affected their cognition? That's a stony late-night dorm room discussion-and is maybe at the heart of your question.

My hunch-not backed up by anything-is that you could do it, but there would be challenges that could hamper the learning process. Two examples:

  1. If you took an Ancient Babylonian who firmly believed that the world is flat and rests on the back of four elephants standing on a turtle ... that might be an obstacle to fully accepting modern physics. They'd have the cognitive skills to learn it, but might not be able to reconcile it with their world view and accept it as truthful.
  2. Ancient Greeks seemed unsure about the status of zero as a number. They asked themselves, "How can nothing be something?", leading to philosophical and, by the medieval period, religious arguments about the nature and existence of zero and the vacuum." (from Wikipedia)

    The Ancients Greeks were doing geometry and other complex maths, in spite of philosophical questions about zero. You'd need to resolve those before moving onto physics.

Yes. I would add that not only could a person from previous eras learn high school math, if that person was familiar with Euclid, they could do a better job teaching high school level geometry than most modern high school classes.

Modern geometry classes mainly focus on calculating slope, length, angles, etc., and overlooks the reasons and fundamental rules that makes understanding possible.

Euclid's Elements, in contrast, is a logical progression from first principles (like "a point is that which has no part"), building clearly and concisely, an understanding of geometrical principles that far exceeds the mechanical techniques used today.

The focus in today's high school education on learning the answers while ignoring how to get those answers, and studying for tests rather than learning to understand and think critically, is a key flaw in modern education compared to education in ancient times. The ancients were gifted both with the same brainpower as modern humans, and with a lack of easy shortcuts. Our focus on answers and solutions first and foremost, empowered by our technology, has led to less understanding and less critical thinking.


Definitely. They could observe the night sky, keep time, and even calculate planetary sizes. I have a blog on this.

How did the ancients calculate planetary sizes?

Sanskrit was already developed by 10,000 BP. Civilization restarted in India after the super volcano Mt. toba blew up in Java 73,000BP wiping out all humanity India causing an ice age. After India warmed up by 60,000 BP, people moved about looking for better hunting, domesticated animals and started agriculture etc. It appears India had cities like Dwarka under the sea now 12,000 BP etc. Civilization is very ancient.


An educated Athenian person from 2,500 (and maybe more) years ago could "learn" (to use your word) contemporary high school math and geometry and probably point out what's so, SO defective in [High School] Euclidean geometry. 

What obstacles do you think would keep a human being of any interesting degree of  development of his/her mind from learning what I "learned" in math and science in high school--only which I have found out later that some of that stuff was defective or just plain false.  After all I, and perhaps you, "learned" contemporary HS geometry at age 14.  What advantages do you think a contemporary person in early teen years has over such an aged person (or even a more mature person) from long, long ago?


Of course -- humans are humans.  The very ancient individual(s) would need to become familiar with the social concepts of modern life to help them adjust to the concept of large numbers.  Mathematics was pretty well developed 5,000 yrs ago & numerate individuals from that period would be less likely to have difficulty with abstract mathematical concepts.


When you look at history you are looking at artifacts. Something happened around 40,000 years ago when a lot of artifacts began to show up. We find fishing nets, fishing hooks & sowing needles made from bone. In other places people are starting to produce little statues. Then of course 6,000 years ago in the garden of Eden mankind went through a big change. Around 13,000 years ago the glaciers melted and the sea level rose so that the world went through a big change at that time. Because of the change in climate there was an extinction and a change in the species in the world. What they call a population explosion or a radiation.


How good is Tesla's surfboard?

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