Over at Marginal Revolution, a commenter asks Tyler a great question:
I wanted to ask for survival tips in case I am unexpectedly transported to a random location in Europe (say for instance current France/Benelux/Germany) in the year 1000 AD (plus or minus 200 years). I assume that such transportation would leave me with what I am wearing, what I know, and nothing else. Any advice would help.
Tyler’s answer is instructive:
I hope you have an expensive gold wedding band but otherwise start off by keeping your mouth shut. Find someone who will take care of you for a few days or weeks and then look for employment in the local church. Your marginal product is quite low, even once you have learned the local language. You might think that knowing economics, or perhaps quantum mechanics, will do you some good but in reality people won’t even think your jokes are funny. Even if you can prove Euler’s Theorem from memory no one will understand your notation. I hope you have a strong back and an up to date smallpox vaccination.
But this got me thinking: let’s say you could travel back in time to the 17th century, the golden age of the Enlightenment. And let’s say that you could take one piece of modern neuroscientific knowledge with you. What idea would you bring? And would anyone even understand you? Keep in mind that the neuron doctrine is a profoundly blasphemous idea and that the Cartesian soul is cutting-edge science. It’s also worth noting that nobody believed Volta when he started muttering about twitching frog legs and electricity and that was in 1791.
Bonus question: what piece of general scientific knowledge would you take with you?