Enjoying a bowl of carrot and ginger soup on a warm May afternoon at the rooftop gardens of 'Bikini Berlin' (Berlin's 'concept' shopping mall), one's thoughts cannot help but drift.

Soup at the rooftop gardens of the Bikini Center, Berlin

The rooftop terrace overlooks the baboon enclosure of Berlin Zoo, where these highly intelligent and athletic animals are confined by a wall that cannot be more than 4 metres high. Far from needing giants' shoulders to standup, a little cooperation between the group would lead to a swift exit. Why does this not occur?

I can think of only two reasons:

1) They have simply not imagined the possibility of life outside their enclosure. The thought has never crossed their minds.

2) They cannot solve the problem. They are unable to hypothesise or experiment in ways as to how it might be possible to leave.

Yet, almost certainly, if one were to demonstrate to these baboons just once or twice how they could work together to escape, they would undoubtedly learn and retain this knowledge, such that Berlin Zoo would be forced to amend their enclosure!

Far from concluding that these monkies are rather simple or foolish, one immediately reflects upon the human condition. Are we so dissimilar? The vast majority of individuals, without example or inspiration, continue along the same path, do they not? Even when its consequences are negative (loss of fitness, weight gain, the health consequences of smoking, and so on), for a huge number of people, a lifestyle change only comes about when the seed is planted by another person, and/or when they can witness the example and motivation of another.

The 'instinctive' knowledge that we do possess has been inscribed over the centuries. Due to the thus far overriding human desire for preservation of our species, thankfully, attempts to destroy the collective knowledge are eventually quashed - although admittedly, some not without initial success (one immediately thinks of the words of Joseph Wulf in a letter to his son David, displayed at Wannsee House, where he reflects upon the absolute annihalation of a huge section of Jewish knowledge and culture, and questions how many potential Einsteins may have been lost from our world during the Holocaust. Even today, one's thoughts turn to the destruction of history and culture in countries like Syria). Were the actions of the book-burners ever to dominate, what would become of our societies? Without our inventors, our explorers and our experimenters - in an environment of almost total intellectual isolation - how different would we really be from the family of baboons?

The incongruous beauty of Wannsee House, where Nazi officials met for the infamous 'Wannsee Conference,' to discuss implementation of the 'final solution.'

 

Thankfully, the reality for the majority of us is quite the opposite. Ideas are now shared from more people, to more people, than ever before. The internet, and in particular social media, shares knowledge and experiences amongst people at lightning fast speed. In the richer nations, at least, failure to improve one's situation in life rarely comes from lack of access to knowledge.

The internet allows us to share the most recent advances in science, and the best products from all over the world, including home medical devices (like pulse oximeters and portable ECGs), to organic chocolate filled with antioxidants and low in sugar, sustainably sourced from the forests of Bahia in Brazil. Indeed, improving your body and your mind has never been more achieveable for most people.