Try to imagine what your world would be like if not for the scientific discoveries of the past millennium. If you are reading this indoors, you wouldn't have artificial lights. A thousand years ago, the best you could have done was some candles or torches. Is the building you are sitting in heated or air-conditioned? You wouldn't have those luxuries, either. A thousand years ago the only heat people had to stave off the cold of winter came from an inefficient fireplace, and in the summer they could find relief from the heat only by fanning themselves.

Look at your clothes. Anything that isn't cotton, wool, silk, or leather is the result of the chemical industry that came into being in the 1900's. And the food you eat is the result of enormous advances in our understanding of agriculture. Finally, if things today were still the way they were 1,000 years ago, you would be lucky to live past age 25. Medical science and public health are both developments of the last millennium.

It's hard for most people to imagine a world without constant progress in science and technology. Society has become so used to constant progress that it is now taken for granted, and we forget the long, hard path our predecessors followed to give us the modern world. As we approach a new millennium, it may be instructive to pause and consider how science developed and grew. Doing so might give us a stronger appreciation for the contributions that science has made to everyday life.