Call it hubris, or call it chutzpah, we so-called moderns are full of ourselves. We smugly preen in our mirrors convinced we are the apogee of humanity’s evolution as a species. An ego-centric posture which should be considered laughable, if not pathetic, because we ignore the fact that at some distant future time others will surely view us as –prehistoric- and all our vaunted technological marvels just amusingly…quaint.

In short, what and where we are today is no different than what and where our predecessors were back in their own times. Which raises an interesting question, were they as prideful and full of themselves as we are today? Did they understand they would ultimately be viewed as prehistoric? Probably not, because, like we moderns today, as far as they could perceive they were –it-, and viewed their technological advances much the same as we do ours today. Such a perspective of humanity’s progress through time suggests our presence on this planet is just part of an episodic continuum rather than one of a meaningful and significant process of evolution. We are what we have always been, just a clever bunch of monkeys who somehow leveraged that cleverness to become this planet’s dominant species…so far. How much longer that might be the case remains to be seen, if our proclivity for being fruitful and multiplying more rapidly than rabbits, deer, or even lemmings, doesn’t lead us to eating ourselves out of house and home first, so to speak.

Then again, like the dinosaurs, we may just fall victims to another cataclysmic event that wipes us out. We wouldn’t be the first species to head along some grand extinction trail, and in that sense, we would not be unique. For the moment, however, let’s just explore the track of our progression through time until today

…page one

One million years ago there were barely some forty five thousand hominids wandering about this planet of ours, scavenging for whatever sustenance could be grabbed up just to survive, and, compared to their simian kin, probably less adept at that than them. Worse yet, having neither fangs nor claws, and though having developed bi-pedal ability, their flight speed capability with it barely outdid that of a tortoise thus, more often than not, ending up as prey rather than predator.

Yet over the next five hundred thousand years they managed to quadruple their numbers, a testament to both their reproductive activity and improved scavenging skills. It was during that period that our early – Homo Erectus – predecessors somehow transitioned into becoming – Home Sapiens -, that is, “humans.” To what extent our planet’s cyclical changes in climate, from cool, to warm, and back again, were the external factors that caused such a transition is probably open to some interesting speculations about that.

At some point during that period “humans” not only discovered how to use naturally produced – fire-, but also, how to create fire themselves, thereby creating the very first “disruptive” technological advance by our species. One can’t help but wonder if they were as enthralled by that as we are today with all our digital gadgets. One suspects they were. Think about it, now that they could make and control – fire- that soon led them to come up with all sorts of applications for it. Heating for warmth, of course, and then, the capability to prepare marginally “cooked” food rather than just subsisting on whatever could be scavenged from nature.

 

…page two

Other even more exciting applications for that fire technology soon followed. Someone, perhaps accidentally, discovered that a sharply pointed stick could be given a longer lasting harder point if it were slightly “roasted” in fire. Humans now had something akin to fangs with which to both hunt and defend themselves. Thus they prospered and multiplied better than before.

Yet, over another quarter million years, further “technological” advances seem to have slowed. Still, did those distant –Homo Sapiens- now consider themselves “modern”? That’s assuming of course that they even had any memory of their predecessors, so as to compare their “modernity” with those whom they could have considered “prehistoric” by then. We can only wonder about that, because, to be able to do so, at some point they would have had to develop a strong sense of self-awareness and an ego-centric explanation for their existence.

But now things began to speed up. Another “disruptive” technology appeared…stone tool making…everything from cutting tools, to scrapers, to spear points, made survival a little less difficult than before. Along with spear points, the –atlal- or spear throwing enhancer, made it easier to go after larger game, which in turn meant a better means of acquiring food, and with more and better sources of food, humanity multiplied even more, nearing a planet-wide total of…one million humans, but with most of these still concentrated in what is today East Africa. With the start of another climatic warming cycle, however, our human race now began to spread out into ever more distant regions of the globe. One might say this was a pivotal moment in humanity’s “progress”.

…page three

That moment was when we humans discovered that certain other species, such as wild canines, goats, sheep, and cattle could be domesticated, yielding all sorts of sidebar benefits in the process. Now, instead of having to hunt these, humans could simply herd them, moving seasonally from one grazing place to another. They went from being hunter-gatherers, to being pastoralists. Perhaps this is when someone conceived of and came up with another bit of disruptive technology…the bow and arrow…making the spear-throwing atlal more or less obsolete.

It’s intriguing to consider how the idea for that came about. How did the human who came up with the idea for the bow and its companion arrow part conceive of it? Was it an accidental serendipity moment when, while idly toying with a long stick, and having a long thin strip of raw hide at hand, curiosity made him think…wonder what happens if we tie the strip to both ends of this stick, then pull on it? Thwang! And one thing led to another… certain kinds of wood were then found to have a better spring than others, and if shaped and worked in certain ways, that “spring” power was made even stronger. Then, instead of a thin strip of hide, woven strands of certain fibers were found to make better strings for that bow, adding to its launching power. Finally, with certain kinds of stiff reeds or light woods, fitted with either small stone or horn points, and given small bird feathers as fins, when launched by that bow these would fly far and true…way beyond the reach of an atlal thrown spear. It surely must have been one of those…ah hah!…moments for that human.

 

 

…page four

Perhaps even more intriguing than all that is just what were the processes involved by that brain of his, as he experimented, tried this or that, found some things useless for his purpose, and slowly, from trial and error, eventually achieved a result that worked. For that matter, in the interests of gender equality, perhaps it wasn’t a human male but a human female who first conceived of the idea. Perhaps not, after all, our earlier human predecessors had worked out clear-cut divisions of labor between the genders. Hunting, and its related gear, was the domain of males because these were the ones who had to go out and not only find the prey they depended upon for food, but often times they also had to face off other predators competing for the same prey. For them it was the natural order of things, and human society was organized and structured on that basis…for a very long time.

By then, however, after a further very long period of slow, baby-step changes, lasting several more hundred thousand years, another climatic shift brought on the latest warming trend (which we today are barely in the middle of its probable duration), and things began to rapidly accelerate. We humans discovered we could selectively collect certain grains, store, then plant them later, to produce a new crop of edibles. We didn’t need to wander all over hell and gone just to find a meal. We now had agriculture. That of course required us to stay put to tend to those plantations. Soon, humans were settling down into permanent encampments, leading to a different kind of social structure than before. The earlier, small extended family bands with their loose egalitarian ways, gave way to a more hierarchic social structure. The growing of crops required carefully planned and organized common effort, where everyone had their place in the process. Some planned, some directed, and others… labored… humans were planting the seeds of “class” distinction.

…page five

Such developments led to ever more disruptive technologies. Stone gave way to copper, then bronze, and on to iron and steel. Wearing the hides and furs of animals, gave way to spinning and weaving of textiles, linen, cotton, wool, and ultimately silk. Someone figured out that clay, fired in a kiln, provided more durable goods than just sun-baking it. And in the midst of all these technological advances…someone then devised…Deity (God) because, for all of their inventive and creative ways, humans still had questions they could not answer. Why was the world around them the way it was?

Which raises another interesting question here: Why, after the better part of a million years, was there now a need to find an answer to such a question? We can only speculate. Perhaps it was because, whereas before the only thing humans had the time to consider was where their next meal might come from, or find shelter for the night, or from a raging storm, or, how to defend themselves from other powerful beasts, but now that all those marvelous technological advances took better care of such matters, they had more time on their hands to contemplate such things including, perhaps, even their navels.

In doing so were they just as self-centered as we are today? Were they just as convinced as we are that they were the apogee of the human race? Perhaps, for by their times the rudiments of language, writing, and even systems of calculations beyond looking at their fingers and their toes, had begun to emerge. In terms of numbers, humans were rapidly approaching the one hundred million mark now scattered over most of the globe, and smugly saying to themselves…we’ve come a long way…baby…in over nine hundred and fifty thousand years! Still, there were even yet more pivotal technologies to come.

…page six

One of these was that moment when a human who, until then, had mostly looked upon the horse as an elusive and difficult creature to make a meal of, and admiring the fleet way it seemed to flow across those open steppe lands over which it roamed, thought…what if… instead of trying to hunt and eat this critter…we tried to catch it, tame it, and sit on it? Maybe we too could then fly across the land just as it did.

Imagine what it must have felt like to be the first human to ever sit astride a horse, hanging on for dear life as it raced across the land, while whooping with pure joy at the sensation and thrill of moving at such speed. It had to have been a most momentous event for that human, and one of excited delight for all those watching him. That taming of the horse is probably one of the most significant moments in human history, because, from that event humans had discovered the sensation of “speed”, which then led further on to the invention of the wheel, and from the wheel… came everything else.

Of all our human “inventions” taming and riding the horse was probably the most seminal one we ever created. Without that horse, and the wheel that followed, our modern age might never have happened. We could even say that without experiencing that first sensation of” speed”, from being on the back of that horse, we might never have connected that sensation to the idea of …flight…which is perhaps how the legend of Icarus came to be. Who knows? But it certainly sounds like a tale about an early human attempt at flight, using a primitive version of a hang glider which, while it failed and crashed into the sea, led on to later and better thoughts about how to achieve that. Leonardo da Vinci, was one of the first to seriously approach the subject from a technical perspective, which led to the Montgolfier brothers with their hot air balloons, to be ultimately followed by the Wright brothers and their powered box kite. …page seven

Since then our technological advances have moved forward at warp speed (some being so potentially catastrophic we prefer not to think about them). Our inventiveness is both our blessing and our curse, leading us to multiply ourselves to almost seven billion in the process, which may be bringing us to the limits of our sustainability on this planet.

Such is the continuum of our evolution as a species. We may be the “moderns” in this moment of that continuum, poised, perhaps, to expand even further out to other worlds; and there, on some unknown terra ultima, an evolved variant of our species at some distant time far removed from us will look back and wonder what such creatures like us had ever accomplished, what might have we been like, and, did we realize we were…prehistoric?

Well, such reflections and speculations about ourselves boil down to a very simple conclusion. A conclusion that was most perfectly expressed by the author Stephen Crane, in his little known book of poetry titled –War Is Kind – published back in 1899. It was this:

” A man said to the Universe, Sir, I exist!”

“However, replied the Universe,

That fact has not created in me,

A sense of obligation.”

* * * *

 

…page eight