How cool is that?

The daily news is generally terrible and if you pay attention to it, hopelessness and depression are often a reasonable response. Between armed conflict, starving refugees, climate change, political corruption, and rampant consumerism, human behavior provides more horror than anyone needs.

Ignoring the news is an option, of course, but that leaves us floating in a sea of ignorance, unprepared to meet challenges or respond to events. For example, the threat to democracy in America is real, and our need to resist and overcome the forces of authoritarianism is essential. Burying our heads in the sand simply helps those who work to undermine our American experiment.

There is another reality of human experience, however; it’s a matter of perspective. Human society is terribly old, and with each passing year it’s arising gets pushed back further and further into the past. Recently, a human skull found in a cave pushed evidence of armed human conflict further back than anyone suspected. The skull had broken into over 140 pieces, and its reconstruction revealed two rounded wounds that could only have been made by a sharply pointed weapon; the skull was dated to 430,000 B.C. Petrified footprints recently discovered in ancient mud flats indicate that North America was inhabited by people 23,000 years ago, far earlier than previously believed.

If CNN had existed 100,000 years ago much of its news would sound as bad as that of today. “Those who have studied the problem indicate that over-hunting of large mammals like ground sloths and mammoths will deplete their population beyond recovery.” Or “An entire family was found murdered in their cave yesterday, apparently the result of a dispute over cave rights.”

My point is that although the conditions surrounding humanity have changed dramatically over hundreds of thousands of years, humanity itself remains much the same. Our belief systems evolve, our social structures change, our tools differ, but emotionally the human experience endures.

I tend to view the world as a living work of art, an evolving three-dimensional sculpture of vast proportion in which humanity appears as a multi-colored, discontinuous smear. It is our discontinuity that, like the arising and disappearance of the dinosaurs, lends this grand artwork additional texture and form. So too do animals, plants, rocks, and water contribute to the totality; each discontinuous part is subordinate to the continuity of the whole, just as the human lifespan of approximately 75 years forms a segment of time within a continuous act of creation and recreation, now estimated at 14.3 billion years in duration.

14.3 billion years is a terribly long time, and yet we remain connected to the universe’s very beginnings. The energy and matter with which are comprised are 14.3 billion years old and have been recycled endless times. Everything happening in this universe is happening at the same time, all of it, everywhere, at once. As artworks go, that’s pretty astounding; wondrous actually, and we get to observe it. How cool is that?

Self-consciousness manifests itself most obviously in people; we give ourselves and others names, speak using symbolic sounds that evoke images of objects and ideas, recall our past and imagine our future. With or without CNN, this is something we humans have done for a very long time. To exist on the edge of creation, to know it and to work artfully with each moment; that is our human destiny.

2 thoughts on “How cool is that?

  1. One of your best essays Larry.
    As a latent ornithologist, I want to add a possible cause of death to the owner
    of the 430k year-old reconstructed shattered skull with a hole in it. Apparently in those days when some hominids were smaller than today, birds preyed on them.
    “The study of primate remains from modern crowned eagle nests in Ivory Coast’s Tai forest showed that raptors routinely hunt primates much larger than themselves by swooping down and piercing their skulls with their back talons. There is even a documented case of an eagle killing a child.” (Berger & Clarke, Ohio State Univ.). Apparently there were, in those days, greater risks from above than today.
    As a practicing surgeon frequently working around the cranial vault, I should mention crude skull holes created by prehistoric neurosurgeons documented in archeology digs across the globe.
    None of this detracts from the thesis of unceasing mayhem committed
    by humans against one another.

    1. Yes, I can imagine an eagle talon could pierce a young skull. The article about the skull I mentioned did not specify the age of the individual, but implied it was adult. The holes were quite close to each other, therefore unlikely that a back talon would have caused it. Another article I can across yesterday indicated that pointed projectile projectile weapons do as much damage as a bullet. The holes were not drilled or cleanly cut, as far as I could tell from the photo. But who really knows? The human penchant for violence is rooted in our animal nature, about which I have written previously: greed, lust and murder. A very old story, indeed, Robert!

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