Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Long View

Do you ever find yourself wondering what on earth we are? I do. For me, the wondering often starts when I'm out walking. I wonder what it would be like to be wearing animal skins and carrying a spear, wandering over the hills in search of food. I wonder what my assumptions about life might be. How would I think about the past and the future? What stories would I tell to make sense of it all?

We've been around for a while: the oldest stone tools we've found are around 2.6 million years old.  On the other hand, the invention of the wheel happened less than 0.01 million years ago. For millions of years technology developed at a snail's pace. On this timescale the discoveries of Newton and Galileo count as contemporary - and almost all of our scientific knowledge and technological expertise has been acquired in the blink of an eye.

One could -and people do- argue that we should turn our backs on further technological development and concentrate on developing a fairer world. I don't see the two as mutually exclusive. If there are developments as life-changing as penicillin, pain relief, central heating, etc., around the corner then we should not deny ourselves the benefit of them. Michael Pritchard's invention of the Lifesaver water-filtration bottle springs to mind. As for space, the recent warning shots across our bows from meteors and asteroids are ample demonstration of the need for us to be concerned for our environment not only on earth but in the wider solar system.

Where will we be in another 2.6 million years? Will our knowledge and expertise continue to expand at their current phenomenal rate? If so, speculations that seem far-fetched now could seem quaint by then. And then there's the even bigger question: what will we evolve into?


Gwil W said...

A lot of questions you have there Dominic? We can evolve into angels or monsters or both of these I suppose is the answer to the last.

I was reading recently about some gm pigs from a US factory farm which were taken to some kind of pig sanctuary. Allowed to live to their natural lifespan they grew to be unusually large individuals: more than 800 lbs (over 360 kgs). Maybe more and more humans will follow this trend? After all, we are what we eat.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I wonder if every generation has thought like this. Have there really been so many more 'inventions' in the last 100 years or has life always proceeded at this pace I wonder. I never wonder what we are incidentally - I am just grateful that i still AM

Titus said...

This deserves a very long answer Dominic, and I shall post on it within a month, for I wonder all the time too. Don't know the answers, but I do wonder.

tony said...

We Have The Illusion That We Can Control Destiny.We Cant.The Future? 100 Years From Now & Halifax Town Will Still Not Be Back In The Football League!

Dominic Rivron said...

Thanks for these comments, everyone.

GwilW: I saw a pig for the first time in a long time the other week. I'd forgotten just how rich and gutteral a pig's oink is - I almost jumped back at the sound!

WG: I think the steep rise in inventions is new - I think it's because the industrial revolution and mass production have put us under pressure to innovate like never before.

Titus: I look forward to reading it, especially given your archaeological interests.

tony: You're right on both counts. We don't even know what we are destined to become.

GOAT said...

I often wonder how long I would have survived if I'd been born into another society and culture in the past, with the same mindset and attitudes etc that I have now. I mean, imagine being born into a Viking household, or a medieval Japanese one, or in ancient Rome etc. I doubt I would have made it to 20. These are the best of times, perhaps. How depressing.

Brigitta Huegel said...

I thought the same as GOAT: I wouldn't have lasted long. Some years ago I saw the damp caves near Nottingham, where our far away ancestors lived - shudder. The good thing is, that in every time people think they are much more enlighted - or modern, or high-tech. And there are always people who are alarmed: if you read what they 'preached' against reading - it resembles what they warn about internet now. Though I see many things I don't like I am still sure that I wouldn't change my time of living here. (Or was it 'now'? Sounds a bit esoteric then :-)