Life’s Story

Posted by on Oct 11, 2012 in Earth, Featured | 0 comments

Life’s Story

To summarize Life’s Story requires compressing almost 14 billion years of cosmic evolution into a few short paragraphs while hoping the scale and grandeur of it all will not be completely lost. This is my attempt to do so based on today’s generally accepted scientific view:

Approximately 13.75 billion years ago, at 10-43 seconds, a microscopic particle of infinite intensity and density exploded, expelling energy and light outward in an ever expanding flow, creating time and space as it expanded. This event, dubbed the Big Bang, was the beginning of our Universe. The cosmic energy cooled for billions of years until matter, in the form of massive clouds of gas, emerged. These gas clouds formed the first proto-galaxies and stars. The first stars exploded as supernovae releasing the heavy elements from which our sun, our solar system, our planet and ourselves are all composed of.

The sun and planets, including the Earth, formed out of a cloud of interstellar dust about 4.6 billion years ago. Earth, as an inner planet of the solar system, is a terrestrial or rocky body. This enabled the Earth to acquire oceans, continents and an atmosphere after 500 million years of cosmic bombardment. Life first emerged about 4 billion years ago with the first single-celled micro-organism. The first multicellular organism appeared about 700 million years ago. The first plants arrived around 430 million years ago with land-based animals following some 30 million years later. Dinosaurs roamed the Earth between 200 and 65 million years ago. Some 50 million years ago, mammals first emerged.

The earliest ancestors of man, apes living in east Africa, came into being about 25 million years ago. The first humans, Homo Habilis appeared using stone tools about 2.5 million years ago. Archaic Homo Sapiens emerged 200,000 years ago. Modern man appeared about 40,000 years ago as a “hunter-gatherer.” There was little change in human evolution for about 30,000 years until 10,000 years ago with the first Neolithic village and the beginning of the Agricultural Age. The rate of change began to accelerate dramatically with the emergence of the first civilization in Sumeria about 6,500 years ago. This revolutionary event rapidly led to the development of art, writing, mathematics, architecture, religion, city-states and  nation-states.

This Millennium, particularly the last 500 years, has witnessed an unparalleled expansion in human knowledge and tools. Classical scientific and economic thought, together with revolutionary technologies such as the printing press, sparked the Renaissance and the Enlightenment that solidified the modern “western worldview” during the 15th to 18th centuries. The 19th century brought the theory of evolution, powerful new technologies and the Industrial Revolution. The 20th century has seen incredible advances in energy use, electronics, communications, transportation, and mass production. There have also been major new scientific discoveries in quantum physics, cosmology, ecology, molecular biology, chaos and complexity theory that have fundamentally altered our perception of nature and reality. 

Viewed from this evolutionary perspective we appear to have crossed an evolutionary threshold in the middle of this century, entering a period of greatly accelerated socio-cultural evolution. After the end of the Second World War, the complexity and power of human knowledge and tools began to increase exponentially. Almost every aspect of human life has been thoroughly changed over this period. In 1945 there were no televisions, personal computers, satellites, fax machines, cellular phones, email addresses, Internet sites, etc. Man had not walked on the moon and we had not yet viewed the magnificent image of our own “blue planet” as seen from space.

The rapid societal changes we have experienced in the last half of the 20th century appear all the more remarkable when viewed against this perspective of historical time. The transformation of our civilization over these few short years has been all encompassing and there is no end in sight. Evolutionary change has now become (R)evolutionary change and the pace continues to quicken. Can this become the “Age of Wisdom” for Humanity?

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