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Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Time to Go (conclusion)

In the Holocene Period, the tiny mammals that survived the Paleocene extinction, gradually led to us. But even that was a long journey governed by chance, dead ends, divergence and convergence, climate impact, and a combination of luck and opportunity that got to one primate standing. Had that primate never developed the ability to walk on two legs for extended periods, you likely would not be reading this off your phone or laptop. 

It's all about brain size. An upright stance frees up the hands. Our brains get bigger, we figure more things out than just using primitive tools.....we learn to make fire. Another biggie. Fire leads to cooking. Cooking leads to even better developed brains.....and more adaptability and learning. Sitting around cooking and eating also leads to socializing and communicating beyond just hunting and survival. We don't just think about the day-to-day but think about things our animal cohabitants don't seem as inclined to ponder. We eventually become what we are.

But what of it? Despite everything we CAN do, of what objective importance is it? And when and how will it end?

Has the train left the platform or still a long way away?

The reason for the background was to lay the factual foundation for the discussion of our relative importance in the general scheme of things. In my initial quiz, question #4 asked: "What is your personal opinion on the relative significance of humans existing?" and offered the following possible answers:

a: Very important and divinely ordained

b: Very important as this planet's highest evolutionary achievement 

c: Important only to ourselves

d: A detriment, the most dangerous creature to have ever evolved

e: Neither important nor a detriment, just something that a series of chance events led to

Depending on one's personal beliefs, all of these possibilities can accurately answer the question, but each also has its weakness. A religious, theistic person has ample theological support for holding with "a", though the trail to get us here seems quite haphazard. The tiniest of chance events could have altered circumstances just enough for us to have never existed. And while some could say that was all part of some god's plan, it's hard to feel divinely special when we have existed for a mere fraction of what other species have managed. I mean, if existence is any indication of a god's favor, perhaps the deity presiding over us is a bigger fan of cyanobacteria than us, since they have existed from nearly the beginning and still exist today, having survived every extinction event thus far.

If a god created us in his own image, I wonder: why are there so many intermediaries?  Why does god need two arms and two legs, etc.? If we are so important to a divine deity, why did he spend so much time on other creatures that look nothing like us...and therefore him as well? Or is it as simple as our self-important brains creating God in our image? 

And while a secular person who sees us, quite accurately, as a marvel of evolution could easily adhere to the sentiment of answer "b", it does tend to reek of  pompous self-importance. We are just so freaking evolved and "special"  .....unique like the snowflakes*  (*see below) many of us have become. But to what significant end?

.....or beneficial.

"c" is admittedly more of an emotional response, since objectively our influence over the fate of this planet does make us important to not just ourselves, but all the life we affect......even if that life is not sufficiently aware of our role in their lives and future. So I think 'c' is accurate in one way, since of course my life, my family, and my friends are IMPORTANT to me, and may not be to someone else, or to a colossal squid in the ocean's depths, but my presence in conjunction with others, as a creature capable of significant influence, qualifies us as ......if not important.... objectively significant to more than just ourselves. 

Seeing ourselves as "d".....for detriment, is a bit pessimistic, but justifiable given the havoc we have wrought on the planet and even ourselves. However, being dangerous can apply to many species. The background of the rises and falls of life demonstrates that were we to anthropomorphize nature, or the sum total processes of the physical universe, as humans often do, it too would appear vastly more dangerous and arbitrary than us. To be honest, we are more selfish and clueless rather than malevolent. Yet, in our sphere of influence, that oblivious pursuit of selfish goals, gives someone inclined to choose "d" plenty of justification for their decision. 

"It's not nice to fool Mother Nature."
The late Dena Dietrich as Chiffon's "Mother Nature" during their 70's ad campaign. There are so many Mother Nature images out there that are so corny and New Age-y that I decided to just go with this instead. In real life Mother Nature lashes out violently and cataclysmically.......even when not fooled by margarine.

In the study of population biology, the cycle of "predator/prey relationships" reveals an opportunism across species similar to our own. When fewer foxes are around, rodents exploit the opportunity and reproduce exponentially. The few lucky foxes around soon find themselves surrounded by food and also reproduce accordingly. But once there are more foxes around, a lot more rodents end up being eaten and their population declines. As rodents become scarce, more foxes starve, again giving the remaining rodents another shot at bouncing back.

In this regard, as animals we are not that much different than any other. We can exploit so we do, and because we evolved to a degree that we can exploit grandly, we do so on a grand scale. While we can think and evaluate our actions more thoroughly than a hungry fox, just another animal.... we too have our limitations in rising above our baser, greedier, instincts. We did evolve from a long line of creatures who did just what we are doing, the only difference is the degree of impact we may have to accelerate the process. Still, if we fuck it all up, we will die out and something else will come out of the void we leave behind. 

Naturally, for all the reasons mentioned, I do tend to lean towards "e". ( though as stated, many of the other answers contain truths as well). The facts reveal that we ARE definitely here, but weren't always. We came from change, but we are still animals. Animals come and go. We came. At some point we too will go. Even if we ourselves rally as a species and reverse the more adverse effects of our way of life, something, sometime in the future, will be beyond our control and potentially wipe us out. It is not nature's vengeance or some god's anger. It's just the way of things that the history of this planet has consistently demonstrated. 

The title of this series is "Time to Go". Many might argue the Earth would be better off without us. Others would counterargue that we could very well be saviors of the planet if we chose to be. So is it "time to go" as in "it's getting late, we should leave because we are about to overstay ( or have already overstayed) our welcome"? Perhaps. But I don't think any of us are equipped with the vision to know for sure. And who would want to make that call? Death scares us. We are beings with so much knowledge and experience locked in our brains, that losing that forever feels tragic. But as the dying Roy Batty in Bladerunner concluded....

"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain......... Time to die." is also inevitable. There is always a 'time to go'. 

So instead, does "time to go" merely mean that there will be such an extinction at some point, no matter what, and that's OK? It's not a tragedy but an inevitable link in a long inevitable chain. Is our relative importance not what we are, but perhaps what we lead to? Maybe we are not the pinnacle but part of the process towards one, just as that first mammal was crucial to getting us here? and that first reproducing cell was critical to getting that first mammal here?

To a vastly superior, indirect descendent, might our importance as a species be equivalent to that of this guy's?

Or perhaps there is no pinnacle and never will be? Maybe it's all just PROCESS?

It is the irony of life that 150 million years from now, some creature, perhaps an advanced cephalopod, might be teaching its offspring about us and saying, "yeah, primitive as they were, and as poorly as they sometimes acted, if it wasn't for those humans, you and I would never be here now", just before some cataclysmic eruption wipes them out, only to have the whole thing start again?

The succinct reality of ever overestimating one's importance. 

-----------------------------------------the end------------------------------

* As many here know I bristle at how the label "snowflake" is often used, and therefore you might be surprised at my inclusion of such a loaded word. But let me reassure you all that I do not mean it in a partisan/'conservative' (conservative also now being a complete misnomer) way, aimed solely at Democrats or 'liberals' (another current misnomer). No. Regardless of allegiance, or affiliation, a LOT of humans today are fragile and demanding of acceptance at the exclusion of others. And THAT is how I am using the term here.


  1. My opinion tends to lean towards a mixture of "C" and "E".

    It makes me wonder when I hear people ask "Can the planet survive?". Of course it will survive, for a very long time. I believe that the real question is "For how much longer do we want to be part of this planet's story?"


    1. C & E work. I found my own feelings changing slightly here and there as I wrote the various segments. When I began I had a particular conclusion in mind but found myself modifying it by the time I finished.

      Thank you for responding though. I hope this last installment prompts more responses and different and challenging points of view. So far this series seems of limited appeal as a conversation starter.

  2. I think I have caught up now...

    So I don't think there is a simple answer to the divine/accidental/superdeveloped/pestilence question of who we (humans) are or why we are here; likewise, there is no easy answer to "time to go."

    We think, with our developed brains and general egotistic approach to all things, that we can control everything. But we can't. If you look at the history of sun cycles, for instance, it kind of deflates the "we alone control climate change" argument. The Russian rock oil findings make it questionable what the origins of crude oil are and how it is replenished. Everything we assume as "truth" is, quite possibly, a bunch of Bullshit. Because we DON'T KNOW so many things (though we believe we do!) and also, we don't know what we don't know.

    Johari's window, applied to evolution.

    Are humans the best thing to happen to the earth? No, I don't think so.

    Are we the worst? No.

    But until the next cataclysmic event{s}, we will putz along thinking we are gods.

    As for the snowflakes: I use the term "Speshul Snowflakes" -- people get so caught up in wanting to be seen as unique that in the shout of "I'm special dammit!" they all sound the same. This annoys me.

    And I love the speshul axe. It sums up much of what I feel on the topic. :)

    1. I agree that most questions of this nature are not predisposed to simple answers.

      Anyone who thinks climate change is "we alone" is lacking in knowledge. However, anyone thinking our current situation is not being accelerated by our detrimental influence on several aspects of our environment is equally lacking. Some of the defenses for what we do and how it impacts the planet sound like someone defending massive bombing raids on civilians by bringing up earthquakes.

      Johari's window and evolution? I think I'd need a fuller explanation of what you are getting at? That science can be incorrect or incomplete? Or that people can think science is correct and complete and not realize how it actually works?

      The coddled human is bound to develop into a weak one, unless challenged to rise above adversity at some point.

      Thanks for accepting my invitation to this topic. Yours was an interesting response. I was hoping for many more than I got.