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Recently Hawaiian crows joined the list of animals that use tools [1]. They join a growing list including chimpanzees, sea otters and many more [2]. But, when you look at the next step of developing technology, the "collection of techniques, skills, methods and processes used in the production of goods or services or in the accomplishment of objectives" [3], the list becomes much shorter. A variety of human species developed technologies [4], with Neanderthals having the most advanced technologies [5], other than Homo Sapiens Sapiens, or us. Neanderthals were making a game of it, up until 30,000 years ago when they went extinct, possibly by our hands, and our technologies began growing exponentially. Technology has enabled humans to live in almost every environment on Earth, and at numbers that makes us the most numerous large species on Earth. These facts have had a considerable influence on our perspective of the World, leading to human societies that put our culture, religions and science at the center of existence. The same cognitive abilities of conceptualizing ideas and communicating them, that have enable humans to be great tools makers, have also enabled us to develop concepts such as religion and science.

Religion in hunter gatherer societies, which represents all of human society before 9,000 BC, and encompasses over 90 percent of human existence, was animism. Animism "attribute intent and lifelike qualities to inanimate objects and would have prompted belief in beings or forces in an unseen realm of spirits" [6]. "Belief in either ancestral spirits or creator deities who remain active in human affairs was not present in ancestral hunter-gatherer societies, which may be indicative of a deep past for the egalitarian nature of hunter-gatherer societies, to whom high gods would appear to be rulers" [6].

Agriculture started at the beginning of the Holocene, when there was a major warming of the climate [figure 1]. There is mounting evidence that the climate in the Pleistocene was to cold, and variable to support the development of agriculture, but the stability and warming of the climate in the Holocene lead to population pressures that encouraged the development of agriculture [7]. The development of agriculture required new technologies and social structures, beginning a process of rapid continual development that continues today. One of the main changes in society during this transition was the development of large scale cooperation between strangers, and at the same time the spread of religions that were characterized by "moralizing, supernatural agents, credible displays of faith, and other psychologically active elements conducive to social solidarity" [8]. This encouraged high fertility rates and large-scale cooperation with co-religionists, often contributing to success in intergroup competition and conflict" [8]. As these religions evolved, the importance of humans as the primary concern of the supernatural agents increased, leading to societies that perceived humans as central to the purpose of the world or universe.

Temperature Last 150,000 Years

With our great tool making ability humans have long had an understanding of cause and effect, or that there is a reason for why things happen. We could contemplate hypothetical futures, and then bring them into reality. This enabled us to create new technologies, which in turn gave us the ability to create evermore complex societies. However, much of our interpretation of the natural world relied on causality based on supernatural reasons, instead of causality based on observations. This inevitably lead to conflict, when people started noticing that the religious explanation of the natural World, did not fit the physical evidence before them. Around 2,600 years ago the Milesion school of philosophy [9] started asking questions using a systematic approach where nature was viewed in terms of methodologically observable entities and causality. This began a train of logic that eventually produced the scientific revolution.

Some consider the beginning of this revolution to be 1543 with the publication of Nicolaus Copernicus's "De revolutionibus orbium coelestium" [10]. One reason this is consider the beginning, is that Copernicus's apposed the long standing Ptolemy model of the universe, where the Earth was at the center, and instead said that the Sun was at the center. To the average person this seemed counter intuitive because of causality. They could see the Sun rise each morning, and set in the evening. But Copernicus's heliocentric universe made more sense mathematically, even though he used Ptolemy circular orbits, instead of elliptical orbits. Just 144 years later with the publication of "Philosophia Naturalis Principia Mathematica", Isaac Newton solved these problems and laid the foundation to classical physics, creating a deterministic view of the universe where the orbits of planets, and motion in general, worked with clockwork precision. In the process Newton, among others, developed Calculus which enabled the mathematical study of change.

Over a period of centuries science has provided mounting evidence that causality is not fundamental to the Universe, mainly due to the nature of time and space. First, Einstein showed in his theory of relativity [11] that space and time are deeply related, so much so that they make up a single object spacetime. "The combined speed of any object's motion through space and its motion through time is always precisely the speed of light" [12]. If an object, such as ourselves, accelerates towards the speed of light, the time for that object will slow down, maintaining the same combined motion through spacetime, so both space and time are relative to their combined motion. Second, at the microscale (sub-atomic) only the probability of the combined speed and location of a particle can be measured. If you measure the actual location of the particle it will stop moving, preventing the speed of the particle from being measured [12], so we can only measure one of the components of spacetime at that scale.. This creates an inherent quality of chance to motion, even at the smallest scale of the Universe. The model of the deterministic Universe may be an illusion.

The progress of science has shown that the Earth, our solar system and even the Milky Way Galaxy are minuscule relative to the scale of the Universe. Our purpose and actions are irrelevant at these scale. Humans have always had an impact on the Earth's environment. First with our ability to control fire, then with our technology, agriculture and cities. Our impact on the environment has been increasing overtime, until today the future stability of the environment is in our hands. Science enabled the recent rapid growth in technology, and in turn its impact on the environment. However, it has also enabled us to realize our impact on the environment, and to better understand our own nature. We now know that it never was about us. Instead we are just another species in the evolutionary process that has many of the basic desires and instincts as other species [13]. But our ability to create technology sets us apart, enabling us to play a disproportionate role. Ironically this has finally given us a greater purpose as the potential destroyer or preserver of life on Earth and possibly Mars [14]. The remarkable stable climate of the Holocene may be coming to an end as a result of our own action [15]. We have the knowledge to confront and solve the problems that are before us, but are our cultures capable of appreciating the importance of the natural environment and the urgency to take action to preserve it? It really all comes down to a roll of the dice!

References



  1. Hawaiian Crows Use Tools - New York Times, Sep. 20, 2016

  2. Tool Using Animals - Wikipedia

  3. Technology - Wikipedia

  4. Stone me! Spears show early human species was sharper than we thought - The Guardian, Nov. 15, 2012

  5. Neanderthal Technology and Intelligence - Filthy Monkey Men, Jul. 31, 2012

  6. Peoples HC, Duda P, Marlowe FW: Hunter - Gatherers and the Origins of Religion - Human Nature, 27(3):261-82, 2016

  7. Richerson PJ, Boyd R, Bettinger R: Was Agriculture Impossible During the Pleistocene but Mandatory During the Holocene - American Antiquity, 66:3:87-411, 2001

  8. Norenzayan A, Shariff AF, Gervais WM, Willard AK, McNamara ES, Henrich J: The Cultural Evolution of Prosocial Religions - Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 39, 2016

  9. Milesian School - Wikipedia

  10. Scientific Revolution - Wikipedia

  11. Inside Einstein's Mind The Enigma of Space and Time - BBC Documentary

  12. Green B: The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality - Alfred A. Knopf, 2004

  13. Yong E: Humans: Unusually Murderous Mammals, Typically Murderous Primates - The Atlantic, Sep. 28, 2016

  14. Scharf CA: So You Want to Terraform Mars? The SpaceX vision for a multi-planet species prompts thinking on how to make a planet more habitable - Scientific American, Sep. 29, 2016

  15. Anthropocene - Wikipedia


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