Our Precious Life

First welcome and congratulations in considering to take this journey of a lifetime.  

Like the start of any journey, it is important that all participants in this journey have a common appreciation for how we got to where we are now, why we are here, what is the intended purpose of this journey we are to embark upon.   We begin with an understanding for how our precious life began, how unique it is and where we stand today within the context of this “journey of life”. A comprehensive outline of this historical journey of life is well documented in the book by Bill Bryson entitled “A Short History of Nearly Everything”. Excerpts from this book have been drawn upon to support some of the scientific views expressed, especially on specific subjects relevant to the more physical dimensions to this life time journey of transformation.  Additional insights were also gleaned from very recent discoveries regarding our Australian aboriginals, the oldest surviving race of earth.

Our Precious Life

The start of Our Universe

Scientists believe that our universe began 16.6 billion years ago, after a “big bang” or “singularity” event that originated all material, time, space, gravity, energy and mass. Every last atom (proton, electron and neutron) in our universe today was instigated at the very instance of this “big bang” event.   This also included the creation of each and every atom that goes to makeup Yourself as a living human carbon being. These are all the atoms that will ever exist in our universe, no matter how long the universe continues to exist. Governing this incredible physical creation event were 6 identifiable scientific numbers (of physics). If any one of these numbers had been ever so slightly different than what they were when the “big bang” occurred, life in the entire universe anywhere would not have been possible.

Take just one of these numbers – the conversion nuclear force generated by the “big bang” event.  The explanation which follows does require some appreciation of atomic physics.  Had this enormous energy force not been within a particular range, necessary to convert 6-7 thousandth of the mass of the hydrogen created, the stately conversion of our lightest hydrogen atoms (with 1 proton) to helium atoms (with two 2 protons) would not have been possible. If this nuclear force had been greater than this range, this would have meant all hydrogen atoms would have fused with other hydrogen atoms to form helium. There would have been no hydrogen left.   As pure hydrogen is essential to the formation of water, life anywhere in our universe would not have been possible ever because of life’s total dependence on water (H2O).

On the other hand, had this energy force been less than this range then no further transformation of hydrogen would have been possible.  There would be nothing in our universe other than hydrogen.  Here again there would have been no possibility for life at all. Not only did this exacting force facilitate the continuance of hydrogen (1) and the creation of helium (2) and lithium (3), etc. but it also set the scene for the possibility for many more atomic elements to exist in our universe over time. In summary, if the conversion force of the “big bang” event had been outside this finite range then we would not exist, nor would any other life on earth have existed nor any solid matter been possible. In which case our universe would be, to say the least, an extremely boring useless space. Guess we were just lucky with this one?  If you had the tenacity to consider the other 5 scientific numbers, you could be blamed for concluding that the purpose of this “big bang” event was geared specifically to enable life to exist in our universe, and especially here on earth. So why did all these force parameters just happen to lie in such a narrow range: that which makes for the possibility of life?  Physics does not care about ensuring that life exists or not!

The 16.6 billion year journey of matter transformation began with the lightest gaseous elements hydrogen (1), helium (2) and lithium (3).   If you recall, at the very instance of the Big Bang only Hydrogen existed. A few seconds after the Big Bang, Nucleosynthesis began (scientists know this as BBN – Big Bang Nucleosynthesis).   Between 10 seconds – 20 minutes after the Big Bank, most of the Universe’s Helium was formed together with a small amount of Lithium. In the process, two highly unstable radiation isotopes were also produced – tritium & beryllium.  At 20 minutes after the big bang, the universe began to cool as it expanded from its singular starting point.  Further nuclear fusion (stellar nucleosynthesis) eventually replaced BBN as our universe continued to expand rapidly from the sheer force of the big bang event.  During this expansion and gradual cooling, gravity brought about the formation of large clusters of these base elements.  This process created gaseous star formations. Within these gaseous star accumulations, the triple collision of helium-4 brought about the gradual and eventual production of carbon. Carbon being the essence of us human being.   This was an extremely slow process, taking tens of thousands of years to convert a significant of amount of helium into carbon ashes within these gaseous stars. The size and intensity of these massive gravity clusters turned molecular hydrogen into metallic hydrogen. All the other elements, heavier than lithium & beryllium, were created much later as stellar nucleosynthesis continued within the evolving and exploding array of stars. The process of stellar nucleosynthesis (SN) continues today.

All star formations have a life cycle – they’re born and they die:-

  • Inter-Stellar gas and dust are drawn together by gravity
  • Star Formation begins to develop a “Protostar”
  • Mature Stars become dense with mature elements, with their core growing and becoming hotter and hotter (depending upon its overall size)
  • Supernova explosion eventually occurs
  • Both Stars and Supernova give off White Dwarfs, Neutron Stars and Black Holes, all byproducts for further Inter-Stellar gas & dust 

And so the cycle of star formation goes on and continues today.  Somehow during this early journey of stellar transformations, the formation of further heavier elements began to emerge from this gaseous brew of creation. For this to happen, massive energy and heat would have been needed. Gravity to the rescue again!  Gravity continues to be a total mystery to scientists even today.  But there are many standard BBN and non-standard BBN scenarios that have been devised by scientists over the years, in an attempt to explain its existence.   But how this process took place, remains a mystery.   Most scientist believe these other heavier elements (like Carbon) were created from the likes of giant supernovas being formed by gravity accumulating massive amounts of available elements in their nearby space (similar to our current Sun, but far far larger).   Through gravity pulling these gaseous brews into one massively dense hot star formation, one scenario suggests that when a supernova eventually collapses and explodes (from its own highly dense mass), it becomes so unstable it releases the energy of a hundred billion suns. This is reminiscent of a mini “big bang” style event with sufficient energy to again transform the lighter neutrons into heavier atomic elements (ie. on-going stellar nucleosynthesis – SN).   As recently as January 2016 the biggest ever recorded supernova was seen from earth.  It occurred 3.8 billion light years away and was 20 times brighter than our entire Milky Way galaxy.   This predates the time life on earth began.   

A simplistic way of describing the evolutionary journey of our elements is outlined in Table 6 of “Stages of Nuclear Energy Generation” developed by A.G.W. Cameron in 1976 – “Frontiers of Astrophysics”.  Cameron explains the process of supernovas element conversion as a “burning” process of step conversions producing evolving successive elements in the element table :-

Process                               Fuel                  Product                              
Hydrogen (H) burning          H                       He                                        
Helium (He) burning            He                     C, O
Carbon (C) burning               C                       O, Ne, Na, Mg
Neon (Ne) burning                Ne                     O, Mg
Oxygen (O) burning             O                        Mg to Si
Silicon (Si) burning              Mg to Si            Elements near Iron (Fe) 

Beyond (Fe) iron, the further elements in the table have been created through two other basic processes in supernova events:-
a)           r-processes – rapid neutron capture during the supernova explosion (1-100 sec) forms elements including many of the naturally radioactive               decaying ones 235U, 238U, 232Th (long lived) as well as shorter lived ones.
b)           S-process – after a supernova explosion there are elements like Fe floating around. When these are incorporated into a later generation                     star, slow neutron capture enables the formation of other elements

The next incredible happening along this journey of creation is the story about how these heavy element atoms and molecules all somehow began to stick together in a particular manner to make-up other material objects, such as water (H2O)), rock, salt, etc. Strangely and thankfully, hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O) have a natural affinity and attraction for one another.  For as you know any life, as we know it, requires water (H2O).   Hence the reason why scientists are so intent on searching for water on other celestial bodies across our universe.  Water elsewhere suggests the possibility for life elsewhere.   Today these more complex binding of our base elements (120+) are explained in chemistry (equations).  This is yet another dimension to our unbelievable story of transformation, all culminating in many of these base elements ending up being bound together to form Yourself.  For your very body is made from these base elements; sustained by the air you breathe and refreshed from the water you drink. 

Later on we will discuss the recent discovery of “dark matter” and “dark energy” which will open a whole new extending view on why our universe expansion is not slowing but expanding at an ever faster rate.   It turns out roughly 70% of our universe is dark energy and 25% Dark Matter. The rest, everything on earth, everything ever observed using human instrumentations, all normal physical matter – adds up to less than 5% of the Universe.  

The Start of Life

At the time of the “big bang” event, when all matter was created, it would not be possible for any form of life to exist, be created or survive because of the enormous energy force and resultant heat generated. The stuff so vital to our own being came much much later.  Essential elements such as carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, etc. were all created much later than the “big bang” as a result of additional atomic transformations (SN – stellar nucleosynthesis).  New life, as we know it today, is only ever known to come from preexisting life forms. At the very first instance of time when the billions and billions of protons and the kinetic energy were created, all matter exploded into space from a singular point of energy.  Somehow a small proportion reuniting again some 16.6 billion years later as atoms and molecules to create the physical human life form – Yourself.  A carbon-based human life form. How the first initiation of life itself began during this 16.6 billion year journey of transformation is equally amazing and still un-explainable. How the very first instance of life in our universe occurred,  when only pure matter existed, remains a total mystery.

Scientific evidence strongly suggests that the initiation of life, like the big bang, also originated at a single point in time and location, in our universe around 4.5 billion years ago.  As our “Rare Earth” is the only place where we know any form of life exists in our universe.  Scientific research suggests that energy is the driver for life.  Energy is central to physics.  The source of our energy comes from our inner core (volcanoes), our inherent gravity and our external Sun.  So how does life process energy? It took around 12 billion years of matter transformation (SN) and chemical reactions to some how create all the key ingredients and sequencing required to create a single instance of a life cell.  In simple terms, nature’s chemistry set for life is – liquid water, carbon molecule (amino acids) and energy.  It is always energy that transforms matter.  So it probably comes as little surprise that it was energy-driven transformations that eventually led to the existence of life on Earth.   Natural energy never runs out, it simply changes from one form to another driven by “gravitational potential”.   Energy is conserved.   It is not created nor destroyed. This is true for our entire universe.  So one might deduce that all the energy created at the time of the big bang is all the material energy there can ever be and which would appear to be eternal, so long as time exists.  But then along came the relatively recent discovery of “dark matter”, another mysterious aspect of physics recently added to our journey.  

By the time the potential for life arose, the universe had advanced and expanded to an enormous size.  So either life on earth came from life created elsewhere in our universe or it was created within or on earth itself.   The later is the only definable scenario, given no other form of life has yet been discovered other than life on earth.   As stated previously, the key essential for life as we know it on earth is water (H2O).   Scientists estimate that our earth was created around 4.5 million years ago with either primitive life already present or more likely the potential for life already within the water present.  Science now has a reasonable understanding for how life on earth might have been created in the first instance.  Energy from the core of the earth eventually found its way to the surface like the way volcanoes exist today – beneath the earth’s ocean water (but in the form of Sulphur Dioxide mixed with water or concentrated sulphuric acid).  This concoction, being heated/energised from the earth’s core, eventually escaped through alkaline vents beneath a water based slug covering the entire earth – to produce “proton gradients” as a speck of life.  For this transformation to come about requires one incredibly unlikely and complex set of circumstances.   In fact it is so complex a process that it is questionable as to whether it could ever have occurred in the natural order of things.  In the section of the book by Bill Bryson “A Short History of Nearly Everything” under the heading “The stuff of Life”, he goes to great lengths to explain the many incredible stages required for the possibility of a basis singular life cell to be created and to continue to exist.  He then goes on to explain an equally incredible journey for us as human beings to have ever existed.  The odds of us existing are so infinitesimally small to be totally inconceivable.  In summary he puts it this way – “Every living thing is an elaboration on a single original plan.”.  “It cannot be said too often: life is one. That is, and I suspect will forever prove to be, the most profound true statement there is.”  

Let us pause for a moment to postulate how scientists believe life might have begun.   Amino acids are the “building blocks for life”. The key components of an amino acid are the elements – carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen.  Amino acids are relevant in the nutrition of life as proteins. Proteins are what you get when you string amino acids together. Each protein will be seen later to be another miracle in itself.  And the human body consists of millions of types of protein, the most prolific being the simple collagen protein.

Back in 1969 a fireball meteorite from outer space came raining down chunks of debris near the town of Murchison in Victoria, Australia. The meteorite was found to be 4.5 billion years old and studded with amino acids (74 types in all), 8 of which are involved in Earthy proteins. No water nor any form of life was found. So the very real potential exists that life could have come to Earth from elsewhere in the form of amino acids? For without protein, life cannot be. As just mentioned, there are potentially millions of types of protein in our human body makeup. To make a single protein you need to assemble amino acids in a particular order. Take collagen, the simplest and most abundant protein in us mammals.  It makes up 25% – 35% of our whole-body protein content. For the collagen protein to exist you need to arrange 1,055 different amino acids in precisely the right sequence. But you don’t make it.  It makes itself spontaneously. The chances of collagen self-assembling overtime is 10 to the power 260 – a number greater than all the atoms in the universe!  So if we have towards a million plus proteins to produce (a happy) Yourself, then you begin to appreciate not only the complexity in creating a single protein but the near impossibility for it ever being able to happen of itself (in other words left purely to chance).  But there is even more complexity. A protein now needs to be able to reproduce itself and for this you need a DNA structure to follow.  DNA exists for just one reason – to create more DNA. In Yourself you have about 6 feet of it squeezed into every cell.  Biologists discovered the double helical structure of DNA which has enabled the secret “code script” of life to be revealed to us human.  Each length of DNA consists of some 3.2 billion letter sequences of genome coding, enough to provide 10 to the power 3.48 billion combinations. In short, your body loves to make DNA and without it you wouldn’t live. So now we must assume that protein assembly and your DNA structure are both able to arise simultaneously and spontaneously to support any form of life as we know it today. And this is just the fundamental beginning for basic life as we know it to exist.  Now if we were to consider the membranes and/or the cells that hold these together, this further adds to the complexity of this journey of life.   Little wonder we call Yourself – the miracle of life. And being the penultimate life form known, that is able to understand and comprehend this incredible secret of life itself, is what makes our human life so precious.

It is thought that conditions for life on Mars may have existed some 4 billion years ago but sadly no remaining known life exists there today.  In 2015 strong evidence was found on Mars that water in some form probably existed and that there may still be water there beneath its surface or as part of its, so called, ice-cap.   The appearance and disappearance of stream-like water flows on the surface suggests that high-density salt water may flow from beneath the surface. Recently scientists believe they may have identified a large frozen ice mass deep beneath its surface?  Unfortunately today the atmosphere on Mars is no longer dense enough to support life.

Venus is more like Earth but its smaller orbit and closeness to our sun has rendered Venus incapable of holding surface water and its atmosphere (pure greenhouse gas – carbon dioxide) is far too dense for life.  Yet the cycle of days (night & day) is almost identical to that on Earth. The surface temperature of Venus is around 470 degrees centigrade and its atmospheric temperature is 90 times that on Earth. Neither Mars nor Venus have much oxygen, that precious gas that we Earth animals require to survive.  In 2015 a discovery found the closest known twin to earth that may potentially support life – known as Keplar 262.  Its 1 billion years older than Earth, being 5.5 billion years old. As scientists put it “Keplar 262 is in the “Goldie Locks zone”, meaning it possesses most of the similar conditions to Earth in its orbiting around a similar sun every 385 days and has a similar moon orbiting it, etc. Unfortunately, its some 1,400 light years away.  So for us on Earth to communicate with this potentially closest place of life would take us more than 1,400 years to reach and a return response some 2,800 years.  In 2017 NASA identified another closer galaxy with a similar solar system to earth some 40 light years away where 7 possible planets orbit a sun not unlike our sun – a discovery suggesting that a return response could be possible in 80 years. Indications suggest that the possibilities for water also exist on these planets.  So during the relatively short period of our species’ existence on Earth, we are most unlikely to encounter any equivalent meaningful life anywhere in our universe sufficiently near enough to Earth to be of any consequence. We are limited/protected by the physical constraint of the speed of light.  We are truly the Lonely Planet.

As suggested earlier, science has evidence that life on earth probably did not come from either Mars or Venus. But rather, from a planetary collision that occurred 4.5 billion years ago.   While scientists agree that it is possible for life to exist elsewhere, so far the only real evidence of life in our entire universe is that which we know on our earth. Could it be that we are totally alone in this massive universe of ours? The latest robotic space craft (Rosetta & its lander Philae) reached a small 4 kilometre wide comet in outer space enabling a unique and exciting man-made exploration.   The comet is 510 million kilometres away near Mars, orbiting the sun at speeds of 135,000 kilometres/hour and is said to pre-date the birth of our solar system.   The main interest was whether the comet carries water or even complex organic molecules. Despite this being one remarkable achievement and exciting event, the water/ice discovered there is not the same as that on earth.  It is not able to support life.   This entire adventure was driven by man’s thirst for knowledge on life; how life on earth began and the possibility of life existing elsewhere, given the trillions of apparently lifeless solar bodies existing within our known universe.

To summarise the journey of life thus far.  It is generally agreed our material earth was formed a mere 4.5 billion years ago following the collision of either two planets or a planet and a very large meteorite travelling within our Milky Way solar system. This collision resulted in the eventual formation of our earth and our encircling moon. Fortunately one of the two colliding object must have contained water in solid, liquid or gaseous form; water being an essential component for life, as we know it today, to exist on earth.  All we know is that there is evidence of basic life forms existing on earth some 3.5 billion years ago, which must have arose from within our oceans, which totally covered the earth. Today scientists understand how an amino acid could have been produced through our early atmosphere (nitrogen and carbon dioxide) interacting with the water in our outer ocean stews. As stated earlier, no-one knows how life originally started, we can only describe how life on earth might have evolve from some existing form of life, according to its inherent DNA structure or miraculously created itself for the first time in the universe on earth itself.  Scientists believe at least 70% of the world’s bacteria, microbes and carbon are beneath the earth’s surface.    And most of their energy for life comes from within the earth’s core, not from the sun, knowing that the ideal temperature for life is between 120 degrees and zero.  It is estimated that this area is about 3 times the size of our oceans.    So even if all life on the surface of the earth were to disappear, life on earth would not be seriously interrupted.   The sun is essential for all adaptations of life on the surface of our planet (including us).        

In summary “How did Life Begin?”   Today scientists know more about the chemistry of molecular structure of life that ever before. They know protein molecules are necessary for the functioning of a living cell, the foundation for life. Any protein molecule consists of hundreds of amino acids, structured together in a specific sequence (like components in computer hardware). A life functioning cell also requires thousands of different proteins to enable it to operate in accordance with its genetic DNA code (like computer software). The likelihood of all this complexity happening spontaneously (as it is required to do) is not credible.   Once any initial form of primitive life began, it then becomes readily credible to postulate how the first living organisms gradually developed and evolved into the wide variety of living things known and yet to be discovered. Even how it might have travelled through space and reached earth is a known credible possibility. How the “big bang” come about and how the initial creation of life began remains a total mystery despite many as yet unproven scientific speculations (like as yet unknown molecules predating genetic material, etc.). The same applies to the mystery about how life first began and where it occurred, be it transported to earth or being initiated on earth itself. 

Dark Matter & Dark Energy

Further similar scientific conundrums have arisen; especially since the scientific discovery of “dark energy” and “dark matter” some 15 years ago by the Australian Nobel prize winner, Brian Schnidt.  He proved that since the “big bang” event, our universe has continued to inflate in expanse, energy and mass.  It appears to be expanding at 5-9% faster than expected.  But it’s not known where all this “dark energy” is coming from? It’s significant because roughly 70% of the universe is dark energy and 25% Dark Matter. The rest, everything on earth, everything ever observed using human instrumentations, all normal matter – adds up to less than 5% of the Universe.  Dark matter and dark energy makes energy push rather than pull (as does conventional gravity).  This explains why as the universe gets bigger in expanse, its larger existence is pushing matter further apart and breaking up matter.    

This latest discovery is causing science to rethink much of physics which has been primarily focused upon explaining the rules surrounding physical matter (as its name suggests), which now turns out to be a mere 5% of our universe.  Dark radiation looks like it is causing the universe to expand faster than first thought. As Brad Tucker (from Mt. Stromlo, ANU) put it “Either something else is missing as in there’s a new type of substance we don’t know, or the things we already know are really weird and crazy and something funny is going on”. All the “space” we stare at in the sky is not empty, as we originally thought.   It consists of large clumps of dark matter where new galaxies are being formed.  These clumps can be millions of light years across, leaving scientists scratching their heads pondering whether completely new form of physics may be necessary to adequately explain it. 

Transition of life from Ocean to Land

The original atmosphere of Earth was probably just the hydrogen & helium drifting in outer space around our sun. Our Earth was then extremely hot, warming the surrounding hydrogen & helium atmosphere drawn together by its compounding mass and causing the surrounding gasses to reach such a light state that both escaped Earth’s gravity and drifted back out into outer space. As the Earth cooled, volcanoes formed releasing various gases, such as steam (from the resident water), carbon dioxide and ammonia. Cooling further, some 3.5 billion years ago the gaseous stream transformed into a liquid state (water sludge), causing the initial divide between land and our oceans. Only small flat surfaces of land began to push through the water.   The carbon dioxide dissolved into the ever expanding volume of water surrounding our planet.   The stabilisation of this water provide the perfect environment for the first signs of life on earth to appear.  Within this life-giving essential for life, basic organisms began to form within the primordial sludge surrounding our earth.  Mid-oceanic vents at the bottom of the early oceans began to eject a soup of algae and bacteria which needed little oxygen to survive and so began the first stages of life on Earth.  This early signs of life form may have appeared as sludge on the surface of exposed rocks where tidal waters ebbed and flowed over them exposed also to the warmth of the Sun. The ammonia in the atmosphere was broken apart by sunlight leaving nitrogen and hydrogen. The hydrogen, being lighter, rose up again into the atmosphere and off into outer space, leaving a new nitrogen atmosphere. These simple water dependant organisms in the sea began to evolve into higher and higher life forms, resulting in a wondrous diversity of sea grasses, coral, slugs and eventually fish.   How early plant life forms anchored on rocks within our oceans eventually broke away as independent intelligent life forms (slugs, fish, etc.) is still a mystery.  

Over 2 billion years ago cyanobacteria in microbial mats began growing in the oceans; breathing oxygen into the atmosphere.  A process converting carbon dioxide (CO2) into organic carbon and free oxygen.   Just as their ancestral trees do today. Cyanobacteria can still be seen in action off the Western Australian coast line near Denham.  These cyanobacteria in microbial mats in Western Australia are the oldest surviving evidence of an evolving life form.   The creation of our current atmosphere (20% oxygen and 80% nitrogen) known as “air”, facilitated the evolution of fish-like creatures transitioning as land-based creatures able to intake air from the atmosphere rather than only from water.   These creatures from the sea, no longer constrained by a dependence upon the single life giving asset of oxygen in water, now began to dependent also upon the oxygen in air. As sea creatures moved to the land, it has never been possible (from fossil evidence) to determine precisely where we came from. We (humans) belong to a category called “a terrapod” – a animal with 4 limbs that ends with a maximum of 5 fingers and 5 toes. It is estimated that 4,000 billion species of terrapods have existed on earth with 99.99% no longer with us.  The average life span of a species is about 4 million years.  So extinction is a good thing! Rather than stagnate, species have evolved to survive. The biggest species disaster occurred about 65 million years ago when a large meteorite or comet hit the earth which made 95% of land species extinct (including all our dinosaurs).   The resultant dust that was thrown up into the atmosphere caused the earth to cool dramatically, becoming too cold for many of our land dwelling species to survive.   The largest of all mammals, our whales evolved, dependent upon water but with the ability to breathe air. The early land-based creatures could exist in both water and on land, but increasingly became air dependent as this increased their mobility, evolve-ability and survival.   The penultimate evolutionary stage was the land-based creation of humans – an air dependant mammal with an incredible brain. Our current atmosphere contained sufficient oxygen for animals, including ourselves, to evolve prodigiously (as documented in Charles Darwin’s “On the origin of Species”). Today plants and some bacteria absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen.  Whereas, animals absorb oxygen and give off carbon-dioxide. The atmosphere upon which life on land depends, therefore was created by life itself.  Mankind has now become the most powerful and intelligent of all known species of life.   Ironically it’s the behaviour of mankind that is now putting this same unique and precious earth at serious risk. All species come and go (become extinct) and the same will be true of our species (mankind); sooner than we might like unless current human behavioural patterns are changed?  Humans are the first life forms that can knowingly reverse entropy, hence the reason why it is within our power to save species and even save ourselves, unless there is a catastrophe like a major meteorite hit, etc.

Similarly, the thinness of this veneer of life on the surface of our lone planet earth is equally precious and precarious. For example, humans can only exist within the confines of an altitude of 2,500 metre. This is due to the effects of gravity (which keeps air close to the ground) and heat (as you get closer to the sun) which cause molecules to bounce off one another and expand, thinning the air. Similarly human’s deepest unaided dive in water is less than 100 metres. So mankind’s existence is contained to within a very small veneer of the Earth’s surface.   Hence the reason human pollution of our air has become such a big issue – its pollution is rising faster than nature can ordinarily deal with. In doing so our air pollution is destroying this precious layer; a layer which protects us from the sun’s damaging rays and from increasing the surface temperature of the Earth. A trend similar to many previous catastrophic earth events, it has the potential to change life on earth irreparably (like the event which caused the total extinction of all our dinosaurs in a short space in time; a time when scientists suspect around 90% of all land living species were made extinct).   Yet the species forebearers to the evolution of our own human species somehow even survived this catastrophe and many other such catastrophic events that are known to have occurred on earth.   Its almost as if we humans were meant to be as part of some destiny.

The Evolution of Mankind

A mere 83 million years ago the first land-based mammals appeared. The only remaining living evidence of the evolution of man is our gorillas & chimpanzee, arriving 4-6 million years ago. The first sign of the homo genus appearing was Homo Habilis, also dating back some 4-6 million years ago. The brains of these Hominines were about the same size as the chimpanzee (400 grams). There is positive evidence, during this early evolutionary period, that stone tools had been made and used by ape-like man.   About 2-3 million years ago, the cranial capacity of Homo Habilis mysteriously doubled to 850 cubic centimetres.  Some scientists attribute this growth to their shifting from being tree inhabitants to being predominantly land-based.  Since then the human brain has grown by 2 to 5 grams per 10,000 years. Yet the equivalent chimpanzee brain remains at 400 grams.   Today our human brain is now up to 1,350 grams; more than 3 times its original size and growing. What caused and continues to cause our brain to grow more than that of our chimpanzee cousins remains a mystery. Again some attribute it to climate change that persuaded early ape-man down from the trees onto the plains, to facilitate travelling more effectively standing on two legs rather than on all fours. It is during this early period of our evolution, we began to “reason” and have “intelligence”, also driving and enabling the growth of our brain. This period of mysterious evolution is often referred to as “the missing link”.  For us humans have evolved to become conscious and self-aware beings with the ability to think, reason and abide by moral qualities (like self-sacrifice, self-adjustment, differentiating right from wrong).   This transformation journey from ape-like animal to super-intelligent being remains a total mystery.   “Random mutation & natural selection fail to explain this extraordinary leap in our creation”.

What is clear is that Homo Erectus is the dividing line. Everything before was ape-like and everything after was human.  There are two schools of thought as to whether Homo Erectus evolved into Homo Sapiens or not.  Was it the same species but with different organisms? Or as many scientists today suspect, Homo Sapiens are a totally different species.  If so, where and what did Homo Sapiens evolve from.  What we know is summarised below:-

YSH Human History of Evolution

Anatomically modern humans appeared in Africa, the birth place of our species, about 2 million years ago.  The most recent discovery (2013) of some 1,500 fossils buried in a deep cave in South Africa have uncovered 15 bodies deemed to be less than 1 million years old.   This discovery, named Homa Naledi, had ape-like features with tiny brains.   Yet certain body parts (hand and feet) appear more like humans.  Identified as part of the Australopithecus, they are also too primitive to be the root of our genus. The Homa Naledi had brains between 560 – 465 cubic centimetres, much less than Homo Erectus which averaged around 900 cubic centimetres.  Our genus strand Homo Sapiens appears a little later, but we not a direct descendant of Homa Naledi.    It was Homo Erectus, a small population of upright people, that first left the continent of Africa, migrating north towards Europe, through Israel who become our forebears.   Discoveries of rare fossils like Java Man and Peking Man are seen as testimony to this first wave of migration out of Africa.  

The oldest Homo Sapiens fossils (Omo 1) date back to 195,000 years ago.  In 1967 fossils found near Kibish, Ethiopia and later in Herto, Ethiopia were estimated to be between 154,000 and 160,000 years old.  These early Homo Sapiens lacked any form recognisable that might have differentiated them from apes and monkeys.     The first undisputed appearance of Homo Sapiens was discovered around modern-day Israel, where they existed 100,000 years ago.  It wasn’t until around 72,000 years ago that “modern homo sapiens” began to move further out of Africa when tools, arrow heads, axes, religious drawings, carvings and ornamentation such as jewellery began to appear.   This is often referred to as “Out of Africa” Wave 2.   In very recent times (Sept’16) an Australian Aboriginal study was undertaken into the history of this oldest surviving race by the University of Cambridge in collaboration with elders and leaders of various Indigenous communities.  Genetic records revealed that Papuan and Aboriginal ancestors left Africa (via Israel) around 72,000 years ago. The only living evidence of this form of primitive civilisation today is our current Australian Aboriginal race. About 30,000 years ago when Australia first became an island as it separated from “Sahul” (Tasmania, Australia & New Guinea), the Australian Aboriginal inhabitants became totally isolated.  Because of the Australian Aboriginal’s isolation and nomadic existence, their advancement from primitive stone-aged tools progressed little, in comparison to that of the migration wave into Europe. 

Recently (Sept’16) an Australian Aboriginal genomic study of Indigenous Australians revealed that modern humans are all descendants of a singular wave of migrant who left Africa 72,000 years ago.  The study was undertaken by the University of Cambridge in collaboration with aboriginal elders and leaders of various Indigenous communities.  Genetic records revealed that Papuan and Aboriginal ancestors did leave Africa (via Israel) around 72,000 years ago.  But 60,000 years ago, this group split long before the Australian continent began physically separating from New Guinea 30,000 years ago.  The Papuan split stayed in New Guinea and the Australian group entered Australia from the top of Cape York to the East and another group to the west, probably near where Darwin is today.   Towards the end of the Ice Age (20,000 – 10,000 years ago), when the big thaw took place, sea levels rose dramatically in the early Holocene period.  This caused the Papuan and Aboriginal races to become separated permanently (around 8,000 years ago) .     

The oldest identifiable Aboriginal remains in Australia is Mungo Man, dating back 40,000 years ago.  The skeletal remains of Mungo Man were discovered in 1974 in the dry lake bed of Lake Mungo in west NSW.  Nearby bones found with axe fragments were radio carbon tested to reveal the significance of this find.  This discovery predates even UK’s Stone Henge (purported to be 5,000 years old).  Mungo Man is the oldest human remains in Australia and DNA tests validate that he is the oldest surviving remains of the continent’s first people (Aboriginals).  This discovery confirms the “Out of Africa” wave 2 of human migration extended as far as Australia.   Interestingly, archaeologists discovered red ocker surrounding Mungo Man in his burial grave, suggesting this might have been part of a burial ceremony. This is viewed as a sign that possibly modern Homo Sapiens had already began to believe in some form of life after death in preparing their dead for their next life.   A recent discovery (by Archaeologist Peter Hitchcock) of an axe fragment in Western Australia is recognised to be the oldest known human tool (technological innovation of an axe), predating the previous oldest by around 10,000 years.  By the time the Ice Age was over, the Aboriginal birth rate had decreased by 60% due to the extreme conditions and their abandoning of nearly 80% of the continent.  This great genetic diversity between east and west in the Aboriginal people probably accounts for their longevity.  As author Dr. Westaway put it “The onset of the last glacial maximum creates this huge expansion of the arid core in Australia and a dramatic reduction in gene flow between east and west of the country”.  Modern colonial man’s arrival from Europe in the 1600s.    The last 400 years of colonisation brought about the integration of an aboriginal culture dating back 72,000 years with one dating back less than 5,000 years, exposing major difference in evolution and technology advancement.     Our aboriginals are the oldest living race on earth.

In contrast, the Out of Africa migration wave 2 into Europe evolved in a more spectacular way.  During the Ice-Age (some 20-10,000 years ago) modern European Homo Sapiens began to work together cooperatively in groups. This was most likely brought about as a strategy to counter the encroaching colder climate and associated icy conditions? The great transition from nomadic life to permanent settlement began in Europe during this period, altering the social environment so that populations grew larger within a society which progressively become more hierarchic. Working as a collective, a radical change occurred in the minds of humans as the brain continued to grow more rapidly, enabling them to develop agriculture, herd animals and create more permanent homes. The fact that a person’s survival no longer depended upon an individual being a hunter and gatherer, enabled the new society to subsidise small select groups (of intellectuals) by allowing them to spend more time for creative and inventive activities.   Interestingly it’s also during this period of rapid brain development that the first evidence of human’s considering the notion “God” began to emerge. Ever since, people have understood that human connection is one of the most fundamental driving forces for human survival and success in social behaviour. Today it is estimated that the human brain grows in IQ capability up to 3 points per decade, possibly being accelerated through the supplementation of healthier food, modern computer technology and a more intelligent life style.   These factors clearly contributes to our increased longevity. Through the advent of scientific discoveries and aided by advances in technology, the human brain is now capable of far more abstract thinking than ever before.    It wasn’t until the 1600s when Europeans colonisation of second world nations had begun that the stark contrasts in European and Australian races became apparent.  Whereas the Europeans had developed advanced technologies, weapons, transportation vehicles, grand cities and educational institutes, the Australian aboriginals remained in the stone age, having developed only a few implements – boomerang, spear, woomera, baskets, etc.  Whereas the great genetic diversity of the Australian aboriginals had enabled them to adapt biologically to the environment learning to be protective of nature and to live in harmony with it.  “We just don’t see that in any other Homo Sapiens populations.”  

The Future of Mankind

All things going to plan, the conditions necessary for human (Homo Sapiens) life on earth is probably mid-way through its potential existence cycle. The history of life on earth stands as testimony to the fact that all live species constantly come and go.   The earth will eventually become incapable (too hot) of supporting the essentials for human life, as we begins to move ever closer to the Sun. So in the natural order of things, at maximum, mankind as we know it today probably has a couple of million years of life sustaining existence to go, as earth inextricably goes the way of Mars – back to a state (virtually and eventually) devoid of all life.   By the way modern mankind is going today, this timeframe may well be accelerated dramatically, unless we change the way we live our lives within this finite and precarious layer of our earth.  

As Adle-Karlsson put it “Without a doubt, its man’s superior intelligence which has given our species the rule over all other animals. And had we not united our higher individual intelligences into co-thinking networks (super brains), nature would not have permitted us to become 6 billion instead of 10 million hunter and gatherers that could have lived on a level not far from the chimpanzee.”

So how is mankind fairing as the prime and sole custodian of earth’s four most precious resources (water, air, land and animals) from a purely realistic and practical perspective. It is important to appreciate that the views expressed here are those of an ordinary person attempting to gain a better appreciation from the facts available – fact-based analysis. It’s not that of some expert scientist, environmentalist, evangelist or green-activist, but the simple observations of an ordinary intelligent being who cares – cares about self, others and our environment. These are the two key items of divided concerns of someone who cares:-

  • How mankind manages the environment that supports life’s existence (water, land, vegetation, animals and air)
  • How mankind masters his inventiveness, either for good or evil (like nuclear power and chemical research); in the knowledge that mankind already possesses the power and knowledge to either obliterate life on Earth or preserve it

Being the most superior life form on earth comes great responsibility.  With earth potentially supporting the only known form of life in the universe, with this precious gift comes even greater responsibility.   Responsibility not only for our own life but for the lives of other humans, all the other species on earth and potentially life itself within our universe.  For, if as many suspect, we are the only known place within our universe where intelligent life exists, then we may well be responsible for life itself. Even though we do not know how life was originally creates, we may well be on a journey to exterminate all life.  If life does exist somewhere else,  it’s highly unlikely that its distance from us would ever allow the two to meet within our span of existence.   We are potentially alone in our life on earth.

Bill Byson puts it this way – “We may well be all there is.  It’s an unnerving thought that we may be living universe’s supreme achievement and its worst nightmare simultaneously.”  For the more we know about the many of species of life on earth (that we have made extinct), the more we humans continue to bring about more and more species extinction.  This would appear to be madness, but that is exactly what we humans are doing.  In Norman Myer’s book “The Sinking Arc”, he estimates we humans bring about the extinction of some 600 species per week  (ie. types of plants, insects, animals, etc.) knowingly or unknowingly.   Others put this figure even higher.   We have long known that throughout time, various species of life have come and gone and that extinction of species is part of the normal order of life’s journey on Earth.  Irrespective, in the natural order of things, nature is incapable of matching this rate of extinction with replacement species.  It appears that we humans are simply bad news for other living species, not only our own.   We are remarkably careless about looking after ourselves and other species both when alive and when not alive – by not better measuring our extinction record.

This responsibility of human beings to have a duty of care for nature  is mixed with a responsibility to cultivate our abilities in order to both protect it and develop its potential. For if you acknowledge the value and the fragility of nature, you can become empowered to finally leave behind the modern myth of unlimited material progress. We live in a fragile world which challenges us to devise intelligent ways of directing, developing and limiting our power.  Everyone has a duty to care for nature, but at the same time “she must above all, protect mankind from self-destruction”.

The existential risk of human life and potentially all life on earth being destroyed by something like a large meteorite or comet (as occurred 265 million years ago is very small but real.  The likely hood of this occurring is estimated by NASA to be once in every 100,000 years.  Our only defence might be to potentially invest in trying to predict such an occurrence by probing the heavens for signs of such an object.  Then if we did find one such object what could we do about it?   Fire a guided missile with a nuclear warhead at it in an attempt to divert its path away from earth.  This is what we term a circumstantial issue outside of our control.   The more likely scenario are the many self-inflicted human catastrophes, like:-

  • Nuclear War
  • Manufactured Pandemic 
  • Global Warming
  • Nanotech accident (of self-replicating robots as in science-fiction)
  • Scientific experiments (like the Hadron Collider) producing matter so dense, attracting nearby nuclei, shrinking the earth’s size to 100 metres in diameter
  • Super intelligent Artificial Intelligence, no longer in control of humans, surpassing human intelligence 

A 17 year old school boy has pulled together a brilliant 2 minute summation of our life on earth.   It summaries beautifully everything presented here and serves to provide excellent context to our own reflect on this precious planet we live on and your part of this journey of life.  Click below to view this facinating video of photographs, presented to the sound track of “Mind Heist” by Zack Hemsey. 

CLICK HERE

http://marcbrecy.perso.neuf.fr/history.html
 
 

Bill Byson puts it this way “To attain any kind of life in this universe of ours appears to be quite an achievement. As humans we are doubly lucky, of course.  We enjoy not only the privilege of existence but also the singular ability to appreciate it and even, in a multitude of ways to make it better.  It’s a talent we have only begun to grasp.”

We need only go back only 50 years to observe how mankind’s insatiable thirst for power and energy has had a severe impact upon our essentials for (human) life and created many big hard social problems that modern society is now struggling to solve. If you examine the rate at which the world’s population is growing, our increased survival rate, our current food intake (essential to sustain/retain our existing standard of living), it becomes very clear mankind will not be able to sustain our current standard of living indefinitely. Earth is a finite resource, which over the last 50 years has seen so much of it expended in the name of energy for “growth”. Mankind is midday through a period of self-destruction and the time is overdue to make a new start.  Unfortunately we have as yet not developed sufficient awareness to reverse this trend.  “As never before in history, common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning…  Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life.”  Some seriously doubt now exists!  For the first time ever, it is unlikely that we will be able to pass on a better world to our next generation, let alone survive another 1,000 years on earth unless some radical adjustments are made.   It’s our incredibly intelligent brain that has got us into this predicament and it will be that same brain (with a shift in our current mindset) that will get us out of these big hard problems.

Your Future Life

As you ponder your future life and the life you are destined to pass onto your children and their children, it is worth reflecting upon an excerpt from an encyclical given by Pope Francis in May’15 – Laudo Si.   “Ecology studies the relationship between living organisms and the environment in which they develop. This necessarily entails reflection and debate about the conditions required for the life and survival of society, and the honesty needed to question certain models of development, production and consumption. It cannot be emphasized enough how everything is interconnected. Time and space are not independent of one another, and not even atoms or subatomic particles can be considered in isolation. Just as the different aspects of the planet – physical, chemical and biological – are interrelated, so too living species are part of a network which we will never fully explore and understand. A good part of our genetic code is shared by many living beings. It follows that the fragmentation of knowledge and the isolation of bits of information can actually become a form of ignorance, unless they are integrated into a broader vision of reality.”

In taking the next “Awakening” step on this subject, you are invited to reflect upon what you have just read as it applies to your own life now. To set the scene for journalising some of your feelings on what you have just read, your thoughts, inspirations and concerns, etc. A few generic questions have been supplied you to consider.   You are encouraged to identify with your own specific situation and how you feel right now about your own life on earth and how you are part of a society responsible for the quality of our future life on earth.   Finally the questioning turns to the more important question of Yourself as a social creature living in a fuzzy world of relationships with others, inextricably linking to others – in your family, in your community, in your society and to even your spiritual connections and love of nature.

Click the Our Precious Life “Awakening” button below to move to the next step in the process, where you are able to download “Awakening ” PDF questions on this important topic.  You will be invited to create an entry in your personal journal, as you reflect upon just how you feel right now about what you have just read. 

 

 

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Even if you already feel you were reasonably well aware of the material just read then you might well be a candidate as a possible volunteer for helping enrich this content with other important and relevant content. There is another button blow for blogging with others with a similar interest in this content, caring about their own behaviour, caring for others and the environment. Better still, if you are an expert in this field you may be interested in updating or even owning the above lay-person and non-professional version of this seminal “Awareness” of Our Precious Life.

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