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June 15, 2013

History, the Brain, and Our Future

We humans are intensely curious, especially about our origins. Modern evolutionary theory dates the emergence of Homo sapiens from Africa at approximately 200,000 years ago, but we were not the first hominids to leave the home continent. Neanderthals are known to have preceded us, and perhaps a third primate species, as well.

At the other extreme of time estimates, the biblical research of Anglo-Irish Bishop James Ussher persuaded him that Adam and Eve had been created about 4000 BC, an estimate that was widely accepted for over a Century until evolution of the scientific method fostered by the discoveries of Galileo, Newton, and others began casting serious doubt on long established religious beliefs. Even today, in a world driven by Scientific technology, it's probable that a majority of Western humans believe in an omnipotent Deity. In any event, it appears likely that it will be quite a while before an avowed atheist occupies the Oval Office.

Although Ussher's assertion about Creation may now seem ludicrous to many, the available evidence suggests he was a serious, if somewhat conservative, scholar who relied on the best information available to him that was also consistent with the accepted belief beliefs of his day.

When Columbus discovered two American continents roughly a hundred years following Europe's recovery from the Black Death, our species had sustained a serous setback and was still very ignorant of its global habitat. However, it was was soon launched on a trajectory of population growth that more than made up for the Plague by the discovery of two new continents.

Even as smallpox was decimating the "Indians" Columbus encountered in the Americas, his sailors were acquiring a reciprocal "pox" that would ravage Eurasia until the arrival Penicillin in the Twentieth Century.

While European missionaries were busy converting the Indians to Christianity, other Europeans were expanding the African Slave Trade that had been initiated by the Portuguese in the Fifteenth Century. Thus did a surge in the demand for labor created by the introduction of two new diseases to vulnerable populations play a key role in the evolution of two modern problems, the legacies of which continue to haunt us in modern times: chattel slavery and colonialism.

There is little doubt that Science has greatly enhanced human knowledge, health, and material progress. However it has also encouraged the exploitation of poor populations and the profligate consumption of energy, especially since the Industrial Revolution; thus scientific "progress" has been a mixed bag that now threatens us with two unanticipated consequences: global overpopulation and rapid climate change.

For me, the message of the last five hundred years is that humans are all too prone make dangerous false assumptions; especially on behalf of new profits.

As much as I would like to believe the estimated 7 billion humans now creating problems that threaten our very existence can be persuaded to radically alter their behavior in time to prevent 2 looming catastrophes, there is considerable evidence suggesting the opposite.

Perhaps the most hopeful scenario would be that a series of disasters will depopulate the planet to a level that would persuade survivors to do what we should have started doing long ago: find a way to restrict population growth while embracing an energy conserving lifestyle. Hopefully it might happen in time to prevent the methane release that threatens to make all other efforts fruitless.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at June 15, 2013 06:27 PM