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Post details: Humankind's Groundhog Day

Humankind's Groundhog Day

According to most history textbooks, civilization as we know it arose some ten thousand years ago, during the so called Agricultural Revolution, when large bands of our primitive ancestors apparently came to conclusion that hunting and gathering was for suckers and started poking their increasingly green thumbs in the cultivated soil. Placed on a geological time scale though, the history of mankind is really just a blink of an eye. Or so we thought.

According to Komsomolskaya Pravda, a strange discovery was recently made near the Russian city of Vladivostok, a midsize Far Eastern port close to the Chinese and North Korean border. One of its residents, a guy identified as Dmitry, was trying to light a fire in his home when he spotted something odd about one of the coal chunks. A metallic-looking rod - later determined to be 100,000 years old - was pressed into its body. Fancy that. A sign of metallurgical prowess harking back to the times when we were supposedly still throwing stones at midsize ruminants for a living. This strongly indicates that our love affair with technology is much older than we think and had probably started way before the denizens of the Neanderthal valley realized that bronze axes looked totally cool on their cave walls.

It also opens an intriguing possibility that the arrival of intelligence on this planet wasn't just a one time thing, a slowly breaking dawn at the onset of the Holocene, but rather a periodic process like the alternation of day and night. What if the whole history of civilization on Earth was just one giant Groundhog Day experience? You know, that movie in which Bill Murray, a disgruntled weather reporter, gets stuck in Punxsutawney and as he tries to awkwardly woo his female coworker, he relives the Groundhog Day over and over again until - after countless loops - he finally gets all the romantic ingredients right and wakes up besides her the next morning.

Perhaps our Earth was roamed by advanced cultures before. Perhaps more than once. It's just that they - much like Bill Murray's character - kept making stupid mistakes which tossed them back in time whenever they reached certain evolutionary level. Sophisticated social orders may have developed along the way, whole nations may have flourished, but when they grasped for that technological apex, their inherent character flaws got the better of them and they evaporated into oblivion. If you think about it, there really is no shortage of ways for us to self destruct. Polluting the environment with noxious chemicals. Bioagents gone wild. Warming the global climate beyond agricultural tolerance. Or just good old fashioned nuking ourselves to smithereens. Whatever poison our hypothetical predecessors chose, they just knocked themselves right back into the stone age. Rinse and repeat.

And so we go on and keep bootstrapping ourselves from a semi-erected hominid state back into a highly structured society only to repeat the same blunders a few millenia down the road. At the end, we escape the evolutionary infinite loop only when we finally get it right and turn into truly intelligent and cooperative life forms. The kind that possesses natural wisdom, doesn't litter their own neighborhood with plastic junk, uses finite resources with discretion, doesn't choose pathological liars as political representatives, and above all does not wage endless wars.

But I do not think the present cycle is it. Reading the New York Times front page suggests that we are still a bunch of sophomoric teenagers playing with matches at a dynamite factory. And when it all goes boom, the great artifacts of our era - pyramids, cathedrals, airports, football stadiums - will disappear underneath a thick layer of sediment and volcanic ash. But sooner or later - perhaps eons from today - the right combination of psychological traits will bring about the enlightened version of humanity who will break the vicious cycle, stop bickering and scheming and start pulling together in the same direction. They will tend domesticated animals, sow their fields, build their own pyramids, rediscover electricity and one sunny day they may even make it to the moon.

Now imagine how puzzled they will be when they stroll around the Sea of Tranquility and find Neil Armstrong's footprints there.


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