Art by George W. Maynard
By Betty Jean Wolkenstein
In the chaos of the last term of High School for our seniors, one might meta-ironically start to question:
How should I even feel about graduation?
What is really going to be the point of all this?
Will I remember this all in twenty years? Ten years?
When getting existential, it is good to look at what has already been accomplished…
Primordial Soup (CELebration)
In the calmed waters proceeding the chaotic creation of earth, elements and chemicals from the deaths of the first stars began to interact. Sugars and nucleobases combined with amino acids to form RNA (ribonucleic acid), which performed the earliest metabolism. Spontaneous chemical reactions with these ingredients began the start of natural selection, where only the strongest and most useful structures were replicated. Concentrated and protected from the environment by fatty acids, the beginning of cellular life began.
Around seven million years ago, the hominin species broke from our ancestors, the chimpanzees. Of the 20 hominin, at least six lived alongside us, the Homo Sapian Sapians. Some of these groups were also able to develop stone tools, and may have harnessed fire. Such, with their success, the reason for the disappearances of these groups is debated, as perhaps rapid climate change or genocide, leaving only us.
As aforementioned, the control of fire has been pivotal in our species’ survival and success, enabling more nutrients in food, protection from harsh environments, and providing a hunting tool.
However, Yuval Noah Harari, professor and author of the bestselling science novel ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,’ (2011), suggests human prosperity can be attributed to three major revolutions: the Cognitive Revolution (70,000 years ago), the Agricultural Revolution (10,000 years ago), and the Scientific Revolution (500 years ago).
The Cognitive Revolution was the development of more intricate language. This allowed us to form large groups based on stories, myths, and beliefs, which then proceeded to trade.
The Agricultural Revolution achieved population growth. Out of the three Revolutions, this has created the most suffering. Initially, it did not improve the individual lives of the time, and actively decreased quality of life, as leisure time was decreased and the worries of the future began to set into culture, such as the next year’s weather and/or harvest yield. With this also came the Religious Revolution, and its various acts of oppression.
The Scientific Revolution influenced the Enlightenment and Humanism, displaying the power of humanity to form individual conclusions on how nature, physics, and humans themselves worked. The Revolution continues today, where new paradigms– fundamental ways of thinking and living– are (needing) to be formed, for example, the climate crisis and the worldwide focus on environmental sustainability. The Revolution will continue tomorrow, producing more paradigms, as Harari states, “In the past 1000 years, humans have evolved to take over the world and are on the verge of overcoming natural selection and becoming gods. Yet, we still seem unhappy in many ways and we are unsure of what we want. Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?”1
Human progress can be measured by our energy extraction and use-efficiency. We began with our own metabolism and muscles, and have now achieved energy from the burning of fossil fuels.
The Kardashev Scale operates with four Types.
The civilisation accesses the entire home-planet’s resources and energy.
The civilisation accesses their star and solar system’s resources and energy. Concepts such as the Dyson sphere, a megastructure encompassing a star to harness its energy, could be applied.
The civilisation accesses their entire galaxy’s resources and energy.
The civilisation accesses multiple galaxy’s resources and energy.
Humanity is around 0.75 on the Scale. It has been suggested that no civilisations have reached beyond Type II, as the effects on the neighbouring solar systems and even galaxies would be too large to not notice, even if they were remnants.2
There are an estimated 40 billion planets that might support life in our Milky Way galaxy.3 This aforementioned Scale of civilisations begs the question: where is the rest of life? The Fermi Paradox suggests multiple filters– trial by fire– that limit the development or continuation of life. These filters decrease the probability of an already physically unlikely meeting of two civilisations with enough intelligence to identify one another.
The human race can and should be proud of the relatively short period of time we have carved out for ourselves. From our cellular machinations, we have evolved speech, production, and knowledge acquisition. In a few hundred years, we may even reach a Type I society.
High School graduation is a few hours of a person’s life. In a good life, one makes a positive impact on the small bubble of relationships around them. Even though the impact on society of one individual can be brushed off as microscopic, history is evidence of the collective choices of humanity that allowed the progress we have seen and will see in the future.
Just existing expands the possibilities of humanity as a species.
So, exist for graduation. Exist for beyond it.