Am I the only one to be amazed by the revelation from Tom Clark, the editor of Prospect magazine that the biggest brains in the world today are obsessed by one, three word question: who are we?
Writing in the Guardian he states:
…in a know-nothing political age Prospect, the magazine I edit, felt it would be timely to salute intellectual effort by this week publishing a list of 50 top thinkers…The bit I didn’t see coming is how many big minds would be consumed by variants of a single question: who are we? By my reckoning it is around half. What exactly, disparate thinkers are asking, does it mean to be American, Muslim, Indian, female, black or simply human?
Why do they waste their time? Why are they not utilizing their supposedly massive intellects to focus on the more mundane, though vastly more important, problems of life – combating climate change, constructing a democratic system of politics that actually works, bringing about world peace…to name just a few.
Frankly, the answer to their question is so blindingly obvious I don’t comprehend how they can be missing it. Or, are they incapable of seeing the proverbial wood for the trees?
Question: who are we? Answer: we’re amoebas celebrating our four billionth birthday. Everything changes over time. Some things take longer than others. We’ve taken (roughly) four billion years to change from this…
Okay, well let’s admit, apart from appearance, four billion years hasn’t produced much difference. But, joking apart – who says I was joking! – four billion years is a long time and a lot can change over epochs, yet it doesn’t follow that we’ve become something entirely different. We’re still amoebas, it’s just that we’ve gathered a lot more of them around us so we can take up more room, and drive a motor car.
Unfortunately, while the single amoeba didn’t have a lot to be egotistical about, when millions of them gang up to create a colony we now call a human being, they’re so full of themselves at having achieved this that they become virtually all ego, and begin to imagine they’re gods, the pinnacle of creation, and able to do anything – like discover “who we are” if they sit and think long enough about it.
We amoeba conglomerates have been ‘living’ for about four billion years. The building blocks required to produce carbon-based life forms have been available in the Universe as far back as just 1.5 billion years after the Big Bang, consequently as the Universe is around thirteen billion years old, it’s likely we were rather late starters.
Amoebas that formed, say, ten billion years ago and began evolving into higher lifeforms, if they survived until today, are likely to be vastly superior to ourselves. Indeed, probably capable of creating whole universes. Imagine, in the unlikely event our species will survive the distance, how we would be in another six, or so, billion years. In just a couple of hundred years our technology has advanced exponentially. Universe creation hardly seems an impossibility, given another few billion years or so to perfect it.
Perhaps we need to stop considering our lifespan as ‘three score years and ten’ more or less, and expand our consciousness to accept we’re all the same age -roughly four billion years old. Given the possibility of escaping from this planet long before the sun expands and frizzles it, in about another 3.5 billion years, and how our abilities would probably allow us to travel swiftly, not only within our own Universe, but to others also, it seems fair to suggest that, as a species, we could continue to exist for a very long time.
If we equate our species’ possible lifespan as almost infinite, then it’s obvious that right now we’re barely out of diapers. That’s a dangerous age, especially when we have no parental guidance. We really need some, so we invent a parent and call it – GOD (or another word, or words, meaning the same thing).
God gives us teachings. He tells us how and when to kill each other, while at the same time telling us we should love each other. We know, deep down, it’s all made up, but it gives us comfort and a reason to feel we’re God’s children. God is Santa Claus to the young child, the tooth fairy when it feels its first pangs of loss, an imaginary, all-embracing parent telling us he’ll make everything better – even when he doesn’t. ‘God’ is merely the reflection of ourselves.
We have a long way to go. Will we ever get there? Today it seems unlikely we’ll make it even to our teenage years.
And more so while those who have the biggest brains are sat around asking themselves: “Who the hell are we?”