Four and a half billion years... half way through the lifetime of a planet... for some of that time molten and dead from bombardment in the early formation of the solar system... for most of the remainder inhabited only by single-celled life forms. And for a 'mere' half billion years, a flourishing of plants and animals. Then at last, for the merest flicker of geological time, there are human beings. How very long it took until a tool-making, syntactic language-using, self-reflecting species arose—for the first time and (for all we know) the only time in the entire galaxy.
But life on Earth is dangerous. Mass extinctions can happen slowly through geological changes that cause vulcanism and planetary cooling, or quickly through a collision with a meteorite. A nearby star could become a supernova. At least twice in its long lifetime, Earth has been frozen solid or nearly solid all the way to the equator—the sort of ice age which, if it happened now, would exterminate all multicellular life. Bacteria would once again be the only life forms. By the greatest of good fortune, our planet has survived until it is within reach of safety from cosmic disasters: its latest creation, ourselves, is slowly maturing in its capacity to develop the means to safeguard the planet for all life.
And yet what a strange species we are! Looking back at the immensity of geological time, the miracle of our own existence, seeing our planet photographed whole from space, how very much should we value ourselves, our world, all the incredible potential our planet and ourselves possess to continue to develop and flourish for billions of years—to spread out and inhabit what may be and most likely is, a galaxy free of any other intelligent species, to give the universe self awareness, love, wisdom, understanding, joy, knowledge—all the precious qualities of life.
But what are we doing, what is our opinion of ourselves? Sadly, we often hate our own species, hate our own potential, reject the very attributes that make us the beings we are: we want to "go back to nature". How tragic! Technology is our speciality, our completely natural, and yet unique, species skill, our gift to the planet that gave us birth. Human technology can stave off the next planet-killing worldwide ice age; technology can deflect a killer asteroid and mitigate the effects of disasters in space in our galactic neighbourhood. Not only this, but no longer is our planet's life at the mercy of random mutations in order that life might best flourish in the conditions available at the time; it now can intelligently direct its own evolution. Our planet has done something incredible, something truly deserving of awe and wonder: it has given to itself a brain! After four and a half billion years prey to any disaster and taking whatever comes, the life force of planet Earth is constructing for itself a planetary defence and guidance system—our human technology!
And then another miraculous development: the intelligent symbol-manipulating, tool-using species has found a way to bring together the intelligence of hundreds and thousands of thinkers to work together to solve problems. It started with the invention of writing and libraries to preserve wisdom beyond the span of the mind that first conceived it, and has now progressed to the internet, which adds a second direction of information flow and allows minds to act and react upon each other. Each human mind can now act as a 'superneuron' in a world-mind. By no means does or should this involve the loss of autonomy or personal freedom; instead it shows that a new way of thinking has arrived. In a moment, a person can obtain input from hundreds or thousands of others, including those long-gone, to make informed, better decisions. From the first paintings of bison on cave walls, to the Library of Alexandria, to hyperlinks, intelligence is no longer limited to the capacity of a single living being. Odd as it may sound, the critical developments in the history of the Earth are probably these: planet forms; liquid water forms and stabilises temperature; life emerges; multicellular life evolves; a language-using technological species appears; the internet is discovered!
But once again we show our own paradoxical perversity: our politicians throughout the world want to censor the internet. Using as an excuse the fact that we, as a sexual species, have an interest in our own sexual capacities and therefore will naturally use our own technology to explore it, they want to impose controls that will close down free speech and the interchange of ideas on the excuse that we might also do with the internet what we have always done with our technology: explore our own instincts. But that is only the cover story. What really terrifies those who would control us are the potentialities that have been opened by these evolutionary, revolutionary changes.
Evolution is slow on the scale of a single lifetime. The mind that formed in a creature walking the plains of Africa, sharpening a stone tool to crack a bone and extract the marrow after a lion has eaten all it can of its kill, that mind, virtually unchanged, is now running industries, discovering new science, constructing technologies, and planning genetic alterations to itself and other creatures. Truly, and for good reason, we feel exiled from the world that made us. The Garden of Eden story is true, even if it is not literally true.
So let those of us who feel and love the wonder, the precious gift, of being human, truly human, with all our blessings and all our faults, who accept our destiny and wish to carry it forward into an unknown future pregnant with challenges and as-yet unseen potentialities, let us be kind to those who fear the future and who in their hearts flee back to those innocent days on the African plains. Let us resist their attempts to make time run backwards, but let us accept the validity of their fears, and let us make sure that each step we take is a sound step, not rash bravado based on the drunkenness of our new species-power. The ones who rush onwards, as well as the ones who cling to the past are, however strange it may seem, all needed to give us the best possible chance to succeed in giving birth to a new richness of life in the vast cosmos. We need peace; we need everyone. Peace to us all!