We Are Special
Before we can take care of the world we need to take care of ourselves first.
In my 53rd year of life on Planet Earth, I acknowledge that I am just one of 7 billion humans, cooperatively destroying an organic world, which is flying through space.
But, oh hark, our plant is one of hundreds of millions of stars in hundreds of millions of galaxies. Yep, the Universe is a big place. So far, we have yet to find life beyond our planet. At this point, I must assume that life is an extremely rare occurrence. Heck, we may be the only life in our universe. But that’s no big deal since space is endless and there may be only one living planet per universe. There could be hundreds of billions of universes.
I’m going to take the pompous position and say we humans are rare. It took millions of years on the Earth just for the first living cell to evolve. And that was the easy part. The hard part was getting that cell to reproduce, with nothing to help except for organic resources and plenty of time. Of course, we needed a few supernovas first to turn all the hydrogen and helium in our vicinity into the rest of the elements in the Periodic Table.
So, a lot had to happen before we could even be here. But once that living, reproducing cell was born the heavy lifting was done. From there the rest of the work was relatively easy as evolution progressed from single-cell organisms to the massively complex animals we have today.
Then there us humans. This is where things got particularly tricky. Over time the single-cell animals in our oceans clustered and became more sophisticated. Brains slowly emerged to manage the processes of finding food, avoiding predators, and reproducing. Slowly, the brains got bigger and the animals became more complex.
As early as 7 million years ago early forms of humans begin appearing in the fossil record. Over the years we evolved into the creatures we are today. During the evolution of our species, something really odd happened. For some reason we acquired far more intelligence than what we needed for simply collecting food, reproducing, and fending off predators. Why is this so, and how did it happen?
Evolution happens both slow and fast, and I’m guessing a series of mutations gave us bigger brains. Immediately, all those extra neurons were put to good use. I’m speculating that during this process the second amazing thing happened — we acquired self-awareness.
Now, it’s this self-awareness or consciousness, that radically changed the Universe. With our ability to reflect, ponder, and appreciate its awe, the Universe suddenly becomes alive. Oh, sure, yes, we are rapidly poisoning and polluting our little planet, and killing ourselves by population overshoot and an overall disregard for our habitat. But in the brief moment that our species is here we make the Universe alive, through our philosophy, music, art, and reverence to the wonder of the stars.
It is our intelligence and consciousness that are the two great results of billions of years of planet creation and organic evolution. We humans are the end result, or perhaps only the next step. Now, we have the ability to study the mass cosmos through telescopes and even spacecraft. In effect, we are going back to the place where we were created — outer space.
Rivaling the greatness of the Universe is the incredibleness of our brains. I see the brain as a little universe in itself. Just the complexity it takes for me to get into an automobile and safety drive somewhere requires massively elaborate functions in my head. As I drive, my five senses are feeding me information, which translates into actions and decisions, which gets my body to some destination. All the while, in addition to my hundreds of functions like breathing and turning the steering wheel, I am also thinking. As my motor skills do their thing my brain is playing scenarios, pondering issues in my life, and so forth. Our very existence is mind-boggling.
Now, the point of all this rambling is to say that you and I are special. It took billions of years of cosmic and evolutionary work to make us. But why did the cosmos and evolution want us? There seems to be a natural law out there that drives things from the simple to the complex. On the organic side, it has something to do with the more efficient use of energy. On the galactic side, it has more to do with gravity and stellar nucleosynthesis, which is where chemical elements assemble in the cores of stars. So, stars and supernovas are engines of life — they are busy creating the elements that we need to be, well, us.
If the universe and nature have gone through so much trouble to create us then we owe it to the universe and nature to do something worthwhile with our lives. First and foremost, our bodies and brains are absolute miracles and we owe it to ourselves to treat our lifeforms like a temple. It should be our duty to exercise, eat healthily, and to exercise our brain as well, through learning and exploring. I believe that the first step to saving the environment is to save ourselves. Every day when you wake up, acknowledge that you are an incredible creature, and live your life accordingly. Strive to make your habitat better and always dedicate part of your life to helping other humans, for they are miracles too.