Sunday, September 26, 2010

Evolution: Part One

I am alive, marginally conscious, huddling in a hole in the ground, while giant creatures with their thunderous roars and colossal thirty-ton bodies shake the earth above me. It is 150 million years B.C.

I am in the trees, safe from a whole new set of nasty and cunning predators below, ready to scurry down whenever the coast is clear, to quickly locate, gobble down, and fill my belly with tasty bugs, eggs, lizards, and berries. It is 20 million BC.

I am running across the open savannah, naked, sweating, now almost six feet tall, fully erect with a much bigger brain, on the look out for Smilodon who would rip my flesh apart with his six-inch front teeth and eat out my liver; I am also watching out for my ape-man cousins who would clobber me unconscious with their primitive rock tools and eat my liver out as well. It is 1 million BC.

Life is hide-and-seek, duck-and-dodge. Life consumes life. Life procreates. Life protects its own kind. In all its agitation and ferocity, life keeps evolving.

I am living through the harrowing experiences of my ancestors, the complex, capricious, and perpetually dangerous saga of the evolution of mammals and primates, told in the flesh-and-blood, tooth-and-claw, dirt-and-soot, first-person perspective--through the eyes of the animals. I am about half way through Stephen Baxter’s novel Evolution. Baxter, as he has done in his great futuristic epics (such as Vacuum Diagrams and the Manifold Trilogy) that span millions and billions of years, has created in Evolution an immense historical narrative extending from the deep past into the far future, all of it told through the lives of the creatures who lived it. Baxter paints very big pictures. In this novel, he tells the story of our evolution, our history, our struggles, our deaths, our fears and cumulative triumphs from the earliest beginnings of tiny furry animals who hid in terror, in the muck and mire with the worms, while the dinosaurs ruled the land, the sea, and the air.

But futurist questions emerge within the saga as it unfolds. What have we learned? What are the neurological and instinctual underpinnings that have been built into our nature? Where is it all heading? Will we make it? Species come and go in life’s drama like the flickering of fireflies. The future of evolution is an adventure into the arena of unending uncertainty.

I am now moving into part two of the novel. Neanderthal, powerful like a bear and smelling like one, has just met the tall, skinny, childlike-looking “people” who make tools out of bones (the wonder of it!). I am at 130 thousand BC.

Stay tuned for part two in the next blog.

If you want to feel deep in your gut--to experience with your vicarious senses, to smell and taste it, the living pulsation of evolution--this is the book to read. Baxter is amazingly good at creating the visceral and naturalistic feel of the struggle of life, woven together with an ongoing broadly painted description of the evolution of nature and the earth. His description of the comet hitting the earth and the resulting ecological catastrophe that wiped out the dinosaurs is excellent--tragic, powerful, and jolting to the mind and the senses. You are there.

As Peter Watson has said, “Evolution is the story of us all.” As many others have said, a fundamental law of life is “Grow or die.” Life is transformation; life is creation and destruction. Evolution is one of those very, very deep brute facts of existence (like gravity--only deeper). There is no way to understand what and who we are and what it all means without understanding evolution. It is the cosmic and the earthly context of the human soul. Without (understanding) history there is no (understanding of our) future. Evolution is our history; evolution is our future.

Hence, in the spirit of the great cosmic wave of creation, we are evolving--our house has been disassembled and put together in a different way. (You grow or you die.) Go look at the new organization of our website. It is a new Gestalt. We have a whole new set of categories that pull everything together much more intuitively. All of our newest articles and slide presentations are up now; our print and web libraries have been greatly expanded and updated. The focus of our home page--our mission, vision, and purpose--has been defined much more sharply and cleanly. And this is all just part one of our new evolutionary jump. Stay tuned for new waves of transformation in the coming months. This first wave of change was content and conceptual structure and focus; the next waves will be multi-media and interactivity.

Speaking of which--that is, evolution and computers--I have just finished Wake, Robert Sawyer’s new science fiction novel on the emergence of consciousness, of intelligence, of selfhood, on the Web. As usual, Sawyer is an incredibly clear writer; as usual, he has done his scientific and technological homework. He creates a very realistic and convincing story--set in the present--of how the Web could realize awareness of itself and eventually make contact with the world--with us. Its first questions to humanity are: What am I and who am I? But of course. Isn’t that what we all ask, when we begin to think. The answers lie in the future.

Regarding upcoming events: We will be hosting our third meeting of the CFC Think Tank and Educational Academy, October 2nd, the first Saturday of the month starting at 7:00 pm. The first two meetings were lively, free flowing discussions on a variety of topics, including the purposeful self-conscious evolution of humanity. What will this mean? How will we do it? Everyone seems to agree that it is a moral and ontological imperative.

Finally, note that this coming month (October) I am doing two presentations out on the west side: October 6th at Sun City Grand and October 20th at the Rio Life Long Learning Center. Both are new updated presentations--that is, evolutions--the first one, on “Globalization” and the second one on “The Question of Progress.” Is human society evolving—improving--as we increasingly network ourselves together across the globe? How do we define progress and social evolution? I am anchoring both presentations to an opening quote/theme from Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...” In some ways we are still like those fuzzy tiny creatures, hiding in our dark little holes while giants shake the ground of our existence and frighten the hell out of us.

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