The more we know, the more we realize how little we know.
The Earth is a sentient being. Not only is this not hyperbole, it is an understatement. The Earth is not only sentient, she is far more intelligent, conscious, and powerful than we are. We forget this to our peril. And in our boundless ignorance, we often simply deny it.
Here's a few reminders of her power over us. A $300,000 sports car becomes a paperweight in an ice storm. A 3 million dollar home turns to toothpicks in a tornado. A 30 billion dollar aircraft carrier becomes scrap metal at the hands of a tsunami. The rainforest can swallow a six lane highway project, along with trucks two stories tall, in a matter of months. And leave no trace that any of it existed. (For real, just ask Brazil.) Indeed, the current climate crisis threatens to erase our species from Earth's history forever.
The more remarkable thing about the Earth, though, is her attention to the smallest details: The petals of an orchid, the antennae of an ant, the spiky fins of a lionfish. And her mastery of alchemy: Turning sunlight into food, minerals into colors, death into life.
Humans lose their perspective all the time, foolishly believing the universe not only revolves around them, but is organized for them. The known universe was born somewhere around 13.8 billion years ago. Or maybe it just woke up from its slumber then. Nobody really knows, none of us having lived that long. For all we know, the known universe is but a thin strand of hair on a magnificent beast. One that lives in an even greater world of its own.
Somewhere around 4.54 billion years ago, planet Earth was born. Plus or minus 50 million years. (How's that for perspective, the Earth is old enough that 50 million years on either side of its possible origin is relatively unimportant.) And then about 300,000 years ago homo sapiens arrived (again, give or take), thanks to a few millions of years of evolution from our more primitive ancestors. A nanosecond, really, on the universal timeline.
The point is this. Life predates us by a considerable amount of time. We are neither the beginning nor the end of life's journey. It is possible we are but a blink of life's eyelash. It is also possible we are simply garden critters that showed up one summer on Earth and then never returned after the winter.
photo credit: NASA
Our human advances in science and technology have rendered only the faintest of understandings of Earth. What the moss and mushrooms know alone would take us generations to distill. And how they, the pine needles, and the butterflies are interconnected, along with everything else, may never be fully within our grasp. It is time we act accordingly. It is way is past time.
And not just with regards to our home planet, but the other neighbor critters who live here. Be they human or winged or four-legged, or, you know, snakes. The arrogance (and the delusion) that any of us have any kind of superiority -- over the Earth or each other -- is based purely in a certain lazy ignorance. Our prejudices and hatreds of one another are just smaller microcosms of this larger universal ignorance.
Also, wherever it began, life has a propensity to create. Always has, as far as we can tell. In this way, modern humans are a bit of an anomaly in our tendency to destroy more than we create. We are part of life, after all, and so it is our nature to create.
One way we can figure out how to stay part of Mother Earth's ancient and vastly intelligent ecosystem for a bit longer is to do more creating. Not necessarily creating more humans, as it appears we are not at risk of a shortage right away. Instead, let's create more sustainable ways of life, more sanctuaries for those at risk, more bridges to one another, more awareness of our unique, but marginal place in the world.
The more we know, the more we realize how little we know. It is time we wake up from this dream of our own advanced intelligence. It is time we start listening to the Earth and to each other. It is way is past time.
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Thomas Lloyd Qualls is a writer, a condition that is apparently incurable.
His second novel, Painted Oxen, is available wherever books are sold.