I get nostalgic sometimes, especially when I think about the extent of human history. It is the constant threat of being a historian. Of course, that is but a bare blink of the eye of time for this world, galaxy, and universe. As far as species go, we’re young. We have cousins with longer lineages than us, even though they are all long since passed.
But I wonder. Sometimes, I wonder.
When the first humans looked up at the stars, could they imagine? Could they imagine the world that was in store for them? When the ices receded, and the world thawed, and tribes and factions splintered and wandered their own ways. Could they know? In that expanse of their intellect, in the depths of their ambition, and quest for knowledge and understanding. Could they even comprehend?
Could they know that one day the stars, those burning lights that they looked up at in the night sky, would someday be drowned out by lights brighter than they could ever imagine? That entire groups of humans, numbering then-uncountable numbers, would live in enormous aggregations of neighborhoods and homes, splintered and cut off from the world around them, and yet intimately connected across distances that were unfathomable to comprehend?
Standing there, in the African grasses, could they imagine that the land under their feet would be trampled and coursed with crushed stone? Blackened under the weight of progress, and covered in a processed crudity that was pumped from the very land under them? That they would come to understand natural forces that had long eluded them, perhaps, too late to check the unfettered approach of a resource-hungry species? That some of the planet’s greatest resources would be fettered by their avarice?
That they could create and comprehend the understanding of math and sciences, and then apply those principles to the creation and eventual destruction of vast civilizations? Of the beasts and plants that they would tame, force to extinction, and engineer?
Could they have realized that the mud brick in their hands would transition into worked stone and, eventually, steel and glass? Spires that would be buffeted by the high winds, arching towards the heavens and blotting out the very sunlight of the world for the people threading their way between them?
Humanity has done some miraculous things, we have worked enormous wonders that would more than likely be considered god-like by our ancient selves.
I wonder. I wonder if those first humans, stepping out into the world around them, lifting their heads up with the first true grasps of self-realization, knew what burned in them. What hunger burned in the heart of their species. That they would take the roles of hero and villain, destroyer and builder, founder and conqueror, and the other hundreds that we have seen in our short history.
When our ancestors built those first cities, when they crafted Eridu (or Uruk, or Ur, depending on who you choose to follow) could they imagine the shining megalopolis that would burn so bright one could see them from the inky blackness of space? Could they imagine the first time that the switch of electricity was flipped in one such place, and the light that would instantaneously erupt from a dozen, dozen buildings?
Did they know? Or were they as taken by surprise as the world itself was at our appearance?
I look up at the stars and I try to see what they saw, and feel what they feel. I don’t wonder what’s out there. What is out there is out there, and we’ll discover it in due time. Maybe. It’s the past that truly captivates my attention, what we can learn from it, and how we can apply it to the future.
I want to connect with that past as much of a way as possible. That’s a big part of what drives me to do this. Not for nostalgic reasons. I am well aware of how much better life is at this point in time. I just…want to know.
I look up at the sky…
..and I wonder.
Thanks for reading.