Paradoxically, the Earth is energy-starved today, compared to its youth. Three million potassium molecules may snap, crackle, pop in the human body every minute; we, the best-fed third of humanity, may convert excess food into fat every day. However, this energy regime is paltry compared to the fierce ergs one human-body-mass would have radiated during the Hadean Era, four billion years ago. Back then, sentiency may have occupied regional firestorms instead of today's isolated hundredweights of decomposing flesh.
Besides, the human species is probably just the latest in a series of sentient communities (esoteric, electric, caloric, mineral, cellular, vegetal and animal) that prevailed for a certain length of time over the earthly scene, then snuffed itself out either through dumb multiplication and drowning in waste (as we are doing so stupidly today) or else by a cosmic hiccup. Indeed, subsequent kingdoms likely arose to feast off the waste of its predecessor.
Here, at the bottom of our sunlit gravity well, we wage ceaseless war against entropy. By the way, what IS gravity? Its tireless distortion of space-time mocks our energy conservation laws. And this force is puny compared to the two or three electromagnetic and atomic forces we can make out. A small magnet can counteract the gravitational attraction between a sewing needle and the entire planet.
Let’s face it, “high tech” civilization carrion-feeds off accretions of minerals and decaying organic matter. One whiff of diesel fuel betrays its origin as natural sewage. Petroleum probably serves some hidden, geomorphic function. Like starving mosquitoes, we refuse to pay attention as we suck it dry, and may well get slapped flat as an unintended consequence of our gluttony.
Ancient plants may have offered a much richer nutritional content than that of our current, super-inbred domestic varieties. Long ago, the most nutritious plants probably developed co-dependencies with consumer species and died off when their consumers did. Or some epidemic or disaster wiped them out.
A modern mildew is threatening to wipe out the world’s banana crop. Other edible plants are threatened by disease or genetic extinction in the wild, including pomegranates, pistachios, watermelons, apples, pineapples, mangos, sweet potatoes, garlic, peanuts, soybeans, tomatoes, coffee, hard wheat and grapes; and no doubt many more not yet tabulated: enough to starve humanity.
Microbes may not have been the worst threat to edible crops and rare animals; that was probably man. The Romans harvested to extinction the aromatic cooking herb silphium from Cyrene in North Africa; they drove several large animals to extinction for their murderous Coliseum games. In pursuit of trivial, curative and culinary purposes, the Chinese empire and others have wrought similar damage. China is currently responsible for exterminating the African rhinoceros, Asian tigers, and the ocean’s sharks; Japan, for Red Tuna and other oceanic species. Books have no doubt been written on this topic alone, assigning every ethnicity and nation to the guilty docket. Without a colossal boost in Learning and wisdom, humanity will wind up listed as one of the most lethal planetary infections on an exhibit card in the world natural history museum.
Antediluvian mastodons grew to be twice the weight of modern elephants; dinosaurs, seven times larger. How? As yet, no plausible nutrition physiology has been proposed for them.
Ancient Berengia, the land bridge now submerged between Siberia and Alaska, is said to have harbored mega-fauna: mammoths and such-like critters. Human pioneers are thought to have crossed it from Asia. No one has modeled an ecology that would sustain such ravenous wildlife across a wind-scoured arctic wilderness rimmed with mile thick glaciers. You’d need those massive glaciers to lower sea levels and expose the land bridge. Imagine those super beasts trooping across modern Antarctica, and Man crossing it afoot from Africa to South America.
A possibility? More vigorous plants than ours fed these animals, plants resistant to high winds, intense cold and low precipitation. Pollen of unique genotypes may confirm this hypothesis. A nutritional revolution may lie unrecognized in the fossil record. Could it be hidden among our weeds and aquatic plants?
Some bearers of the spark of life, perhaps even entire ecologies of this kind, survived the glaciation of the entire planet after one of perhaps many cosmic impacts or epochs of continental volcanism. This all-pervading cold must would been beyond enduring; the slow, patient, life-sucking cold of final, welcome sleep that sought out survivors for millennia and froze them solid without mercy or letup. Likewise, firestorms of glowing cosmic debris and deadly volcanic gasses that smothered the entire planet. Earth, wind, fire and ice; each in turn out of balance enough to snuff out life. What would have survived? Underwater volcanic vent ecologies, no doubt, and deeper strata bacteria; but what else and how much further evolved? Kept intact by whose science? Life all by itself takes quite awhile to evolve from bacteria into apes and then philosophers a bit less hairy.
Could it have been a special type of Ginkgo Biloba? Since the age of the dinosaurs, this plant has subsisted as a living fossil that survived every planetary catastrophe. It boasts its own plant phylum: Ginkgophyta. Apparently, its embryonic cells form endosymbiotic bonds with green algae and appears to be colonized by one of the most extreme-tolerant animals: tardigrade water bears. Fascinating!
In the meantime, human overpopulation threatens to destroy civilization itself.
Economists wait with breathless anticipation for the latest industrial growth projections. They’re like quack doctors from the Middle Ages, who expected patients they’d bled white to perk up as their pulse disappeared. Paradoxically, mankind’s progress demands deep population cuts and a corresponding shrinkage of its technological footprint.
Defenders of unrestrained growth act like misers who quit their hoard reluctantly to extort more gold. With unmatched hypocrisy, today’s imperial propagandists equate rational population control with imperialism and thus dismiss it. Others defend with fanatical devotion every fetus’ right to turn into a human being, then vote billions to napalm, cluster-bomb, and torture countless hard-up, grown-up fetuses and cut short their life.
We may soon discover renewable energy sources and fantastic new technologies, but none of them will allow us to remain so numerous and expect to flourish on this planet. Human overpopulation cancels progress, it encourages tyranny and cheapens human life, it renders each child less dear to us and each injustice more tempting. Psychopaths seek to expand their herd of victims.
Vertebrate photosynthesis suggests itself as an attractive new biotechnology. A land animal could grow as large as its bones could support its weight under one gravity, but only with supplemental nutrition. Solar-powered chloroplasts might have suffused its skin cells to supplement standard energy-cell mitochondria. This adaptation may have occurred in dinosaurs, since no workable nutrition regime has been proposed for them. Think of the vertical plates lining the spine of some dinosaurs: solar panels?
A creature that eats plants nonstop all day long may grow as large as a modern elephant, but not a dinosaur seven times heavier. Otherwise, we’d see bigger elephants. Let me remind you that mammoths were twice as heavy.
The chemistries of plant chlorophyll and animal pigmentation (skin and eye) are remarkably similar. Given an infusion of ATP-like substances and organelles, human skin might absorb red light at the 666 millimicron wavelength or thereabouts. Like plants, the human body might draw water, carbon dioxide, trace gasses and minerals from its circulatory system; then dump oxygen and amino acids back into it. Perhaps it’d metabolize fats, vitamins and carbohydrates as well, by means of a plant-like physiology.
Another nutritional alternative could be the accelerated growth of bacteria within the human digestive system, not to facilitate digestion but to provide additional proteins and nutrients for direct consumption by a human gut modified to resemble that of termites or the rumen of cattle. Both projects will certainly be challenging.
All this bio-hardware (and a lot more, most likely) may lie dormant in our “junk” DNA. As Learners seek new food supplies, these alternatives may offer some promise. Autonomic photosynthetic nutrition (APN) could mitigate many problems involved in the industrial processes of transportation, agro-business, waste recycling and other functions.
Problems like these stagger modern economies. When famine strikes, these days, disaster specialists dispatch tons of food by ship, aircraft and truck. Afterwards, they witness hungry masses swell up once more, cripple their ecology, gut local economies and abandon their political autonomy to local tyrants. Instead, rescuers might inoculate disaster victims with APN, such that some of their nourishment would come from the Sun through their skin. If so, local self-sufficiency and bio-habitats could be restored more dependably, and weapon sectarians, find fewer opportunities to flourish.
Adam and Eve’s skin may have been suffused with chlorophyll-like pigments. Perhaps they occupied Eden the way we would visit a park, admiring it but not needing to hunt its animals for food. Could the Serpent have tempted them with the Apple, the natural antidote to their photosynthetic gift? Could this have prompted the Fall?
Similarly, Moses’ forty-year Exodus could have been more relaxing if his followers had been orally inoculated with manna falling like dew on the sands. Pure water would have sufficed for the rest, gushing wherever Moses struck his staff. Thereafter, the cleansing ordeal of the desert got to infuse the Jewish spirit.
We may find more peaceful contentment by reducing our impact on the Earth and sustaining its self-repair. If Learners develop APN, we may downsize and decentralize our agro-corporations and food processing industries: a project that will thin very fat wallets. Much thought should go into this, despite frenzied opposition of powerful private interests. After all, much of the world economy revolves around feeding hungry mouths—when it’s not too busy shutting them for good.
The so-called “Green Revolution” has crippled crop diversity with a few super-inbreds overly dependent on agrochemical supplements, voracious of the soil’s fertility and vulnerable to disease, pests and bad weather. We are gorging on our children’s heritage. Agribusiness corporations have set up a dangerous parody of ancient cultivation methods that Learner sketches below.
With great efficiency, Neolithic communities harvested all the plant resources within their gathering zone. Denser communities of farmers aggravated this over-harvest as they took the place of scattered scavengers. In response, local info elites would have prized plant species with special medicinal and culinary virtues and gathered them systematically, rewarding the laity for stripping the countryside bare; then they’d have raised them in sacred garden plots, much the way we do at modern agricultural research facilities.
Please note. We need not limit this scenario to hominids. Social reptiles, insects and other organized species may have manipulated their environment in like manner, without leaving a recognizable trace of their activities. Multi-species insect communities guard specific plants that feed and house them in return. Some insect communities cultivate fungi and algae in sophisticated ways; some build elaborate structures for self-protection, indoor climate and flood control. Others annihilate and/or domesticate alien species and milk their secretions for food or psychotropic drugs. Ancient beasts, perhaps better fed, may have acted with even greater sophistication.
Scientists have already confirmed that the Earth has undergone a lengthy rain of meteors, even though they haven’t cataloged one hundredth of them yet (only 200 major impacts identified to date). The first iron weapons were crafted from retrieved meteorites. Those scientists have just begun to confirm Louis A. Frank’s contention (published in The Big Splash), that ice hydro bolides drop periodically from the heavens to top off the ocean.
In ancient times, the sea-level was located along continental shelves now submerged, a variance of a mere 100 meters or 300 feet. The legends of Atlantis and the Deluge may commemorate much more frequent flood catastrophes. Who can guess what ancient civilizations – human or otherwise – once existed along distant shores? Their cities would have dotted ancient river lines like beads along a string, well below current shorelines. Unnavigable rapids would have blocked rivers flowing at modern, continental elevations and kept these river dwellers from direct exploitation of the sea. Only pastoral nomads and hunter-gatherers would have bothered to subsist isolated so far upstream from the ocean’s shores and bounty.
Archaeological treasures locked away in our museums could be the sorry remnants of highland outcasts, eclipsed by splendid lowland civilizations now drowned. Did opulent civilizations thrive downstream of the paltry remnants we’ve dug up? Could their cities have dotted ancient coastlines and river deltas, drowned since?
The likeliest sites for these prehistoric urban civilizations would be a hundred miles offshore of the mouths of the Earth's great rivers, hundreds of feet underwater and buried under dozens more of alluvial silt. None of those sites has been investigated. Yet we dare deny the existence of urban civilizations from the distant past, based on a paltry body of evidence collected from ancient mountain goat herders. See my poem, Global Atlantis. Central to this discussion: Graham Hancock’s Underworld: The Mysterious Origins of Civilization, Crown Publishers, New York, 2002.
Indeed, I was inspired in this premise by Max Estenhofer, Buckminster Fuller, Sir Alister Clavering Hardy (The Living Stream), Elaine Morgan (The Aquatic Ape), Michael Crawford and David Marsh (The Driving Force). They postulated that proto-humans achieved upright, bipedal locomotion along tropical beaches, tidelands and river deltas, long before the first human villages emerged.
Our ancestors may have risen up from all fours by foraging through intertidal ecologies, half in and half out of water. After all, those have been Nature’s best-stocked larders. They may have been the least painful ones in which to twist the horizontal spine of four-legged animals into the vertical one of bi-pedal humans, over hundreds of generations.
Plants with superior nutritional and medicinal content (probably ancient varieties of seaweed problematical to isolate and identify today) would have improved the odds for such societies, human or otherwise. Thus, the disappeared super-foods I postulate.
Turning back to our prehistoric valley culture: as it spread out along its edges and condensed at its core, its members would have picked clean the most desirable plants. Shamans and witches would have tended exceptional plants just before their disappearance, in sacred garden plots and pools. Those plants might have required artificial pollination and depended on civilized ingenuity to propagate. When military or natural disasters inevitably overtook these peaceful societies, those fragile crops would have disappeared under weeds, all record of them lost.
Indeed, intelligent life may have evolved long before the deposition of the Paleolithic remnants we catalog today. Long before, the hills may have danced to the rhythm of living communities alien to our way of thinking—except, perhaps, for the science fiction of Olaf Stapleton and a few writers just as bold.
Recent research into prions (preeons, proteins that replicate in some mysterious way without nucleic acid) may confirm the existence of such self-replicating, pre-organic sands. RNA is another likely candidate.
The periodic table of elements is a meager, two-dimensional schema of another that extends outwards in strange dimensions unexplored by Mendeleyev. Such trans-dimensional elements may have had properties transcending our scientific prejudices, but may soon be within the grasp of future Learners.
Special ore deposits, sacred sites and holy pools with extraordinary properties: those myths are familiar to us. The most extraordinary of these elements may have commingled with more familiar compounds during their half-life synchronicity. Magical stones, soils and woods may have held exceptional chemical properties for a brief span of time, then become inert before ours.
As long as these materials retained their precious energy, they would have been crafted into prized utensils and worship artifacts. Their fading magical properties, however, would have pauperized their once-well-to-do owners. Such a value-crash would have induced a collapse into all-out war—much the way the loss of our petroleum reserves is likely to do, barring massive Learner intervention.
In the end, warlike vandals ransacked venerated stones, burned wooden carvings and smashed sacred pottery. They may have carved perverse idols for themselves, probably as weapon decorations and personal talismans. Later on, these would have been smashed as ritual outcomes of combat, buried as funerary regalia or scattered by neglect.
As those rare earths lost their potency, they would have formed corrupt potions of lesser potency. Ancient magic formulas listed insect or plant body parts and internal organs of specific animals because they might have concentrated the last traces of these elements, the way fish and birds concentrate pollutants in their internal organs. These in turn would have been reduced into muddy, indistinguishable contaminants: dust to dust.
We may have let drop the best medicinal herbs and food crops, as well as forgotten the purpose of magical trinkets, amulets, statues and geographic features infused with mysterious attributes. Monumental sacred centers built with microscopically polished stone blocks of enormous mass maneuvered into position with miraculous vigor, ground (or liquefied?) so flat they needed no mortar to fit together; Cyclopean walls at ancient city sites, mound-building projects that took generations, giant pyramids planted above ground or below the sea (and perhaps even on extraterrestrial plains?); sculpted busts, jars, orbs, stele and menhirs; ancient drawings of exceptional quality and/or enormous size, tucked deep underground or only visible from high above barren desert plains ...
Whether humans designed them, with or without alien inspiration, they transcend our understanding and engineering know-how. Their shaping is improbable without technologies we no longer grasp—their purpose, beyond imagining. Not slaves, not beasts or machines – the clumsy block and tackle at the disposal of our mud-bound imagination – offer realistic explanations of their construction. Also, many of them appear to have arisen spontaneously without prior practice or preliminary models. How did our ancestors figure all that out and get it perfect on the first try? How did they accomplish what we cannot do today without taking enormous pains in a manner that they could not duplicate?
Throughout history, there have been irrigation schemes gone to salt, topsoil exhaustion, desertification through overgrazing, fisheries sterilized and woods deforested to build battle fleets and massive urban fortifications during century-long arms races.
Primitive city construction called for millions of fired-mud bricks and an amount beyond counting of wooden building frames, thereby deforesting one by one the best-watered approaches of every city on Earth. Every square meter of Maya cityscape required twenty trees for its lime plaster alone. These enormous construction projects wound up sterilizing the world’s most fertile coastlines and river valleys: the cradles, nurseries and gravesites of civilization’s first conurbations.
Before the Age of Empires, climax forests stretched from Morocco along North African shores, all the way around the Med to Portugal and out again to Afghanistan, and then northwards past the Baltic. More forests, lost since, covered the rest of the planet. The weather was milder then and the sea was full of monster fish.
Ecocide through unbridled weapon management is not unique to our age. We have merely mechanized our worst habits and aggravated their ill effects enormously. Humanity has already destroyed half the tree cover that once stood on Earth, most of it gone very recently.
It’s up to the Learners of the world to replant and restock everything.
Instead of the Seven Wonders of the World, picture seven million smaller, more ephemeral temples, gardens, courtyards and libraries; plus a hundred times as many natural sites of splendid vista, sweet birdsong and serenity―each more attractive than the last. Ancient civilization grew mighty insofar it fostered elegant settings of worship, meditation and study in millions of different settings. Only incidentally were the “Seven Wonders of the World” constructed.
As a playful exercise of historical reenactment, Learners may rebuild those Wonders and re-adorn their ruins—natural and artificial, great and small. Imagine the Parthenon, the Sphinx, the Pyramids of Egypt, the palace of Minos, Angkor Watt, and countless other cultural treasures, restored by Learners to their original splendor … Similar monuments might be built alongside; the whole surrounded by climax forest.
Now imagine the best Learning site you could construct for yourself and your beloved; that everyone could build just as well. Picture this incredible cosmopolitan exuberance! For a change, we’d be talking about the real use of real wealth and not the militaristic misery we have come to take for granted.
Don’t quibble me your quibble: “There is not enough wealth on Earth to do what you propose.” You would be sadly mistaken. It is only our weapon-based dread and its induced stupidity that condemn us to this collective misery. Once we liberate ourselves, we’ll dispose of all the wealth in the Universe to play with for a while.
This said, recall the words of Mencius. Humanity and Duty must always trump mere profit.