Our species probably began about 200,000 years ago. And judging by the fucking state of us, I think we can all agree it was a terrible idea. We are called Homo Sapiens, but we were not the first human-like creatures on the planet, however. Homo Habilis were making tools about 2 million years ago, Homo Heidelbergensis were building shelters about 700,000 years ago, Neanderthals were probably just as brainy as us: they wore jewelry, maybe buried their dead, and always passed the joint to the left. There were at least 15 other human species we know about – and now they are all gone. The last three surviving species of human were Neanderthals, who probably died out about 30,000 years ago, Homo Floresiensis, who disappeared about 12,000 years ago, and us – Homo Sapiens, aka… BIPEDAL BASTARDS. And if you hadn’t noticed, we are still here. So where be dem other hominids… yo? Neanderthals, for example? Neanderthals were probably stronger than us, a bit taller, with a rather different skull and a bigger brain. Then why are they gone? You see, old Gary Neanderthal might have been a smarty-pants, but we had a secret weapon… which is mouthy word noises. Speech is fine for dissing and cussing, but it lets you do other stuff – like organize. This allows you to, as the evolutionary biologists put it, F U C K S H I T U P Neanderthals were hanging about in Europe, doing crochet, cracking open cold ones, until around 45,000 years ago, when us sapiens turned up coming from East Africa. And within 5000 years of meeting us… They were gone. All of them. [wind noises] Combine that with the fact that we could make big wordy noises, were socially complex, and probably had domesticated doggos at some point for help – and we were a force to be reckoned with. So that was that. We were bumming around for a while as hunter-gatherers. The land was often barren, the climate was often hostile, death lurked everywhere – so, Portsmouth, basically – but it really wasn’t all bad. We think the average work week might have been around twenty to forty hours. Their diet was probably quite varied – vegetables, fruit, nuts, insects, boza — whatever they could find. And they weren’t idiots. Most members of the tribe had to know the core skills of survival: which berries will make you dead immediately, how to remember the terrain, how to build tools, how to stay alive… They were generalists. They had to be. Anyway, that went on for a few hundred thousand years, until we got around to developing agriculture – probably about 12,000 years ago. And suddenly, “if we don’t find food, we’ll all die” turned into “if you eat my food, YOU’LL die”, then into “ehhh, I’m full, but I’ll eat some more”, and then into… “Uhh, yeah, I’ll have the gluten-free macaroon and the lactose-free avocado shake. Merci beaucoup…” And then we went off to build society. Hooooow? Scrawny, breakable, generally pathetic – but enough about myself (lol dat twist tho). We are not a formidable species physically. But we can do language. And if you can do language, then you can do myths. And if you can do myths – then you can conquer the world. You will own at least hundreds of thousands of objects in your life, because you believe in a myth called “money”. “If you give me this paper, and the number is right, I will give you stuff.” And the myth works, because most of us agree to play by the rules. The same applies to universities, governments, nations – whatever it is. It’s not that these things are lies, it’s just that they’re abstractions that only live in our heads. And if you don’t have language… you can’t do them. You really can’t. And if you can’t do them, you can’t do big societies. Language is probably the gateway to civilization. And now… we own the fucking world. But it’s been quite a journey. There is some evidence that around a hundred thousand years ago the human species bottlenecked to somewhere between 3,000 and 10,000 humans in the entire world. By definition, that made us an endangered species teetering on the edge of extinction. One theory holds that this was thanks to a supervolcano in lake Toba, Indonesia, possibly bringing in a volcanic winter. And even if that wasn’t the cause – disease, strife, famine, ignorance and hardship weren’t occasional visitors to the human condition. They WERE the human condition for most of our history. But here we are now – a most populated planet. For better or worse, we have arrived. It took two hundred thousand years to get to our first billion humans – that was in 1804. But then we jumped 2 billion in 1927, and then 3 billion in 1959, 4 billion in 1974 – and finally, 7 billion in 2007. And now, we are invincible. We’ve outsmarted time, we’ve outsmarted death, we’ve outsmarted crops, and disease, and the weather… The state of the human union is strong. What could possibly go wrong now?
[echoing] I met a traveller from an antique land Who said:—Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand, Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things, The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed. And on the pedestal these words appear: “My name is Homo sapiens, hominid of hominids: Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!” Well… Then again. In 1977, a probe was launched into space, called “Voyager 1”. 41 years later, Voyager 1 is traveling away from us at about 38,000 miles an hour, and is now 13 billion miles distant. And aboard Voyager is a message from Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the United States. And the message reads: “This is a present from a small distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts, and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours. We hope some day, having solved the problems we face, to join a community of galactic civilizations. This record represents our hope and our determination and our goodwill in a vast and awesome universe.” And were we able to include just a few more lines in that message, to tell our spacey friends a little more about ourselves, and our deep history, and our ambitions, and our ancestors, Just maybe it would say that… “Well… P. S. We think shit went down like this: Life probably began on our planet about 4 billion years ago – a simple organic machines, we don’t know how yet. Then a sudden explosion of diversity 500 million years ago. 50 million more years, and plants taking the land over; 50 million more, and insects have arrived; next, the dinosaurs are taking the stage, 700 species at least, ruling the planet for around 145 million years, before something – possibly asteroid shaped – wipes them out. But it’s ok, because here come bats, and butterflies, giraffes, bears, hyenas, sloths, vultures, mammoths, TURTLES – you fucking name it! And then the rise of the primates, and 2 million years ago appear our first true ancestor – Homo Habilis. And at least 15 other species of the Homo genus spreading out across the world until about 200,000 years ago, when a new genus – our genus – emerges. Homo Sapiens, large-brained organizers, talkers, thinkers, capable of high abstraction, and building tribes and cities and nation-states, capable of ending the world in a day! We have stepped into an age of great technological potency, though there are gaping holes in our wisdom. We’ve become a global superorganism, though we still harbor our tribal inclinations. We’ve pulled a bunch of fuckups, and we’re really quite confused, and alone, and, frankly, scared. But we hope to enjoy the privilege of being a semicolon in history, rather than a full-stop. So on behalf of the hundred and fifty billion who came before us, and our human cousins who didn’t make it, we just hope this message finds you well. And we hope, when you find us thousands of years from now, that we are well too. In any case… please just write back. It’s dark out here. And we’re the last humans left.”