Hello, let’s talk about time, particularly the time that is collectively referred to as the past. Each of us has our own version of it, spanning the length of our life that we can recollect. Though among kin and like-minded individuals these versions can overlap, often they remain mutually exclusive. Then there are national and regional pasts, often expressed through haughty words like ancestry or heritage.
However, instead of losing our way inside this labyrinth, let’s start with the smallest one, the individual past. Last month I turned 37. So, let’s say I have a past that is three and a half decade long. Now when I recall something that happened to me three years back, it does not seem to be an awfully long time ago. But at the age of 15, recalling something that transpired when I was 12, felt as if the event took place in another life. Well, there is a simple reason behind such distorted perceptions. At 15, 3 years was literally one fifth or 20% of my lifespan. So, proportionally it should take more than 7 years now to invoke a feeling similar to what 3 years felt like at 15. Consequently someone who is 80 years old that threshold should be around 16.
But enough about individual past, what I really want to talk about is the commonest of all our pasts, which unfortunately is also the most neglected of them all, the past of humankind. According to science, modern humans or Homo sapiens emerged around two hundred thousand years ago. But before moving ahead, let us connect the dots we skipped as we jumped from 80 to 200000.
A hundred years ago the Indian subcontinent was still a part of the United Kingdom and the whole world was busy fighting the Great War. Exactly two centuries ago it was the infamous year without a summer, caused by the massive eruption of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies. Four hundred years ago in 1616 Shakespeare officially breathed out his last breath just a few months after Galileo confronted the Catholic Church. He said Copernicus’ Heliocentric theory of the solar system is correct but the Church in response issued a notice forbidding him to speak of Copernicus’ theory. A thousand years ago the official map of the world consisted of Africa, Asia and Europe only and two thousand years ago the top two religions in today’s world simply did not exist. I know the list is becoming tedious but we have connected only one percent of the dots.
In fact the Roman era to us is almost 500 years more recent than the first Pyramid in Egypt was to the Romans during their imperial days. But it was still 500 years more recent than the Mesopotamian civilization was to those Egyptian pyramid builders.
You see, with the average lifespan of around 70 years, it is very hard for us humans to comprehend the span of two hundred thousand years. So let’s try to shrink the span of two hundred thousand years down into a more comprehensible amount, instead. Let’s assume in an alternate reality one month roughly equals 500 years of our time. That makes two hundred thousand years equal to 400 months. If we start counting backward from October 2016, according to our special calendar, homo sapiens or humankind as we know it was born in June 1983. The “Scientific Adam & Eve” or the most recent common ancestors to whom all the existing Y chromosomes in males and mitochondrial DNAs in females can be traced back respectively are estimated to have lived in East Africa around this time.
For the next 130 months according to our calendar or 65 thousand years of normal time, outwardly we did nothing except hunting and foraging across the eastern and southern shores of Africa, though inwardly we were evolving as our brain became larger to accommodate a more complex social structure. We were also making progress in our use of language. Then in April of 1994 or 135 thousand years ago, we migrated out of Africa for the first time, inhabiting Middle East and South East Asia.
Despite the onset of the last Ice Age in June 1998, within 35 thousand years of that migration we started using weapons to hunt down large games. And by February of the year 2000 in our calendar or a hundred thousand years ago from now we had started showing early signs of various ritualistic burial practices.
Then in February 2005 or 70 thousand years ago, we moved out of Africa for the second time and reached as far as Australia within the next 20 thousand years. It took us another 10 thousand years to reach Europe and colonize the entire old world.
Within a few months of reaching Europe, by December 2010, we seemed to have settled down enough to start painting images of the wildlife around us on the walls of our habitats.
Finally as the last Ice Age started nearing its peak some 25 thousand years ago, in April 2012, we set foot on America through the resulting bridge of ice on the Bering Strait.
The Ice Age ended about 12 to 13 thousand years ago, which is in September 2014 according to the calendar. The resulting rise in sea levels drowned the Bering Bridge and separated America from the rest of the world. I believe this ought to be a good spot for archaeologists to start looking for the existence of a scientific Noah but let’s move on. Three months later in January 2015 we began domesticating plants and animals.
By June of 2015 that domestication culminated in the Neolithic Revolution, also known as the Agricultural revolution. Consequently we were building cities in Mesopotamia in July and inventing the wheel in September. The Bronze Age began in October, the same year and by November there were early forms of writing.
In December 2015 or about 5 thousand years ago city states began to grow and so did territorial wars.
The rest we have covered earlier but still let’s browse through them again. In January 2016 the first Pyramid gets built. One month later in March Moses leads the Exodus. In May, the classical era begins with the rise of Socrates in the west and Buddha in the east. Jesus is born on the next month and in July the rise of Islam begins. In August, the Normans invade England and in September Europeans rediscover America and Australia to give them their due places in the world map.
Finally we have returned to the current month. So everything from the Renaissance to the Industrial revolution, from the occupation of the Indian subcontinent by the British to the destruction of the Berlin wall in Germany happened within the past couple of weeks. In fact the Berlin wall was built around Noon 3 days ago and was brought down only yesterday.
Anyways, the point I am trying to make is that our past, the past of humankind is really long and for more than 98 percent of that time we had lived in mutual coexistence. What I cannot understand is how just a week or two’s worth of difference can create the illusion of eternity in the mind of millions, if not billions of human beings, educated and illiterate alike. How would we treat a fellow individual, boasting of an exclusiveness based on a change of status for a month or two? Humankind as a whole should equally be discouraged to boast of things based on a change that happened a mere 500 years ago. Because if we define our existence by the span of our collective learning, then 500 years for humankind is as brief as a month or two would be for an individual. And if we use words like Heritage or Ancestry we should never limit its scope to a few decades or centuries, as our true heritage is at least two hundred thousand years old. Of course I am a big fan of diversity as it is both precious and inspiring but a denial of the underlying similarities is neither diversity, nor a valid argument in its favor.
That’s all for now! Hope to see you in the next episode! Take care till then and may the force always be with you!