Two seemingly unrelated scientific stories have caught my attention recently.
The first was the exciting news that astronomers and astrophysicists had captured the first image of a black hole. Please don’t ask me how they did it. (If it hadn’t been for all that math, I could have been an astrophysicist.) All I know is a couple hundred scientists from 60 institutions in 20 countries worked in a collaborative effort to link multiple radio telescopes from around the world to create the aptly named Event Horizon Telescope. Their efforts were successful. Search “Event Horizon” at www.fromthe grapevine.com.
The second headline comes from the realm of anthropology, a subject I know a little more about since the math is less intense. Scientists tell us of a 2013 discovery of bones in a cave in the Philippines that may, emphasis on may, be a species of humans we did not know about before. There have been a few human species, and the Homo sapiens version is the only one that survived. We are told that some portion of Neanderthal DNA remains in some of us. We won’t name names. Search “new human species” at www.washingtonpost.com.
You might ask how these apparent disparate stories are related. The first hominid arose on the Earth between five and eight million years ago, give or take a couple of days. The several iterations of the human species are all thought to have evolved as a way to adapt to a particular environment. These adaptations were vital for survival because at no point were hominids the biggest, strongest, or fastest in the animal world. Yet, one line survived.
We continued to evolve and expand our footprint on the globe. We developed the ability to think and plan beyond our natural instincts. We eventually captured fire and used tools. We are not the only mammals to use tools, but we learned to enhance them, and we are absolutely the only species still to use fire. We learned to reason and create. Oh, and we made art. We definitely made art. The earliest known cave art is found in Spain and dates back over 40,000 years, which coincides with the time Homo sapiens popped up in Europe. Going forward, there were Michelangelo and Monet, Beethoven and Bach, Shakespeare and Hemingway, and so many more.
The human species that has survived has made so many life-changing inventions and awe-inspiring discoveries. Yet, we started with distant ancestors millions of years ago. Some of them must have stood looking at a dark starry night and wondered about the twinkling lights. That inquisitive ancestor may have wondered what those lights meant and why were they there. There is something within humans that causes us to wonder about our surroundings, that produces a need to explore, to invent, and to create.
Hominids were the first to stand upright in order to peer over the tall grasses to look for game or spot danger. Now we’re standing up and looking out to other planets, to other solar systems, to the far edges of our own galaxy and galaxies beyond, and to black holes. Regardless of whether it is an ancient ancestor or a modern scientist, the need to know is inherent within us. We still keep exploring. We still keep standing up to peer over the tall grasses.
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