The world is a combination of spontaneous events that occur because of the laws of nature and the system that we have created, called Society. We are born into this world and immediately begin learning from our surroundings. At this point in our history, it can be difficult to decipher between what is natural and what we created.
Many of the most common things in our lives are creations of the people who came before us and they feel as natural as the sunrise. While some humans still live and work with the land, a huge population lives their lives separated from the natural world. Of course, sunsets and gravity are two of the many natural phenomena that we cannot escape. However, our innovative ancestors gave us the ability to create a world where we can defy some of the most fundamental parts of our world.
In nature, sunset meant that our activities were limited to ones that didn’t require much light. With the discovery and implementation of campfires and eventually electricity, we can continue to light our world long after the sun has dropped below the horizon. Even fundamental forces like gravity can’t stop us from creating massive structures that rise far into the sky. We can even rise to the tops of these structures at the push of a button without climbing a single stair!
While concepts like lamps and elevators might not seem that impressive to you, their existence at all is an incredible feat of ingenuity by our human ancestors. If you were to place a theme onto the history of humanity, it would be something along the lines of “don’t tell me what I can’t do.” From lighting a fire to cook our meals to launching satellites into space and successfully landing on the moon, there is nothing that is beyond the reach of human capabilities.
The history of our world is more than just the history of humanity; it’s more than the history of life or even our planet. We are characters in a massive story that has spanned almost 14 billion years. By comparison, life has existed for over 3.5 billion years on the Earth, which has existed for around 4.5 billion years so far. Humans have been around for approximately 200,000 years.
To put that in perspective, life on Earth has only existed for 25% of the time the universe has existed. Humans have only been around for 0.0015% of the time since the beginning of the universe. Our recorded history only goes back 6,000 years. In other words, we only have a written account of 0.00004% of the story of our universe.
Obviously, that means that we should be a fairly insignificant portion of the story; but things aren’t always as they should be. Although our time here has only lasted a fraction of a fraction of a percent, we have made some significant changes to the world we call home. In fact, the rate of progress in this story from nothing until now has increased greatly with each “progress boost.”
The first stars didn’t form in the universe for 200 million years; before that, nothing really happened. Various events like the formation of planets, origin of life, and evolution of multicellular life, boosted the speed of progress in the universe much faster than before. This is the reason that our tiny portion of time in this story has caused so much change.
At this point in time, we are living in a world that is vastly different than the one that has existed for most of humanity’s time in the story. Our everyday lives usually rarely involve the natural world and we can easily get bogged down by the complexities of our own society. Small children are able to quickly learn how to use technologies their ancestors could never imagine. Even concepts like “where does food come from?” can be skewed by the society we have made.
It is important to remember that the world of tomorrow is built upon the world of today and the world of today was built on the world of yesterday. If you can follow that logic, it should come as no surprise that you have the ability to look back on our shared origin story and understand how we got to this exact point. They say “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” and it is true. However, “those who do not learn from history” are also clueless as to how or why their world exists as it does.
To understand the world as it truly is, we must observe it without the distractions of the system we have created. The most important distraction that we must ignore is the concept of separation. The truth is that there is no such thing as separation. Albert Einstein proved with his equation E=mc2 that everything in the universe is made up of energy.
When you get down to it, we are all energy; me, you, your parents, your community, even the buildings in your community and the planet that we call home. We are made up of the same stuff as all the distant stars in all the distant galaxies in the universe. I will say it again: there is no such thing as separation.
Separation is a concept that we have created in order to understand the world around us. When we started to ask questions like “How did we get here?” and “How did all this stuff around us get here?” there was nobody to give us those answers. We have had to figure it all out for ourselves and separation gave us the ability to split the complexity of the world into more understandable categories. It’s hard to talk specifically about a tree when you know it’s the same thing as a mountain and a star.
You might not believe me when I tell you that we are made of the same stuff as everything else in the universe. If Einstein’s equation doesn’t suit you, I’ll give you another way of thinking about it.
Think about your family. You and your siblings, if you have any, were born into your family from your parents. Each of your parents also had parents, and possibly siblings of their own. Your grandparents also had parents, who also had parents, and so on. If you were to draw out a chart of your extended family, you would find that it resembles a tree. This is why we often call it a “family tree.”
You are a branch on this tree and your branch is directly connected to your parents’ branches. A nearby branch, not directly connected to you, represents your cousin. While your cousin’s branch doesn’t directly touch your branch, you can draw a line from you to your parents to your grandparents and back down through your aunt or uncle to your cousin. This establishes a family relationship.
If you’re following me so far, buckle up. I want you to try and imagine your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents. These people lived, maybe 400 years ago. If each of their children had two children of their own, who in turn had two children of their own, and so on, you would be looking at a very big family tree. A cousin of yours who is only related to you by this distant grandparent might seem completely unrelated in a more zoomed-in perspective; but the relation still exists.
As you continue to zoom out on your family tree, the tree gets bigger and bigger and you see that more and more people can be considered your cousins. If you keep zooming back a few hundred thousand years, you’ll see that you are somehow related to every human that has ever lived. If you keep zooming back a few million years, you’ll see that you are related to every mammal that has ever lived. Keep on zooming back and you’ll see that the tree outside your house is one of your very distant cousins.
Everything that is alive today is related back to the very first living creatures to exist on the Earth. If you want to keep going, you’ll have to look at yourself as a giant sack of atoms. The atoms that make you up were once part of the food you ate or from the food your mother ate before you were born. In your body right now, there are about 7 billion-billion-billion (that’s 7 followed by 27 zeroes!) atoms that existed long before you did.
Your “family tree” in terms of atoms stretches back to the beginning of the universe. You are made up of atoms that were forged in the bellies of ancient stars that died and spilled their guts out which eventually made new stars who met the same fate. I’ll say one more time: there is no such thing as separation, we are all the same.
The story that follows describes our shared origin story. This is a tale that begins at the beginning of everything that has ever existed. Although humans don’t show up until after the tenth of fifteen chapters, it’s important to know that we are still the main characters here. We are made up of energy and that energy has had plenty of incredible adventures before it took the form of a human.
Of course, we humans aren’t the only thing that exists today but this is The Human Manual so it will follow our specific line. If you want to know the stories of our cousins, close and distant, you will have to do some research of your own. However, the beginning of the story is the same for everything.
Learning about our shared origin allows us to tell the difference between the natural world and the world that we have created. It allows us to understand what parts of this world we have the power to change. We cannot simply accept that the way things have “always been” is the way they will remain. Anything made by humans can be changed by humans.
When we look back on the teachings of our ancestors, we can gain “the serenity to accept the things [we] cannot change, the courage to change the things [we] can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Accepting the fact that we all share the same origin can also help to alleviate some of the distracting tensions in the world as many people debate and bicker about their opinions on how we got here. We are here; that is a fact. The duty of science is to understand and explain how we got here and how this place “works.” Just because something is explainable or understandable doesn’t mean it is any less wonderful than it was before we understood it.
The origin story utilizes concepts from every branch of science, physical and social. It is the culmination of knowledge from many teachers and many hours of study and meditation. There are still a few holes in the story but they do not disprove the parts that have already been proven. Instead, those holes act to inspire us to keep on discovering the beautiful world around us.
I will warn you that the beginning of this story is the most complicated part. Scientists are still debating the exact details of the first few moments of the universe so it is perfectly acceptable if it causes your head to spin a little. Keep on reading; the formation of matter in the universe has a lot less to do with your daily life than industrialization. The important thing to take from the first few chapters is that everything is made of the same stuff. There is no separation.