Thoughts & Insights

Wanderers and Discoverers

Lawrence Krauss, worldwide renowned cosmologist, hits the point: From a cosmic perspective humans are insignificant.

Accepting this as a matter of fact might open up the opportunity to step further in de development of our self-consciousness and to redefine the meaning of our existence. We found his remarkable statement in the internet shortly after having published this blogpost. As it fits perfectly to the message of this article, we want to place it as kind of an introduction.

Humans are wanderers and discoverers – and have always been. In the countless thousands of years of wandering through the previous stages of evolutionary history, we have formed constantly new images of ourselves, the world and the cosmos in which we live. We took the state of knowledge distilled by any epoch as the truth, and established institutions were keen to proclaim the state of knowledge reached by a particular epoch as the absolute truth – for a variety of self-interested reasons.

Whoever dared to doubt the geocentric world view of a sun revolving around the Earth – or was even audacious enough to provide scientific evidence to the contrary – would find themselves remorselessly and viciously pursued by the Church which had made this world view its own. The Enlightenment paved the way for the triumphant march of science and gradually discredited such ecclesiastical paradigms. In the course of this development a new self-image of man was born – the thinking, inquiring homo sapiens, whose critical spirit knew no bounds, saw itself as a unique kind of species and raised itself as the measure of all things: the homocentric world view was born. Science and scientific research furnished the groundwork for astonishing technical developments which again and again burnished this radiant self-image. This is a stage from which even today we have still not fully emerged.

Nothing and nobody can and could prevent us or stop us from pushing forward in our journey of discovery and research. In critical phases of transition like the Renaissance or the Enlightenment it was initially only a very small handful of individuals who had the courage to take the next step forward, to make a leap in thought and open new horizons. Yet their courage and the power of what they discovered was enough to set irreversible processes in motion that have had an effect on everybody and everything.

And now it seems as though in going down this path today, at the beginning of the 21st century, we have reached a level of awareness that represents a tipping point for us in how we consider ourselves as a species. Whether we drift away into the hubris of excessive pride and arrogance or rediscover ourselves in a new modesty and restraint could possibly be one of the questions that will determine the future course of our race’s existence.

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Astrophysics and astronomy have laid the groundwork for a view of the world which takes the cosmos as the home of our planet and views people as the evolutionary consequence of the death of stars. Manned space flight has made us the first of all generations to carry around in our collective mind the amazingly beautiful image of a sphere freely floating in space that is our home planet Earth. Astronauts return to Earth with a consciousness markedly different from what they had when they first embarked on their outward voyage.

Nobody today can say for certain what role will be played by the new species of artificial intelligence we have created in the further for our own self-consciousness and the exploration of the Universe, perhaps in the very near future. That it will play a major role, however, is beyond doubt.

And at the same time our perception of our evolutionary beginnings has been radically transformed. Genetic research and DNA analysis have radically extended the boundaries of paleo-anthropology and shown us that we humans are in fact related to what are known as the “archaic hominids” – creatures which thus far we have looked at with purely scientific interest without feeling the slightest familial bond with them. We are not in fact the unique species we have always taken ourselves to be: the humans now walking the Earth carry in their genes the entire history of the prehistoric hominids.

So at the very moment that we are surging ahead into new and vast territories, and strange and undiscovered shores, cutting-edge scientific technology is giving us an ever clearer and more precise notion of who we are and where we come from. In the genome of each of us a trace of the Neanderthal can be found with which homo sapiens (perhaps we need a more fitting name) co-existed for more than 10,000 years in the area that makes up present-day Israel. And even traces of the over 300,000 year old hominid have now been detected. We are the product of commingling and such commingling resulted from the wanderings and spirit of discovery that lived in our far distant ancestors many thousands of years ago. Whether such a realization will sink deep in our minds, and if it does what effects it will have, is a subject best left for another day.

All these new insights and realizations have one thing in common. They all carry with them marvellous opportunities for a new form of self-determination. Our age is witnessing an exponential growth in the number and quality of such insights at truly astonishing speed. Yet, after all, by giving us the ability to walk upright on two feet, evolution has gifted us with two free hands plus a fantastic brain whose relentless curiosity has enabled us to successfully tackle and transcend frontiers. And above all it has endowed us with a consciousness fully able to ponder the elementary fundamental issues of our existence and to make decisions. We have everything we need to harmonize our energies, will power and research drive with a consciousness coloured by humility and modesty. Whether that will be enough, remains to be see. But if we don’t do this ourselves, evolution will do it for us.

How I would love to discuss these matters with OUBEY. His thoughts on the subject would certainly have been just as radical and polemic as they were fruitful. In essence they would have been the same as what I have written here. They still are ingredients of his paintings in a very special way.

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OUBEYs connectedness to the deep roots of our evolution as humans was recognized by Professor Friedemann Schrenk, paleo-anthropologist at the Senckenberg Institute in Frankfurt, in his encounter with one of OUBEYs paintings, when he resumed that “7 million years” of human evolutionary history are contained in this picture.

For more background information on the subject, see: