Thoughts & Insights

With Astonishing Suddenness

“This picture reminds me of the Burgess Shale, the Cambrian Explosion 500 million years ago,” exclaimed Seth Shostak, Chief Astronomer at the SETI Institute for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence at Mountain View, when he unveiled the painting I’d brought with me for the Encounter with OUBEY. And he didn’t know that OUBEY had called this painting “Krypto”.


I was astonished that the first spontaneous association that flashed through the mind of an astronomer led not into the far reaches of the universe but delved deep into the treasure trove of one of the most powerful and creative phases in the development of life our planet has seen.

The Burgess Shale in Canada’s Yoho National Park is one of the world’s most celebrated fossil fields. Its thin layer of black shale is like a window through which we can gaze and marvel at early life forms on our planet. Yet the creatures that have come to rest in the Rocky Mountains of Canada are in fact far removed from their places of origin which were near the equator some 200 meters under the sea.

Over 30 different species of soft-part organisms, antropods and bristle worms were discovered in the Burgess Shale at the beginning of the last century. Deposited in rock layers of fine-grained shale sediment, even the delicate structures of their soft parts are in a remarkably good state of preservation.

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1 (1) 2 (1)
3 (1) 4 (1)
5 (1) 6 (1)
7 (1) 8 (1)

At the time and even today still continue to be a revelation of revolutionary importance for paleontology and paleoecology because they cast serious doubt on Darwin’s theory of the continuous evolution of species.

Imagine, for a moment, that the whole history of evolution is condensed into a singe 24 hour day. From midnight to 21:00 hrs everything stays the same. Then about 21:00 hrs with astonishing suddenness a two minute explosion erupts, throwing up an incredible diversity of perfect new creatures – creatures of a kind never seen before and which we humans never imagined until they were discovered some hundred years ago in the Burgess Shale. No continuity, no evolutionary development …. how could this be possible?

Whatever might have been going through OUBEYs mind when painting this picture, it’s certain that he would have taken great pleasure in talking to Seth Shostak about extraterrestrial intelligence and the fantastic diversity of weird and wonderful creatures engineered by Nature in the Cambrian Explosion, about what could have triggered this tremendous surge in creativity, and possibly also about the painting itself. It strikes me that this conversation actually did take place in its own very special way during Seth Shostak’s encounter with “Krypto” on 24 April 2012.

Click here to view an animation of the Cambrian underwater world, and here to learn why the Cambrian Explosion is such a serious challenge to Darwin’s theory of the evolution of species.

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