Monday, May 27, 2013

The meaning of the present

A time difference of thousand human lives

Of late I read in the science section of a newspaper about the recent discovery that already 25 million years ago apes and monkeys were different species. This means that these creatures have become separated much earlier than thought before. One can wonder then when man became a separate species. I am a layman in paleoanthropology, but one who reads books and articles about it with much interest and I know that at least eight million years ago a kind of “man” existed and, who knows, maybe “man” existed already at least 25 million years ago. This would imply that “we” are already quite a long time present on this earth in some form or another, although it’s nothing in view of the fact that some 200 million years before the first dinosaurs appeared in this world and that planet earth as such is about three billion (three thousand million) years old. If we take a shorter time perspective, I could mention that the homo sapiens, so modern man, came into being some 200,000 years ago, and that modern abstract types of thinking (if one can see the cave paintings as an expression of it) are maybe some 50.000 years old.
Looking to the future, it’s not possible to say much about how this earth and mankind will develop, besides that within x billions of years this planet will be swallowed up by the sun; that within three or four billion years the earth will be so hot that only the most primitive micro-organisms can survive; and that already long before this will happen mankind and its civilization literally will have been scorched. But first, many, many generations will live yet on earth, many wars will be fought, including several world wars – unless the trend seen by Steven Pinker that the world is becoming more and more peaceful will go on – and civilizations will come and go (including my own Western civilization).
These thoughts came up in me when I read that little article on the origin of apes. It made me down, for what is then the worth of a human life in the perspective of eternity? A man or a woman becomes, say, 80 years old and then s/he dies. Some people become older, but 20 or 30 years older at most. Many don’t even reach these 80 years. In the poorest countries of the world the average life expectancy is only 40+. So, roughly speaking, a man or a woman becomes 40 or 80 years old and that’s it. In the perspective of eternity it’s nothing. If we are lucky, we’ll live on for some time after our physical death through the influence we had on other people, through our deeds, and through our children, but soon this influence will fade away with the exception maybe for some “happy” few, whose impact will stay a bit longer. But what then is the meaning of our lives, if nothing remains? Seen that way, I think it can only be in one thing: in the present, in the now. Only the present can count for a human being, for his or her life will be lost in the light of the future, and also in the light of what has been. The upshot is: Live now and enjoy it as it is.

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