When scientists tell us that all life on Earth evolved from amino acids and the like, building blocks of life brewed in the primeval soup of life at the dawn of time we sort of believe them, and when they tell us that Darwin’s theory of evolution is irrefutable we sort of believe them, but when they tell us we’re monkeys, that’s when we get our backs up. If we’re intelligent, it’s because God made us that way, and that’s all there is to it.
Nonetheless, today, it gets harder and harder to refute the evidence that our ancestors were prancing around on two feet 7 million years ago. Being bipedal, and with the Sahara pump working away, we prospered in the African Rift Valleys where environmental conditions were ideal. We spent a lot of time in the water in order to protect ourselves from predators, and lost most of our hair. We found it impossible to compete with the big predators roaming the grasslands, and we certainly weren’t able to get at the carcasses until they had finished with them. To be sure, we were at the bottom of the totem pole when it came to living off the grasslands. Nonetheless, in time, we got our courage up and invested the killing fields in order to glean a few morsels from the leftovers, but we obviously found nothing but bones. Understandably, we didn’t know what to do with them, but since we were last on the scene and had all the time in the world to experiment, we eventually cracked one open. The precious bone marrow we found was avidly consumed, and when added to the rich and plentiful sea food already at our disposition in the shallow waters, we evolved in a spectacular way. By spending less time foraging for food, we had more time to ‘think’.
Since our brain was rapidly increasing in size along with the rest of our body, there was outward pressure on the cranium, and, in time, our facial features slowly morphed into what they are today. As the neocortex grew exponentially and grafted itself upon our reptilian and limbic brains, it caused an explosion of cerebral activity, and we became the thinking, talking, problem-solving emotional beings we are today.
As of that moment, we traveled in an existential world different from the other primates. But the line that forever set us apart from our wild cousins was drawn in the sand when we grasped the notion of death. After witnessing the death of a loved one, not grasping why our parent or companion was no longer communicating with us, or why his or her body was decomposing, we were probably overcome with deep emotional distress. Our feelings and our need to understand surely made something snap in our brain. That was the day we broke the time barrier, the day we realized that we too would die.
Breaking the time barrier meant we were now intelligent. We could use past experience to shape future events. As a simple ape frozen in the present, we had not known the anguish that the notion of death produces. Before, death had just been a momentary interruption in time, a sad happening devoid of meaning, and one that was not anticipated. But now, having broken the time barrier, not only did we know that we would die, but we also knew what could cause our death, and we trembled with fear. We saw dangers that threatened our life every which way we turned. We no longer trusted our instincts and we were insecure, and that made us very aggressive. An everyday occurrence became a deadly threat, and fear overcame us. The forest became a scary place and darkness was unbearable. We could no longer stand the aquatic environment either, for we imagined the most terrible creatures lurking beneath the surface.
We managed to survive by taking refuge in caves and grabbing unto the (coat) tails of anyone who seemed to have answers. Through trial and error we discovered how to make a fire and keep it going. Thereafter, we not only could warm ourselves, but we could keep the predators at bay. We learned to make weapons, and to hunt and live in groups, and our confidence grew. Ever so slowly, we were able to deal with the knowledge that there were deadly dangers and that our life would someday end.