Open any general history book and the reader will find humankind’s history broken down into specific eras, ages, epochs, and periods. For example, we all know the Christian era, 0-2015AD (in history books, dates are important). We also know about the American Civil War, 1860-1865 and the Age of Enlightenment, 1620-1780. A major marker for the world is the dropping of a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima August 1945 as the beginning of the nuclear age.
Too often, and this goes back to the distant past when Homo sapiens had barely moved out of Africa, changes in period, age or era are bracketed by wars or cultural invasions. For all our centuries, our species settled major issues with violence. Easily isolated in daily news is the horrible conflict in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Libya, Egypt, Somalia, Kenya, Nigeria, and Sudan. It is as if there are rules about implementing new eras: many people must die; massive destruction of artifacts and public buildings; horrendous attacks on the innocent – including women; trench burial plots (not only must one be killed, one must be forgotten). Perhaps wars are significant because wars have definitive start and end dates. The mariner suggests that war slows down cultural transition. It may be better to set differentiation on successful, progressive changes.
Some ages are benchmarked by advancement of a discovered thing or the adoption of some idea. For example, cotton gin, steamships and trains, automobiles, macadam road paving, electricity, airplanes, television, and the Internet. Intellectual ideas have been noted in similar fashion; consider the mathematics of Archimedes and Newton, logic of Socrates and Plato, Solar System by Galileo, and General Theory by Einstein.
It is burdensome that Homo sapiens expends significant effort on the advancement of war: chariot, trireme, trebuchet, gunpowder, armored vehicles, aircraft, rockets, and now drones. It is not difficult to divide the history of war into periods of change.
One could go on naming moments that signify a transition of some sort using endless objects, events, and ideas. Is it possible to name so many periods, phases and eras that there is no time left that is not a turning point? The mariner believes so.
Why must there be change? The quick answer is “Things change for the better, the less expensive, and the more efficient.” Comparatively, this may be true for manufactured things, for economics and general wellbeing. But the real reason for change is Homo sapiens. Humans have a brain that thrives on change. Consider other species; many trees may live unchanged until the planet changes, perhaps millions of years; the opossum is one of the oldest creatures around and the latest opossum lives the same life as the first. Monkeys and apes, for all their intelligence, haven’t changed their lifestyle nor have whales and dolphins. No other species invents puzzles for the sake of inventing puzzles. Humankind must be entertained intellectually – if only watching a television show a monkey could understand or struggling to find the unified theory in physics.
If one merges the predatory nature of humans with the ability to imagine an expansion of power, the result is greed and avarice. Further, the faster humans can attain more gratification, the more rewarding the experience. The fastest way, of course, is violence. Second to violence is cheating – still a form of violence. This behavior is in our genome. The oldest parts of our brain, the parts that go back to the primordial days of Homo sapiens, understand this behavior and react accordingly. Humans and monkeys weren’t that different then. It is the nature of evolution to carry genetic baggage forward along with newer mutations. For example, a fetus develops false gills before it develops lungs. There must have been a fish somewhere in a human’s path of evolution. If one gives greedy behavior some thought, it seems only natural that any predator must satisfy sustenance quickly or it will not thrive.
It is up to our predatory and inventive selves to manage our species. No other species can manage Homo sapiens. This is why government evolved. Even government, however, is subject to predation. It has taken the entire era of human existence to fine tune government to the point that it functions today. Obviously, there is much more tuning to be done. Unfortunately, our ability to change the status quo often means that what was good will not remain good, hence Lord Acton’s phrase ‘power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.’
Being the premiere predator on Earth plus having an inquisitive mind has allowed humans to multiply and prosper. Humans have overcome every adversary except themselves. The mariner has written often about the effect of population growth and the destruction of Earth’s biosphere. Excessive Carbon has disrupted the atmosphere, land and oceans. The broad use of fossil fuels, which began about 1850, has changed the name of our current epoch: We were living in the Holocene Epoch until another name had to be given for our current times because humans have so changed the Earth. Now we live in the Anthropocene Epoch – named for human trashiness, abuse of living creatures, and disrupting the Earth itself.
By the end of this century, there will be nearly twice as many humans as there are today. How do we rein in ourselves? All we have is religion and government. Obviously, they haven’t been working very well. Our definitions of culture, government and faith are all we have to fix a problem that will be fixed without us if we aren’t careful.
Let’s deal with the awkward article in front of ‘opossum.’ Is it correct to say ‘a opossum,’ ‘an opossum,’ a ‘‘possum,’ or an ‘‘possum?’ Yes. This is a singularly intriguing circumstance in our language; dictionaries and grammar sources support this odd behavior. The truth is it is determined by how the speaker chooses to pronounce the word. Proof that there is free will! If you choose ‘opossum,’ then you say ‘an;’ if you say ‘possum’ then you say ‘a.’ It’s your choice! Of course, you can call it by its official name, Didelphis Virginiana and avoid the whole thing.
Expanding the Liberal Arts mind:
A reader has offered an interesting podcast link from the book review section of the New York Times. The podcast features the year in poetry with guests reading favorite poems; about half of the 39-minute podcast is an interview with poet George Saunders. See:
The printing press was not mentioned in the above list of inventions but certainly is one of the most important. Johannes Gutenberg invented the first western press in 1445 AD. However, independent letter blocks of wood were made by Chinese monks in 866 AD. Further, a Chinese peasant named Bi Sheng (Pi Sheng) developed the world’s first movable type. Though Sheng himself was a commoner and didn’t leave much of an historical trail, his ingenious method of printing, which involved the production of hundreds of individual characters, was well-documented. Metal movable type also was developed independently in Korea in the late 14th century. In 1377, a Korean monk named Baegun is credited with printing a compilation of Buddhist sayings using movable metal type. The two-volume book, known as “Jikji,” is believed to be the oldest book in the world printed with metal type. Unlike the West, the East did not utilize prepared type very quickly because of the complexities of Asian writing systems.
This history of printing is found on http://www.livescience.com/43639-who-invented-the-printing-press.html , a website the mariner encourages browsing readers to view periodically looking for anything of interest.
Administration of the iowa-mariner website.
Occasionally, a reader will ask how to find past posts. To help readers search, the POST page, typically the first that one sees, now has a menu across the top with subject headings. The mariner frequently lists a post under multiple subject headings but they should help in any case. There is a search box on the POST page and another on the subject page. Another method is to scan the posts on the right side of the page; these are sequenced by date and if the reader has an idea of when, this may be helpful as well.
Speaking of the column on the right side of the page, at the bottom is the “meta” section. Use the “login” option to create a site identity and receive notice of new postings. Your email address will never be shared with others although your login name will be how readers of the site will refer to you. Once you have subscribed, send an email to the mariner to make sure your subscription is noted at email@example.com.
Finally, the mariner has created a forum page called “The Captain’s Mast.” If any reader wants to open a dialogue with the mariner or with another reader’s replies, simply enter your comment in the Captain’s Mast.