The more one uses their imagination, the more compelling history becomes. Use no imagination and you are just looking at the physical pages of a textbook. Use a little imagination and you may be able to see beneath the yellow tint of photographs at the turn of the 20th century. Muster all of the imagination you can, and you will be seeing events from centuries past in beautiful color. You may go so far astray that you never want to return.
Imagine: The vivid hues of the African landscape on the eve of the Berlin Conference in 1885, which officialized the scramble for Africa.
-When lions were ten times more exotic to Europeans because Europeans’ transportation was ten times as slow.
-Four billion years of time on this planet. That is four thousand thousand thousand.
-Millions of years when life was only microscopic.
-An abyss of time when giant lizards ruled a sweltering planet.
-Cavemen boating for miles out to Australia 50,000 years ago. What did they do when they first hit land?
-Plato teaching in a Roman school.
-When the “New World’ was still a new world.
-How much bigger the world got when the microscope was invented.
-The personal life of a 16th century king.
-What Indians saw when they laid eyes on the first Europeans over the Atlantic.
-How high-tech the first steamship coming up the Hudson River must have looked to local farmers.
-When Manhattan was still a forest with scattered villages.
-How modern the subway system looked when it was brand new.
-A social hierarchy based on skin hues and shades.
We are numbed by our familiarity of the world around us. What would happen if it broke down? What if we suddenly discovered a time on earth when fungus ruled, when mushrooms were the size of the Empire State building? Or what if we found that at one point, insects could weigh up to 500 pounds? Surely these facts would seem more fantastic than dinosaurs roaming the earth. But would either of them really be any more odd?
The human story is quite familiar at this point, which robs us all of its intrigue. Small mammals crawled out of their holes after a comet hit the earth to ruin the dinosaurs. A branch of these mammals, primates, grew huge brains in order to manipulate their environment. Some primates then evolved into killer apes, roaming the landscape with spear in hand and canine teeth; a real pack animal.
From there, clothing, domestication and war on horseback were but small steps to making us undeniably human. As this is such a familiar story, the details of anthropology bore most people to death. Few fully realize how truly bizarre our species’ whole masquerade down here on earth, really was. Objectively, would it be anymore peculiar if after our extinction by nuclear annihilation, elephants evolved to shrink down to the size of rodents and create a network of burrows under the earth with their trunks?
It sends goose bumps up the spine to try to think about historical happenings from different perspectives. To us, the inventions of the industrial revolution are anything but mysterious. But how did they appear to farmers of the day migrating to the cities to operate them, these machines that would do the labor for humanity? Some of the machines must have looked like monsters. Blueprints for the Spinning Jenny were smuggled from England into America. It sounds like something out of a James Bond movie.
If a 17th century American Indian could come back from the dead and have a glimpse at our society today, he would exclaim that the aliens on the backs of even bigger, four-legged aliens, took over everything! Would he be any further from an objective truth than a fifteen year-old who is questioned about the nature of our society today? Where are we today, anyway; and really, how did we get here?
One thing is for sure, all perspectives considered, we are very, very far into the future. Machines do a large bulk of our work for us. We teleport our voices and practically anything else including ourselves. Travel is lightning fast. We fly, for crying out loud!
The moon landing is ancient history to teens of our day. By Enlightenment standards, we now all perform magic, everyday, just to get by. The ultra modern styles of the 50s and 60s are now so antique looking that our sense of fashion has regressed back to that time period. We are currently in a bitter argument with the rest of our species about the final major energy reserves of the planet.
However, is it not strange that at some point, this present day will be ancient history? Is our idea of ancient history not itself far, far into the future? Were the Romans not a pinnacle of civilization? Without the barbarian attacks, some say the Romans would have developed a society as advanced as our own by the end of the first millennium. By this time we would have colonized distant solar systems. Talk about an alternate universe.
Defying All the Odds
The most stupefying oddity of history is the fact that every single one of your ancestors managed to reproduce. This includes humans and nonhumans. Just think of all the things that could have gone differently in the lives of your parents or grandparents that would have erased your existence. The chances were startlingly against us all four billion years ago. Yet, here we all are, on a lush green and blue ball, floating in a black nothingness.
To quote the Talking Heads:
“You may ask yourself… How did I get here… How do I work this?
Same as it ever was, same as it ever was, same as it ever was.
Under the rocks and stones, there is water underground.
Water flowing underground.”