In any case, the universe appears to have been around longer than I can count. And, then, there is the question that follows: How old is humanity? However, the question itself is not that simple because there arises the very problematic question: What do I mean by the word "humanity?" If I trace human beings back to the appearance of primates from which we appear to have evolved, this would take us back more than 60 million years, and it is estimated that the earliest civilizations arose between 4000 and 3000 BCE, according to the data Google traces to the National Geographic Society.
My point simply put is this: Our universe's age may be measured in billions of years, and civilization in terms of thousands of years. One might say, we are just getting started. Ours is a recent appearance in this parade of life's evolution.
But it does also appear that humanity's evolution hit the fast-forward button, and this is a problem, maybe the problem as to prospects of our survival as a species. For the sake of this paper, I am referring to our place on the evolutionary stage of life as the New Humanity. Why is that important? I believe it is important because we now may see ourselves as co-creators in the future prospects of life.
Further, as co-creators we have been equipped to move forward, providing care not only for humanity's survival, but also for tending the well-being of our planet earth even as we send out tentative probes exploring the far reaches of our solar system.
What do I mean when I say this New Humanity has been equipped as co-creators to provide care for evolutionary life today? There are four qualities in particular that serve our evolving life and perhaps bode well for the future of our planet, its inhabitants, and its natural features. Those qualities are: conscience, curiosity, compassion, and coping. As you will see below, each of these qualities reflects a stage in the evolutionary scale of life, each quality contributing significantly to our survival, and each quality adding a layer of meaning which enhances our experience of evolutionary and planetary life. However, as we shall also see, each quality contains not only positive potential but destructive potential as well.
I begin my brief exploration of each quality not in terms of most important to least significant but because the first quality is likely to be the one we most readily recognize:
Conscience. Conscience is an inner sense of right and wrong. It arises out of the structures of the brain involving cognition and emotion, a developing sense of our common humanity, how one feels when abused and when treated fairly, how one's family and culture teach as well as practice moral principles. All of these add up to create a personal morality that expands to form institutions, laws, religions, and educational systems. The positive contribution of our conscience is a high morality. However, the negative outcome of our conscience may lead to a legalism and obsession with punishment for persons who do not conform to the legalistically imposed laws and puritanical expectations.
Curiosity. Next, the second quality of the New Humanity is curiosity. Curiosity is humanity's innate desire to "know" and explore. Curiosity is the name NASA gave its car-sized rover that explores the landscape of Mars, which is successfully taking place as of this writing and has been for nearly a decade. The positive outcome of our curiosity is discovery; the negative outcome is danger. "Curiosity killed the cat," as our old saying goes. But without curiosity we would be locked into a sealed world, a diminishment of interest that would suppress the human spirit. Think of the many discoveries our ancestors brought into human consciousness, consider also the practical applications that have enhanced our lives, not without danger. But most often the benefits of our discoveries outweigh the dangers we face.
Compassion. Then, there is the third quality: compassion. Compassion is seated within the limbic system of our brain, where it modulates our rationalizations and our aggressions. Compassion arose in the second major stage of the human brain's development when warm-blooded mammals began to nurse, feed, train, and protect their young. The positive outcome of compassion is empathy by which we take the measure of another person's suffering and reach out to help, to alleviate the suffering. However, compassion's positive outcome of empathy is always at risk of assuming the pain of another. This potential negative outcome is what today we might call co-dependency, a state of enmeshment in which compassion sinks into the suffering of another and drowns.
Coping. Finally, I come to the fourth quality that I observe in the top echelon of the New Humanity's positive characteristics. This quality is coping. The origin of the word meant "to meet in battle." Today, we generally employ coping skills several times a day to solve problems, personal and/or interpersonal. Coping is the conscious process of solving problems. The "ten thousand things" come at us from within and from without. We experience this as stress, difficulties that threaten us personally or the larger world in which we live. These difficulties may weigh us down and threaten to defeat us by wrecking our health, our finances, our relationship with others and even our relationship with ourselves. But when we engage a problem, our will, our cognition, and our emotions rally in search of a solution. Out of sight and out of mind, our evolutionary inheritance prepares us not only to solve a problem but to deepen our understanding of how our world and our mind may work together. We employ all we have learned and experienced, all that we are, and our consciousness expands. This is what is involved in the wonderful human quality of coping. Not to do so or not to be able to do so, is despair.
The prospect of our "New Humanity" is a readiness for life made possible by our conscience, curiosity, compassion, and coping. These qualities hold us together as we become co-creators of tomorrow. They do not guarantee anything like an inevitable utopia for our future, but they do provide us a light to make our way through the darkness ahead.