The first early humans to use fire had no inkling of what it would lead to.
Fire was one of our first technologies, and humans have been making changes to their environments since the advent of controlled fire hundreds of thousands of years ago. Fast forward to current times, and our modern technological and global civilization is changing the Earth’s entire biosphere. From carbon emissions that acidify the oceans and weaken the shells of marine life to microplastics that find their way into organisms’ bloodstreams, our technology is intersecting, or combining, with the biosphere.
What is humanity? Do our minds set us apart from the rest of nature and from the rest of Earth? Or does Earth have a collective mind of its own, and we’re simply part of that mind? On the literal face of it, that last question might sound ridiculous.
But a new thought experiment explores it more deeply, and while there’s no firm conclusion about humanity and a planetary mind, just thinking about it invites minds to reconsider their relationship with nature.
Overcoming our challenges requires a better understanding of ourselves and nature, and the same is true for any other civilizations that make it past the Great Filter.
One of the most fascinating things about planet Earth is the way that life shapes the Earth and the Earth shapes life. We only have to look back to the Great Oxygenation Event (GOE) of 2.4 billion years ago to see how lifeforms have shaped the Earth. In that event, phytoplanktons called cyanobacteria pumped the atmosphere with oxygen, extinguishing most life on Earth, and paving the way for the development of multicellular life.
Early Earth satisfied the initial conditions for life to appear, and now, lifeforms shape the atmosphere, the landscape, and the oceans in many different ways.
At the base of many of these changes is phytoplankton.