Stop the presses.
In an enlightened age when “Trust the Science” is a popular catch-phrase, it’s amazing what humankind still doesn’t know.
Why we humans need sleep, why we age, and why placebos work are only a few of the unanswered questions with which scientists around the world still grapple.
From the Agricultural Revolution, to the Age of Enlightenment, to the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution, to the Information Age; our most recent scientific rises have been the most meteoric but we didn’t get here overnight.
When the very first farmers started successfully growing crops, the seeds of the first towns and cities were planted. Food surpluses created by farming allowed, for the first time in history, members of a group to stay in one place, organize and grow. It also allowed, for the first time, some people in that collective to devote themselves to higher pursuits and specialties not directly related to meeting the ever-present need for sustenance and survival.
Engineering was probably born around that time; tax collection was certainly invented at that time. The oldest written records archeologists have ever uncovered, the very first known records left by our ancient ancestors are…tax records.
A food surplus meant someone had to store it, manage it; maintain it. That person would need to be paid and public service, as we understand it, was born. Let’s face it; politics probably already existed.
Humans collecting in larger and larger groups, fed by the largesse of the Agricultural Revolution, could exchange information faster, share ideas, cooperate on larger projects.
Even considering this, once upon a time, major breakthroughs in various fields of science, engineering and technology only occurred once every few generations, if that. Now, major breakthroughs happen all the time.
It hasn’t all been mapping the human genome, of course.
Along with the internal combustion engine, penicillin, anesthesia, and pentium processors, has flowed an equal and opposite force, a prevailing darkness to contrast the light of human ingenuity and creativity.
The arms race.
If there was ever a thing to make the, “stars throw down their spears, and water heaven with their tears,” as the poet William Blake once wrote, it would have to be the arms race. To contemplate human history, the barest tip of the iceberg we know of it, is to look into an abyss of destruction, death, war, genocide, and violence on a scale we can barely imagine.
And to feel that abyss looking back.
In the enlightened year of 2022, humans cherish a hope we are past our most barbaric and blood-soaked eras. Deep down, we fear it might not be so.
It is perhaps the human story boiled down to its most basic essence: A capacity for violence and greatness in equal measures.
Throughout history, science has often given mankind great reasons for hope.
And science could certainly use a win at the moment. Though it hasn’t received much attention in the press yet, a recent groundbreaking meta study just completely undermined decades of known scientific wisdom on the subject of depression and its psychopharmaceutical treatments.
“No evidence that depression is caused by low serotonin levels, finds comprehensive review,” reported Science Daily on July 20, 2022. “After decades of study, there remains no clear evidence that serotonin levels or serotonin activity are responsible for depression, according to a major review of prior research.”
It’s quite a blow to known and accepted wisdom: But if scientists in Israel have truly found the fabled Fountain of Youth at long last, it might more than make up for it.
“‘Miracle molecules’ discovered?” press outlets have been gushing. “Scientists find compound that reverses aging, develop ‘longevity drug’”.
If reversing aging is possible, some enterprising geneticist or scientist could be even now unlocking the intricacies of the human heart, finding the seat of human consciousness, solving the impasse between Newtonian and quantum physics with that all-unifying, ever-elusive Theory of Everything.
Scientists might even eventually unlock the mystery of the arms race, to answer that one question which plagues us all to some degree or another: Man’s inhumanity to man.
The Why bothers us: “Why would anyone do such a thing?”
The How routinely breaks us, individually and collectively: “How could anyone do such a thing to another human being?”
How could anyone perpetuate mass violence, engineer a genocide, violently take the life of another person, deprive a mother of her child, a sister of her brother, children of a parent.
We know why they do it, even if we can’t possibly understand their reasons. Violent murderers often talk about their crimes. They even occasionally are put on trial and forced to answer for their inhumanity in a court of law.
Decades ago, the Communist Party of Kampuchea, better known as the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia was led by a man you might have heard of, Pol-Pot. The Khmer Rouge, in a shockingly short period of a few years, committed genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Pol-Pot and his lieutenants engineered famines that directly cost millions of lives, executed dissenters in the tens of thousands and caused the deaths of still others unfortunate enough to live through the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror.
Pol-Pot is long gone. Two of Pol-Pots top lieutenants were recently put on trial for their crimes. Their defense? Why did they do what they did?
“We only killed the bad people.” And also: “It was a long time ago, anyway.”
Now in their 80s, having had decades to contemplate their notorious legacy, “We only killed the bad people,” is the best they can do.
How could they have done as they did? How do they have this capacity for unspeakably violent acts which, mercifully, would make the vast majority of us recoil in terror? How do they have this utter contempt for human life, this complete lack of compassion?
Serials killers don’t know the answer; the inmates of death row don’t know. Not even the lieutenants of Pol-Pot know.
Understanding the human capacity for what we might call evil- and more importantly, what we human beings can do to excise this particular genetic quirk into the dust bins of history- is perhaps the ultimate scientific holy grail.
If Israeli scientists have at last found the entrance to the Fountain of Youth, embedded somewhere in the human genome no doubt, perhaps anything is possible.
Even the salvation of humanity.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)