A View of the Past

Ten thousand years after Earth could no longer sustain life, a teacher on a distant world stands before his students.  He is teaching them about higher life forms of the universe that have arisen, have endured, and in most cases have ultimately given way to the various pressures that keep the universal life force in flux.

The teacher – the wise and venerable Galliflano – stands at the front of the small room.  The wall at his back has no distinguishable surface.  It does, however, have substance and depth.  At this moment it holds an image of the planet Earth as it looked millennia ago, when Earth’s star was at such a state in its evolution that it was still hospitable to life.  Pointing his finger, Galliflano rotates the planet so that his eight students can see the ancient geological features of Earth.

“You can readily see,” Galliflano says, “that Earth had ample water and adequate land surface to support life in many forms, as long as climatic and atmospheric conditions were suitable.  And they were.”

Galliflano stops the planet’s rotation and moves the view closer to the surface of it.  As the students feel themselves plummeting toward Earth, an audible gasp is heard as they see for themselves how lush, how green, and how richly diverse Earth had been.  It is easy to see that Earth had been the perfect place for life to take hold, to thrive, and to evolve.

Galliflano is not, however, teaching biology or zoology or botany.  He is there only to discuss higher life forms.  And on Earth, the highest form had been humans.  On the first day of class, Galliflano always gives his students an overview of several major life forms of the universe.  In subsequent classes, he delves into more complex and scientific issues.

“Earth,” Galliflano says, “having been so hospitable to life, having possessed such varied geological, topological and climatic features, gave birth to a wide range of life forms.  Humans, after several billion years, stood atop the biological pyramid.

“We will eventually discuss how humans evolved to take this supreme position on their planet.  For now, let it suffice to say that the major factor that set humans apart from other species on Earth was their proclivity toward combat.  They were highly territorial, possessed with ample greed, and were easily incited to hatred.  These are characteristics you’ll see in many of the advanced life forms we will be studying.  They are characteristics that have helped many species gain ascendancy and hold onto control, but that also can cause self destruction.

“Those characteristics in humans were often held in check by other traits, such as compassion, love, rational thought, a sense of justice and a desire for order.  But the tendency toward conflict and the craving of some humans for power and control over others of their species caused problems for them for many millennia.”

Moving his hand, Galliflano changes images in the wall.  The students see battles taking place, first with rocks and sticks, then with knives and swords, then with guns and cannon, then with airplanes and bombs, and then with rockets delivering huge bombs that disintegrate whole cities.  It is a bloody and brutal display, with the scenes arising in the wall seemingly at will, fading in and fading out and displaying the history of conflict on Earth in a chronological progression.  The images are replete with sounds and scents; the screams and shouts of the combatants, the cracking and clanging of swords and armor, the clapping reports of firearms, the explosions of cannon and bombs, the fetid smells of life forms torn asunder and the stinging stench of conflagrations scorching battlefields and villages, towns and cities.

Some students look away.  Others can’t stop looking.  This segment of Galliflano’s presentation lasts only a few minutes but it is a breathtaking and enlightening display of the nature of conflict on Earth.  As the scenes gradually fade from view, Galliflano turns to the students and speaks.

“But, as in each culture that we study, conflict on Earth was eventually recognized as the crippling liability that it was.  As humans proliferated into all reaches of Earth, as human population increased, and as resources dwindled, humans were left with a simple choice.  They would either perish in a never-ending struggle to control and consume resources or they would come to understand that cooperation, universal sharing, and consensual administration of those remaining resources was their only means for survival.”

At this point Galliflano raises his hand and waves it slowly before the wall.  All images disappear, and the wall is void of light, void of features.  The students stare into the murky depths of the wall, entranced and horrified by the images they have just witnessed.

“In our next meeting,” Galliflano says with compassion in his voice, “we will see what choices humans made and whether their choices prolonged their time in our universe or led to their own premature destruction.  Whichever it was, humans, the most intellectually advanced species on planet Earth, were ultimately responsible for their own collective future.”

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