Geology And Geophysics

How Planet Earth was Formed



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An important moment in history



The following article are my captured thoughts while traveling through Laos in Autumn 2006

Cruising in a slow boat down a timeless Mekong River, one of the great rivers of this world can be a relaxing and thought provoking experience, perhaps the perfect moment to disappear into thoughts of how multi cell life was first created! Not everybody's chosen subject, but appropriate to me at the time.

Let's start off in our time machine, by magically traveling back half a billion years 500,000), to an extremely fascinating period in the history of life on this planet. It was time for a momentous kick-start period for simple life organisms which then existed. Suddenly, and no-one really has a clue why (dramatic climate and extra volcanic conditions a possible reason), there was an amazing up-surge in life's evolutionary process, causing tremendous biological activity and sudden dramatic changes in the simple plant and the tiny one celled creatures that existed in that period.

Scientists and palaeontologists have named this crucial moment in our history, as 'The Cambrian Explosion' and this extraordinary evolutionary change, saw nature at its most creative and bizarre, experimenting with millions, perhaps billions of different life forms, evolving and devolved them in a relative blink! What is more remarkable, this amazing drama and furious activity followed an earlier period of perhaps one billion years, where simple life was almost totally static, hardly evolving at all!

Now if you are an uncomplicated person such as I, you may find it difficult getting your head around these vast spans of time, that is if time actually exists at all? For the sake of this article, let's assume it does! Humans only survive a mere seventy to eighty years, although one could argue that with our modern, far easier lifestyle, new medical science and a fierce survival instinct, our human life span will increase dramatically in the next hundred years or so. Even so, when referring to time, we will always naturally relate to shorter time periods, generally around our own life span and recent history, not the amazing expanse of time I'm often trying to get my head around.

Now the exciting question for me is this: What actually prompted that sudden life building block eruption so long ago? Was it a totally natural phenomenon, caused by the extraordinary mayhem of a young developing world, or does nature actually have a purpose, an inevitable goal? Are we part of a conveyor belt of life forms, eventually leading towards a supreme being? Once again, our inbuilt instinct for survival, relatively new ability to reason and consequent fear of death, would have us believe such a theory.

Flip the coin over though, looking up towards our known universe. Astronomers, physicists and scientists, using science, logic and common sense, suggest that this earth, complete solar system, or even our own galaxy, consisting of a billions stars and immense beyond simple reasoning, is really so minuscule in universal terms, we hardly rate a pin prick in the overall plan (should there be one), and it is quite ridiculous to assume we are traveling in a spiritual direction, at least one that we could possibly understand!

Anyway, as I was saying life, which was totally static for a billion years or so, for an inexplicable reason suddenly got this shot in the arm and over the next one hundred million years or so(a mere blink apparently), through consistent experimentation, started evolving at tremendous rate.

Initially it is assumed, this process erupted in water, oceans, rivers etc, but later developing creatures left the water (another crucial moment in life's fascinating history), adapting to life on land, almost as if there was a main driving force, one could argue! Of course life originally evolved and is still evolving to suite changing climatic conditions. There are only two roads apparently, eradication or evolution!

These are of course, for the time being, many unanswerable questions. So let's leave this melting pot of life's early evolving organisms and rapidly move forward in time a few hundred million years.

Stopping briefly en-route, at the very beginning of mankind, a mere seven or eight million years ago. Two kinds of primates managed to drop down from fast disappearing forests and survive on the Great Plains which then surrounded the world, following yet another climate change and dramatic forest loss of that period.

They were the knuckle Walking primates (Chimpanzees and great apes for example), presumably because of their gait and general need to have three or four limbs touching the ground at any one time, even today they have only made modest evolutionary progress. While other surviving primates of the time, those who stood completely upright, evolved physically and mentally over a relatively short period, we are talking tens of thousands, not millions of years here.

It is generally assumed, because of this primates unique, upright walking posture (presumably an early survival technique), the skeletal structure also rapidly changed, allowing further body development and in direct consequence, also assisting the fast developing brain of this quite remarkable new predatory primate, which of course, eventually became us, present day Homo Sapiens!

We are still talking about several million years of development to reach our present, but rather remarkable evolutionary situation. Other similar upright walking primates failed to adjust to various changes over several hundred millennial, gradually becoming extinct, which makes it all the more remarkable that we have survived.

Even more recently in our remarkable development and relative short history, the introduction of language skills and the consequent crucial, 'exchange of knowledge', rapidly accelerated further evolutionary progress. Possible future cosmetic changes to this new, top predatory animal may increase evolutionary process far beyond any normal development that nature by itself could possibly achieve!

Of course this rapid (often frightening) development is an ongoing process, complicated by innumerable self introduced intricate and fascinating factors. No other creature has ever evolved so quickly. No other creature can assess its past life, with the power to actually alter future existence of itself, other creatures and even the planet we live on.

It has been said, that we live permanently on the edge of chaos and it is true that Human life, although naturally striving for order, is generally still a chaotic lottery. One
could argue of course, that the odds are gradually coming down. We will I believe, one day control our fear of death, or even death itself, also master 'reason' the new confused child within us.

That is probably beyond our immediate future, but perhaps not our children's. Until then folks, we are in for a long, exciting, somewhat rocky ride, a journey which will never cease to amaze future historians, or whatever we are likely to evolve into.

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