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What Do We Do on Earth?
What is the purpose of our life? Many of us think that the purpose of life is to accumulate wealth, because money can fetch you everything including happiness. Wealth is an important determinant of people’s satisfaction with their lives, but it is far less important than most people think. Happiness depends on other factors more than it depends on wealth. Some people think that the purpose is to live an intelligent life. Others think that it is to live a happy life. Yet, others believe that a combination of wealth, happiness, and intelligent life, in some proportion, is the purpose of life. Once people believed that the Earth was the centre of the universe. That intelligence was an illusion. Our intelligence is a random chance of variations and mutations occurred due to several factors such as geographical isolation, use and disuse, climatic conditions, etc. Natural selection does not work towards creating intelligent life. Our ancestor may be a microbe. It could be an amoeba. Some of our body cells behave like an amoeba. Some kinds of white blood cells kill bacteria by surrounding and digesting them. The white blood cells do not wait for our command but they automatically work for our happiness. Whether our human body is a network of many micro organisms? Do microbes rule this planet? People who want to live a happy life are not always happy. Our mind is not completely freed from worries. Happiness is a state of mind. It is difficult to equate happiness of one person with another. But it is one thing that everybody strives for. If we look at the history of human beings who developed from human like creatures, we will be able to get an idea of the purpose for which they lived.
In the beginning, people didn’t have even the faintest idea of wealth. When they got excess food they didn’t know how to preserve it. When they didn’t get any food they simply starved. Scientists who study prehistoric human beings believe that they developed from humanlike creatures that first lived more than 4 million years ago. The first human beings probably lived about 2 million years ago.These early people looked more and more like modern people. By about 130,000 B.C., some prehistoric people looked much like people of today. Because early people kept no written records, scientists search for bones, tools, and other prehistoric remains. Most of the tools that have been found and studied are made of stone. As a result, the entire period during which early people lived has been called the Stone Age. People lived entirely by hunting and by gathering wild plants for almost all of the Stone Age’s 2 million years. The period from the time the first human beings appeared until about 8000 B.C., when the farming way of life began, is called the Old Stone Age or Palaeolithic Period. Prehistoric hunters lived in groups of 25 to 50 people and moved from place to place in search of food. At first, early people hunted mostly small animals, including birds and small reptiles. About 1.5 million years ago, some hunters developed the methods and weapons needed to kill or capture larger game. Prehistoric people’s first stone tools, called pebble tools, were small stones with sharpened edge on one side. They may have been the only stone tools until about 1.5 million years age. Then people in the eastern part of Asia and eastern part of Europe began to make two kinds of tools called chopping tools and choppers. At the same time, people in western part of Europe, most of Africa, and parts of western Asia began to make hand axes. Prehistoric people probably cooked some food. Before they knew how to make fire, they took burning wood from fires that had started naturally. People learned how to make fire about 1.5 million years ago.
About 200,000 years ago, most groups of people began making special tools for such different tasks as cutting, chopping, and scraping. Later in the Palaeolithic Period, after about 40,000 B.C., many people shaped long, thin blades of stone. They used these blades as tools, and they also made blades into knives and spear points. Throughout most of the Palaeolithic Period, few stone tools were used as weapons. People hunted and defended themselves chiefly with rocks, wooden clubs, and sharp-pointed bones and wooden spears. By about 18,000 B.C., people invented the bow and arrow and the spear thrower, a kind of launching track that helped a hunter throw a spear with increased range, force, and accuracy.
At some point of time they learned the efficiency of division of labour. Stone Age hunting groups performed a variety of jobs, from tool-making to butchering an animal. We do not know exactly when the first economy set in motion. Scientists estimate that only a few thousand people lived in all of Africa, and a similar number in Asia, during early prehistoric times. Although a group moved from place to place, it probably stayed within familiar territory and seldom met another group. Probably the occasional contact with a friendly neighbour could have been the starting point. Either they gave the surplus food to their neighbour free or in exchange of something like tools or different kind of food. Thus a rudimentary form of barter economy started. The tool maker didn’t need to go for hunting because tool making required a lot of time, skill, and energy. The specialised skill of tool making gave the tool maker happiness. The tool maker could avoid the risk faced by the hunters. The tools made the hunters efficient and efficiency produced surplus food. On the one hand the tool making skill made the people efficient and on the other hand the application of the skill created new products. Tool making, therefore, definitely helped the barter economy to set in motion. In time, they learned many things such as domestication of animals, agriculture, settled life, and the use of metals such as bronze, iron, gold, silver, copper, tin, etc.
Early farmers used several tools invented between 15,000 B.C. and 9000 B.C., during the period of the first domestication. These tools included sickles to cut grain, grinding stones to grind grain into flour, and axe like implements called celts. By about 11,000 B.C., people had invented how to make pottery. The earthen pots were used to cook food as well as to store food grains. The first farmers were people who depended chiefly on farming for food even though they hunted, and gathered wild plants. Scientists believe the first farmers lived in what are now Israel and Jordan about 8000 B.C. and in south-western Iran a few hundred years later. By 6000 B.C., agriculture had spread from the Middle East to the Greek Peninsula. Bronze Age was the period when people used bronze for tools and weapons. It followed the Stone Age, when stone was the chief material. When iron tools became widespread, the Bronze Age ended and the Iron Age began. The earliest known use of bronze occurred in Sumer, in Mesopotamia (now south western Iraq), about 3500 B.C. The Chinese had begun to use bronze by 2000 B.C. People continued to use bronze until sometime between 1500 and 1000 B.C. Then iron, which first appeared in Asia Minor, became common.
Now people had many products to exchange in the market of barter economy. But they had a big problem. In the barter economy, people found difficulty in fixing the value of the goods to be exchanged. The tool maker probably produced tools made of metals which can be exchanged for different goods. Many historians believe that the Chinese at first used knives, spades, and other metal tools as medium of exchange. Around 1100 B.C., they began to use miniature bronze tools instead of real tools. In time, the little tools developed into coins. The first minted coins may have been made during the 600’s B.C., in Lydia, a country in the western part of Turkey. They were bean shaped and made of gold and silver. These coins had a stamped design which carried a uniform value guaranteed by the King of Lydia. The development of paper money began in China, probably during the A.D. 600’s.
The invention of minted coins and paper money helped people to store their surplus production in a convenient form. The storing of surplus production helped the people to sail through the bad times smoothly. So it seems that wealth is good as long as bad times are anticipated. Wealth provides you security and happiness in life. But how much is wealth good? The more you are wealthy the more you are secured and happy. What if everybody produces surplus goods? For example, in our hunter-tool maker society, if the hunters had brought excess food but not wanted fresh tools then the tool maker would have been at the mercy of the hunters for food. This situation would have created a perpetual problem to the tool maker unless the tool maker had not parted with the ownership of the tools. The tool maker must have merely lent the tools in order to legitimately claim the share of food. Whether this thought of lending had occurred to the tool maker or not, that must have been the practical solution. This hunters’ dependency on tools on each occasion they went for hunting would have solved the tool maker’s perpetual problem. Everybody would be happy. As long as the tools were in good condition the tool maker would get food and there was no need to produce surplus tools. That is, if there had been no other needs other than food, the tool maker would not have produced surplus tools. But things were not like that. The friendly neighbours also wanted the tool. Assured of daily food, the tool maker had no incentive to produce tools for the neighbours. This might have made the neighbours to find something to motivate the tool maker to oblige. The neighbours might have offered the tool maker something they considered valuable. The tool maker accepted the offer and the friendly neighbours got the tool they wanted. Now the tool maker was happier and so the friendly neighbours. So the surplus production was good, provided it could be exchanged for some other needs. Thus, in due course, humans invented new needs. As more needs were invented, people created surplus production.
As the population and the needs of the people increased, a propensity to produce surplus modified the behaviour of the people. Some people still continued to go for hunting, some practised agriculture, and some produced tools and other utilities for trade. These three groups exchanged their goods. That implies that each group produced goods for their own use and for others. All the goods that are produced for the use of others can’t be considered as surplus because some of these goods are exchanged for their own needs. The goods that are left after the fulfilment of all needs can be considered as surplus. The food grain cultivator could store the product for longer time than the hunter could. Therefore, the food grain cultivator had an advantage over the hunter; and the tool maker had an advantage over the other two. This situation could have created some kind of primitive bargaining power. In due course, the issue must have been settled. When the hunters got a good field day they might have conceived the idea of storing the excess in the form of food grains. The tool maker by merely lending the tools was assured of food and other needs. Some kind of equilibrium could be seen in their economy. The things which could be stored for longer time and could be exchanged for other goods were valued much. Naturally, the tools were considered most valuable. The tool maker now produced tools of different sizes according to the value of goods exchanged. Thus the Chinese used the tools made of metals as a medium of exchange. Now everybody could produce surplus and store it in the form of metal tools which would be exchanged for anything they required in the future. Surplus production is nothing but the excess of energy produced over the energy consumed; the excess energy is converted into a medium of exchange. As more and more people demanded, the tool maker continued to produce the tools provided the raw materials to make the tools were available. So everybody could produce surplus. When everybody produced surplus goods, the tool maker encountered with new problems. The tool maker could not produce enough tools to meet the demand of the people. Secondly, all the surplus goods reached the tool maker which the tool maker didn’t require. Either the tool maker restricted the economy or more people were employed to make tools. The tool maker distributed part of the goods to the employees and probably exported the remaining goods to the friendly neighbours in exchange for raw materials for the tools and other valuable goods. Internal and external trade was brisk; people were happy. So wealth was created and stored.
So far we have seen only the rosy picture of the history of ancient people. Imagine that the tool maker refused to give the tool to the friendly neighbours or a hostile group wanted to acquire the specialised tools made by the tool maker, and the neighbours opted to wage a war against the tool maker and the people. Many of them, on both sides, must have been killed. The mightier side would have won the battle; the other people might have been subjected or driven to distant place. The aftermath of the battle would give different paths for the history of humans to take its course. Though such an event was undesirable, it was not improbable. Why was one group of people hostile towards the other group?
For hundreds of thousands of years, prehistoric people lived by hunting, fishing and gathering wild plants. Even small groups of people had to roam over large areas of land to find enough food. The discovery of agriculture gradually ended the nomadic way of life for many people. After they learned to raise crops and domesticate animals, they no longer had to wander about in search of food. They could thus begin to settle in villages. By about 3500 B.C., civilization began. It stated first in Southwest Asia. Three other early civilizations developed in Africa and in south and east of Asia. All these civilizations arose in river valleys, where fertile soil and a readily available water supply made agriculture easier than elsewhere. The valleys were (1) the Tigris-Euphrates Valley in the Middle East, (2) the Nile Valley in Egypt, (3) the Indus Valley in Pakistan, and (4) the Huang He Valley in northern China. While civilization was developing in the four valleys, people in most other parts of the world were still following their old ways of life.
By the 5000 B.C., many people had settled in villages in the lower part of the Tigris-Euphrates Valley, an area later called Sumer. By about 3500 B.C., some farm villages had grown into small cities, which marked the beginning of the world’s first civilization. They invented the first form of writing; it consisted of picture like symbols scratched in to clay. The symbols were later simplified to produce cuneiform. The Sumerians used baked bricks to build great palaces and towering temples called ziggurats in their cities. The Sumerians invented the potter’s wheel. Their system of counting in units of 60 is the basis of the 360-degree circle and the 60-minute hour. The Sumerian city-states had no central government or unified army and continually struggled among themselves for power. As time passed, they were increasingly threatened by neighbouring Semitic peoples, who were attracted by the growing wealth of the Tigris-Euphrates Valley. During the 2300’s B.C., a Semitic king, Sargon of Akkad, conquered Sumer. Their rule lasted more than 60 years. Then invaders from the northeast overran the empire. These invaders soon left Mesopotamia, and Sumer was once again divided into separate city-states. By about 2000 B.C., the Sumerians had completely lost all political power to invading Semites. Mesopotamia then broke up into a number of small kingdoms under various Semitic rulers. The city of Babylon became the centre of one kingdom. The greatest Babylonian king was Hammurabi, who ruled from about 1792 to 1750 B.C. In Syria in the 2000 B.C., a powerful Semitic kingdom called Ebla grew up in northern Syria. Its economy was based upon the making of metal products and textiles and it traded with many states. Other states paid tribute (taxes) to Ebla.
The civilization of ancient Egypt began to develop in the valley of the Nile River about 3100 B.C. Agriculture flourished in the valley, where the flood waters of the Nile deposited rich soil year after year. During 3000’s B.C., Egypt consisted of two large kingdoms. Lower Egypt covered the Nile Delta. Upper Egypt lay south of the delta on the two banks of the river. About 3100 B.C., according to legend, King Menes of Upper Egypt conquered Lower Egypt and united the two kingdoms. Menes also founded the first Egyptian dynasty. They invented their own form of writing – an elaborate system of symbols known as hieroglyphics. They also invented papyrus, a paper- like material made from the stems of reeds. The Egyptians built great tombs and mummified corpses to preserve them. The most famous Egyptian tombs are gigantic pyramids in which the kings were buried. Over the years, huge armies of conquering Egyptians expanded the kingdom’s boundaries far beyond the Nile Valley. At its height in the 1400’s B.C., Egypt ruled Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and part of the Sudan. As a powerful state at the junction of Asia and Africa, Egypt played an important role in the growth of long distance trade. Although the ancient Egyptians had contacts with other cultures, their way of life changed little over thousands of years. Their civilization gradually declined, and the Egyptians found it harder and harder to resist invaders who had greater vigour and better weapons. Egyptian records from the 1200’s and 1100’s B.C. describe constant attacks by ‘sea peoples’. These peoples may have come from islands in the Aegean Sea or from lands along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. After 1000 B.C., power struggles between rival Egyptian dynasties further weakened the kingdom.
Historians have only partly translated the writings left behind by the ancient civilization that arose in the valley of the Indus River and its tributaries. The ruins of two large cities -Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa – tell much about the Indus Valley civilization. The remains of hundreds of small settlements have also been discovered in the valley. Some of these settlements were farming villages, and others were sea-ports and trading posts. Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa probably had more than 35,000 inhabitants each by about 2500 B.C. They had a well-developed system of agriculture that provided food for the large population. They dug ditches and canals to irrigate their farms. The Indus cities had brick buildings and well-planned streets laid out in rectangular patterns. Elaborate brick-lined drainage systems provided sanitation for the towns. Archaeologists have discovered that standardized sizes of bricks and uniform weights and measures were used throughout the Indus Valley. The Indus settlements traded with one another and with foreign cultures. Traces of seals used on goods from the Indus Valley have been found as far away as Mesopotamia. The Indus people probably also traded with people of central Asia, southern India, and Persia. Between 2000 and 1750 B.C., the Indus Valley civilization began to decay. Scholars do not know why this process of decay took place. By about 1700 B.C., the Indus Valley civilization had disappeared.
The earliest written records of Chinese history date from the Shang dynasty, which arose in the valley of the Huang He during the 1700’s B.C. The records consist largely of writings scratched on animal bones and turtle shells. The bones and shells are known as oracle bones. Shang people had more than 3,000 characters. Some characters on the oracle bones resemble modern Chinese characters. Little remains of the cities of the Shang period. Most of the buildings were made of mud or wood and have long since crumbled away. The people of the Shang period cast beautiful bronze vessels. They also carved marble and jade and wove silk. The Shang people were governed by a king and a hereditary class of aristocrats. The Shang leaders organized armies of as many as 5,000 men and equipped them with bronze weapons and horse-drawn war chariots. They used their armies to control the other peoples of the Huang He Valley. They ruled much of the valley for about 600 years.
From about 1200 B.C. to A.D. 500, Mesopotamia and Egypt were increasingly affected by the gradual growth of a new civilization on the islands and shores of the Aegean Sea. The most magnificent civilization of ancient times-that of the Greeks-eventually developed in the Aegean region. For a time, the Greeks dominated much of the ancient world. Later, the lands of the Greeks, as well as Mesopotamia and Egypt, became part of the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire covered much of Europe and the Middle East, and the north coast of Africa. The Han dynasty of China ruled a large empire from 202 B.C. to A.D. 220. The Gupta dynasty of India ruled a large empire from A.D. 320 to 500.
The invention of agriculture by the prehistoric people during 15,000 B.C. to 9000 B.C. was a boon as well as a bane. Once they learned crop rising, they had plenty of food. During the same period they also mastered domestication of animals. Now people depended less on hunting. Without hunting, they could survive on agricultural products and domesticated animals. The tool maker now required to work on agricultural equipments and produced less of hunting weapons. Gradually, they settled their life near a river where water for irrigation was available throughout the year. Elsewhere, people continued to live the nomadic way. Their tool maker continued to make great weapons for hunting. As they moved from place to place, they would have met the people settled in villages. The village people had led a prosperous life with plenty of food and domesticated animals. The nomadic people saw what they wanted, the animals. One fine day, the nomadic people attacked the villagers. It was easier for them to conquer the villagers who didn’t have enough weapons to counter-attack the enemy. The villagers’ peaceful settled life became a curse. This could have really happened in the prehistoric period. Even the people of ancient civilizations were constantly threatened by the marauding people living in the periphery. One of the causes for the decline of ancient civilizations was the continued attack of these marauding people. These people changed the course of history of humans.
Prehistoric people lived in a world quite different from present day. They first appeared about 2 million years ago, at a time when the earth has grown cold. Glaciers were gradually covering parts of the northern continents, and ice blanketed all of Antarctica. Only Africa, south-eastern Asia, and most of Central and South America remained warm. The first human beings appeared in Africa during this period. The climate had become so cold in Canada and Scandinavia that more and more snow fell in winter than could melt in summer. The ice sheets grew and spread southward during periods called glacial. Each of these periods probably lasted about 100,000 years. Near the end of each glacial, the earth became warmer, and the southern parts of the ice sheets melted. These warmer periods, called interglacial, probably lasted only about 10,000 years. In the glacial and interglacial periods, early people settled almost all of Africa, southern Asia, and southern Europe, and also part of Australia. Every time the ice sheets grew, they turned large amounts of ocean water into ice. As a result, the level of sea fell. This lowering of the sea level uncovered new land for settlement. It also created land bridges that connected regions ordinarily separated by water. One of these land bridges linked Siberia with Alaska. Others connected the European mainland with Great Britain, and the Malay Peninsula with the Indonesian islands. Prehistoric people travelled over these bridges to settle new lands. The ice sheets melted during the interglacial period raised the sea level again and covered the land bridges. This must have separated the prehistoric people into different groups for hundreds of years. Each group must have developed different life styles according to the conditions of life on different geographical regions. Over a period of time, each group had forgotten the link with the other groups. Later, when they encountered the other group, they were treated as aliens. Hostile feeling developed because of geographical isolation which separated one group from another. If Ice age theory is correct then nature might have created this feeling. This feeling must have driven the marauding people to attack other people to secure their food. Nature has given us many good things as well as some bad things.
The primary concern of any organism is food. Protozoan is one-celled organism that may have plant-like or animal-like characteristics. Many scientists group protozoa as neither animals nor plants. The amoeba is one of the simplest protozoa. It is a tiny one-celled organism that can only be seen under a microscope. Some amoeba lives in water and moist soil. Others live in the bodies of animals and human beings. The cell is a shapeless mass of protoplasm, the living, jelly-like material found in the cells of all living things. A thin, elastic membrane surrounds the protoplasm and holds together. Water and gases pass in and out of the amoeba through the membrane. The single cell that makes up its body carries on all the necessary life processes by itself. The cell eats, breathes, and responds to its surroundings. To move about, an amoeba must change its body shape. The protoplasm pushes out the elastic membrane to form a finger-like pseudo pod (false foot), and all of the protoplasm seems to flow into it. For every ‘step’, another pseudo pod must form. Cells that move in this way are called amoeboid cells. The white blood cells of human beings are amoeboid cells. Amoebas eat tiny living organisms and particles of dead and decaying matter. They engulf their food by slowly wrapping pseudo pods around a food particle. They reproduce by fission (splitting apart) when they reach a certain size. Many protozoa are serious enemies of human beings and animals. Malaria and African sleeping sickness are among the diseases they cause. Who did program the actions of the amoeba? The single celled organism has got some intelligence to find its food. The single cell carries out all necessary life processes by itself. It has survived the severe climatic conditions of the planet for millions of years. There are certain life-forms (extremophiles) capable of surviving in extreme conditions (very cold or hot, very acidic or/and radioactive, no oxygen, etc.). The extremophiles learned to survive the severest conditions on earth just in order to get food. Why do they struggle to eat and survive? Do they have any purpose of their struggle for existence? Is life worth for such struggles? But life continues on earth and it will continue for some 6 billion years more. We are not at the peak of evolution. After a million years, we may not look like what we are today; we may not even exist on this planet. Some other species may be dominating the earth.
Who are we? What do we do on earth? Because we want more living space, we encroach upon the habitat of the plants and animals without knowing the consequences. By the time we understand the consequences, it will be too late to reverse it. We are actually becoming weaker and weaker. We are weaker than the microbes. We can’t survive the severe climatic conditions on earth. Our babies depend on parents for several years. In certain Asian countries, the children depend upon their parents even after marriage. Most of the animals can just get up and walk on birth, which our babies can’t. To hide our weakness we invent machines to support us. One day the machines will rule the planet; it is not improbable, considering the way we are empowering the machines. In the evolutionary process, a mutation can decide which species would dominate the planet. In the scientific process, a human error may destroy the whole universe. Such human errors are more harmful than the bad things occasionally unleashed by nature. We continue to have the mind of the people who attacked and brought down the history’s finest civilizations. At the slightest provocation we unleash weapons of mass destruction. We focus too much on accumulating wealth that we conveniently forget the living conditions of the poor. There is no limit for our greed; we engineer new financial instruments in the false impression that they would create wealth forever. Our enthusiasm to get quick money is too much that we forget the fundamentals. Once we accumulate wealth we waste a lot of resources in the name of consumption. A few of us consume the major chunk of the natural resources and leave a wee bit to the majority of the population. We have learnt very less from the lessons of the past.
I think we should have a deeper knowledge of life and this knowledge should enable us to lead a better life on this planet. It seems the purpose of life is life itself.
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