A Perspective On The Ancients
The tradition of philosophy goes back a long time.
It is conceivable that even from the beginning of humankind, some form of philosophy existed. The human brain has been shown to be the most capable of all forms of biological life we have encountered so far in the universe (and some believe - rightly or wrongly - that there may be intelligent life elsewhere in our universe). For this reason, I find it hard to believe that the earliest humans didn't think about things that we call "Being", "Physics", and "Biology" today.
The ancients fascinate me. I always imagine what it would be like to meet a human of old. In fact, I have dreamt about it many times. Unfortunately, I don't remember most of my dreams.
Being is a complex topic, and although many people never stop to study the idea of Being as covered in a philosophical curriculum in a modern university, it's almost certain that every human has contemplated, at some point or another, the fact that they are.
How can you not?
Whether you believe that there is no real physical world and everything is an illusion of the mind, or whether you believe that the physical world is all their is, and everything in between, you have considered your existence, in "the world", whatever that may mean to you, and I am sure that the first humans did this as well.
Indeed, for me, I believe that Being is far too basic a topic, for our brains, barring any neurological disorder (assuming a perfectly healthy human being), to not have been thought about in some form by early humans.
Physics today is an enormous topic, spanning the quantum realm to the largest of the heavenly bodies.
However, for the first humans, physics was not a set of equations scribbled onto a chalkboard.
It was understanding the physical world.
Things such as learning how to throw a spear at a target accurately enough to secure a kill - this involves some understanding of the physics of spear-throwing. Of course, back then, they didn't have the free body diagrams of Newton or Leibniz and others, but they did have their human intuition.
Weight distribution of the spear itself, for example. Where you have to hold the spear to throw it. Throw it at a larger angle for targets that are farther away, due to the parabolic nature of the trajectory. These are all things humans must have figured out, likely with different language and terminology than we have here, otherwise, they would not have survived in the harsh wild.
So it seems to me that the humans of old must have had some understanding of physics. By today's standards, that may seem "rudimentary", but it is a unique understanding nonetheless.
Just like Physics, Biology is a vast science today, with many sub-fields and sub-sub-fields.
But how did the ancients understand Biology?
The ancients must have had at least the following understanding: some things, such as rocks, cliffs, stones, and so on, are non-living objects. Other things, such as plants, insects, fish, and land animals, are living objects.
This binary split is of course very simple, but you perhaps cannot get any simpler if we are to talk about Biology. It is, after all, by the modern definition, the study of living things.
It is unlikely that the ancients knew of bacteria, archaea, viruses, DNA, and so on, all achievements of microbiology. However, given the tools at their disposal, i.e, the lack of a microscope, this is not wholly unexpected.
Humans of today have amassed a vast and seemingly endless wealth of information on many fields of study.
With this wealth of information, it is easy to forget our past as a species.
We weren't always this knowledgeable. We didn't always have a subsection of our society spending billions of dollars on cutting edge research, whether that be speeding up atoms and causing them to collide, or stem cell research.
The first humans were, by necessity, a simple folk. They had genetic structures that are exactly the same as ours. They had the same brain as ours. And yet, they lived in a completely different world, free from computers, trains, planes, and everything that we have taken for granted in today's world.
I sometimes like to put myself back in the shoes of the early humans.
What was life really like back then?
Of course, the many anthropology texts out there can postulate on what social structures were like, what kind of societies were formed, and so on. But these kinds of academic takes, while interesting, are not really fulfilling to me.
The academic take is rarely the human take. It is the take of someone more abstract - reading such research sometimes feels like I'm reading something alien. From these we might be able to draw inspiration, although that is sometimes difficult, but I find that it is quite impossible to draw understanding. How could we? The only way to understand, is to live the life the old humans lived.
So I try to imagine. I close my eyes and try, very hard, to picture what Earth was like before the first humans came to be. The sheer wildness of it all. The absolute chaos of nature. My feeble mind frequently gets lost - I don't know what to imagine after I successfully imagine one scene. And being someone who has read books about these sorts of things, I am automatically biased, and I imagine the sort of thing that was in the books.
But that sort of imagination is, in my opinion, extremely important.
I encourage the reader to imagine such a world. It will give you a new perspective on the life of today, which is, for lack of a better word, extremely different. Hopefully it will make you appreciate the ancients as I do.
#philosophy #anthropology #perspective
- 2 toasts