The first cultural device was probably a recipient …. Many theorizers feel that the earliest cultural inventions must have been a container to hold gathered products and some kind of sling or net carrier.
So says Elizabeth Fisher in Women’s Creation (McGraw-Hill, 1975). But no, this cannot be. Where is that wonderful, big, long, hard thing, a bone, I believe, that the Ape Man first bashed somebody with in the movie and then, grunting with ecstasy at having achieved the first proper murder, flung up into the sky, and whirling there it became a space ship thrusting its way into the cosmos to fertilize it and produce at the end of the movie a lovely fetus, a boy of course, drifting around the Milky Way without (oddly enough) any womb, any matrix at all? I don’t know. I don’t even care. I’m not telling that story. We’ve heard it, we’ve all heard all about all the sticks spears and swords, the things to bash and poke and hit with, the long, hard things, but we have not heard about the thing to put things in, the container for the thing contained. That is a new story. That is news.
Single vision—the shrill and dogmatic insistence that real knowledge can only come through the material senses, and must never be understood as anything but the random acts of dead matter and mindless energy in a dead and mindless cosmos—pervades contemporary industrial civilization. It’s because we’re so used to thinking in these terms that we’ve gotten so good at manipulating matter and energy, but it’s also because we’re so used to thinking in these terms that we’ve done such a dismal job of maintaining the balance of the living planet on which our own lives depend. The old story of King Midas has an uncomfortable parallel here; just as Midas got the power to turn things to gold by touching them, only to discover that his food, his drink, and his daughter also got turned into lumps of yellow metal, we’ve gotten so good at manipulating dead things that we’re only just starting to notice that we’re turning everything around us into dead things, and may well end up turning into dead things in a hurry ourselves if we don’t get a clue or two.
We develop a classification scheme for the evolutionary state of planets based on the non-equilibrium thermodynamics of their coupled systems, including the presence of a biosphere and the possibility of what we call an “agency-dominated biosphere” (i.e. an energy-intensive technological species). The premise is that Earth’s entry into the “Anthropocene” represents what might be, from an astrobiological perspective, a predictable planetary transition. We explore this problem from the perspective of the solar system and exoplanet studies. Our classification discriminates planets by the forms of free energy generation driven from stellar forcing. We then explore how timescales for global evolutionary processes on Earth might be synchronized with ecological transformations driven by increases in energy harvesting and its consequences (which might have reached a turning point with global urbanization). Finally, we describe quantitatively the classification scheme based on the maintenance of chemical disequilibrium in the past and current Earth systems and on other worlds in the solar system. In this perspective, the beginning of the Anthropocene can be seen as the onset of the hybridization of the planet – a transitional stage from one class of planetary systems interaction to another. For Earth, this stage occurs as the effects of human civilization yield not just new evolutionary pressures, but new selected directions for novel planetary ecosystem functions and their capacity to generate disequilibrium and enhance planetary dissipation.
The child’s mind arises from these explorations, we shall renew them in adulthood in ways unseen in human history, to ends better than we have thus far been able or willing to dream together.