Posts Tagged ‘h g wells’

Very recently, around 30 new species were discovered in the rainforests of Ecuador, amongst them being a see-through frog and a tiny eraser-sized gecko. At the same time, an incredible species of crab, with shell resembling the surface of a strawberry, was discovered off the coast of Taiwan. (Click here, and also here to see the images.) New species are being discovered every day, and it goes to show how ignorant we are of their existence, just as the geckos and crabs are of our. The world never fails to astound us with the range of its inventory, and every new form of life discovered offers us cause to reflect on our own place in this chaotic hodge-podge of wigglers, walkers, fliers, jumpers, creepers and crawlers.

We are one out of a known 1,250,000 species of animals on this planet. We are by no means the strongest among these, nor are we the fastest, largest or the tallest. We can’t jump high enough and we can not fly. If we were to be randomly placed on the earth, we would in all likeliness die, for three-quarters of the surface is hostile towards us. Even aesthetically, I believe we fail to impress. We have a dull skin colour, and we don’t have stripes or spots or streaks to show off. Even the fur that we have is an apology of sorts. In almost every sense therefore, we are a mediocre species. It is true that we too have a distinguishing characteristic, which is our brain, and which sets us apart from the others as the most intelligent species, capable of science and technology and civilization, but I suspect that this assumed unique status of ours is a delusion born out of provincialism. When our now-incomplete inventory of life in the universe shall be updated, we may just find ourselves mediocre on this count as well.

But mediocrity is not an uplifting feeling. Surely there must be something that makes us significant, and gives us a sense of destiny and a grand purpose? Perhaps there is, if we choose it to be. Our intelligence makes us the most powerful species on the planet, and power is deadly in the hands of the mediocre. Our significance lies in being able to tame this power and use it for good things. Ensuring that our planet continues to trudge along with all its passengers intact is one such good thing that is within our power.  Our destiny is to speak for the planet and all its inmates, and whenever there is troubleshooting to be done, it is upon us to do it on behalf of the planet. We are thus a ‘spokes-species’ and not a ‘master-species’. The latter does not exist, and it is better that we do not view ourselves as one.

Great men have said greater things on the ‘destiny’ or ‘role’ of homo sapiens as a species on Earth and in the universe. Some of them have been carried away to the extent of conceit. However, a humble, yet prescient role has been described by H G Wells in his Outline of History. He calls man the ‘student-teacher of the universe’. No epithet could be truer than this, for we are an enquiring species after all, and we pass on our understanding and knowledge of the universe to our fellows, for them to pursue it further. Gathered under man’s leadership, says Wells, “Life, for ever dying to be born afresh, for ever young and eager, will presently stand upon earth as upon a footstool, and stretch out its realm amidst the stars.

These are, admittedly, lofty and poetic words meant for a species, and may fail to resonate with the individual member of that species who nevertheless finds himself an insignificant character lost in a grand drama. What, after all, is his worth in the here and now of space and time? Homo sapiens may go on to fulfill its destiny without his participation also. For him, the words of another such lost but curious individual called Albert Einstein may offer some solace. Though spoken for ‘each of us’, we may find a greater meaning in them if meant for our species as a whole:

Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to divine a purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: that we are here for the sake of others; above all, for those on whose smile and well-being our own happiness depends; and also for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day I realize how much my own outer and inner life is built upon the labors of others, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received and am still receiving.”

These words undoubtedly give a measure of the man who spoke them, and hopefully also of the mediocre species that he represented.


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