We all humans are under one category called Homo Sapiens, which means in Latin “wise man.” We are supposed to be “wiser” than other human species that existed on earth hundreds of thousands of years ago. Who were those human species?
- Diverse Human Species
- A Genetic Bottleneck
- A Catastrophe Theory
- Homo Deus
- Signs, Wisdom, and Christ
Diverse Human Species
Interestingly, compared to other animals, even apes, we modern humans are less variety and more homogeneous. We all belong to a single species, Homo Sapiens. Under the category of the Homo genus, however, there were many other species and sub-species in the past as follows:
- Homo Sapiens subspecies
- Homo Sapiens Idaltu
- Homo Neanderthalensis
- Homo Rhodesiensis
- Homo Heidelbergensis
- Homo Georgicus
- Homo Cepranensis
- Homo Naledi
- Homo Floresiensis
- Homo Antecessor
- Homo Erectus
- Homo Erectus Ekinensis
- Homo Erectus Mauritanicus
- Homo Erectus Yuanmouensis
- Homo Erectus Soloensis
- Homo Ergaster
- Homo Gautengensis
- Homo Rudolfensis
- Homo Habilis
- Homo Helmei
- Homo Tsaichangensis
- Homo Luzonensis
In the case of dogs, there are many kinds under the Canis genus. Usually, one single-family generated diverse species throughout its biological history. For dogs, Maltese looks so different from Siberian Husky in their size and appearance, but we can recognize them like a dog. In a dog’s biological history as well as human domestications and manipulations, there are diverse species under one single Canis genus.
Likewise, we humans were used to having many species and subspecies under one single Homo genus. Perhaps, some were small, and others were giant. Some were peaceful, and others were violent.
(That could remind us of the differences like Gorillas, Chimpanzees, Bonobos, and Orangutans. But in their case, this diversity under the higher category of the Hominini tribe. In it, both Chimpanzees and Bonobos are under the same Pan genus.)
In any case, at least some anthropological and archeological evidence suggests that we humans used to have diverse “relatives” in the past. Figuratively, the following Bible passage, as well as other prehistoric mythical stories, would also imply our mysterious relatives one way or another.
There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.Genesis 6:4
We used to have many relatives in the past; however, almost all of them are now extinct. We are all from only one single-family called Homo Sapiens.
Perhaps, some of them vanished as the result of natural selections like other animal species. From the perspective of million-year earth history, a series of balance and conflict between extinction and biodiversity are natural. Indeed, there is a long list of vanished, extinct species caused by the survival of the fittest, and other reasons.
One of the well-known reasons could be a natural disaster, which possibly caused the extinction of dinosaurs. It could be either impact events by the collision of meteors or comets with the earth or some climate changes by super-volcanic eruptions, and so on.
There were many possible reasons. The bottom line is that the enormous environmental changes entailed some near or total extinction of groups of species.
A Genetic Bottleneck
There were many species in the past. For some reason, however, some species suffer near extinction, which caused the survival of only one or a few. And all the descendants are from those a few groups. We call this phenomenon a genetic bottleneck. The reason why only Homo Sapiens survived could be this genetic bottleneck.
There are archeological findings for a possibility of genetic bottleneck that groups of the Homo genus experienced in the past.
One of them is the Toba super-volcanic eruption.
It occurred almost 75,000 years ago around Lake Toba in Sumatra Indonesia as one of the earth’s most significant known eruptions, which caused a global volcanic winter for six to ten years, and the impact of global cooling lasted almost 1,000 years.
Due to the scale of climate change, the experts consider that the damage to biodiversity was so enormous, including human species during those days. They even call this impact the Toba catastrophe theory. Mt. Toba’s super eruption created tremendous effects on the planet earth and biodiversity. This global ecological disaster, such as the destruction of vegetation with severe drought, destroyed the food sources of humans and caused a sharp reduction in population sizes.
Until around 50,000 years ago, human populations decreased up to a few thousand individuals. According to genetic evidence, today’s humans are only from a tiny community of between a few thousands of breeding pairs during those days. Perhaps they were those people from Homo Sapiens.
The genetic differences among modern humans, therefore, may reflect changes within the last 70,000 years, rather than gradual differentiation over hundreds of thousands of years.
A Catastrophe Theory
In mathematics, we can observe a similar phenomenon called a catastrophe theory as a branch of bifurcation theory in the field of dynamical systems.
Bifurcation classifies phenomena characterized by sudden shifts in behavior arising from small changes in circumstances. It can articulate how qualitative change appears in the systems, which may lead to unexpected and dramatic changes. One example is the unpredictable timing and magnitude of a landslide. Such terms like the Black Swan and Tipping Point could be under this shits in some conditions.
In the “system” of human species, therefore, we could say that due to the Toba catastrophe, we humans had encountered the dramatic, qualitative shift instead of the gradual changes and updates.
Put it bluntly; it is a shift from Home Erectus to Home Sapiens. We used to be an ape that stands straight, but there was a dramatic moment that we became a wise man. We were so instinctive, but there was a moment that we became reflective and self-conscious.
Who is a wise man?
What can this wise man differentiate an ape that stands straight? Is it a sophistication of language and symbol usage? Is it an advanced usage of tools and weapons? There could be many factors and elements. We can also recall a scene from 2001: Space Odyssey, where an ape was using a piece of bone for smashing objects and throwing it into the sky.
In this movie, some moments imply a leap of humans. The first scene is an ape holding a piece of bone after seeing the Monolith; the second is an older man pointing the Monolith with an emerging the Star Child. The Monolith could be a symbol of such a qualitative leap caused by the catastrophe.
In mythology, from such catastrophe theory, we can recall the depiction of flow myth. It is one of the archetypical symbols in every mythical story all over the world.
It is a narrative in which a great flood, usually sent by a deity or deities, destroys civilization, often in the act of divine retribution. We can consistently and universally see the flood myth among many cultures:
- The Mesopotamian flood stories
- Deucalion and Pyrrha in Greek mythology
- The Genesis flood narrative
- Pralaya in Hinduism
- The Gun-Yu in Chinese mythology
- Bergelmir in Norse mythology
- Cessair in Irish mythology
- The K’iche’ and Maya peoples in Mesoamerica
- The Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa in North America
- The Muisca and Cañari in South America
- More others in Africa and Aboriginal tribes in Australia
Some associate this commonality due to the real sea level rise in the past due to several climate changes. Or others interpret it as our collective human memory that experienced as catastrophic disasters. In any case, what humans experienced was the dramatic shift due to the tremendous reduction of population and a few survived groups.
In the Bible, the account of Noah’s Ark is well-known. As the flood subsided, the Ark reached the dry land, and God made the covenant with Noah, promising He will never cause such a catastrophe again.
And Noah builded an altar unto the LORD; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the LORD smelled a sweet savour; and the LORD said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done. While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.Genesis 8:20-22
And He encouraged Noah as follows. Since the flood will never happen again, those survived humans and animals should be prosperous on the earth.
And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying, And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you; And with every living creature that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, and of every beast of the earth with you; from all that go out of the Ark, to every beast of the earth. And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth. And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations:Genesis 9:8-12
What was the token of the covenant? That was a rainbow.
I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth. And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud: And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth. And God said unto Noah, This is the token of the covenant, which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth. And the sons of Noah, that went forth of the Ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japheth: and Ham is the father of Canaan. These are the three sons of Noah: and of them was the whole earth overspread.Genesis 9:13-19
Humans received a set of signs from God. As long as we can see His signs, then we feel safe and keep our fear of punishment and destruction away.
We are not only Homo Sapiens (a man of wisdom) but also Home Signum (a man of signs).
We modern humans all belong to the family of Homo Sapiens, which implies that our self-consciousness has to face the fear of God’s punishment and destruction. Due to our collective memory of the catastrophic flood, consciously or unconsciously, we remember how vulnerable our lives would be. The fear of the doomsday also rests on this collective fear.
We are merely a descendant of the luckily survived human species. And we call it Homo Sapiens. Perhaps, we are encouraging ourselves as a man of wisdom. Using our wisdom, we can see ourselves as a vulnerable existence; various internal guilts and external threats could wipe us away from the earth. And the fear of God is the basis of our collective guilty, fearful memory on the catastrophe – the punishment of God.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.Proverbs 1:7
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.Proverbs 9:10
How do we cope with such guilt and fear? We sought a series of signs from God. As God promised Noah with a sign of the rainbow, it is one of the critical components for us to feel safe that the external threats and internal guilts are not as catastrophic as we would think of ourselves from God’s perspective.
What is fear?
Fear is the combination of both self-consciousness and a series of signs that we check. Our wisdom as Homo Sapiens tries to understand how much we are sinful or innocent, caused by the birth of self-consciousness as the result of eating a fruit of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. Because of our self-consciousness, we inevitably feel a sense of guilt and confront God or hide from Him.
And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.Genesis 3:9-13
We also always seek a series of signs as Homo Signum. From a rainbow of the covenant to various symptoms in every area of our life to a list of scientific evidence, we are obsessively chasing out sings. Sings make us feel safe, which even could be proof that we are alive and exist. Without sings, we can never see who we are and who God or gods would be.
We are Homo Sapiens because of self-consciousness facing ourselves and God, and we are Homo Signum seeking safety about them.
According to Yuval Noah Harari, in his book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, throughout human history, we have been continually fighting against three worst threats since our survival as Homo Sapiens or since we left the Garden of Eden due to the birth of self-consciousness and the confrontation (or avoidance) with God. These three are:
Our internal and external threats have always been the attributes of these three enemies. To overcome these threats, then we have been reflecting ourselves for wisdom, and we have been searching for signs for God. Our concerns and worries were always either wisdom or signs. We were either Homo Sapiens or Homo Signum.
In his second book, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, Yuval Noah Harari emphasized the fact that for the first time in human history, we modern humans in the twenty-first century have overcome these three enemies. It is no longer that the world controls us, but that we control the world. He explained this fact with various statistic datasets of a dramatic reduction of the mortality rate caused by these three threats.
Thus, for the first time in history, it seems we modern humans could transcend the status of Homo Sapiens and Homo Signum. (Yuval Noah Harari did not talk about Homo Signum, which is the term I added here.) And we are about to start seeking the new status, called Homo Deus, which means a man of God, or God-like man.
What does Homo Deus mean?
We no longer fight against these three threats, starvation, disease, and violence. Or, at least we can minimize our efforts against them. Instead, we are about to start seeking three goals more explicitly:
- God-like power
It sounds like science fiction. The author, Yuval Noah Harari, however, discussed these areas extensively from the perspectives of technological innovations of robotics, transhumanism, Singularity, and more. It also reminds us of Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept, Superhuman (Übermensch), in his book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
Sings, Wisdom, and Christ
If we no longer suffer from self-consciousness, from the fear of internal guilt and external threats; if we no longer suffer from being Homo Sapiens and Homo Signum; and if we no longer suffer from starvation, disease, and violence, then, as Zarathustra said, we humans could overcome our fate. We could transcend ourselves becoming Übermensch or Homo Deus and seeking after what we call happiness, immortality, and God-like power.
Is that so? I don’t know.
Indeed, we will no longer seek after wisdom and signs, but it seems that the implication of Christ crucified should never be in the realm of Superhuman or Homo Deus. It is not in the domain that we “control” the world.
For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;1 Corinthians 1:22-23
So, who are we? We are neither Homo Sapiens, Homo Signum, nor Homo Deus. We are not Übermensch , either. Who are we? We are Christ crucified.