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We’re Cave People in a Digital Dream: A Glimpse at Humanity’s Timeline (So Far)

My ancestry kit reported that I have way more Neanderthal in me than most people, and I found that oddly enticing.

Besides the fact that I’m awkward & have a difficult time relating to people, I’ve always found the deep recesses of human history fascinating, and the cave paintings at Lascaux speak to me in the same way that cutting-edge modern art does.

The Timeline

We’ve been “modern” humans for 200,000 years. That’s how long our bodies and brains have been just as they are now. A very long time — but in geological terms, the blink of an eye.

It’s only been within the last 10,000 years (& that’s rounding way up for easy math) that we’ve begun to do the things that we think of as distinctly “civilized” — farming & organizing into cities.

That means that we were nomadic hunter-gatherers for 95% of our existence. Today, we glibly refer to that 95% as “pre-history” because those ancestors didn’t have a written language nor build lasting monuments. They also didn’t destroy the environment with their hubris & greed, but I digress.

We’ve been largely monotheistic (in the West, at least) for about 1% of that time & lived in a mechanized world for .1%. Our modern, digital age of instant global communication and space travel accounts for just a fraction of the time we’ve been around as humans.

These things that we deem inevitable truths are so new as to barely register on the scale of time. They’re downright newfangled!

Why Does it Matter?

Having more perspective on humanity and our context in time has helped me put myself in context.

As an autistic person, it gives me comfort to be able to think of time stretching out behind me, people with scenes I can vaguely picture, of being able to have a rough idea of the “when” of things rather than just gesturing & saying with a shrug, “there be old dragons.”

But most importantly, thinking about all of this has led me to the polyvagal theory, which has revolutionized how I relate to myself and others.

It states, in part, that our brains & nervous systems are attuned to a reality of running from tigers and distinguishing good berries from bad — not to cubicle life & office politics under artificial lights. That leads us into some odd predicaments.

Breathe, Darling

I’m certainly not here to cast aspersions or to say that one way of life is better than any other. “One-size-fits-all” is a lie — the same hot water that softens the potato hardens the egg. We’re all doing our own thing here, and the perspectives & methods that have saved me might be useless to you.

But for those of us who feel inexplicably uncomfortable, nervous, or just “out-of-whack” a lot of the time, for those of us who feel we’re misfits, who get down on ourselves for not being able to fit in, I think that reminding ourselves of context can be helpful.

It’s Not a Tiger

This whole modernity has been quite jarring for the planet, and much as we may try to deny it, we humans are part of it. Humanity may have done this to ourselves, but that doesn’t make it feel any less weird.

Sometimes it helps to remind ourselves, “it’s just a ringing phone, it’s not a tiger.”

But what do I know? I’m mostly Neanderthal, after all.

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