We have a key, but, unfortunately, we cannot find the right door. How sad to see the extraordinary evolution of Homo sapiens arrive at this juncture, perhaps at best leaving behind artifacts of our civilization for later forms of intelligence to discover.
The evolution of man has occurred at true lightning speed, considering the evolution of all other species on Earth. While the dinosaurs existed for 165 million years, leaving behind only bones, Homo sapiens has existed for a mere 200,000 years and transformed the Earth enough that we are already naming a geological era after us: the Anthropocene.
Even the most enormous dinosaurs never grew a brain bigger than perhaps a tennis ball, while we humans expend a huge amount of growth and energy on building and running our brains. Where it took an extraterrestrial event to knock dinosaurs out of existence after 165 million years, we humans are teetering on the evolutionary cliff after a mere 200,000 years, and, what is more, it is due to our own actions.
Homo sapiens stand apart from all animals and previous life on Earth through the sapiens part of our denomination — the fact that we seem to be the only species that develops ideas reaching way beyond our basic needs and who we are.
Dinosaurs never got around to studying the deep universe and identifying the asteroid hurtling toward Earth that would eventually destroy them. Our human development may only have come in the last instant of our planet’s history, but my God, what have we not done and achieved in that historical blip of time! We named ages to reflect how we went from stone tools to bronze and then iron, how we developed a richness of ideas during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, and how we came to imperil the entire planet in the nuclear age.
The artifacts of each of these ages are visible in the pyramids of the Inca, in the tools of prehistoric peoples and in the illuminating volumes of the Enlightenment.
Our brains lie protected within our small skulls, much like the life of a city lay protected within its citadel. This citadel of the brain provides us with our intelligence, and we glorify this intelligence by measuring an individual’s IQ, and in every discovery and invention we have made, from the steam engine to telecommunications and artificial intelligence. Standing atop this pyramid of life and intelligence, we also possess the key for further progress.
Unfortunately, that same intelligence seems to hit a wall when it comes to identifying where further progress lies, for we cannot find the door that is opened with our key. First, we must understand that technology — even artificial intelligence — will not save us. For now, it has only resulted in the destruction of the environment that sustains us. We are starting to sense this through intensifying natural disasters, and we have even tried to take some modest action through the Paris Climate Accords.
But we are still a long way from finding the right door for our key.
Ironically, the supposedly less intelligent animals of planet Earth have almost universally found the door that fits their key, surviving for millions, and even hundreds of millions of years, in harmony with this planet and its ecosystems.
This is another form of intelligence that we have decided to ignore. It is a sort of planetary intelligence that allows us to adapt to our Earth rather than trying to adapt the Earth to us. We may be the king of the hill, but we have turned our own planet against us with our technological arrogance.
I will not lose hope; however, humanity will recognize that another form of intelligence may ultimately be more important, allowing us to find the door for our key by living sustainably and in harmony with the planet that gives us life.
• Hassan bin Youssef Yassin worked closely with Saudi petroleum ministers Abdullah Tariki and Ahmed Zaki Yamani from 1959 to 1967. He headed the Saudi Information Ofﬁce in Washington from 1972 to 1981 and served with the Arab League observer delegation to the UN from 1981 to 1983.