Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Accidental Time Capsules

Posted by Hello


I love Lucy. It's true. I am smitten. I have been ever since Lucy's bones were discovered in Afar Ethiopia in 1974, and she flashed onto the evolutionary scene a namesake of John Lennon's Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Little Australopithecus Afarensis, such a tiny thing. Oh, but her presence, walking upright and therefore profound. I don't know how the whole "bones of contention" controversies will ultimately work out-- whether we walked out of Africa two million years ago, and populated the planet, or if we are truly descended from one "eve" of 200,000 years ago whose contemporaries supplanted all other proto-humans on the planet, based on evidence in our mitochondrial dna.

I still love Lucy. I love the fact of her. I love these footprints in the volcanic ash. What else could they leave behind 3.5 million years ago? Only their bones wedded to stone, their teeth still anchored securely in their ancient jaws. What more could they have done? They left us accidental time capsules, as surely as we leave rock 'n roll records and newspapers. We were here, they say, we were here.

I Love Lucy: A televsion show from the 50s, and a strange electromagnetic calling card we are sending out into the universe. As a planetary civilization, we have been emitting television signals for just over 50 years, radio signals for less than 100 years. So the electromagnetic "signs" of our civilization (the only kind that will travel so far and so fast) have gone outwards into the Milky Way only 100 light-years or so at most, just 1% of the total area of the Milky Way. And it's really only since after World War II that we've been sending out signals in a huge volume, using much of the electromagnetic spectrum, so that random searching of that spectrum would very likely "find" a message on it. Thus only approximately 1% of the Milky Way can "hear" us so far, assuming anyone is listening. We haven't even begun to have our electromagnetic signs reach any other part of the universe, such as the Andromeda galaxy. But we will. And what will we be transmitting besides sitcoms, talks show, and reruns of old movies? Well, there's always our pictures of Shock and Awe, Alberto Gonzales testifying before congress, and all the other mayhem our species can muster.

We are leaving our calling card as surely as our ancestors left their bones. Hello, hello. Lucy is calling.

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