29 May 2012

tilly with the others: part 13

From the introduction of We Came from Outer Space: A Study of the Human Extraterrestrial (© 1968) by Franklin J. Gibbs:

In the past hundred years, civilization has advanced by larger leaps, and at greater speeds, than in all of the centuries preceding. Consider the experience of an 80-year-old man living today. His childhood coincides with Edison's work at Menlo Park. Every few months something new is being invented and made a standard feature in American homes: the phonograph, the light bulb, the telephone.

In 1903, when our hypothetical octogenarian is 15, the Wright brothers make their first flight. During the First World War, of which our 80-year-old man is likely a veteran, airplanes are used in combat for the first time. 1927 sees Charles Lindbergh make his historical transatlantic flight. Commercial air travel grows in popularity throughout the 1930s.

By the 1940s, when our common-man octogenarian is in his fifties, aircraft technology is improved rapidly by both the Axis and the Allied powers during the war. Jet aircraft are developed and flown for the first time, and before the close of the decade, man breaks the sound barrier.

The space frontier opens with the launch of Sputnik by the Soviets in 1958. Technology development accelerates both behind the Iron Curtain and in the free world. In 1961 President Kennedy commits the nation to land a man on the moon before the decade is out, and now, as I write these words, we look certain to succeed in reaching that goal.

If our 80-year-old everyman ever gets a chance to stop and think, the pace of change that has happened within his lifetime must surely astonish him. However, our everyman is reasonable and educated, and he knows that the great technological leap forward of the past century arose from a confluence of previous developments, each of which enabled the inventions that followed them.

What is not so clear is how the civilization that is advancing so rapidly now came to be in the first place. Archaeologists all agree that civilization started around 10,000 years ago. They cannot agree, however, on what caused civilization to blossom forth around the world, near-simultaneously, at this time. The peoples of the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East, of Asia, and the native peoples of the Americas all made tremendous strides forward at more or less the same time. Furthermore, they all tended to make the same strides forward in areas such as architecture. Consider the similarity in shape the ziggaraut has to the pagoda, and to the stepped pyramids built in Central America. Consider also the early and immediate focus on astronomy: in ancient Egypt, in the Far East, in Great Britain by the builders of Stonehenge, and in the Americas.

A cynical man might argue that some of the accomplishments I have just listed occurred thousands of years apart. Perhaps he has a point, but as a counter-point I request that the cynical man remember he is looking at history from the vantage point of the present day, from a society that is so used to accelerated change that it sees it as the norm.

How did mankind, living in isolated communities separated by oceans, develop such similar markers of civilization without the benefit of global communication? This book aims to explore how this came to be through the markers themselves: the desire to build tall buildings reaching to the sky, the desire to study the stars, the desire to fly in the heavens. Startling new archaeological discoveries provide evidence that these global markers of mankind's advances are not coincidences.

I believe that one day, it will be accepted as self-evident that we are not alone in this universe. It is my fervent hope that this book will help guide us to a deeper understanding of where we truly came from, the better to allow us to return there.

Franklin J. Gibbs, Chicago, November 1968

4 comments:

  1. Is this a real book, or just in Tilly's world? I've had similar thoughts about the timing, although I think what we call "Western Civilization" began in India and spread west. Proto-Indo-European, probably the "one language" spoken of in the Biblical account of the Tower of Babel, has been at least partly reconstructed.

    But none of that goes on to explain the similarity of construction or astronomical interests… and speaking of interests, it's interesting to see where this will go.

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    1. No, this is a very fake book introduction that I made up last night. It was hilarious to write -- I had about 5 tabs with Wikipedia entries and Google results up in my browser to make sure I got the dates correct, plus a calculator to figure out how old the octogenarian was at each milestone.

      The rest of the content is just me riffing on stuff I read and saw when I was a kid. We watched a lot of documentaries and read a lot of National Geographic.

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  2. Cool, we're reading with Tilly. I think you pull off the book style really well. It sounds very different to the usual tone and, I suspect, will complement the overall story nicely.

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    1. Thank you! It was a fun break -- made me wonder about writing an entire fake book. And if it's an *entire* fake book, does it count as a book?

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