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D . A Brief Pause For Some Perspective

One of my themes in criticizing the book "Future Shock" is the myopic vision of time which Toffler and so many of his sources display. In fact, one of my assertions is that "future shock" as a phenomenon would be tremendously ameliorated in our populace if we would seek to teach a broader view of our own time and place in the vast scheme of things. When we see our own times as but an instant on the face of the clock which is the universe in which we live, the trials and tribulations of our own lives pale into insignificance, and out of that thought, a confident ability can be cultivated to enable us to deal with the disruptions caused by an allegedly premature arrival of the future.
Scientists still have vastly different ideas over the approximate age of our universe. During the last couple of decades, the range of considered consensus opinions has been from about 8 billion years to about 15 billion years. As I write this, the last estimate I read was around 11 billion years. Whatever the truth is, that is a very long time, unless you compare it to the age of the Earth and our Sun.
The age of the Earth and the Sun is about 5 billion years each. Exactly how both were formed is a matter of some ongoing speculation, but it does appear that each was formed at about the same time (relatively speaking). Thus, our own planet and its star are each about half to a third as old as the entire universe!48
Geologists and archeologists have broken down the history of our planet into a series of eras, periods, epochs, and ages. The era is the largest division, and there are presently four of them defined.
The Precambrian Era runs from the creation of the Earth (about 5 billion years ago) to roughly 570 million years ago. It is subdivided into two periods: the Archeozoic Period (from creation to about 2.5 billion years ago, characterized by the solidification of the Earth's crust, and by early life, such as blue-green algae, leading to the creation of free oxygen) and the Proterozoic Period (from about 2.5 billion years ago to about 570 million years ago, characterized by algae, bacteria, and other very primitive life forms).
The Paleozoic Era runs from about 570 million years ago to about 230 million years ago (about 340 million years long), and is divided into six or seven periods: the Cambrian Period (570 to 500 million years ago; marine invertebrates, shellfish, etc.); the Ordovician Period (500 to 425 million years ago; primitive fish, seaweed, and fungi); the Silurian Period (425 to 405 million years ago; first land plants); the Devonian Period (405 to 345 million years ago; first amphibians, insects, and land animals); the Carboniferous Period (345 to 280 million years ago), which is further subdivided into the Mississippian Period (345 to 310 million years ago; shallow seas, fern forests, age of amphibians) and the Pennsylvanian Period (310 to 280 million years ago; swamps and coal forests, and the first reptiles); and the Permian Period (280 to 230 million years ago; conifer forests and extinction of many marine invertebrates).
The Mesozoic Era runs from about 230 million years ago to about 65 million years ago (about 165 million years long), and is divided into three periods: the Triassic Period (230 to 190 million years ago; active volcanoes, the age of reptiles, and the first dinosaurs); the Jurassic Period49 (190 to 140 million years ago; age of dinosaurs, first birds and mammals, and flying reptiles) and the Cretaceous Period (140 to 65 million years ago; last dinosaurs, modern insects, and flowering plants).
The cause of the ending of the Mesozoic Era is something of an enigma, and is thus a source of significant controversy. I believe that the best scientific evidence shows that some cataclysmic event, probably a meteor striking the atmosphere with the force of many thousands of nuclear bombs, caused such significant changes in the climate that the dinosaurs were all killed off at more or less the same time. Whatever the cause, there was a dramatic line drawn about 65 million years ago, and this planet before and after that time is significantly different in most fundamental respects.
The Cenozoic Era runs from about 65 million years ago to the present, and is divided into two periods. The Tertiary Period runs from about 65 million years ago to about 2.5 million years ago, and is subdivided into five epochs: the Paleocene Epoch (65 to 55 million years ago; age of mammals begins, including the first primates); the Eocene Epoch (55 to 40 million years ago; modern birds and mammals, and giant birds); the Oligocene Epoch (40 to 25 million years ago; browsing mammals and saber-toothed tigers); the Miocene Epoch (25 to 10 million years ago; grazing mammals, ape, and whales); and the Pliocene Epoch (10 to 2.5 million years ago; mountain uplift, cool climate, and increasing numbers of mammals).
The Quaternary Period of the Cenozoic Era is subdivided into two epochs: the Pleistocene Epoch (2.5 million to 10 thousand years ago; ice ages); and the Holocene (or Recent) Epoch (10 thousand years ago to the present; modern humans).
Anthropologists also use a terminology of "ages" to divide the history of mankind. The main divisions are the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age. The Stone Age is further divided into the Paleolithic (which is, in turn, divided into the Lower Paleolithic, from about 2.5 million to about 200,000 years ago; the Middle Paleolithic, from about 150,000 to about 40,000 years ago; and the Upper Paleolithic, from about 40,000 to about 10,000 years ago; stone and bone artifacts, including carvings), Mesolithic (a transitional period, beginning about 10,000 years ago; marked by a hunting, collecting, and fishing economy), and Neolithic (began about 8,500 to 5,000 years ago, depending upon the location; marked by agriculture, pottery, and textiles). The Bronze Age began about 5,000 to about 3,500 years ago, again depending upon the location of the culture in question, and the Iron Age began about 3,200 to 2,500 years ago, also according to location. Basically, these names can only be used to imply precise dates when the reference is limited to a particular group of people. There are Paleolithic people alive today in backwards areas on this planet, while the present 20th century would certainly seem to mark a progression well beyond any "Iron Age," no matter how you would try to extend the definition of the associated cultural attributes.

48 This state of facts does call into question the theory which holds that a star, such as our Sun, will not form except as a consequence of a nova by a somewhat different kind of star. However, the facts and arguments concerning this distinction are way outside of the scope of this book.

49 The famous movie, "Jurassic Park," takes its name from this period in geologic time.

Copyright 1994-1999 by the Agnostic Church

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