We’ve all been home for a few weeks now and in some ways, it really does seem like our trip was a lifetime ago. In others, however, it feels like it was just yesterday. I’m really struggling with ordering ice cream in English. It sounds like a completely absurd situation, but I ate a year’s worth of gelato in France.
Here’s some of us outside one of the caves! (Photo credit to Mr. Porter; this is also on our Smug Mug). There are a lot of things I’ve taken away from this trip, but the most important element to me are the people. Firstly, we’ll all see each other in the fall, so that human element I can literally take away with me. Secondly, like Mr. Porter, learning more about “prehistoric” people was one of the most touching things I did during the trip. Even the most accurate picture can’t capture what you see in the caves, since I think the most striking part is the way the artists used the natural formation of the rocks as part of their works. One of our tour guides told us that they must have seen the animals in the rocks first and then used the paint to bring out what was already there. Given paint and a cave, there’s no way I could produce the same effect.
People today, people yesterday, and my kitten all seem to believe that the world was “made” to suit them (this argument below is partially taken from “Brilliant Blunders” by Mario Livio). Of course, we know that our universe supports life because if it didn’t, no one would be alive to know the difference. So yes, our planet is the right distance from the sun so that we don’t burn up or freeze and our water can stay in liquid form, and if we didn’t have carbon on our planet, we couldn’t be alive. That being said, it’s easy to assume that either the world has always existed the way it is today or that the present day is the culmination or the peak of all things that came before, yet some of the same forces that allow us to live also preserved proof that things have come before us and things will continue to come after us. In the Musée d’Archéologie Nationale, there are two skeletons of children from a “prehistoric” period who were found in caves. They could have died violent deaths, which we were told was a rare occurrence. The pervasive violence that is found today simply did not exist on the same scale thousands of years ago, according to our tour guide. While our universe and planet can support us, they have also supported other organisms and other groups of people. Humans today are special in many ways, of course, and naturally we have made many advances, but things like violence that didn’t exist in previous time periods also plague us. We’ve evolved since then: we’ve changed, but since one of the main points of natural selection is that there is no overall ‘goal’ or ‘plan’ for a species, there is no way to say that we are ‘better’ than our ancestors who ventured into the caves those thousands of years ago. This trip reminded me that it’s a question we need to keep asking.