Isn’t it strange how we can know millions of details about a million silly things (who is dating whom in Hollywood) but still manage to forget or never learn some of the most basic and important information of all? Most people in the world simply do not know key facts that should be common knowledge for everyone. Imagine if you didn’t know your age, where you lived, or where you come from? That might lead people to suspect that you are high on drugs or maybe suffering from amnesia. But that sort of profound ignorance is common. For example, how many of us know how old we are if “we” refers to humankind? And how many of us know where we live—in the universe? When it comes to some very basic questions, most of us are clueless. But don’t worry; it’s an easy fix. Just read on.
Who are we?
We are a highly intelligent primate species with remarkable abilities via culture and language. In simpler terms, we are thinly haired, big-brained apes who wear clothes, use tools, and talk a lot. There is nothing derogatory in this. We are unique and can be proud of our big brains that pack so much creative and analytical firepower.
At least know this: We are primates with gigantic brains.
Who are you?
Believe it or not, “you” are mostly not you. That physical form you see in the mirror every morning is not “you” alone—not even close. What you think of as “you” is actually a walking rainforest, a complex ecosystem thriving with life. So much life, in fact, that “you” are a minority within yourself. That’s right; “you” are mostly other life forms, such as the bacteria in your gut that help digest your food.
The cells that are distinctly you number about ten trillion. That sounds like a lot but you are outnumbered by far. The cells of other creatures that live on you and inside of you total more than 100 trillion. Put it this way, if “you” were a democracy and microbes voted, you would discover that it’s their world and you’re just living in it.
At least know this: You should never feel lonely because you are never alone.
How old are we?
According to the best current evidence, anatomically modern humans are about 200,000 years old. This is an extremely brief existence compared with the span of time that life has been on Earth—more than three billion years.
At least know this: We are a very young species.
Where do your ancestors come from?
According to the best current evidence, the earliest modern humans lived in Africa. Everyone alive today is descended from a very small population of these first Africans.
At least know this: Deep down, we are all Africans.
How many people are there?
The global population grows every minute but currently there are approximately 6.8 billion people alive. We may reach 9 billion by 2040.
At least know this: There will be 7 billion of us very soon.
Who is your family?
All humans are your family. Compared to others, we are a very closely related species. It may be hard to believe because of our striking cultural differences and the physical variation that we can see with our eyes, but all modern people are 99.9 percent genetically identical.
At least know this: No matter where you go on Earth, you are among cousins.
How old is your home?
The Earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old. However, your home is also the universe, and the age of that is about 13.7 billion, according to the current evidence.
At least know this: Your home is old, very old.
Where are you?
It seems like a simple question, but how many people know the answer beyond their mailing address? We are on the third planet from the Sun and our solar system is located on the outer fringes of a spiral galaxy named the Milky Way. There is a lot space between “homes” but we live in a crowded neighbourhood of more than 100 billion stars.
Beyond that the answer is more complex because the universe is expanding and we are on the move. No fixed address. In addition to that, we may be one of many multiverses and nobody can even begin to guess where we might fit into a puzzle that big and bizarre.
At least know this: It’s complicated.
Who are your neighbours?
We share this planet with many other life forms. So many, in fact, that nobody even knows the number. Scientists have identified about two million species so far, but estimates for how many more there are range from six million all the way up to 120 million.
We might have even more neighbours than that if we consider the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Given the size of the universe, the number of galaxies, and the number of stars within galaxies, it certainly is possible—if not likely—that there is life out there somewhere. So far, however, there is no confirmation of this so we have to keep looking.
At least know this: Our planet is crowded with life. And our universe could be as well.
Guy is the author of Race and Reality: What Everyone Should Know About Our Biological Diversity (Prometheus Books). Contact him at [email protected]