25 May 2007


All the world’s a stage,
And all the different beings are cosmic players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
Yet all begin where everything begins.
Our species plays just one of many parts,
And our seven ages link to all the rest . . .

With acknowledgements and apologies to Will Shakespeare
As You Like It, Act II, Scene vii


1. Our Universe
2. Our Planet
3. A Living Sea
4. Complexity, Death and Beyond
5. The First Plants and Animals

1. Out of the Water
2. Onto Shaky Ground
3. Dinosaurs Plus
4. Creatures Great and Small
5. The Birds and the Bees

1. Learning Through Play
2. Fire and Ice
3. Group Solidarity
4. A New Kind of Ape
5. The First Humans

1. Rules and Rites
2. A Great Leap Forward
3. Culture and Ceremony
4. One of a Kind
5. The First Farmers

1. City-Based Living
2. The First Empires
3. Classical Religions and Philosophy
4. Religions of the Book
5. East-West Crossroads

1. Europe’s Rebirth
2. Western Supremacy
3. Survival of the Fittest?
4. Tipping Point
5. Towards a Global Perspective

1. Imagine
2. Today
3. Possible Near Futures
4. It’s Up to Us
5. The Long-Term View


Ever since the human species emerged there must have been at least a few people somewhere who were trying to understand their surrounding environment, including the day and night sky, and wondering how their group fitted into The Big Picture.

This story has come from that impulse, and is based on my summary as a layperson of the scientific account generally available at the time of writing. When I felt that I couldn’t avoid using a technical term, I have included a brief definition wherever feasible. A Two-Page Timeline will be included at the end as an overview for future reference.

But first I need to stress how limited our knowledge of the distant past is. Even reputable conclusions on evolution, whether of galaxies, life on Earth, the human species or a particular human society, are ultimately subjective since they depend on the personal experience andbeliefs of the people concerned. So even a scientific account is really only another story, which always includes a speculative element.

What’s more, there are huge gaps in our current version of the history of our Universe and our place in it. And new details, time-scales and interpretations are constantly emerging.

This is particularly the case in the most pertinent part of the story from a human viewpoint, the physiological and cultural evolution of our species. Science gives us only the bones as it were, and so I hope that you find my speculations in this area credible. The books, websites and pathfinders listed for this section may help you flesh out the skeletons further, but if you happen to find a more credible summary please let me know.

On the other hand as we come closer to the present day the available information becomes overwhelming, and any brief account must focus more and more on particular locations and societies. My focus is on the development of what is usually called Western culture since the impact of its competitive expansionary model seems to be shaping Earth’s evolution today. If you doubt this, just think about today’s worldwide momentum towards deforestation, mega-dam projects, consolidation of privilege, and weapons of long-range mass destruction.

And that leads me to the narrative’s themes. They are inspired by an analysis of the available science, by Elisabet Sahtouris, Paul Davies and others, that is based on a theme of unfolding key patterns of cosmic and then planetary interconnectedness, with humans a significant but not indispensable player. Among the troubles of today’s world I find this not only a more heartening perspective, but also a more intellectually persuasive one. As you read, check how you feel and what you think.

While I was working on the story it fell easily into seven segments. So I was happy to follow the habit in many cultures of bracketing things in sets of seven, such as seven days of the week, seven ‘wonders of the world’ and seven chakras. And when Shakespeare’s verse on ‘The Seven Ages of Man’ sprang to mind as a metaphorical framework, I embraced the chance to pay tribute to his unique imaginative power - in my title, epigraph and elsewhere.

But his outline was of a Renaissance man’s life, based on the Biblical notion of a life lasting seven decades (‘three score years and ten’), each decade with its own developmental traits:
‘. . . All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face . . .
[and so on until] . . . Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.’
Because of this outline’s much larger scope, the Ages become shorter and the focus narrows as we follow our human lineage from our Universe’s beginnings. Also some Ages unsurprisingly have quite different developmental traits from those in the original.

Our First Age lasts 13 billion years, starting with our ‘mewling and puking’ Universe, when the atoms and then molecules that make us and all material things emerged, and then moving to our infant solar system and Earth, where the molecules that give us life emerged. And it ends 500 million years ago when the complex life-forms from which we have evolved were about to take their first tottering steps out of the cradle of Earth’s waters.

Our Sixth Age lasts 500 years, ending with the first nuclear weapons and the countdown towards [self-inflicted] ‘oblivion’. Our Seventh Age begins just 35 years ago, with nuclear devastation as only one of several possible tragic ends for us but the hope of a more satisfying storyline. Of course we don’t know when or how this last Age will end.

In spite of the narrowing focus, I refer in passing to the ongoing evolution of other organisms, animals and societies. And in bracketed italicized passages throughout the story, I also offer glimpses of the evolution of the geology, organisms and societies of Australia, the continent of my birth, and of the Upper Blue Mountains, the place I have chosen for my old age and death.

You will find some parts of the account familiar, some quite new and complicated (particularly in Our First Age), and some that seem contrary to what you believe or have learnt. This is only to be expected in our diverse world.

But I am sure that as long as you are interested in exploring new ideas, you will gain some helpful information and insights, and perhaps some new sources of delight and wonder - as I certainly did in the course of my research. The
pale green phrases throughout the story are key evolutionary steps as I see them at the moment. They are developed in an Epilogue, which, if you like cutting to the chase, you may choose to read first.

Because scientific and other accounts are constantly evolving so too is the text, as will become obvious to anyone monitoring this blog.

Speaking for myself, the element of surprise and ongoing revelation just increases my awe and love of the world that I am constantly discovering and re-discovering around me. It also keeps reminding me that the only text worthy of unconditional reverence is the unfolding Universe itself.
* * * * * * *

I intend to post the Title Page, Song and five scenes of Our First Age throughout June,
and then one Age each month until December.
That means that the Two-Page Timeline will be posted in January.
If you would rather have a free email copy of the book,
please sign in to my Guestbook,
making sure that you ask for your entry to be kept private.

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Anonymous said...

Having read thus far I feel like I have been discussing this with you for years. Looking forward to the rest.
Thankyou Lizzie

Anonymous said...

Hi Lizzie
I found this chapter very interesting and I think I can use some of the information in one of my school projects. I will of course acknowledge my source.

Anonymous said...

Onya mum. Beautiful. Keep it coming

Anonymous said...

Thought provoking site. I look forward to reading your future posts.

Anonymous said...

Okay. Next bit please.