Look carefully at the picture. More than 1,000 generations separate us from that hand. This person lived 30,000 years ago in southern France. The prehistoric painters of Chauvet Cave transport us to a distant and different time. The ice glaciers covered Europe and Neanderthals were close to extinction. Represented on the walls of the cave are other species of large mammals, also extinct. In light of the embers, skillfull hands like that drew rhinos in combat, megaloceros, cave bears, aurochs and mammoths. A landslide sealed and preserved this cave in pristine condition, until its recent discovery.
Look at the palm of your hand. Look at the picture again. It is a human hand. Troglodytes are often portraited as a crude and inferior species. But when we watch what they achieved, this prejudice is impossible to sustain. Despite the time that separates us, the drawings demonstrate great expertise, imagination and abstraction, and an artistic quality recognizeable as distinctly human. Anyone, from any culture, is able to see himself reflected in the drawings. We are descendants of these cave painters. Genetically, a baby born today would be almost identical to a baby born at that time. What differentiates us is not in the genes.
The world has changed since then. Glaciers have retreated from Europe. The climate is warmer. Animals and plants were domesticated. Hands like those created bricks. With bricks, towns were build. In towns, organized societies fluorished. Social complexity exceeded individual capacity. To account for large quantities became a need. And art gave way to knowledge: 5,500 years ago, marks were made on clay tablets to represent numbers. From there, and in a few hundred years, writing was invented. Thanks to the written symbols, accurate information could be transmitted to the future. And this is what made us modern. Our civilization is supported by the slow accumulation of written knowledge. How to make a building. How to cure a disease. How the universe began. The knowledge to be meaningful, to be valuable, must be shared.
Now put your hand over the image. Think about what you share with her. The length of the fingers. The chin. The sense of warmth. And now think all the possibilities that yours has, that that hand never had. To play the piano. To solve an equation. To write a poem.
My wishes for 2013: Learn. Teach. Create. Share. Transcend. Be human.