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Historically, humanity's perception of its own significance has undergone several dramatic shifts, and is facing a few more:
1. The Copernican Revolution: Probably since the first humans thought about it, they believed Earth was at the universe's center. The Copernican Revolution overturned this geocentric view, positioning Earth as one of many celestial bodies orbiting the sun. Later we realised the sun was in a galaxy, and the galaxy was in the larger universe. This shift was profound, challenging our place in the cosmos, and believing it in Europe was politically dangerous.
2. Darwinian Evolution: Darwin's theory of evolution further diminished our uniqueness. Instead of being distinct creations of a supernatural being, humans were integrated within the vast tree of life, sharing ancestry with every organism on Earth.
3. Animal Cognition: Recent scientific studies have pushed the boundaries of our understanding of intelligence. Observations of birds crafting tools and dolphins exhibiting complex communication patterns challenge our once sole claim to higher cognition. It's evident that many species possess advanced cognitive abilities, suggesting that intelligence is not a uniquely human trait.
4. Rise of AI: Advances in artificial intelligence, exemplified by systems like ChatGPT, introduce another dimension to the intelligence discourse. AI, with its capability to process, learn, and even 'understand' to some extent, questions the traditional boundaries of cognition. While it doesn't possess consciousness in a human sense, it's redefining what it means to be intelligent.
Despite all the cognitive dissonance associated with the science conflicting with our “common sense”, we have now mostly (barely) rejected flat eartherism and creationism.
However, with the onset of Climate Change, a new narrative, and a new dissonance, emerges. Our industrial, agricultural, and societal activities have induced rapid environmental changes at a global scale. This ability (and responsibility) distinguishes us from other species. Our actions have, in essence, brought about an era where human impact is the defining characteristic of the planet’s geology and ecosystems.
While various revelations have, at times, continuously reduced our self-perceived specialness in the universe, our undeniable influence on Earth's climate reinstates a unique role for humanity. Not as the most intelligent or central species, but for now, the environmentally most disruptive. Yay humans‽ The challenge ahead is recognising this role and reining in the impacts.