THE AMAZING GIFT OF LANGUAGE
The Emergence of Fully Conscious Humans
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change
the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
— MARGARET MEAD
Suppose that you are still playing the Godgame described at the begin- ning of the previous chapter on your home computer and the following question appears on the screen: “What adaptive trait allowed one species among the millions that have existed on this planet to live in environ- ments that were not species-specific, increase its numbers to 6.4 billion individuals, appropriate roughly 90 percent of the planetary biomass for its own use, and create global technological systems that are rapidly under- mining the capacity of the system of life to sustain its existence?” As- suming that you have access to the relevant scientific material, it would not take long to realize that there is one fundamental reason why fully modern humans were capable of accomplishing these feats—the evolu- tion of the bodies and brains of our ancestors resulted in the capacity to acquire and use fully complex language systems.
In an effort to put this utterly amazing and hugely improbable develop- ment in perspective, let us consider the question of whether fully conscious and self-aware life-forms exist on other planets. A great deal of evidence suggests that the chemical compounds that allowed biological life to emerge on this planet may be present in the universe at large, and laboratory ex- periments have demonstrated that some of the necessary ingredients, amino acids, can spontaneously emerge under suitable conditions. In order for life to arise from these compounds on other planets, a delicate balance be- tween many other factors, such as temperature, atmospheric pressure, and