I’ve been fascinated the past couple years casually studying Extinction Level Events.

At a gross level, these are events triggering, or short periods of time describing situations where there have been rapid die-offs in the history of the planet.

This planet has experienced quite a few mass extinctions.

Some seem to have been predicated by meteor strike, and those, of course, are popular in the media. Some seemed to have been predicated by sudden anoxia, gamma ray bursts, etc. Others simply seem to be, er “Earth got tired, turned to a desert, pretty much killed everything off.” The latter is how the Permian ended, more or less.

It helps me to recognize that these events are not fast. Oh sure, a meteor strike is fast, no doubt about it, but the damage from its effects can stretch over an amount of time that would seem very long to a human, hundreds of years.

Geologically, however, this is an eyeblink.

The Permian extinction, for example, lasted about a million years. (there’s always debate and discussion about these things, of course) A million years!

Now, speaking of eyeblinks, let’s take a look at the last million years.

A lot’s been happening. More specifically, a lot’s been dying. It is considered somewhat well-supported that we are currently in the middle of an Extinction Event (called the Quaternary extinction event).

This is a sobering thought to me. This is like suddenly realizing you’re one of the last people at the party, a lot of folks have already left, it’s too late to call over new people, and, apparently, there’s still plenty of beer.

And then, humanity makes more sense. Like that hypothetical party guest, humanity has suddenly and loudly declared the party’s just starting! and whoops it up even more, in an attempt to fill the increasing social void, the room that’s already emptying out of the more respectable and more sober guests. Soon, humanity will be alone in a corner, horrifically drunk, maybe vomiting, and feeling abandoned. Humanity will be reminiscing about high school football and women it should have kissed. Humanity might get angry, and might rage. Humanity might break some things and scream and yell. Humanity will probably not be invited to the next party.

I worked at the Tacoma Dome, and I helped clean up after a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert, so I know what humanity is capable of. And let’s just say that until I understood more about humanity’s capabilities, I had no idea one could buy — nay even need — an extra-wide squeegee attachment for a push broom.

I don’t pretend to know the mind of any particular god, here, but if I was to assume that an ELE needed a tool, and there weren’t a convenient meteor, I could do a lot worse than suddenly handing a bushel of brains to some savanna monkeys.

That is to say, I’m toying with the idea that humanity (a certain kind of intelligence, perhaps) itself is not simply one of the partygoers, but one of the many tools that evolve when it becomes about time for an extinction level event.

A million years is a long time for an experiment, but I’m looking at it in those terms. The particular experiment we call homo sapiens is younger (depending on who you ask and what criteria you prefer), so, thinking in terms of a ballpark, I think maybe we’ll understand better in another hundred thousand years.

Assuming we aren’t too drunk.