Origins for humanity are the ultimate mystery.
The truth is we do not know how we came to be human. The evolution of the human
species runs back into pre-history, to its emergence from Sacred Nature, and
anything said about how this occurred is disputed. Thus, the search for Origins
is shifted from the ultimate case, the origin of humanity as a unique species,
to the origin of society and culture. The story of the human adventure begins
in Sacred Nature, but there is no textual record of that experience, so
the agreed beginning occurs far later, at the moment when human beings began
to remember and record their experience in writings that survive and in a sense
comprise the autobiography of the human species. This is why Origins in the
historical sense is the central theme of the arch. In metahistory, the
telling of different histories is the central problem we aim to explore.
In this perspective, the story of "civilization" takes center stage.
We ignore the formative childhood of the species, more or less as an individual
ignores the first three or four years of life. The analogy is odd because the
time spans are hugely divergent: a person of eighty years is oblivious to the
first four years of life, 1/20th of his or her total lifespan, but for humanity
as a whole its infancy in prehistory is estimated to be about 2.2 million years,
while its "adult" historical life (since the rise of civilization) is
only about six thousand, 1/360th of the species entire lifespan. Imagine
an eighty-year-old individual who bases her identity and actions on the last
eighty days of her life. Such is the historical perspective of humanity on its
own origins, yet this oddly compressed version of our experience determines how
we think about history, and how we think about history in turn determines our
identity as a species.
Metahistory proposes that the problem in history is the disproportionate impact
of the brief historical scenario on the long-term evolution of humanity.
Thus what makes us human originally becomes secondary to what humans make of the
world, how they create their own ways of life, cultures, societies. Origins occupies
the top of the arch because the scripts that describe the rise of civilization present
the guiding principles that tell us how to live. Curiously, much of the evidence about
the origins of civilization in many cultures indicates that they appeared at an apex,
the Golden Age, and then declined; and this is precisely what ancient myths say about
civilization. Many traditions conflict with the recent belief that humanity has progressed
("ascended") since the dawn of civilization. Whatever the case, we look up to
the keystone of the arch for orientation to the big picture, the long-term vision.
The "rise of civilization" presents a plot-structure by which we make sense
of what we are becoming and keep track of where we are going.