Exploring What Does It Mean To Be Human

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Humankind's unique ability to see the potential for growth, and to work tirelessly to achieve it, reflects the very purpose of humanity. Since the beginning of time, humans have strived to improve society in places where it was lacking, and to enhance overall quality of life. This desire for improvement has been present through all of human history, developing without influence from any other force. The most fundamental and instinctual human desire is to better civilization through the evolution of technology. Medicine, necessary for longevity of human life, has been developed and advanced for centuries. The human race, upon the realization that the use of fossil fuels was irreversibly damaging the Earth, has developed existing renewable energy sources to prevent more harm to the planet. The relatively new ability to predict extreme weather with satellites is one of great significance, as it has the capacity to save millions of people from injury or death. The practice of medical care has been an important element of human societies since almost the dawn of hominid existence. 

Remains discovered from the Stone Age and the Upper Paleolithic period have displayed evidence of primitive medical treatment, such as set and healed broken bones, sutured wounds, and replaced dislocations (Betts, 2005). This healing that the early homosapien species were able to perform allowed for a life span long enough to reproduce, and to further evolve. Anthropologist Erik Trinkaus observed that every Neanderthal skeleton found showed evidence of at least one fracture, and many illnesses that could not have been recovered from without assistance from others. Because of this care, many Neanderthals even lived to the age of 45, indeed allowing for reproduction (Alper, 2003). Since the observations of Erik Trinkaus, many individual examples of the way that Neanderthals cared for each other have been found. Injured and ill Neanderthals were proven to be supported for long periods of time, even in cases of an endured disability (Spikins, Rutherford & Needham, 2010). This validates the idea that the early homosapien could, through basic practices, sustain and extend life, to a certain degree. Even in the era of prehistoric life, the drive to delve into the greatest capacities of the mind to devise methods of helping others was present, and active. This knowledge of caring for others, and basic medicine gave the first foundation for the tremendous growth to come. 

The greatest breakthroughs in medical history were often technologies that made health care more efficient, and more accurate. Specifically, X-Rays were first designed in 1895 by Wilhelm Röntgen, to locate embedded foreign bodies easily and examine bones clearly and painlessly (Williams, 1987, p. 284). Although the first X-Rays had many dangerous side effects, they have become an essential tool in modern life saving technology. In 2015, a woman named Marvena Tucker visited the hospital to treat her ‘bronchitis’, but through her X-Ray results, found out that she was actually suffering from stage 4 lung cancer (Treadwell, 2016). The doctors had used the X-Ray, and because of that, Tucker was able to get the treatment she needed before it was too late. The groundbreaking technology used in the X-Ray has opened doors to the development of a wider scope of medical imaging, that were created to identify more life threatening illnesses. In particular, MRI, CT, PET, and even mammography were born in the wake of the X-Ray (Bradley, 2015). The X-Ray has evolved immensely since 1895, due to Röntgen’s successors’ motivation to improve, and it’s discovery has revolutionized the field of medical technology. Many current and future medical researchers owe a large part of their findings to Willhelm Röntgen, and his contribution to medicine. 

The field of medical technology has made boundless advancements in the last century, which are astonishing in comparison to where the human race started out. One of the more recent and impressive innovations is the ability to map and predict the patterns of human genomes. This groundbreaking innovation in medicine was triggered by the discovery of the double helix DNA model in 1953 (A Brief History of the Human Genome Project, 2015). Mapping genomes helps predict the possibility of disorders, diseases and conditions being transmitted from parent to child through genes. Scientists have been using genome mapping to eventually better understand cancer, and to someday find a cure. Analysts use the maps and sequences to determine which genomes carry the properties of malignant cancer cells, which can quickly spread throughout the human body (Collins & Barker, 2007). The capacity to analyse human genomes has and will continue to revolutionize the care and treatment of cancer patients dramatically, a far leap from even 20 years ago. Even more so, this technology has created countless opportunities for growth and development in human medicine. Many important medical advancements have been made for the sake of satisfying curiosity. 

Bringing extinct animals back to life is still a feat humanity has yet to reach, however scientists have made progress, by introducing wooly mammoth DNA into lab-grown elephant cells (Lewis, 2015). In the last century, many once populous species have entered the endangered animal list, and this technology could provide a way to preserve and support a struggling species. In the current day climate change is occurring so much faster than it should, causing many species to have difficulty adapting and thereby die out. However, scientists believe that it is possible to engineer certain extinct traits into a current species through their genomes, using the same method in ‘resurrecting the wooly mammoth’ (Shapiro, 2015). This advanced development in medical science could be a crucial element in preventing the unfortunate disappearance of precious life, and the derailment of food chains, and subsequently, innumerable ecosystems. The continuous advancement of medical technology for centuries has radically changed the way humanity lives for centuries, by way of life expectancy, convenience, and fulfillment of curiosity. While medical technology is advantageous to the species in its entirety, there are other groundbreaking technologies that improve not only the human race, but the environment surrounding it. 

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Renewable energy is not a new idea to humanity, in fact renewable energy sources have been used since the formation of civilization. For example, biomass was historically used for things such as heating, cooking, and power generation (Rogner & Propescu, 2000). Biomass, the burning of organic matter to produce energy, currently has great potential to not only reduce dependency on fossil fuels, but also to go as far as repairing areas overrun with waste. For instance, organic waste littering an ecosystem can be collected from dumping sites and used in biomass plants (Zhao, 2015). This ancient technology has been further adapted by modern humans to potentially reverse some of the environmental damage caused by humanity’s over reliance on fossil fuels for energy supply. Fossil fuels such as coal and oil have been primary energy resources since the industrial revolution, around 250 years ago (Evans, 2011). There have been almost 250 years of pollution, and it is only recently that humanity has started to acknowledge the negative effects. This technology, among other innovations, is what gives hope to the idea that the human race will someday rebuild what has been destroyed. Many countries’ governments are starting to see the benefits in ‘clean energy’ from renewable sources. 

One such renewable method is using natural heat from the Earth. This is called geothermal energy, and in 5 countries around the world, it is 10-22% of their energy sources (Holm, 2009). One of the more prominent places in support of geothermal energy is Hawaii, where residents are reaping the benefits of this natural resource. Since 1993 in Puna, Hawaii, geothermal energy has saved the environment from almost 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide that would have been released burning fossil fuel (Battocletti, 2006). Hawaii’s use of geothermal energy is a monumental step in the right direction in terms of reducing the human race’s carbon footprint. The more places that follow in Hawaii’s footsteps with geothermal energy and other resources, the closer humanity comes to reconciliation. One of the most powerful and unrefined sources of energy in the world are the ocean’s waves. There is great potential in tidal energy, as it can conceivably generate 120-400 GW of energy, compared to the average of 550 MW produced from a coal plant (Selin, 2018). That amount of energy being produced could save an immense amount of greenhouse gases from being emitted. In fact, 400 GW of energy could power a whole city almost four times, instead of burning fossil fuel (Jacobson et al., 2015). The ability to harness this unadulterated power is not new, but is an innovation transformed by environmental scientists’ thirst for change, and hunger for progress. If more seaside countries were willing to give tidal energy a chance, the effects would be significant. It could not be sustainable on its own, due to limited accessibility, but combined with one or more other resources, it could be the turning point for radical change in regards to environmental health. 

Many people seem to be very hesitant to convert to renewable energy, due to reduction of convenience, and increased expenses. However, among those who have, one source stands out as a favourite, and it is clear why. Solar energy is the conversion of sunlight into electricity or thermal energy, and it is completely pollution-free (Evans, 2011). A big reason for its popularity lies with a recent development, the photovoltaic cell. The photovoltaic (PV) cell is built into a solar panel, allowing the panel to absorb all visible light, and convert it to electricity (Knier, 2008). The capacity to absorb all visible light is important, as this means that not only can photovoltaic cells absorb sunlight, but they can also take in moonlight, eliminating the daytime restriction. With photovoltaic cells, solar power is said to be able to meet the world’s global energy consumption quota, applying only 20% of its full efficiency potential (Fonash & Ashok, 2018). The development of the photovoltaic cell was an absolutely monumentous advancement in modern renewable technologies. The use and further development of renewable energy technology is crucial in order to sustain the current standard of living. 

Renewable energy is unequivocally the only way to proceed, as a direct result of the rapid depletion of fossil fuels, and the irrevocable damage already done to the planet. In fact, the damage done has caused a completely different problem; how to develop a way to combat the tremendous increase of natural disaster occurrences. There are a multitude of technologies that meteorologists use to predict extreme weather patterns, however arguably the most prominent technology currently available, is the use of satellites. There are two main types of satellites used: geostationary and polar orbiting (Hallgren et al., 2018). For many years there has been work on satellites, and developers have made huge progress. Before 1975, all satellites were polar orbiting, meaning that they monitor the whole planet. This allows a close view of the Earth, but does not allow long term observation of one geographical area. To account for that, geostationary satellites were developed. These satellites move at the same speed as the Earth’s rotation, but cannot observe the polar regions (Medina, 2010). With these devices, meteorologists can monitor the state of the Earth below, and monitor outstanding discrepancies in data. Humanity rose very quickly and zealously to meet the challenge of increasing meteorological anomalies. If scientists were able to develop a completely new satellite in such a short time, the next few years hold great potential for the field of extreme weather forecasting. The rapid increase of natural disasters is a clear product of climate change, and these disasters have caused destruction and death in many areas of the world. 

If a community is warned with enough time before a disaster occurs, many lives could be saved. Even with only a few minutes' warning of a disaster such as a tornado, measures can be taken to ensure safety. A warning could also be important to minimize damage and economic losses (Hallgren et al., 2018). For instance, satellite imagery saved numerous lives in Newton Falls, Ohio, by giving the community a tornado watch warning. When the community fire chief heard the warning, he took watch on the top of a building overlooking Newton Falls. From that point, he was able to see the tornado approaching, and could sound the alarms before the devastating tornado hit. This gave the inhabitants enough time to ensure their safety. Newton Falls was spared from any deaths, and little injury due to the advance warning given (Choi, 2010). However, countless other areas of the world have not been so lucky, and have sustained many casualties. That is why it is so imperative that these technologies are developed to a point that they are absolutely efficient and accessible. Weather detecting satellites were not always the advanced technologies seen today. In fact, the first meteorological satellite, launched in 1960, was called TIROS-1. TIROS-1 was polar orbiting, and had only two cameras and two video recorders (Medina, 2010). The technology employed on satellites today is much more refined than the original. For instance, the TIROS-1 was ‘space oriented’, meaning that it could not register images of the Earth in the sun’s light, leading to many depictions of the Earth covered in clouds (Fiolek, 2011). 

Today, researchers gather and distribute stunning photos of the Earth ringed in rays of bright sunlight. As well as this, TIROS-1 only lasted in orbit for 78 days, while polar orbiting satellites today can orbit for up to 15 years at a time (Chu, 2013). The scientists from 1960, who launched TIROS-1, could never have predicted the progress future scientists would make, and the lengths that the meteorological satellite would go. However, being consistent with humans throughout history, scientists, engineers, and numerous teams of intellectuals were driven to improve the state of the world around. In the last few years the most prevalent and destructive natural disaster appearing is the phenomena of wildfires. Satellites can help monitor the burn scar after a fire, and judge if it needs help with rehabilitation (Ackerman & Martin, 2017). In December of 2017, a devastating series of wildfires swept across Northern California, leaving a considerable amount of damage in its wake. These wildfires were being seen and monitored by geostationary satellites positioned above. Scientists watched the footage from the satellites, assessed the damage being done, and observed how well the ecosystem was recovering, in case ecologists needed to step in (Ackerman & Martin, 2017). This is important, as it shows that satellite imagery not only saves human lives, but can also save other living organisms, and their environment. Humanity has, through finding a solution to predicting extreme weather patterns, found a solution to the destruction of ecosystems by natural forces. Inadvertently, the human race found ways to solve two major issues in one fell swoop. 

Humans always have, and always will crave the progression of technology, not only to meet the needs of a changing society, but also to sate the deep desire to grow and better itself. As a species, humanity has cultivated and progressed the practice of medicine to an extraordinary level since the practice began. The human race has recognized the years of damage inflicted on the planet through a dependency on fossil fuels, and has as a result, begun to develop innovative solutions based on pre-existing and new technologies. Further, when faced with the repercussions of mistakes from the past, the species discovered and revolutionized methods of prediction and protection from dangerous weather phenomena. Throughout history, humans have proven to be adept at recognizing where society is lacking, and identifying technological solutions to address those deficiencies. No other species, no higher being gave this direction, but rather the need to advance technologies is an innate disposition that every human possesses. This natural curiosity, and desire for innovation is a collective, ubiquitous concept, passed down through every single human being. This very human instinct gives the species a constant goal, something to strive for, a cumulative purpose. This purpose is the driving force behind every human invention, giving society salubrity, safety, and above all, meaning. 

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