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Simon Laub © 2012 | The Visions Project

- What the visions project was all about -
(Texts from the original 2012 Shockwave Flash page)

Steps from the past into the future.

Coming of age in an uncertain world.
The Earth is 4.5 billion years old. But we, Homo Sapiens, have only been around for 200.000 years.
And human civilization is only 10.000 years old.

So, where did our journey begin?
Well, 3.5 million years ago two human ancestors walked over wet volcanic ash in Tanzania.
We still have their footprints. But we don't know what they thought. About life, about that day 3.5 million years ago.
And we certainly don't know where they thought their steps would eventually take them.

Step 1.
In 1976, members of a team led by Mary Leakey discovered the fossilized footprints of human ancestors in Laetoli, Tanzania, Africa.
The footprints were formed 3.6 million years ago, when at least two individuals walked over wet volcanic ash.
The wet ash hardened like cement and was then covered by more ash.
The Laetoli footprints were most likely made by Australopithecus Afarensis. - An early human, whose fossils were found in the same sediment layer.
The footprints demonstrate that the hominids walked upright hapitually,
as there are no knuckle-impressions.

Australopithecus Afarensis is the same species that antropologist Donald Johanson and his team discovered in Ethiopia in 1974. Johanson named his find ''Lucy''.
After the beatles song ''Lucy in the sky with diamonds'' playing in the radio in their camp.
Lucy lived 3.2 million years ago in the afar region of Ethiopia.
Lucy had a small brain, long arms, but she walked routinely upright like us.
Indeed, some of our early ancestors were really animals in human bodies.
We are capable of abstract reasoning, language and advanced problem solving - they were not.
Still, you can't help wondering what they thought about, as they walked around their world.
When they looked up to the Moon, surely they couldn't imagine distant descendents putting footprints up there?

Step 2.
We, Homo Sapiens, originated in Africa approximately 200.000 years ago. Indeed, human fossils from Kibish,
Ethiopia have been dated to be around 196.000 years old. Still, we didnt reach full behavioral modernity until around 60.000 years ago.
Here, african hunter gatherer had developed a fully fledged language.
Making small groups with long-range planning and language possible.
Maybe not all that different from todays Hazda people of Tanzania?
Art, culture followed not long after.
E.g. cave art in Chauvet, France has been shown to be around 35.000 years old.

We migrated out of Africa about some 60.000 years ago
(the exact time is not precisely known, and I use the value 70.000 years in the presentation,
as other recent findings seem to indicate an earlier exodus).

Step 3.
Farming goes back at least 10.000 years (some sources tell us that farming goes as far back as 23.000 years).
Civilization and cities followed shortly thereafter.
In the first river-civilizations (Mesopotamia, Egypt) farming needed irrigation (that took more people working together). A helping hand gave a ration (pay), which lead to account books and writing. Eventually, more food than needed were produced, and society could then afford specialists.
Civilization could begin.

From one of these cradles of civilization, Mesopotamia (the land between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates), we still have e.g. the sexagesimal (base 60) numeral system, source of the 60-minute hour, the 24-hour day, and the 360 degree circle. The seven day week etc.
Mesopotamia was also the birthplace of the first cities, I.e, places where strangers live and work together. One Mesopotamian city was called Uruk. It was inhabited from app. 4000 bc. To 3.100 bc. At its height (app. 2.900 bc.), Uruk probably had 50.000 - 80.000 residents, making it the largest city in the world at the time.
Egypt was another cradle of civilization.
The ancient egyptian name for Egypt was Kemet, meaning "Black land", referring to the fertile black soils of the nile flood plains, distinct from the deshret, or "Red land" of the desert.
In ancient Egypt state officials also collected taxes, coordinated irrigation projects, drafted peasants to work on state projects and established a justice system to maintain peace and order. The crowning achievement was the construction of the great pyramids. An eternal symbol of what people working together can achieve. Indeed, the pyramids had religious and commemorative purposes. But they also reinforced the power of the pharaoh, as a symbol of state and civilization.
Actually, religion and civilization were not separate things in ancient Egypt. On the contrary, back then they would serve each other.
Today, many of the ancient egyptian gods seems very strange. Take the god Anubis, associated with mummification and protection of the dead for their journey into the afterlife. He was usually portrayed as a half human, half jackal.
Indeed, the egyptians made great efforts to ensure a good afterlife.
All pretty weird, still, ancient egyptian religion is perfectly understandable to us. It would spare no expense to please the gods, gain their favor, and thereby control the forces and elements of nature.

As symbols of state, religious beliefs and civilization - pyramids couldn't be grand enough. And surely they should be placed on the western side of the river. As the river nile symbolized a route between life and death, and the western side symbolized death, closer to the gods.
So, when the pyramids were completed they would make a link between gods and men. Between the river Nile on Earth and the Milky Way in the sky above us.
Ensuring that life of earth would be blessed by the gods.
For 3.800 years the pyramids of Giza, Egypt, were the tallest man-made structures in the world - the greatest, and oldest, of the seven wonders of the world. Monumental symbols of ancient civilization.
And so on it went. History.

Step 4.
Civilization is all about great ideas (not kings, tyrants or other big men).
It is civilization that gives us technology, art, philosophy, science and much more. In short: knowledge.
Eventually, civilization would preserve knowledge in libraries.
In the ancient world, the largest and most significant library was the library of Alexandria, Egypt. Alexandria was of course named after Alexander the great, who founded the city in 332 bc. In the years that followed, Alexandria was the center of science and learning in the ancient world. And its librarians some of the smartest people around.

Certainly, the list of smart people from Alexandria is quite impressive: The father of geometry, Euclid, was active in Alexandria under Ptolomy the first (323 - 283 bc). Archimedes might have studied in Alexandria, under Erastothenes, third chief librarian of Alexandria. And Hero (of Alexandria) (10 - 70 ad.) published a well recognized description of a steam-powered device, which - with a little luck, might have started the industrial revolution way back in the Roman world.

Indeed, it was a time where philosophy, art and science blossomed. In society, the greeks hoped for isonomia - equality before the law - and eunomia - governance according to good laws. But somehow these thing would elude the Greeks. Sure, they experimented with many forms of governments - oligarchy, tyranny, democracy, totalitarism, collectivism and autocracy. But eventually their world would give way to the Roman world. And the Roman Pax Romana - peace and security - system.

According to legend, Rome was founded on april 21, 753 bc. By twins Romulus and Remus. At its height it would span the known world from Hadrians wall in England to Mesopotamia in the east.
When Romulus and Remus are born they are left to die, but are saved by a series of miraculous interventions. A shewolf finds them and suckled them. In a dispute over where to place Rome, Romulus kills Remus.

So, sure, Rome starts with fraticide, still the Pax Romana is all about peace and stability. Pay your taxes and the empires 10.000 bureaucrats will do their best to keep public works and trade running. Indeed; Rome would tolerate just about everything - except rebellion and non-payment of taxes.

Emperors at the top might occasionally have been mad. But the system (the S.P.Q.R. - Senatus Populusque Romanus - the senate and the people of Rome) was not. It was all about eficiency and stability. Romes legal system gave citizens legal rights, and law courts to settle disputes. There was justice for all, citizen rights and opportunities. Even slaves could work their way to freedom. Romes public works were practical and beneficial - aquaducts - nothing like the rather useless egyptian pyramids.

Still, Rome had shortcomings. Rome would never figure out the meaning of life and immortal souls. Rome could give panem et circenses, bread and circuses, but Rome could not take care of the spiritual needs of all of its citizens. When christians rejected the peace and prosperity of Rome, when they looked forward to life after death (not the benefits of the Pax Romana) Rome would have little to offer.

Step 5.
Everything changes in our world, not even ancient Rome lasted forever. And suffering and depression follows - when people try to hold on to transient things.

Indeed, after a long period of decline, Rome was eventually captured and plundered by the Visigoths in 410 a.d.
The event left the ancient world in a state of shock. How could this happen?
-- Much later -- famed historian Edward Gibbon, and others, has speculated that christianity contributed to the fall, as christianity made the public less interested in the here-and-now (the Pax Romana), and more interested in the rewards of heaven. Indeed, at the time, christian leaders, such as St. Augustine, would say that secular government cannot secure the happiness of its citizens. Happiness (all the time) is simply not possible in this life. To St. Augustine, Rome was based on self-love, violence and fraud. Something new was needed. Not a new city of man, but a city of God.

Meanwhile, in India, being depressed about secular life would have been nothing new!
Actually; India is special in the sense, that in the history of the world there has been many empires of the sword. Only India have had empires of the spirit.
empires that would tell its citizens, that:
- you should live with virtue, dharma.
- you should live and strive for wealth and success, artha.
- you should try to find pleasure, kama.
- and you should seek enlightenment, moksha.
indeed, in the end you must pursue knowledge and liberation above all things!

The Buddha (563 bc to 483 bc) was one of the easterners, who thought very deeply about all that might depress us. He even suggested a way out. According to the Buddha:
1.Suffering does exist.
2.Suffering arises from attachment to desires.
3.Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases.
4.Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing The eightfold path.

I.e., the eightfold path, is the way that leads to the cessation of suffering and the achievement of selfawakening. One must strive for:
1. Right view, I.e. Having the right perspective, the right understanding.
2. Right intention. I.e. Having the right aspiration.
3. Right speech. I.e. No lying, no divisive speech.
4. Right action. I.e. Being morally upright.
5. Right livelihood. I.e. Having an occupation which is not harmful to others.
6. Right efort. I.e. All wrong and harmful thoughts and words must be abandoned.
7. Right mindfulness. I.e. Having the right attention, no greed and distress.
8. Right concentration. I.e. Being aloof from unwholesome thoughts.

Then suffering and depression might end, and selfawakening might be achieved!

Step 6.
It is now more than 6.000 years ago we humans began to live in cities - next to strangers.
It has been 6.000 years of radical improvements. Where advances in society, science and technology have improved the quality of our lives beyond recognition.
Indeed, now, we believe, that there is more to human life and society than discontent and depression
- sometimes there is hope and expectation, and sometimes a path to improvements.
Our journey getting here have been tumultuous though. With many upheavals on the way, including revolutions and wars. Unjust systems have been violently removed, blood has been shed.

1789 was such a period of radical change that would eventually lead to our world. It was the beginning of the French revolution. A time with high hopes of liberte, egalite and fraternite. Meaning: You should be able - to do anything that does not harm others, - hold any office, position and employment according to ability only, - and all of this in a spirit of harmony.
Sadly, the high hopes in the beginning of the revolution didn't last. Soon it became terror with virtue. Where executions of enemies of the revolution led to an endless bloodshed. On january 21st 1793 king Louis the XVI was executed in the guillotine on the Place de la Revolution (now, in a twist of irony, called the Place de la Concorde). Eventually, queen Marie Antionette, Madame du Barry, Georges Danton, Maximilien Robespierre, Louis de Saint-Just and many more would also be guillotined on the site, often in front of cheering crowds.
An atheist movement would initiate a campaign to violently dechristianise society. And in the end it would all give way to emperor Napoleons dictatorship.

Still, for the first time, thousands of men and women gained first-hand experience in the political arena. They talked, read, joined organizations, marched for political goals and voted. Despite its failures, the revolution spread democratic ideals throughout Europe and eventually the world.

1917 was another tumultuous year. The year of the Russian revolution. A revolution that first saw the overthrow of the tsarist autocracy (in a context of heavy military setbacks during the first world war). And then later, a second revolution where Bolsheviks removed and crushed all others. And introduced a communist government. A government that world rule Russia for more than 70 years, using the Cheka and the Gulag to put down all oppositions and rebellions.

Still, revolutions doesn't always fail.
1776 was the year of the American revolution. Here, Americans rejected the authority of the parliament of Great Britain to govern them from overseas without representation.
Eventually Americans would gain freedom and independence. But it would take 8 years of war before independence was won. Most of the time the Americans were on the brink of collapse. Until lord Cornwallis surrender to Washington in Yorktown October 19th, 1781 there were few signs that the Americans would actually win. But, in the words of George Washington: ''Perseverance and spirit have done wonders in all ages''.

Indeed, without Washington the Americans probably wouldn't have won at all. And without him the revolution might not have turned into a democracy. After the war he retired to his estate Mount Vernon. Indeed, where other revolutionary leaders becomes the new king, he was happy to live on his estate with his wife, Martha. Martha and George had no children, so, the revolution was his only ''child''. Still, he was perfectly happy to leave it all behind.
Of course, he would eventually go on to be president. But that was not his wish. And even that post he would resign after 8 years (in an unprecedented move in world history) and return to his beloved estate, Mount Vernon.
With independence won, and Washington back home with his wife, it was up to other men to design the new nation after the war. Men like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.
Men that didn't agree (on everything, and certainly not on all of the big issues). Stilll, the founding fathers did finally come up with a constitution. The first democracy of the modern era (things weren't perfect though, Thomas Jefferson would still have slaves on his estate Monticello - including Sally Hemings, who had six children, noted for their resemblance to Jefferson...).
in the end, it would take civil war and many more generations to create the democracy of today. But certainly, the american revolution of 1776 was a major step forward.
After the revolution, George Washington was elected president in 1789. Followed in 1797 by John Adams, who was succeeded by Thomas Jefferson in 1801. And so on until today.

Still, society is not perfect! Looking at Maslow's hierarchy of needs, we see that humans have physiological-, safety-, love-, esteem- and self-actualization - needs! And get together in societies to help each other fulfill these needs. And as long as there are unfulfilled needs there is room for improvements.

Step 7.
According to the philosopher Thomas Metzinger, our brains create a simulation of the outside world. So perfect, that we do not recognize it as an image in our minds.
Solid reality might not be so solid after all! Certainly, a few simple psychological experiments tell us - rather disturbingly - that our brains routinely play tricks on us!

- Sometimes, we don't see what is really right in front of us:
Indeed, we can miss a gorilla standing right in front of us, as Christopher Chabris and Daniel J. Simons wonderful experiment demonstrates.

- Our memories are not accurate accounts of what actually happened:
Indeed, we are what we remember. But what is stored in memory is not an exact replica of reality, far from it. Our memories are more like recreations of reality!

Somehow, people remember most from their late teens, early twenties. And little, if anything, from before the age of four (btw. Some really delightful experiments with children at Aarhus University have recently thrown some more light on this fascinating subject).
And, each time we recall a memory, we integrate whatever details we do remember with our expectation for what we should remember (E.g. Our brains are incurable optimists, according to Tali Sharot, so everything is given a slight positive spin for starters).
So, in the end, our memories becomes biased accounts - selected, edited and constantly degraded material. The opposite of accurate accounts of what actually happened.

- We can be unconsciously primed to behave in a certain way later on:
In one simple experiment people were asked to count money (giving them the illusion of having resources). Afterwards they behaved significantly different than a control group that hadn't been counting money.
I.e. - scary but true - one example out of many, demonstrating that the human mind can be primed to behave subconsciously in a certain way.

Still, these minds are all we have, as we take the next steps into the future.

The next steps...