Death in the Palaeolithic and the Future of Mankind

The world would have been created about 6000 years ago, according to Jewish tradition. However, modern science estimates that the Big Bang took place 13.8 billion years ago. These both claims seem contradictory. But it is easy to retort that the biblical years could just be metaphors. Moreover, the alleged age of the Big Bang is itself questionable. Our universe may have had earlier forms of existence, impossible to observe from our present position in space-time, because the cosmological horizon forms an impenetrable barrier.

Science has its own intrinsic limits. It can definitely not go beyond the walls of the small cosmological jar in which we are enclosed, apparently. What about the meta-cosmic oceans which undoubtedly exist beyond the horizons perceived by current science?

For those who nevertheless seek to contemplate the possibility of origins, there are other ways of meditation and reflection. Among these is the exploration of the depth of the human soul, which in a sense goes beyond the dimensions of the cosmological field.

When Abraham decided to emigrate from Ur in Chaldea, around the 12th century BC, it was already more than two thousand years that Egypt observed a religion turned towards the hope of life after death. Ancient Egyptians worshiped a unique God, Sovereign of the Universe, Creator of the world, Guardian of all creation. Archaeological traces of funerary rites testify to this, which have been discovered in Upper Egypt, and which date from the 4th millennium BC.

But can we go even further back into the past of mankind?

Can we question the traces of prehistoric religions in order to excavate what is meta-historical, and even meta-cosmic?

In the caves of Chou-Kou-Tien, or Zhoukoudian according to the Pinyin transcription, 42km from Beijing, archaeologists (including Pierre Teilhard de Chardin) discovered the remains of hominids in 1926. They were given the name Sinanthropus pekinensis, then Homo erectus pekinensis. Dating is estimated at 780,000 years. These hominids mastered hunting, tool making and fire. They managed to live for hundreds of thousands of years and to face successive periods of glaciation and warming. The successive geological strata that contain their remains and those of animals from those distant times bear witness to this.

The geological earth is like a memorial and trans-generational Noah’s Ark.

Skulls have been found at the Chou-Kou-Tien site, but none of the other bones of the human skeleton. According to some interpretations, these are therefore the remains of cannibal feasts, carried out for religious purposes.

“The bodies had been decapitated after death, buried until they had decomposed, and the heads were then carefully preserved for ritual purposes, doubtless, as in Borneo today, because in them it was supposed that soul’substance resided having the properties of a vitalizing agent. As the skulls show signs of injuries they may have been those of victims who had been killed and their crania broken open in order to extract the brain for sacramental consumption. If this were so, probably they represent the remains of cannibal feasts, organized cannibalism in that case having been an established feature of the cult of the dead in the Mid-Pleistocene in North China in which the cutting off and preservation of the head, skull or scalp was a prominent feature during or after the sacred meal, either to extract its soul substance or as a trophy.”i

This theory takes on more weight if we consider a number of other discoveries in other parts of the world.

In the caves of Ofnet in Bavaria, 33 prehistoric skulls have been discovered, arranged « like eggs in a basket », as one of the discoverers put it. Of these skulls, 27 of them were covered in red ochre and facing west. It has been established that the skulls were detached from the bodies with the help of carved flints.

The manner in which the skulls were detached from the skeleton and the traces of trepanation suggest that the brains were ritually extracted and probably consumed during funeral meals, as a sign of « communion » with the dead.

This cannibalism would therefore not be directed against enemy hordes. Moreover, on the same site, 20 children’s skeletons adorned with snail shells, 9 women’s skeletons with deer tooth necklaces, and 4 adult men’s skeletons were found. This reinforces the idea of funeral ceremonies.

In Jericho, 7 skulls were found whose features had been cast in plaster and then carefully decorated with shells (cowries and bivalves representing the eyelids, vertical slits simulating the pupil of the eye).ii

In Switzerland, in the Musterian Caves of Drachenloch, a set of bear heads looking to the east has been found, and in Styria, in Drachenhöhle, a Musterian pit with 50 bear femurs also looking to the east.

Similar traces of ritual burial have been found in Moustier (Dordogne), La Chapelle-aux-Saints (Corrèze) and La Ferrassie (Dordogne).iii

It can be deduced from these and many other similar facts, that in the Palaeolithic, for probably a million years, and perhaps more, the cult of the dead was observed according to ritual forms, involving forms of religious belief. Certain revealing details (presence of tools and food near the buried bodies) allow us to infer that hominids in the Palaeolithic believed in survival after death.

In these caves and caverns, in China or Europe, Palaeolithic men buried their dead with a mixture of veneration, respect, but also fear and anxiety for their passage into another world.

From this we can deduce that, for at least a million years, humanity has been addressing an essential question: what does death mean for the living? How can man live with the thought of death?

For a thousand times a thousand years these questions have been stirring the minds of men. Today’s religions, which appeared very late, what sort of answers do they bring ?

From a little distanced point of view, they bring among other things divisions and reciprocal hatreds, among peoples packed into the narrow anthropological space that constitutes our cosmic vessel.

None of today’s religions can reasonably claim the monopoly of truth, the unveiling of mystery. It is time to return to a deeper, more original intuition.

All religions should take as their sacred duty the will to ally themselves together, to face in common the mystery that surpasses them entirely, encompasses them, and transcends them.

Utopia? Indeed.

iE.O. James, Prehistoric Religion, (1873), Barnes and Nobles, New York, 1957, p.18

iiKinyar. Antiquity, vol 27, 1953, quoted by E.O. James, Prehistoric Religion, (1873), Barnes and Nobles, New York, 1957

iiiE.O. James, Prehistoric Religion, (1873), Barnes and Nobles, New York, 1957

A Unique Universe

The most committed followers of super-string theory support the existence of ‘multiverses’. There would be 10500 ‘multiverses’, they say, if we take into account all the universes corresponding to all the possible varieties of Calabi-Yau, each one of them sailing in parallel branches.

In fact there could be even more, – if we take into account the multiverses that are totally disconnected, undetectable, unpredictable, pure creations of the mind, but which are necessary to guarantee the coherence of the supersymmetry defined by the mathematics of the super strings.

On the other hand, more conservative physicists consider that the theory of super-strings is not science but fairy tale. The theory of multiverses would come from the delirium of researchers who are so fond of the abstract power of mathematics that they consider it « real », whereas it is only an intellectual construction, and has no other reality than mental.

Plato already believed that mathematics has a form of reality, full of mystery. But he also believed that there were other, deeper mysteries beyond mathematics. As for the hypothesis of an infinity of parallel worlds, happily postulated by the physicists of the super-strings, he had also considered it by means of the metaphysical approach, and had clearly invalidated it:

« So that this world, in terms of uniqueness, may be similar to the Absolute Living, for this reason, it is neither two nor an infinite number of worlds that have been made by the Author, but it is on a unique basis, alone of its kind, that this world has come to be so, and that from now on it will be. »i

The alternative is simple: either there is only one universe (which Plato presents as « similar to the absolute Living Being »), or there is an almost infinite number of multiverses… What is the most likely hypothesis?

If there is an almost infinite number of universes, 99.9999…% of them (we must imagine here a sequence of millions of 9s, after the comma) are absurdly unstable, structurally deleterious – with the extremely rare exception of a handful of them.

And among this handful, infinitely rarer still those who would be able to generate the conditions for the emergence of human thought.

Now human thought has appeared. It therefore becomes a factor to be taken into account from the point of view of cosmological theory. Its very existence, and its extreme rarity on the scale of the large numbers of possible multiverses, are indicators of the exceptional nature (both statistical and conceptual) of the particular universe in which it has emerged.

Its existence and rarity have a cosmological significance. And this meaning inevitably interacts with the definition of the cosmos it seeks to conceive, – through the application of the Ockham principle and the anthropic principle.

Ockham’s principle states that it is futile to multiply beings without necessity. It is absurd to multiply them meaninglessly. A single universe with meaning and coherence (from the cosmological point of view) is preferable to a multiplication of non-viable, absurd and senseless universes (always from the cosmological point of view).

According to the anthropic principle, the mere fact of humanity’s existence requires us to affirm that the universe in which it was born is « special » and even « unique » (again from a cosmological point of view). Among the myriads of possible multiverses, which have no anthropic significance, the mere fact that the universe in which humanity exists implies an immeasurable cosmological chance, – if we just stick to the multiverses theory.

This « incommensurable » chance can be approximated. It can be measured by the hallucinating improbability of the « cosmological constant » essential for human life and thought to be possible.

Chance as it unfolds under the draconian constraints of cosmology can generally only produce ordinary (unstable or incapable of generating ‘human minds’) universes. However, this universe, ours, is not ordinary: it owes the very principle of its existence to the miraculously adequate precision of an infinitely hazardous cosmological constant to be implemented.

This universe is unique because it is special. Why so special? Because of the incredible and disconcerting improbability of the physical constants that govern its structure, and which are necessary for its existence.

These improbably « fine » constants, which physics detects and which mathematics theorizes, make possible the balance of cosmic forces, the existence of galactic clusters and life itself.

The cosmological constant, as deduced by observation and calculation, must be of a mind-blowing precision: a 0, followed by a comma, then 123 zeros, then a long series of numbers. The slightest variation in this sequence of figures would make the universe totally unstable, from the very first moments of the Big Bang, or would make it totally unfit for life.

Multiverses are, in theory, in almost infinite number. But only a very small number of multiverses are compatible with the anthropogenic principle.

The total improbability of the cosmological constants required by life implies that man had no chance of appearing in the infinity of possibly conceivable multiverses.

Yet humanity exists in this universe, and it is even possible to calculate approximately the minute probability of its existence.

The lower the probability, the lower the probability of validating the multiverses theory itself becomes.

As a result, the extreme probability of Plato’s thesis of the unique universe grows even greater.

This result gives us, probably, some nourishing food for thought…

i Plato,Timaeus, 31b

The Peregrination of the Universe

According to the Jewish Bible the world was created about 6000 years ago. According to contemporary cosmologists, the Big Bang dates back 14 billion years. But the Universe could actually be older. The Big Bang is not necessarily the only, original event. Many other universes may have existed before, in earlier ages.

Time could go back a long way. This is what Vedic cosmologies teach. Time could even go back to infinity according to cyclical universe theories.

In a famous Chinese Buddhist-inspired novel, The Peregrination to the West, there is a story of the creation of the world. It describes the formation of a mountain, and the moment « when the pure separated from the turbid ». The mountain, called the Mount of Flowers and Fruits, dominates a vast ocean. Plants and flowers never fade. « The peach tree of the immortals never ceases to form fruits, the long bamboos hold back the clouds. » This mountain is « the pillar of the sky where a thousand rivers meet ». It is « the unchanging axis of the earth through ten thousand Kalpa. »

An unchanging land for ten thousand Kalpa.

What is a kalpa? It is the Sanskrit word used to define the very long duration of cosmology. To get an idea of the duration of a kalpa, various metaphors are available. Take a 40 km cube and fill it to the brim with mustard seeds. Remove a seed every century. When the cube is empty, you will not yet be at the end of the kalpa. Then take a large rock and wipe it once a century with a quick rag. When there is nothing left of the rock, then you will not yet be at the end of the kalpa.

World time: 6000 years? 14 billion years? 10,000 kalpa?

We can assume that these times mean nothing certain. Just as space is curved, time is curved. The general relativity theory establishes that objects in the universe tend to move towards regions where time flows relatively more slowly. A cosmologist, Brian Greene, put it this way: « In a way, all objects want to age as slowly as possible. » This trend, from Einstein’s point of view, is exactly comparable to the fact that objects « fall » when dropped.

For objects in the Universe that are closer to the « singularities » of space-time that proliferate there (such as « black holes »), time is slowing down more and more. In this interpretation, it is not ten thousand kalpa that should be available, but billions of billions of billions of kalpa…

A human life is only an ultra-fugitive scintillation, a kind of femto-second on the scale of kalpa, and the life of all humanity is only a heartbeat. That’s good news! The incredible stories hidden in a kalpa, the narratives that time conceals, will never run out. The infinite of time has its own life.

Mystics, like Plotin or Pascal, have reported their visions. But their images of “fire” were never more than snapshots, infinitesimal moments, compared to the infinite substance from which they emerged.

This substance, I’d like to describe it as a landscape of infinite narratives, an infinite number of mobile points of view, opening onto an infinite number of worlds, some of which deserve a detour, and others are worth the endless journey.