The Fall and Descent of Mrs Ples


Scientists reckon that catastrophic climate change was responsible for a huge number of extinctions at the end of the Pleistocene epoch, around twelve thousand years ago. Mega-fauna – very large animals – didn’t adapt well to the rapidly changing climate.

Back then, the climate change in question was rapid glaciation. Whole ecosystems were covered in ice, wiping out the living space and food supply for large mammals. Mammoths, mastodons, Irish elk, and short-faced bears all exited history stage left at this point. Those poor souls could have used a little global warming.

There are some people who claim that we’re in the middle of another extinction event. They call it the Anthropocene extinction. ‘Anthro’ is a prefix meaning human, so the term suggests that the proposed current extinction event is due to man-caused climate change. The advance of human civilisation under cheap credit and cheap money has hit the earth’s ecology like a giant asteroid, according to this theory.

As we said, though, this is just a theory. And in any case, there are things you can control in life (your efforts) and things you can’t (results). This brings us to fall and decline of Mrs Ples. Hers is a cautionary but inspiring tale about the power of positive thinking.

Mrs Ples is a nickname for the fossilised skull of a specimen from Australopithecus africanus. We made her acquaintance on our last trip to South Africa. She used to reside in the Sterkfontein Cave, at the Cradle of Human Kind World Heritage Site north of Johannesburg. She is a very distant relative of modern human beings.

Poor old Mrs Ples was walking on the veldt one fine day when she slipped into a cave and fell 30 meters or more to her death. Her fall, decline, and subsequent death would have been bewildering, stressful, lonely, cold, and miserable. Standing at the bottom of the cave wondering what her last moments must’ve been like, we felt bad for her.

That said, we did draw some inspiration from her life, times, fall, and death. You see, poor old Mrs Ples may have had bad luck, but she reminded us of why her ancestors turned out to be so successful, at least in evolutionary terms. She had a brain.

Of course all animals have brains, or at least some semblance of a central nervous system. But we mean that Mrs Ples had the most important physical attribute that either nature or God could bestow on here: she had the ability to think. It’s the most powerful evolutionary tool in all of nature.

If we take a look at all the beasts she was neighbours with, it’s a wonder she survived long enough to fall down a hole. Lions, wild dogs, hippos, rhinos, cheetahs – Mrs Ples lived in a dangerous neighbourhood. She couldn’t evolve herself some claws to attack with or powerful muscles to out run faster big cats. In fact, humans were one of only two predators that wore their quarry down through endurance – chasing them until they collapsed and were killed by the hunting party.

But even that strategy – hunting in packs, thinking ahead to the end game and having the patience to delay instant gratification – is a product of thinking. And thinking is just what the human brain was built for.

Mrs Ples reminds us that we have the tool we need to survive a financial extinction event. It’s right between our ears. As long as you don’t crack your skull, you’ve got a fighting chance.


Dan Denning
for The Daily Reckoning Australia

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Dan Denning
Dan Denning examines the geopolitical and economic events that can affect your investments domestically. He raises the questions you need to answer, in order to survive financially in these turbulent times.

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3 years 10 months ago

At least with creation type (intelligent designer) and evolution type (no intelligence) arguments there are only the two broader possibilities but imo faith is required for either since we cannot prove them. Although plenty of people on both sides assert their case like it is an absolute.

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