Welcome to Life, A Guide for New Members of Species Homo Sapiens

Posted on 30th July 2012 by Ryan Somma in Ionian Enchantment

Download a PDF Version Here (9MB)

Download a PPTX Version Here (14MB)

I was walking through the local forest trail a few months ago, and it was getting dark. As the sky shifted from blue to black, the full moon rose up through the trees creating a stunning scene. I realized my ancient ancestors were just as awe-inspired by that glowing orb in the sky, but my present-day awe was much deeper for knowing the moon as an object in space several hundred thousand kilometers away, circling the Earth for the same reason things fall to the ground, much of its mass once belonging to the Earth, lit up by the Sun, and causing the oceans to rise and fall as they follow its orbit.

At once I realized how crucial it was that this cherished knowledge of my place in the Cosmos was something I needed to give my son, Sagan.

Where You Are
Where You Are

For the following months, I’ve been editing and re-editing a power-point slide presentation that I hoped would serve as a children’s book guide to why we are here and what is our purpose in life according to our present scientific understanding of reality. I wanted to communicate, in the simplest terms the following four points:

1. Where You Are: on a planet some of us call Earth, orbiting a star that is the source of all energy on our planet, orbiting a galaxy full of stars, in a Cosmos full of galaxies.

2. How You Got Here: an unbroken chain of mommies who slowly changed over billions of years from a single cell to multi-cells, to worms, to fish, to lizards, to crawling mammals, to cultural mammals.

3. What You Are: a member of a communal species that lives all over the Earth and even in space, working together to increase knowledge and improve our quality of life.

4. Where You Are Going: as your parent, I’m going to try and raise you to be as smart and successful at life as myself, as my child, you’re going to try to be even smarter and more successful at life than me.

Of course, no children’s book alone can communicate such complex and sophisticated points, but I wanted to be prepared to start the dialogue. Superstitious people usually have one strong singular narrative about our origins and purpose to guide their children, as a scientist I need the same. This book is the outline of that strong singular narrative, which will grow larger and more complex as I expand on these core ideas and as Sagan’s neurons branch and branch away into the details of our shared reality.

It's Mommies All the Way Down
It’s Mommies All the Way Down

I’ve included the Power Point working file, so you can download it, replace my photo of Sagan with your own child/children. Even cooler though, you can edit the book in other ways. Try replacing the animal photos with your own favorites from flickr (just make sure they’re CC-licensed if you plan to post your own version of the book). Maybe you can add more pages to the book with your children, using the PPT as the starting point of a creative learning adventure.

Happy Secular Parenting!

Sagan is a Homo Sapiens
Sagan is a Homo Sapiens

Photo Credits

This book would not be possible for a design-challenged fool like myself without the generous efforts of these creative commons photographers, taxpayer-funded science programs, and a copyright that had the ability to expire once upon a time.

Cover

Page 4

Page 5

Page 3, 6 , 7, 8, 20

  • Photos by NASA

Page 9

  • Marie Curie, Ada Lovelace, Hypatia, Minerva, Nefertiti, and Woman from Brassempou in Public Domain

Page 10 – 11

Page 12

Page 13

Page 15

Page 18

  • Images by NHS Human Services

Page 21

Page 22

Page 23

Page 24

Welcome to Life
Welcome to Life

A Creative Commons Children’s Book for New Members of Species Homo Sapiens

4 Comments

  1. Great initiative! CC is making headways everywhere one looks, yay!

    Our university (Ghent Belgium) recently switched to a CC-BY-NC licence for *all* our out of copyrighted hi-res graphic material:

    http://adore.ugent.be/?language=en

    There are some true gems in there. (Like medieval manuscripts with ‘real’ dragons et c)

    (English page sadly still in dutch)

    One small niggle… Shouldn’t you also offer it in an open format (LibreOffice or Openoffice format)

    Comment by Rik — July 31, 2012 @ 5:03 am

  2. […] Welcome to Life, A Guide for New Members of Species Homo Sapiens – Ryan Somma (ideonexus) […]

    Pingback by Carnival of Evolution 50: The Teaching Edition « Teaching Biology — August 1, 2012 @ 9:19 am

  3. This is not meant to be an attack. These are honest questions that I have been thinking about for a while.

    How does a secular parent teach a child to be successful? What is the measure of success?

    Do you teach that cheating is a good thing, a bad thing, or a neutral tool? What about selfishness? I understand that sacrifice and charity are very adaptive from an evolutionary standpoint – for the species – and from a social standpoint necessary for the community – but not for the individual. Should success be defined by our own selfish interests? Is success being happy and thus should we each try to maximize our own happiness?

    It seems to me that so many people view success as having the most wealth and don’t give a darn for their fellow human beings. If we teach our children to be kind and share, are we setting them up for failure under the current rules of our society? Are we teaching them to be part of the 99% who will continue to be stepped on by the 1%?

    My parenting is for the most part done, but I wonder whether I did the right thing. I would not have felt good, personally, doing otherwise. Is that how we determine right and wrong? It seems that some people don’t feel disgust when they teach or practice that selfishness is good.

    Comment by Ileana DU — October 12, 2012 @ 6:12 pm

  4. Thank you for the thoughtful questions Ileana DU.

    We are new parents, and we want to raise our children to be civilized. I was raised by academics, two college professors, who taught me the joys of knowledge over materialism. As we move into the digital age, and our belongings (our books, movies, music, culture) all move into the digital world and knowledge is liberated and becomes more democratized, I think it will become easier to sell children on a world of simplicity as far as material goods and complexity in terms of exploring ideas. So, to some degree, they will have better odds of escaping the game altogether and find enjoyment in ideas rather than things.

    I realize this is idealistic, but it’s an ideal I feel gives leverage to the nerds and geeks. Especially when they organize online to make themselves heard as they did with the recent SOPA Day Blackout.

    I’m halfway through the novel Cloud Atlas, and crossed a passage tonight that really struck me. The characters live in a post-apocalyptic world and are debating whether civilized or barbaric people will be the ultimate winners at life. A wise woman explains that barbarians only know their immediate desires, while the civilized plan for the future. The barbarians eat their crop seed and enslave others, and the civilized plant crops and work cooperatively. She then explains that the world before the fall was run by barbarians (corporations) that used up the world and its people and then died themselves when there was nothing left to consume.

    I want my children on the side of civilization because that’s the only side that can ultimately survive. That being said, I also think it’s extremely important to raise civilized children because it feels good to be civilized. Helping others and contributing to society gives us a much deeper feeling of accomplishment than buying another car, house, or other material toy. There’s nothing wrong with making money, but if that’s all you want is to make money, then you will never be satisfied. Altruism is a human survival trait, it’s in our nature. It feels good to follow the behaviors that led our ancestors up from the savannahs out to the whole world.

    Selfish parents who raise selfish children, to my mind, are only perpetuating a miserable cycle of insatiability. So by my measure, you did the right thing to raise your children to share–even if it means they suffer some character-building economic hardships in life as a result. They will ultimately be happier for it with all the healthy relationships it brings and the deeper satisfaction they will get out of life.

    Comment by ideonexus — October 13, 2012 @ 12:29 am

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