Naledi and the Science of Imagination

What we don’t know for sure is left to the imagination, and this is the wonderful thing about science.

A few years ago, I was exploring the rolling golden hills of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site in South Africa, researching a story about hominids not far from the recent homo naledi discovery.

I remember sitting on the rocks by a quiet valley stream, and suddenly I was able to see with such remarkable clarity a human-like creature walk down to the cool water and take a drink.

The hominid was not physically there, but I was so caught up in the theories I had learned that I could imagine it.

The science had given me just enough information to formulate this scene, and the snapshot has remained in my mind.

It sometimes aches to imagine all the stories in the world up until today—the cultures that have come and gone, the peoples, their lives, loves, and their effect on the course of humanity. There is so much to know.

Some of these stories are recorded in books, or are told by word of mouth, or interpreted from scribblings on cave walls from thousands of years ago.

When we look further back in time—before the dawn of modern humans—the record becomes less clear.

Our thoughts drift above a great unfinished canvas that is painted as new discoveries are made.

The truth is we are all still learning. The scientists who uncover fossils are no clearer about the story than the rest of us are. Their findings allow us to link the main parts of our common human saga.

And the rest we fill with our imagination.

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