What was Before Before?

What do you do on a typical day?

I work on Lazoolo, a brand new company that helps kids realize they can make anything they want in life. I do lots of different things to try to make this company successful. Right now, I’m designing a new construction toy (like LEGOs) that lets kids build cool things and then program them so that they can move, sense, and respond, like many things in the real world do.

What’s one thing that made you curious as a kid?

I was always curious about what came before now. Before now, I was a kid. Before I was born, my parents were kids. Before they were born, my grandparents were kids. How far back does that go? What was before before before before before?

What did you do to satisfy that curiosity (as a kid and as you grew up)?

As a young kid, I would often just sit and ask myself “what was before?” and every time I came up with an answer, I would just ask the question again, “but what was before that?” I remember that if I asked it enough times, my whole body would feel like it was floating. I can still get that feeling if I find the time to sit quietly enough to ask that same question.

As I got older, I found that lots of people study this exact question from many different perspectives: evolutionary biologists, physicists, and spiritual practitioners. Each tries to answer different aspects of the question “what was before?” For now, I’ll focus on evolutionary biology.

Evolutionary biology is the study of the relationships between all things that have ever lived. Most scientists today believe that every living plant and animal that we know are related– like very distint cousins. Amazingly, that means that if you pick any two animals today, they share a common ancestor; rewind time way, way back and you’d be able to meet an animal that was a great, great, great, (…lots of greats) grandparent of those two animals today. It might not look much like either of today’s animals, but it will share some common characteristics of both.

For example, humans and sharks are related. See a shark on TV or at your local aquarium, and you can say “hi, cousin”. When scientists find ancient bones from an animal that lived long ago, they try to make their best guesses about whose ancestor that animal was– how it’s related to today’s animals. Ancient shark bones share many similarities with modern human bones: we both have two eye sockets (unlike bees), we both have a hinged jaw (unlike seahorses), and spinal columns (unlike worms).

For an amazing tool that kids and parents can explore together, check out the Nova Evolution Lab and click on “Deep Tree.”  At the bottom of the screen, turn “Relate” ON and then you can type in any two organisms (living or extinct) to see how they’re related.    I typed in “Humans” and “Great White Shark” then clicked the search icon and the tree zoomed me in to the nearest common ancestor of the two.  Click, zoom, and scroll around to learn more about how all living things are related.

Nova Evolution Lab comparing Humans to Great White Sharks

Nova Evolution Lab comparing Humans to Great White Sharks

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