We don't really know for sure because we have nothing else to compare our own existence to, but it seems evident that if you wish to end up as a moderately advanced, thinking society, you need to be at the right end of a very long chain of outcomes involving reasonable periods of stability interspersed with just the right amount of stress and challenge (ice ages appear to be especially helpful in this regard) and marked by a total absence of real cataclysm. As we shall see in the pages that remain to us, we are very lucky to find ourselves in that position.
And on that note, let us now turn briefly to the elements that made us.
There are ninety-two naturally occurring elements on Earth, plus a further twenty or so that have been created in labs, but some of these we can immediately put to one side—as, in fact, chemists themselves tend to do. Not a few of our earthly chemicals are surprisingly little known. Astatine, for instance, is practically unstudied. It has a name and a place on the periodic table (next door to Marie Curie's polonium), but almost nothing else. The problem isn't scientific indifference, but rarity. There just isn't much astatine out there. The most elusive element of all, however, appears to be francium, which is so rare that it is thought that our entire planet may contain, at any given moment, fewer than twenty francium atoms. Altogether only about thirty of the naturally occurring elements are widespread on Earth, and barely half a dozen are of central importance to life.