Mineralogists of a certain age may recognize the above exchange from the 1968 script of Planet of the Apes, a film that expertly parlayed the dread of humankind’s imminent demise into a blockbuster movie. In the famous closing shot, George Taylor—the astronaut played by Charlton Heston—curses humanity as he enters the Forbidden Zone and sees the Statue of Liberty buried chest-high in sand. “Oh, my God! I am back! I am home…You maniacs! You blew it up!” he exclaims when he realizes that his voyage has propelled him forward in time but not in space.

The question of what...

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