The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity

Source: Wikipedia.

I have sometimes contended that the standard view of history is wrong. That view can be summarized: Intelligent apes in tiny clans learned to use tools, then they learned agriculture which necessitated the development of cities which in turn fostered civilizations which became empires that produced a complex global society.

The overall pattern is one of primitive humans evolving into an advanced or sophisticated species. As an alternative, I have proposed that there has been no essential human progress at all for at least 200,000 years.

That time period covers the known/estimated existence of homo sapiens, the current version of our species. Because the current specimen is biologically indistinguishable from the original homo sapiens, it has always seemed reasonable to me to conclude that the original was as intelligent and as culturally sophisticated as we imagine ourselves to be.

Now it appears that serious science offers some support for the radical notion I have occasionally promoted. One consequence — indeed, my original motive — is that we may begin to think about ancient religious texts differently. Instead of interpreting them as the secretions of primitive mentalities, perhaps we can begin to interpret them in their own way as works of science. This, I believe, would be a great advance.

16 thoughts on “The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity

          1. “It is obviously you.”

            No, by any reasonable definition of “progress” I could cite COUNTLESS ways that humankind has made “progress” since 200,000 years ago. Your proposal that there has been no progress in those 200,000 years is simply whacky. I was trying to be polite before when I said that “you must have a very strange definition of what progress means.”

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          2. The deserved response to my post would be to address it substantively, especially by reading the source article. As it is, you didn’t even notice that my comment on the deterministic view of history concerned “essential human progress,” not merely “progress” as you mischaracterize it.

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  1. Personally, I prefer the view of ancient South American Indians.

    They believed the universe was nothing more than “Something” looking at itself in a mirror, trying to figure out what It was.

    This tracks with the Buddhist belief that the only way you can understand something is to observe its opposite. e.g. You could never explain to a fish what it feels like to be “wet” because it has never experienced “dry.”

    The “Something” that existed before the universe decided to step back, to divide Itself so it could see what it was.

    They believed there would be seven iterations before Something could see Itself.
    1. It separated light from darkness, and it was good… but not enough
    2. It separated solid matter from the void, and it was good… but not enough
    3. It separated moving water from solid matter, and it was good… but not enough
    4. It separated living plants from moving water, and it was good… but not enough
    5. It separated feeling animals from living plants, and it was good… but not enough
    6. It separated thinking humans from feeling animals, and it was good… but still .. not enough
    7. ?

    What is the seventh iteration? Is it AI? Is it something capable of self awareness but not subject to death? Is that what the “Thing that looks at Itself in the mirror” is trying to create?

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  2. I don’t know if I’d go along with 200,000 years, there were still Neanderthals 40,000 years ago.

    But I don’t think we are any smarter than the ancient Romans.

    Evolution doesn’t stop. Type 1 diabetes is getting more common, because people with the disease live long enough now to reproduce. Evolution isn’t always for the better.

    We speak of survival of the fittest, but you have to be careful how you define fitness.

    Elephants have very few calves and care for them for years to ensure they survive to adulthood, oysters have millions of shoats of which a tiny percentage will survive to reproduce. From the standpoint of evolution both are successful strategies.

    We need to decide if we want to be elephants or oysters.

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    1. Interesting premise. We have managed through innovation to insulate ourselves from the natural world.

      All of our progress and ensuing technology is really just making our lives more tolerable and comfortable. At a cost, of course.

      Medical science has permitted what would have been natural rejects, to be blunt, to pass on DNA containing the same issues. Is this bad?

      No, not in the sense that longer less dangerous lives are individual successes that also allow for further innovations. That is, less time spent surviving and more time thinking and creating.

      Yet, the laws of physics and biology are not to be ignored or trifled with. Pandemic anyone? Chemical persistence in the environment?

      I am not advocating more Darwinian approaches. We have already made irreversible choices based on empathetic drives and economic realities. No, I am just making an observation that may or may not be the key to our long term survival. Cockroaches have around successfully for 100’s of millions of years. Humans maybe a few 100 thousand. This survival is probably ensured because the roach adheres to the “Rule of Law”. And, for its position in the natural hierarchy, the lowly bug may be perfection.

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    2. RE: “I don’t know if I’d go along with 200,000 years, there were still Neanderthals 40,000 years ago.”

      That’s just for homo sapiens. I believe total human evolution spans several million years.

      RE: “We need to decide if we want to be elephants or oysters.”

      I think you are on to something. One of the recurring themes in discussions of the book is the question of freedom. The authors propose that human history illustrates “three basic forms of social freedom, which they argue were once common: the freedom to escape one’s surroundings and move away, the freedom to disobey arbitrary authority, and the freedom to reimagine and reconstruct one’s society in a different form.”

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      1. “ “three basic forms of social freedom, which they argue were once common…”

        They are still common, more so than ever, I think.

        To survive we need food, water and shelter. No matter our lofty achievements, those won’t change any time soon.

        So the freedoms listed are still dependent on the ability to survive. Which today is easier than it was 1000 years or more ago. Particularly in Western democracies.

        BTW the freedom to escape our surroundings works well within many nations. But we don’t cotton much to it when that freedom is exercised by refugees among nations.

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      2. RE: “To survive we need food, water and shelter. No matter our lofty achievements, those won’t change any time soon.”

        I’d emphasize that humanity obviously has always enjoyed an adequate abundance of those necessities.

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        1. “… has always enjoyed an adequate abundance…”

          Depending on where you were, perhaps. Distribution of food and water are as important as abundance.

          Our own Southwest may have issues since the drain on water resources is outstripping the distribution. Droughts and ensuing famine have brought down civilizations in the past. Less likely today due to transportation and refrigeration. Still, look at Syria. Civil war ostensibly brought on by drought and bread prices. Civil war that has accelerated the refugee problems, mostly, but not exclusively, in Europe. The “freedom” to move is not readily available to millions. As are the freedom to change authority or disobey it due to hyper violent weaponry and brutal regimes.

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