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The Agricultural Revolution. Domestication of plants and animals. Polytheistic religions. Invention of coinage — a universal money. Roman Empire in the Mediterranean. The Scientific Revolution. Humankind admits its ignorance and begins to acquire unprecedented power. Europeans begin to conquer America and the oceans. The entire planet becomes a single historical arena.
The rise of capitalism. The Industrial Revolution. Family and community are replaced by state and market. Massive extinction of plants and animals. Humans transcend the boundaries of planet Earth. Nuclear weapons The threaten the survival of humankind. Organisms are increasingly shaped Present by intelligent design rather than natural selection. The Intelligent design becomes the basic principle of life? Homo sapiens is Future replaced by superhumans? Part One The Cognitive Revolution 1. The story of these fundamental features of our universe is called physics.
About , years after their appearance, matter and energy started to coalesce into complex structures, called atoms, which then combined into molecules. The story of atoms, molecules and their interactions is called chemistry. About 3. The story of organisms is called biology. About 70, years ago, organisms belonging to the species Homo sapiens started to form even more elaborate structures called cultures. The subsequent development of these human cultures is called history.
Three important revolutions shaped the course of history: the Cognitive Revolution kick-started history about 70, years ago. The Agricultural Revolution sped it up about 12, years ago. The Scienti c Revolution, which got under way only years ago, may well end history and start something completely di erent. This book tells the story of how these three revolutions have affected humans and their fellow organisms. There were humans long before there was history. Animals much like modern humans rst appeared about 2. But for countless generations they did not stand out from the myriad other organisms with which they shared their habitats.
On a hike in East Africa 2 million years ago, you might well have encountered a familiar cast of human characters: anxious mothers cuddling their babies and clutches of carefree children playing in the mud; temperamental youths cha ng against the dictates of society and weary elders who just wanted to be left in peace; chest-thumping machos trying to impress the local beauty and wise old matriarchs who had already seen it all.
These archaic humans loved, played, formed close friendships and competed for status and power — but so did chimpanzees, baboons and elephants. There was nothing special about them. Nobody, least of all humans themselves, had any inkling that their descendants would one day walk on the moon, split the atom, fathom the genetic code and write history books. The most important thing to know about prehistoric humans is that they were insigni cant animals with no more impact on their environment than gorillas, fireflies or jellyfish.
Biologists classify organisms into species. Animals are said to belong to the same species if they tend to mate with each other, giving birth to fertile o spring. Horses and donkeys have a recent common ancestor and share many physical traits. But they show little sexual interest in one another. They will mate if induced to do so — but their o spring, called mules, are sterile. Mutations in donkey DNA can therefore never cross over to horses, or vice versa. The two types of animals are consequently considered two distinct species, moving along separate evolutionary paths.
By contrast, a bulldog and a spaniel may look very di erent, but they are members of the same species, sharing the same DNA pool.
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They will happily mate and their puppies will grow up to pair o with other dogs and produce more puppies. Lions, tigers, leopards and jaguars are di erent species within the genus Panthera. Biologists label organisms with a two-part Latin name, genus followed by species. Lions, for example, are called Panthera leo, the species leo of the genus Panthera. Presumably, everyone reading this book is a Homo sapiens — the species sapiens wise of the genus Homo man. Genera in their turn are grouped into families, such as the cats lions, cheetahs, house cats , the dogs wolves, foxes, jackals and the elephants elephants, mammoths, mastodons.
All members of a family trace their lineage back to a founding matriarch or patriarch. All cats, for example, from the smallest house kitten to the most ferocious lion, share a common feline ancestor who lived about 25 million years ago. Homo sapiens, too, belongs to a family. Homo sapiens long preferred to view itself as set apart from animals, an orphan bereft of family, lacking siblings or cousins, and most importantly, without parents. Like it or not, we are members of a large and particularly noisy family called the great apes.
Our closest living relatives include chimpanzees, gorillas and orang-utans. The chimpanzees are the closest. Just 6 million years ago, a single female ape had two daughters. One became the ancestor of all chimpanzees, the other is our own grandmother. Skeletons in the Closet Homo sapiens has kept hidden an even more disturbing secret. Not only do we possess an abundance of uncivilised cousins, once upon a time we had quite a few brothers and sisters as well. We are used to thinking about ourselves as the only humans, because for the last 10, years, our species has indeed been the only human species around.
Moreover, as we shall see in the last chapter of the book, in the not so distant future we might again have to contend with non- sapiens humans. Humans rst evolved in East Africa about 2. About 2 million years ago, some of these archaic men and women left their homeland to journey through and settle vast areas of North Africa, Europe and Asia. The result was several distinct species, to each of which scientists have assigned a pompous Latin name.
Our siblings, according to speculative reconstructions left to right : Homo rudolfensis East Africa ; Homo erectus East Asia ; and Homo neanderthalensis Europe and western Asia. All are humans. Neanderthals, bulkier and more muscular than us Sapiens, were well adapted to the cold climate of Ice Age western Eurasia.
This record is unlikely to be broken even by our own species. It is doubtful whether Homo sapiens will still be around a thousand years from now, so 2 million years is really out of our league. On another Indonesian island — the small island of Flores — archaic humans underwent a process of dwar ng. Humans rst reached Flores when the sea level was exceptionally low, and the island was easily accessible from the mainland. When the seas rose again, some people were trapped on the island, which was poor in resources. Big people, who need a lot of food, died rst. Smaller fellows survived much better.
Over the generations, the people of Flores became dwarves. This unique species, known by scientists as Homo oresiensis, reached a maximum height of only one metre and weighed no more than twenty- ve kilograms. In another lost sibling was rescued from oblivion, when scientists excavating the Denisova Cave in Siberia discovered a fossilised nger bone. Genetic analysis proved that the nger belonged to a previously unknown human species, which was named Homo denisova.
Who knows how many lost relatives of ours are waiting to be discovered in other caves, on other islands, and in other climes. While these humans were evolving in Europe and Asia, evolution in East Africa did not stop. The members of some of these species were massive and others were dwarves.
Some were fearsome hunters and others meek plant-gatherers. Some lived only on a single island, while many roamed over continents. But all of them belonged to the genus Homo. They were all human beings. This linear model gives the mistaken impression that at any particular moment only one type of human inhabited the earth, and that all earlier species were merely older models of ourselves.
And why not? Today there are many species of foxes, bears and pigs. The earth of a hundred millennia ago was walked by at least six di erent species of man. As we will shortly see, we Sapiens have good reasons to repress the memory of our siblings. The Cost of Thinking Despite their many di erences, all human species share several de ning characteristics. Most notably, humans have extraordinarily large brains compared to other animals. Mammals weighing sixty kilograms have an average brain size of cubic centimetres.
The earliest men and women, 2. Modern Sapiens sport a brain averaging 1,—1, cubic centimetres. Neanderthal brains were even bigger. That evolution should select for larger brains may seem to us like, well, a no- brainer. We are so enamoured of our high intelligence that we assume that when it comes to cerebral power, more must be better. But if that were the case, the feline family would also have produced cats who could do calculus.
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Why is genus Homo the only one in the entire animal kingdom to have come up with such massive thinking machines? The fact is that a jumbo brain is a jumbo drain on the body. By comparison, the brains of other apes require only 8 per cent of rest-time energy. Archaic humans paid for their large brains in two ways. Firstly, they spent more time in search of food. Secondly, their muscles atrophied. Like a government diverting money from defence to education, humans diverted energy from biceps to neurons.
Today our big brains pay o nicely, because we can produce cars and guns that enable us to move much faster than chimps, and shoot them from a safe distance instead of wrestling. But cars and guns are a recent phenomenon. For more than 2 million years, human neural networks kept growing and growing, but apart from some int knives and pointed sticks, humans had precious little to show for it.
What then drove forward the evolution of the massive human brain during those 2 million years? Another singular human trait is that we walk upright on two legs. The more things these hands could do, the more successful their owners were, so evolutionary pressure brought about an increasing concentration of nerves and nely tuned muscles in the palms and ngers. As a result, humans can perform very intricate tasks with their hands.
In particular, they can produce and use sophisticated tools. The rst evidence for tool production dates from about 2. Yet walking upright has its downside.
The skeleton of our primate ancestors developed for millions of years to support a creature that walked on all fours and had a relatively small head. Adjusting to an upright position was quite a challenge, especially when the sca olding had to support an extra-large cranium. Humankind paid for its lofty vision and industrious hands with backaches and sti necks.
Women paid extra. Death in childbirth became a major hazard for human females. Women who gave birth earlier, when the infants brain and head were still relatively small and supple, fared better and lived to have more children. Natural selection consequently favoured earlier births. And, indeed, compared to other animals, humans are born prematurely, when many of their vital systems are still under- developed. A colt can trot shortly after birth; a kitten leaves its mother to forage on its own when it is just a few weeks old. Human babies are helpless, dependent for many years on their elders for sustenance, protection and education.
Lone mothers could hardly forage enough food for their o spring and themselves with needy children in tow. Raising children required constant help from other family members and neighbours. It takes a tribe to raise a human.
Evolution thus favoured those capable of forming strong social ties. In addition, since humans are born underdeveloped, they can be educated and socialised to a far greater extent than any other animal. Most mammals emerge from the womb like glazed earthenware emerging from a kiln — any attempt at remoulding will scratch or break them.
Humans emerge from the womb like molten glass from a furnace. They can be spun, stretched and shaped with a surprising degree of freedom. It seems self-evident that these have made humankind the most powerful animal on earth. But humans enjoyed all of these advantages for a full 2 million years during which they remained weak and marginal creatures.
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Thus humans who lived a million years ago, despite their big brains and sharp stone tools, dwelt in constant fear of predators, rarely hunted large game, and subsisted mainly by gathering plants, scooping up insects, stalking small animals, and eating the carrion left behind by other more powerful carnivores. One of the most common uses of early stone tools was to crack open bones in order to get to the marrow. Some researchers believe this was our original niche. Just as woodpeckers specialise in extracting insects from the trunks of trees, the rst humans specialised in extracting marrow from bones.
Why marrow? Well, suppose you observe a pride of lions take down and devour a gira e. Only then would you and your band dare approach the carcass, look cautiously left and right — and dig into the edible tissue that remained. This is a key to understanding our history and psychology.
For millions of years, humans hunted smaller creatures and gathered what they could, all the while being hunted by larger predators. It was only , years ago that several species of man began to hunt large game on a regular basis, and only in the last , years — with the rise of Homo sapiens — that man jumped to the top of the food chain. That spectacular leap from the middle to the top had enormous consequences. Other animals at the top of the pyramid, such as lions and sharks, evolved into that position very gradually, over millions of years. This enabled the ecosystem to develop checks and balances that prevent lions and sharks from wreaking too much havoc.
As lions became deadlier, so gazelles evolved to run faster, hyenas to cooperate better, and rhinoceroses to be more bad-tempered. In contrast, humankind ascended to the top so quickly that the ecosystem was not given time to adjust. Moreover, humans themselves failed to adjust.
Most top predators of the planet are majestic creatures. Millions of years of dominion have lled them with self-con dence. Sapiens by contrast is more like a banana republic dictator. Having so recently been one of the underdogs of the savannah, we are full of fears and anxieties over our position, which makes us doubly cruel and dangerous. Many historical calamities, from deadly wars to ecological catastrophes, have resulted from this over-hasty jump. A Race of Cooks A signi cant step on the way to the top was the domestication of re. Some human species may have made occasional use of re as early as , years ago.
By about , years ago, Homo erectus, Neanderthals and the forefathers of Homo sapiens were using re on a daily basis. Humans now had a dependable source of light and warmth, and a deadly weapon against prowling lions. Not long afterwards, humans may even have started deliberately to torch their neighbourhoods.
A carefully managed re could turn impassable barren thickets into prime grasslands teeming with game. In addition, once the re died down, Stone Age entrepreneurs could walk through the smoking remains and harvest charcoaled animals, nuts and tubers. But the best thing re did was cook.
Foods that humans cannot digest in their natural forms — such as wheat, rice and potatoes — became staples of our diet thanks to cooking. Cooking killed germs and parasites that infested food. Humans also had a far easier time chewing and digesting old favourites such as fruits, nuts, insects and carrion if they were cooked. Whereas chimpanzees spend ve hours a day chewing raw food, a single hour suffices for people eating cooked food. The advent of cooking enabled humans to eat more kinds of food, to devote less time to eating, and to make do with smaller teeth and shorter intestines.
Some scholars believe there is a direct link between the advent of cooking, the shortening of the human intestinal track, and the growth of the human brain. By shortening the intestines and decreasing their energy consumption, cooking inadvertently opened the way to the jumbo brains of Neanderthals and Sapiens. The power of almost all animals depends on their bodies: the strength of their muscles, the size of their teeth, the breadth of their wings.
Though they may harness winds and currents, they are unable to control these natural forces, and are always constrained by their physical design. Yet eagles cannot control the location of the columns, and their maximum carrying capacity is strictly proportional to their wingspan. When humans domesticated re, they gained control of an obedient and potentially limitless force. Unlike eagles, humans could choose when and where to ignite a ame, and they were able to exploit re for any number of tasks. Most importantly, the power of fire was not limited by the form, structure or strength of the human body.
A single woman with a int or re stick could burn down an entire forest in a matter of hours. The domestication of re was a sign of things to come. They could now scare away lions, warm themselves during cold nights, and burn down the occasional forest. Yet counting all species together, there were still no more than perhaps a million humans living between the Indonesian archipelago and the Iberian peninsula, a mere blip on the ecological radar. Our own species, Homo sapiens, was already present on the world stage, but so far it was just minding its own business in a corner of Africa.
If one of them turned up in a modern morgue, the local pathologist would notice nothing peculiar. Thanks to the blessings of re, they had smaller teeth and jaws than their ancestors, whereas they had massive brains, equal in size to ours. Scientists also agree that about 70, years ago, Sapiens from East Africa spread into the Arabian peninsula, and from there they quickly overran the entire Eurasian landmass.
When Homo sapiens landed in Arabia, most of Eurasia was already settled by other humans. What happened to them? There are two con icting theories. As the African immigrants spread around the world, they bred with other human populations, and people today are the outcome of this interbreeding. These humans were more muscular than Sapiens, had larger brains, and were better adapted to cold climes. They used tools and re, were good hunters, and apparently took care of their sick and in rm.
According to the Interbreeding Theory, when Sapiens spread into Neanderthal lands, Sapiens bred with Neanderthals until the two populations merged. They are a mixture of Sapiens and Neanderthals. According to this theory, Sapiens and other humans had di erent anatomies, and most likely di erent mating habits and even body odours. They would have had little sexual interest in one another. And even if a Neanderthal Romeo and a Sapiens Juliet fell in love, they could not produce fertile children, because the genetic gulf separating the two populations was already unbridgeable.
The two populations remained completely distinct, and when the Neanderthals died out, or were killed o , their genes died with them. According to this view, Sapiens replaced all the previous human populations without merging with them. If that is the case, the lineages of all contemporary humans can be traced back, exclusively, to East Africa, 70, years ago. Map 1. Homo sapiens conquers the globe. A lot hinges on this debate. From an evolutionary perspective, 70, years is a relatively short interval. But if the Interbreeding Theory is right, there might well be genetic di erences between Africans, Europeans and Asians that go back hundreds of thousands of years.
This is political dynamite, which could provide material for explosive racial theories. In recent decades the Replacement Theory has been the common wisdom in the eld. But that ended in , when the results of a four-year e ort to map the Neanderthal genome were published.
Geneticists were able to collect enough intact Neanderthal DNA from fossils to make a broad comparison between it and the DNA of contemporary humans. The results stunned the scientific community. A second shock came several months later, when DNA extracted from the fossilised nger from Denisova was mapped. Although di erences between them were not large enough to completely prevent fertile intercourse, they were sufficient to make such contacts very rare. How then should we understand the biological relatedness of Sapiens, Neanderthals and Denisovans?
Clearly, they were not completely di erent species like horses and donkeys. On the other hand, they were not just di erent populations of the same species, like bulldogs and spaniels. Biological reality is not black and white. There are also important grey areas. Every two species that evolved from a common ancestor, such as horses and donkeys, were at one time just two populations of the same species, like bulldogs and spaniels. There must have been a point when the two populations were already quite di erent from one another, but still capable on rare occasions of having sex and producing fertile o spring.
Then another mutation severed this last connecting thread, and they went their separate evolutionary ways. It seems that about 50, years ago, Sapiens, Neanderthals and Denisovans were at that borderline point. They were almost, but not quite, entirely separate species. So the populations did not merge, but a few lucky Neanderthal genes did hitch a ride on the Sapiens Express.
It is unsettling — and perhaps thrilling — to think that we Sapiens could at one time have sex with an animal from a di erent species, and produce children together. A speculative reconstruction of a Neanderthal child. Genetic evidence hints that at least some Neanderthals may have had fair skin and hair. One possibility is that Homo sapiens drove them to extinction.
Imagine a Sapiens band reaching a Balkan valley where Neanderthals had lived for hundreds of thousands of years. Sapiens were more pro cient hunters and gatherers — thanks to better technology and superior social skills — so they multiplied and spread. The less resourceful Neanderthals found it increasingly di cult to feed themselves. Their population dwindled and they slowly died out, except perhaps for one or two members who joined their Sapiens neighbours.
Another possibility is that competition for resources ared up into violence and genocide. Tolerance is not a Sapiens trademark. In modern times, a small di erence in skin colour, dialect or religion has been enough to prompt one group of Sapiens to set about exterminating another group. Would ancient Sapiens have been more tolerant towards an entirely di erent human species? Imagine how things might have turned out had the Neanderthals or Denisovans survived alongside Homo sapiens. What kind of cultures, societies and political structures would have emerged in a world where several di erent human species coexisted?
How, for example, would religious faiths have unfolded? Would Neanderthals have been able to serve in the Roman legions, or in the sprawling bureaucracy of imperial China? Would the American Declaration of Independence hold as a self-evident truth that all members of the genus Homo are created equal? Would Karl Marx have urged workers of all species to unite?
Our lack of brothers and sisters makes it easier to imagine that we are the epitome of creation, and that a chasm separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. When Charles Darwin indicated that Homo sapiens was just another kind of animal, people were outraged. Even today many refuse to believe it. Had the Neanderthals survived, would we still imagine ourselves to be a creature apart? Perhaps this is exactly why our ancestors wiped out the Neanderthals.
They were too familiar to ignore, but too different to tolerate. Whether Sapiens are to blame or not, no sooner had they arrived at a new location than the native population became extinct. The last remains of Homo soloensis are dated to about 50, years ago. Homo denisova disappeared shortly thereafter. Neanderthals made their exit roughly 30, years ago. The last dwarf- like humans vanished from Flores Island about 12, years ago.
They left behind some bones, stone tools, a few genes in our DNA and a lot of unanswered questions. They also left behind us, Homo sapiens, the last human species. How did we manage to settle so rapidly in so many distant and ecologically di erent habitats? How did we push all other human species into oblivion? The debate continues to rage.
The most likely answer is the very thing that makes the debate possible: Homo sapiens conquered the world thanks above all to its unique language. In the intervening millennia, even though these archaic Sapiens looked just like us and their brains were as big as ours, they did not enjoy any marked advantage over other human species, did not produce particularly sophisticated tools, and did not accomplish any other special feats.
In fact, in the rst recorded encounter between Sapiens and Neanderthals, the Neanderthals won. About , years ago, some Sapiens groups migrated north to the Levant, which was Neanderthal territory, but failed to secure a rm footing. It might have been due to nasty natives, an inclement climate, or unfamiliar local parasites. Whatever the reason, the Sapiens eventually retreated, leaving the Neanderthals as masters of the Middle East. This poor record of achievement has led scholars to speculate that the internal structure of the brains of these Sapiens was probably di erent from ours.
They looked like us, but their cognitive abilities — learning, remembering, communicating — were far more limited. Teaching such an ancient Sapiens English, persuading him of the truth of Christian dogma, or getting him to understand the theory of evolution would probably have been hopeless undertakings. Conversely, we would have had a very hard time learning his language and understanding his way of thinking.
But then, beginning about 70, years ago, Homo sapiens started doing very special things. Around that date Sapiens bands left Africa for a second time. This time they drove the Neanderthals and all other human species not only from the Middle East, but from the face of the earth. Within a remarkably short period, Sapiens reached Europe and East Asia. About 45, years ago, they somehow crossed the open sea and landed in Australia — a continent hitherto untouched by humans.
The period from about 70, years ago to about 30, years ago witnessed the invention of boats, oil lamps, bows and arrows and needles essential for sewing warm clothing. They maintain that the people who drove the Neanderthals to extinction, settled Australia, and carved the Stadel lion-man were as intelligent, creative and sensitive as we are. If we were to come across the artists of the Stadel Cave, we could learn their language and they ours. The appearance of new ways of thinking and communicating, between 70, and 30, years ago, constitutes the Cognitive Revolution.
What caused it? The most commonly believed theory argues that accidental genetic mutations changed the inner wiring of the brains of Sapiens, enabling them to think in unprecedented ways and to communicate using an altogether new type of language. We might call it the Tree of Knowledge mutation. It was a matter of pure chance, as far as we can tell.
What was so special about the new Sapiens language that it enabled us to conquer the world? Every animal has some kind of language. Even insects, such as bees and ants, know how to communicate in sophisticated ways, informing one another of the whereabouts of food. Neither was it the rst vocal language. Many animals, including all ape and monkey species, have vocal languages.
For example, green monkeys use calls of various kinds to communicate. An eagle! A lion! When the same group heard a recording of the second call, the lion warning, they quickly scrambled up a tree. Sapiens can produce many more distinct sounds than green monkeys, but whales and elephants have equally impressive abilities. A parrot can say anything Albert Einstein could say, as well as mimicking the sounds of phones ringing, doors slamming and sirens wailing. What, then, is so special about our language? The most common answer is that our language is amazingly supple.
We can connect a limited number of sounds and signs to produce an in nite number of sentences, each with a distinct meaning. We can thereby ingest, store and communicate a prodigious amount of information about the surrounding world. She can then describe the exact location, including the di erent paths leading to the area. With this information, the members of her band can put their heads together and discuss whether they ought to approach the river in order to chase away the lion and hunt the bison.
A second theory agrees that our unique language evolved as a means of sharing information about the world. But the most important information that needed to be conveyed was about humans, not about lions and bison. Our language evolved as a way of gossiping. According to this theory Homo sapiens is primarily a social animal. Social cooperation is our key for survival and reproduction. It is not enough for individual men and women to know the whereabouts of lions and bison. The body is human, but the head is leonine.
This is one of the first indisputable examples of art, and probably of religion, and of the ability of the human mind to imagine things that do not really exist. The amount of information that one must obtain and store in order to track the ever-changing relationships of a few dozen individuals is staggering. In a band of fty individuals, there are 1, one-on-one relationships, and countless more complex social combinations. All apes show a keen interest in such social information, but they have trouble gossiping e ectively.
The new linguistic skills that modern Sapiens acquired about seventy millennia ago enabled them to gossip for hours on end. Reliable information about who could be trusted meant that small bands could expand into larger bands, and Sapiens could develop tighter and more sophisticated types of cooperation. Even today the vast majority of human communication — whether in the form of emails, phone calls or newspaper columns — is gossip. It comes so naturally to us that it seems as if our language evolved for this very purpose. Do you think that history professors chat about the reasons for World War One when they meet for lunch, or that nuclear physicists spend their co ee breaks at scienti c conferences talking about quarks?
But more often, they gossip about the professor who caught her husband cheating, or the quarrel between the head of the department and the dean, or the rumours that a colleague used his research funds to buy a Lexus. Gossip usually focuses on wrongdoings. Rumour-mongers are the original fourth estate, journalists who inform society about and thus protect it from cheats and freeloaders. Most likely, both the gossip theory and the there-is-a-lion-near-the-river theory are valid.
Yet the truly unique feature of our language is not its ability to transmit information about men and lions. As far as we know, only Sapiens can talk about entire kinds of entities that they have never seen, touched or smelled. Legends, myths, gods and religions appeared for the rst time with the Cognitive Revolution.
But why is it important? After all, ction can be dangerously misleading or distracting. People who go to the forest looking for fairies and unicorns would seem to have less chance of survival than people who go looking for mushrooms and deer. But ction has enabled us not merely to imagine things, but to do so collectively. We can weave common myths such as the biblical creation story, the Dreamtime myths of Aboriginal Australians, and the nationalist myths of modern states. Such myths give Sapiens the unprecedented ability to cooperate exibly in large numbers.
Ants and bees can also work together in huge numbers, but they do so in a very rigid manner and only with close relatives. Wolves and chimpanzees cooperate far more exibly than ants, but they can do so only with small numbers of other individuals that they know intimately. Sapiens can cooperate in extremely exible ways with countless numbers of strangers. The Legend of Peugeot Our chimpanzee cousins usually live in small troops of several dozen individuals.
They form close friendships, hunt together and ght shoulder to shoulder against baboons, cheetahs and enemy chimpanzees. Their social structure tends to be hierarchical. Other males and females exhibit their submission to the alpha male by bowing before him while making grunting sounds, not unlike human subjects kowtowing before a king. The alpha male strives to maintain social harmony within his troop. When two individuals ght, he will intervene and stop the violence. Less benevolently, he might monopolise particularly coveted foods and prevent lower-ranking males from mating with the females.
When two males are contesting the alpha position, they usually do so by forming extensive coalitions of supporters, both male and female, from within the group. Ties between coalition members are based on intimate daily contact — hugging, touching, kissing, grooming and mutual favours. Just as human politicians on election campaigns go around shaking hands and kissing babies, so aspirants to the top position in a chimpanzee group spend much time hugging, back-slapping and kissing baby chimps.
These coalitions play a central part not only during overt struggles for the alpha position, but in almost all day-to-day activities. Members of a coalition spend more time together, share food, and help one another in times of trouble. There are clear limits to the size of groups that can be formed and maintained in such a way. In order to function, all members of a group must know each other intimately. Two chimpanzees who have never met, never fought, and never engaged in mutual grooming will not know whether they can trust one another, whether it would be worthwhile to help one another, and which of them ranks higher.
Under natural conditions, a typical chimpanzee troop consists of about twenty to fty individuals. As the number of chimpanzees in a troop increases, the social order destabilises, eventually leading to a rupture and the formation of a new troop by some of the animals. Only in a handful of cases have zoologists observed groups larger than a hundred. Separate groups seldom cooperate, and tend to compete for territory and food. Humans, like chimps, have social instincts that enabled our ancestors to form friendships and hierarchies, and to hunt or ght together.
However, like the social instincts of chimps, those of humans were adapted only for small intimate groups. When the group grew too large, its social order destabilised and the band split. Even if a particularly fertile valley could feed archaic Sapiens, there was no way that so many strangers could live together.
How could they agree who should be leader, who should hunt where, or who should mate with whom? In the wake of the Cognitive Revolution, gossip helped Homo sapiens to form larger and more stable bands. But even gossip has its limits. Most people can neither intimately know, nor gossip e ectively about, more than human beings. Even today, a critical threshold in human organisations falls somewhere around this magic number. Below this threshold, communities, businesses, social networks and military units can maintain themselves based mainly on intimate acquaintance and rumour-mongering.
There is no need for formal ranks, titles and law books to keep order. A small family business can survive and ourish without a board of directors, a CEO or an accounting department. But once the threshold of individuals is crossed, things can no longer work that way.
You cannot run a division with thousands of soldiers the same way you run a platoon. Successful family businesses usually face a crisis when they grow larger and hire more personnel. If they cannot reinvent themselves, they go bust. How did Homo sapiens manage to cross this critical threshold, eventually founding cities comprising tens of thousands of inhabitants and empires ruling hundreds of millions? The secret was probably the appearance of ction.
Large numbers of strangers can cooperate successfully by believing in common myths. Any large-scale human cooperation — whether a modern state, a medieval church, an ancient city or an archaic tribe — is rooted in common myths that exist only in peoples collective imagination. Churches are rooted in common religious myths. Two Catholics who have never met can nevertheless go together on crusade or pool funds to build a hospital because they both believe that God was incarnated in human esh and allowed Himself to be cruci ed to redeem our sins.
States are rooted in common national myths. Two Serbs who have never met might risk their lives to save one another because both believe in the existence of the Serbian nation, the Serbian homeland and the Serbian ag. Judicial systems are rooted in common legal myths. Two lawyers who have never met can nevertheless combine e orts to defend a complete stranger because they both believe in the existence of laws, justice, human rights — and the money paid out in fees.
Yet none of these things exists outside the stories that people invent and tell one another. There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money, no human rights, no laws, and no justice outside the common imagination of human beings. What we fail to appreciate is that our modern institutions function on exactly the same basis. Take for example the world of business corporations. Modern business-people and lawyers are, in fact, powerful sorcerers. The principal di erence between them and tribal shamans is that modern lawyers tell far stranger tales.
The legend of Peugeot affords us a good example. An icon that somewhat resembles the Stadel lion-man appears today on cars, trucks and motorcycles from Paris to Sydney. Peugeot began as a small family business in the village of Valentigney, just kilometres from the Stadel Cave. Today the company employs about , people worldwide, most of whom are complete strangers to each other. These strangers cooperate so e ectively that in Peugeot produced more than 1. There are many Peugeot vehicles, but these are obviously not the company.
Even if every Peugeot in the world were simultaneously junked and sold for scrap metal, Peugeot SA would not disappear. It would continue to manufacture new cars and issue its annual report. The company owns factories, machinery and showrooms, and employs mechanics, accountants and secretaries, but all these together do not comprise Peugeot. Even then, the company could borrow money, hire new employees, build new factories and buy new machinery.
Peugeot has managers and shareholders, but neither do they constitute the company. All the managers could be dismissed and all its shares sold, but the company itself would remain intact. If a judge were to mandate the dissolution of the company, its factories would remain standing and its workers, accountants, managers and shareholders would continue to live — but Peugeot SA would immediately vanish. In short, Peugeot SA seems to have no essential connection to the physical world. Does it really exist? Peugeot is a gment of our collective imagination.
But it exists as a legal entity. Just like you or me, it is bound by the laws of the countries in which it operates. It can open a bank account and own property. It pays taxes, and it can be sued and even prosecuted separately from any of the people who own or work for it. Homo sapiens lived for untold millennia without them. If in thirteenth-century France Jean set up a wagon-manufacturing workshop, he himself was the business. If Jean had borrowed 1, gold coins to set up his workshop and the business failed, he would have had to repay the loan by selling his private property — his house, his cow, his land.
He might even have had to sell his children into servitude. He was fully liable, without limit, for all obligations incurred by his workshop. If you had lived back then, you would probably have thought twice before you opened an enterprise of your own. And indeed this legal situation discouraged entrepreneurship. People were afraid to start new businesses and take economic risks. It hardly seemed worth taking the chance that their families could end up utterly destitute.
This is why people began collectively to imagine the existence of limited liability companies. Such companies were legally independent of the people who set them up, or invested money in them, or managed them. Over the last few centuries such companies have become the main players in the economic arena, and we have grown so used to them that we forget they exist only in our imagination. Despite their having no real bodies, the American legal system treats corporations as legal persons, as if they were flesh-and-blood human beings.
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And so did the French legal system back in , when Armand Peugeot, who had inherited from his parents a metalworking shop that produced springs, saws and bicycles, decided to go into the automobile business. To that end, he set up a limited liability company. He named the company after himself, but it was independent of him. If one of the cars broke down, the buyer could sue Peugeot, but not Armand Peugeot. If the company borrowed millions of francs and then went bust, Armand Peugeot did not owe its creditors a single franc.
The loan, after all, had been given to Peugeot, the company, not to Armand Peugeot, the Homo sapiens. Armand Peugeot died in Peugeot, the company, is still alive and well. How exactly did Armand Peugeot, the man, create Peugeot, the company? It all revolved around telling stories, and convincing people to believe them. Seeing that the priest had properly and assiduously observed all the procedures, millions of devout French Catholics behaved as if God really existed in the consecrated bread and wine.
In the case of Peugeot SA the crucial story was the French legal code, as written by the French parliament. According to the French legislators, if a certi ed lawyer followed all the proper liturgy and rituals, wrote all the required spells and oaths on a wonderfully decorated piece of paper, and a xed his ornate signature to the bottom of the document, then hocus pocus — a new company was incorporated.
When in Armand Peugeot wanted to create his company, he paid a lawyer to go through all these sacred procedures. Once the lawyer had performed all the right rituals and pronounced all the necessary spells and oaths, millions of upright French citizens behaved as if the Peugeot company really existed. Telling e ective stories is not easy. The di culty lies not in telling the story, but in convincing everyone else to believe it. Much of history revolves around this question: how does one convince millions of people to believe particular stories about gods, or nations, or limited liability companies?
Yet when it succeeds, it gives Sapiens immense power, because it enables millions of strangers to cooperate and work towards common goals. Just try to imagine how di cult it would have been to create states, or churches, or legal systems if we could speak only about things that really exist, such as rivers, trees and lions. Over the years, people have woven an incredibly complex network of stories. Within this network, ctions such as Peugeot not only exist, but also accumulate immense power. An imagined reality is not a lie.
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I lie when I say that there is a lion near the river when I know perfectly well that there is no lion there. There is nothing special about lies. Green monkeys and chimpanzees can lie. This alarm conveniently frightened away a fellow monkey who had just found a banana, leaving the liar all alone to steal the prize for itself.
Unlike lying, an imagined reality is something that everyone believes in, and as long as this communal belief persists, the imagined reality exerts force in the world. The sculptor from the Stadel Cave may sincerely have believed in the existence of the lion-man guardian spirit. Most millionaires sincerely believe in the existence of money and limited liability companies. Most human- rights activists sincerely believe in the existence of human rights. No one was lying when, in , the UN demanded that the Libyan government respect the human rights of its citizens, even though the UN, Libya and human rights are all figments of our fertile imaginations.
Ever since the Cognitive Revolution, Sapiens has thus been living in a dual reality. On the one hand, the objective reality of rivers, trees and lions; and on the other hand, the imagined reality of gods, nations and corporations. As time went by, the imagined reality became ever more powerful, so that today the very survival of rivers, trees and lions depends on the grace of imagined entities such as gods, nations and corporations. Bypassing the Genome The ability to create an imagined reality out of words enabled large numbers of strangers to cooperate e ectively.
But it also did something more. Since large- scale human cooperation is based on myths, the way people cooperate can be altered by changing the myths — by telling di erent stories. Under the right circumstances myths can change rapidly. In the French population switched almost overnight from believing in the myth of the divine right of kings to believing in the myth of the sovereignty of the people. Consequently,ever since the Cognitive Revolution Homo sapiens has been able to revise its behaviour rapidly in accordance with changing needs.
This opened a fast lane of cultural evolution, bypassing the tra c jams of genetic evolution. Speeding down this fast lane, Homo sapiens soon far outstripped all other human and animal species in its ability to cooperate. The behaviour of other social animals is determined to a large extent by their genes. DNA is not an autocrat. Animal behaviour is also in uenced by environmental factors and individual quirks. Nevertheless, in a given environment, animals of the same species will tend to behave in a similar way. Signi cant changes in social behaviour cannot occur, in general, without genetic mutations.
For example, common chimpanzees have a genetic tendency to live in hierarchical groups headed by an alpha male. Members of a closely related chimpanzee species, bonobos, usually live in more egalitarian groups dominated by female alliances. Female common chimpanzees cannot take lessons from their bonobo relatives and stage a feminist revolution.
The essays are divided into three sections. The first comprises studies on Byzantine economy, shipping, road networks, production and trade from Late Antiquity down to the time of the Crusades. The studies in the second part discuss facets of the material culture and the lifestyle especially of the upper social strata in the Byzantine Empire, while those of the final section explore aspects of artistic creativity in the lands of the empire.
If you have personal access to this content, log in with your username and password here:. Glimpses of Byzantium in honour of Marlia Mundell Mango. Author: Tassos Papacostas , and Maria Parani. Description Table of Content PDF In recognition and celebration of the achievements of Marlia Maria Cordelia Mundell Mango as a researcher and as a teacher, twelve of her doctoral students offer her this volume of collected essays, showcasing recent research in Byzantine archaeology and material culture studies. Your Access Options.