Human History in Three Revolutions

Cognitive Revolution

 

The pace of biological evolution makes paint drying on a wall seem like NASCAR, so not a lot of noteworthy stuff occurs  until we arrive at anatomically modern humans in East Africa 200,000 years ago.

Although slowness still reigns, it picks up a bit 70,000 years ago when the Cognitive Revolution begins. This is one of three major revolutions that Yuval Noah Harari details in his comprehensive book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.

“The Cognitive Revolution is accordingly the point when history declared its independence from biology.  (…) From the Cognitive Revolution onwards, historical narratives replace biological theories as our primary means of explaining the development of Homo sapiens. To understand the rise of Christianity or the French Revolution, it is not enough to comprehend the interaction of genes, hormones and organisms. It is necessary to take into account the interaction of ideas, images and fantasies as well.”

Long before Christianity or the French Revolution came, the development of language itself and the radical expansion in our ability to think and communicate came. All of subsequent history is indebted to the gifts imparted by the Cognitive Revolution.  Continue reading

Overview of Esoterica

Delving into esoteric literature can be an overwhelming experience that prematurely sets off bullshit detectors which short-circuit one’s awareness of their own cognitive biases.

Curious enthusiasts (like yours truly) stumbling through this paradoxical maze of arcane terms, odd blabbering’s, and fantastical explanations need some sort of guide.

Johnathon Black’s The Secret History of the World is just such a guide.

This comprehensive narrative weaves together disparate strands of esoteric philosophy into something that lay folk can grok.

Black detours down the alleyways of esoterica, walking through the streets of Alchemy, Rosicrucianism, Swedenborg, Egypt and more, to let the reader admire their unique form and structure before merging back onto the main road they all use.  Continue reading

To WIT: Cultural Transformation

In keeping with the recent theme of long-term thinking and deep-time narratives, the cultural historian William Irwin Thompson (W.I.T.) sketches out a compelling mind-jazz mosaic in his article Natural Drift and the Evolution of Culture.

It provides a model for the Evolution of Consciousness over the past few million years. This is a notoriously tricky endeavor because, as Thompson writes:

“It is one thing to talk of the evolution of the small Ice Age horse shown on the walls of Lascaux to the modern long-legged race horse, but quite another to talk of the evolution of Renaissance perspectival painting into the abstract landscapes of Kandinksy and Pollack.”

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Progress Traps and Blind Spots

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Ronald Wright in his book A Short History of Progress explores how the progress that allows civilizations to grow often leads them into addictive traps that end in their collapse.

His definition of progress comes from Sidney Pollard who, back in 1968, described it as “the assumption that a pattern of change exists in the history of mankind … that it consists of irreversible changes in one direction only, and that this direction is toward improvement.”

This default assumption, so deeply ingrained in people’s thinking and ability to visualize futures, is an idea that’s only about 300 years old. Despite that,  it holds us tight.

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Debt and What We Owe

Origins of Debt

At the outset of Debt: The First 5,000 Years, anthropologist David Graeber explains that “this book is a history of debt.” Simple enough and, considering the title, quite obvious, but he continues by writing that it:

“uses that history as a way to ask fundamental questions about what human beings and human society are or could be like — what we actually do owe each other, what it even means to ask that question.”

In a wide-ranging analysis that weaves together anthropology, history and economics, Graeber looks at the origins of money, the origins of debt, deconstructs some of the myths surrounding both, and provides a 5,000+ year historical framework.

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How Childhood Can Disappear

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Childhood has been around forever, right?

That de-facto assumption was dismantled in the early 1980s by Neil Postman in his book The Disappearance of Childhood. “Childhood is a social artifact, not a biological category” Postman writes:

“In fact, if we take the word children to mean a special class of people somewhere between the ages of seven and, say, seventeen, requiring special forms of nurturing and protection, and believed to be qualitatively different from adults, then there is ample evidence that children have existed for less than four hundred years.”

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How to stay Positive when Freedom is Negative

In Medieval Europe the social world reflected the natural world in a grand yet rigid hierarchy. The psychological benefit of this was a deep sense of security and belonging. One had a fixed place inside a closed world, a world with closure where freedom as we know it didn’t really exist.

Neither did anxiety. Or at least it was kept to a minimum because, as Nietzsche wrote, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”

This was starting to change in Europe by the 14th century as the old-guard structure started to break up and the Commercial Revolution started to, well, start. This provides the economic groundwork for the emergence of Capitalism and a whole new psychological atmosphere.

The sense-of-closure that knit together the Medieval world unravels and all the loose strands swarm around the mind-of-the-land and the land-of-the-mind. “Freeeeeeedom…” reigns and it feels kind of constricting.

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Participating in Non-Participatory Consciousness

“The history of the West, according to both the sociologist and the poet, is the progressive removal of mind, or spirit, from phenomenal appearances”

“[The] major premise of this book is that because disenchantment is intrinsic to the scientific world view, the modern epoch contained, from its inception, an inherent instability that severely limited its ability to sustain itself for more than a few centuries.”

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Comfort, Solitude, and Why It Matters for Travel

Witold Rybczynksi was uncomfortable.

Uncomfortable with the fact that comfort was left out of his architectural education. It made no sense — but that didn’t stop them from charging far too many cents to get the diploma! Anyways that curious omission made him, well, curious and that curiosity (after killing the cat) sparked an interest and that interest grew into a book and that book charted the historical progression of one question: Continue reading

Book Review of Open Veins of Latin America

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There are some books that you read and some books that read you.

The latter kind come with demands. They say “listen listen…sit down, shut up, and pay attention”. After you check your punch to make sure it wasn’t spiked, you interrogate the book —“why are you talking to me?!” — and then, inevitably, end up sitting down, shutting up, and paying attention. Continue reading