In order to understand our behavior, it is important to understand how we evolved, the various evolutions humanity has been through, and our various cultures, peoples and how this fit into our history. It’s difficult to do justice to this 443-page book on our evolution, but here is my attempt to describe what resonated with me. I’ll go through our evolution in chronological order.
Migrating out of Africa
There have been three major revolutions during human history, the cognitive, agricultural and scientific revolution.
A man can be convinced to die to fight for his nation for the promise of heaven; a monkey cannot be.
We initially attempted to migrate out of Africa but failed, 100,000 years ago. About 70,000 years later, we tried again and succeeded. This success was due to the advancement created by the Cognitive Revolution. The hallmark of the cognitive revolution was the invention of language, which allowed us to invent many tools, and live in groups with hierarchies. The author describes the main use of language: to gossip and to develop myths. It is interesting that our early use of language was to discuss things, gossip, and create a shared culture through story-telling and creating myths. This strengthened the bonds among tribes and allowed them to traverse to different lands.
The author goes on to describe the various myths we share today, the belief in nation states, in companies, the stock market, the currency etc. Although these are more advanced forms of the myths we shared as primitive tribes, they are nonetheless very similar to the primitive dynamics.
During our early migration out of Africa, we lived in hunter-gatherer societies. Not much is known about these ancient societies. What little we know helps us understand our evolution, where we are today. Some of these primitive tribes landed in Australia, wreaking havoc on its ecosystem, burning of forests and destroying ecosystems and species. Other tribes settled in America, via Siberia, they were aided by global warming which melted glaciers that blocked the way to Alaska. Within 2,00 years Sapiens reached the southernmost point in America. Fossils repeatedly point to many animal disappearances when Sapiens entered the ecosystem. The same story has been repeated on island after island.
The Human Species is the Deadliest Species to Enter the Ecosystem
The Agricultural Revolution
Independently, many tribes started domesticating crops. Wheat spread everywhere. Farming allowed humans to spread more rapidly. It wasn’t easy to be a farmer during the agricultural revolution but it helped humans. As humans started settling more land and farming, it became a necessity to support the growing population. With permanent settlements around farms, women had the ability to have more kids, and small settlements grew. Yuval describes the life of animal farms during this time and how they were treated brutally compared to their life in the wild. With the agricultural revolution, the food surplus created small hierarchies and rulers, as systems needed to be developed to control the food intake and distribution.
Empires and kingdoms started to form, this generated huge amounts of information, and the written system was developed. Initial writing was used for record keeping, as societies invested in cataloging information. At this time the barter system was developed.
Empires and Religions
Empires started forming, think ancient China, the Roman empire etc. These empires conquered new territories and forced everyone to adopt a single culture, with a single set of beliefs. Over time, the empires disappeared but their beliefs stayed with the people in the art, the writing, religion etc.
Along with money, which was developed to move away from a barter system. Religion and empires unified mankind. Yuval goes into describing various religions and their histories and influence.
The Scientific Revolution and Capitalism
As European empires grew, the scientific mindset developed as small European societies attempted to sail to different parts of the world. Over time this lead to the invention of the steam engine and electricity. Production and consumerism formed to consume the increase in production. Initially, we had the industrial revolution, and today we have the market and capitalism.
This book dives into many ancient societies and how they formed: European history, ancient Chinese dynasties and their influence on Asia, middle eastern empires and their influence etc. Yuval describes a lot more developments in our history, that I don’t have room to dive into here.