C O U R S E L E C T U R E
How the Ability to Tell Stories Enabled Humans to Cooperate in Massive Groups
Notes taken on September 2, 2013 by Edward Tanguay
since large scale cooperation between sapiens is based on stories, the way that people cooperate and build their societies can be changed pretty quickly by changing the stories
1789 in France, in a short period of time, the people switched the story from the sovereign right of kings to the sovereign right of people
genetic evolution based on physical changes is very slow, cultural evolution based on changing stories is fast, a few years is sufficient for fundamental changes in human life and abilities. Ever since Homo sapiens have developed sophisticated language and thus the ability to organize themselves in very large groups, they have accelerated their cultural evolution and thus outstripped all other human and animal species in ability to cooperate and accumulate power
archaic humans and animals experience changes based on changes in DNA, not on cultural changes
two species of chimpanzees
live in hierarchical groups headed by a male
also live in small groups of several dozen societies, headed by an alliance of females
DNA is not an autocrat, but behavior is effected by many other factors
researchers put sweet potatoes on beach out for them, but there was sand in them, but then one female monkey found out how to wash it in the water, then others imitated her, then sixty years after this on the island of Kushima, monkeys still wash their food.
usually learned skills like this are rare and minor
chimpanzees cannot gather together and declare that the office of alpha male is abolished, their behavior is for the most part hard-wired in their DNA
society and tools remained exactly the same for 1.5 million years of their known existence
this goes against what usually occurs in evolution which is strong leaders passing relatively more genes to offspring, e.g. with an alpha male in a tribe
Popes and Buddhists didn't pass on genes, but ideas, stories which were then repeatedly told and passed on again
example: woman born in Berlin, Germany in 1900
lived under the Hohenzollern Dynasty, the Weimar Republic, the Third Reich, Communist East Germany, then Reunified Germany, five completely different societal structures in which she, or at least they, believed.
the ability to believe in stories as a group was an advantage over other human species
a group of Neanderthals would generally be able to beat a group of Homo sapiens in a brawl since they were generally larger and stronger, but if a conflict erupted between hundreds of Neanderthals and hundreds of Sapiens, then Neanderthals would be at a disadvantage since they could not cooperate in large numbers with hundreds of strangers.
Archeologists excavating Neanderthal sites have never found any evidence of trade, however sites of Sapiens from 30,000-40,000 years ago, there is evidence of trade with other bands, e.g. sea shells in the middle of the Europe, most likely used for trade.
if Sapiens were trading goods, they probably were also trading knowledge
Sapiens could hunt in very large bands, e.g. evidence of large herds of animals being trapped
Neanderthals could only hunt in small bands
and for similar reasons, 100 Sapiens were no match for five Neanderthals
even if Sapiens lost a conflict, they would be flexible to reinvent another stratagem for the next conflict
fictive language opened the way to the rapid innovation of social behavior
the ability to produce fictive language is also the dividing line between biology and history
up until the appearance of fictive language, you could explain the behavior of human beings much as you can explain the behavior of other animals, after that, we called the practice of explaining human behavior: history.
you have to take into account ideas, stories, religions to explain human behavior, and in so doing, biology turns into history
we have to construct historical narratives and not just biological models
e.g. how can you explain why the French Revolution happened
you have to approach this at the level of the stories that people invent and believe
what is true of the French Revolution is already true of events 40,000 and 50,000 years ago
the people who carved the Lion man of the Hohlenstein Stadel, the people who drove the Neanderthals to extinction, the people who settled Australia, already thought and felt like us and were as creative and innovative as us
Learned in this morning's History of Humanity class: "Fictive language opened the way to the rapid innovation of social behavior. Once social behavior is governed by stories, you can change it very quickly by changing the story."