This morning was wild. A dense, thick fog sat heavy on the ground which had visibility being at 30 metres max when I went for my run this morning. It had a real ‘Stranger Things’ vibe about it as everything was eerily illuminated by the passing car headlights. The near full moon was a soft glowing orb that appeared wise overlooking the strangeness below. 

This alien landscape can be easily explained by googling ‘what is fog’ but I often wondered what earlier people's explanations of such a phenomenon would have been. It could have been interpreted as a warning, or a sign. It could have symbolised the change of seasons or the perfect time to plant a particular type of vegetable. I have no idea but my new favourite book Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari has got me thinking about our evolution as a species.

70,000 years ago our ancestors were an insignificant animal just going about their business in their own little patch in Africa. We were no more important than a kangaroo or a kiwi. Homo (Man) Sapiens (Wise) were one of 6 different species of man. Some of our more famous cousins are Homo neanderthalensis or Neanderthals and Homo erectus or the ‘Upright man’ who survived close to 2 million years making them the most durable of humans.

There are lots of contributing factors that made Homo sapiens the most powerful species on the planet but the one that piqued my interest the most was gossip. Yep, good old fashioned ‘shit talking’ and the ability to tell a good yarn. Lots of animals can communicate with each other. There are many species that have particular calls to warn others of threats for example, however this primitive communication is based in reality. What you can see and hear. 

Between 70,000 and 30,000 ago we had the Cognitive Revolution. Primitive language, so pointing out the obvious like lion, river, tree, evolved into gossiping. As social animals it's super important that we know who is a jerk, who is sleeping with whom, who can be trusted and who can’t. Obtaining this reliable information gave homo sapiens the opportunity to form larger groups and more sophisticated types of cooperation. 

Other animals can form larger groups like insects for example. Their existence though is very linear. There is very little flexibility in how an ant colony is run for example. Worker Ants can’t rise up in revolt and demand a more democratic leadership team for example. Flexibility is the key to human success in larger groups.  

Gossip theory sounds pretty crazy but started us talking about things that weren’t ‘real’. What set sapiens apart from other species was our ability to talk about things we have never seen, touched or smelled. It’s believed that legends, myths, gods and religions appeared for the first time during the Cognitive Revolution. 

Being able to get a bunch of people to believe the same fictional story (religion 101) gave us new flexibility to work in huge groups together. Large scale human cooperation is rooted in the common myths that exist in peoples collective imaginations. Think religion, countries, government, the law, money, human rights and justice. None of these exist outside of the stories that people invent and tell each other.

Isn’t that wild. We’re so full of ourselves these days that it's humbling to remember that we were once just a trivial animal. Our ability to imagine things we have never seen and talk about them with each other is what set us apart and was the catalyst for our incredibly quick take over of planet Earth.

Video of the week
Why humans run the world | Yuval Noah Harari | TED
Podcast of the week
Armchair Anonymous: Stalking (Part 2)
Font of the week
MN-Octic: Font of the week by Masahiro Naruse

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