Sapiens -- A Brief History of Human Kind

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Re: Sapiens -- A Brief History of Human Kind

Post by Scrubby » Sun Mar 08, 2015 7:59 am

There is never abundant food over time. If you look at carnivores they seldom fight each other directly, but they mark territories and defend them against intruders. If there is a fight it will be over quickly. The losing part will withdraw and try to find another territory. If it doesn't it will starve to death instead of being killed. If there had been abundant food the population would have increased quickly until there wasn't.

Agriculture makes the game completely different. The amount of food will increase with the amount of work, and the amount of work being done increases with the amount of workers. After a while there is little free arable land left, and the only way to get more is to fight for it. Going back is no option because there is no way it can provide enough food for everyone. In fact, humans and our livestock is more than 95% of the biomass of all land based vertebrates. I saw this number first in a TED talk and verified that it's fairly accurate on my own, but I don't have the references.

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Re: Sapiens -- A Brief History of Human Kind

Post by George the original one » Sun Mar 08, 2015 10:37 pm

Pacific Northwest natives were hunter-gatherers. However, the various tribes were often warring with their neighbors. Slavery, territory, prestige, potlatch, etc. Agriculture was pretty much unknown to them; plenty of salmon in the rivers, a bunch of not so tasty plants growing everywhere.

So... I don't really buy the argument that hunter-gatherers were peaceful. Local evidence points the other way. Read Franchere's journal (he was on the expedition that founded Fort Astoria) for some insight. (http://www.amazon.com/Eyewitness-Astori ... 097253153X)

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Re: Sapiens -- A Brief History of Human Kind

Post by theanimal » Mon Mar 09, 2015 11:45 am

Scrubby wrote:There is never abundant food over time. If you look at carnivores they seldom fight each other directly, but they mark territories and defend them against intruders. If there is a fight it will be over quickly. The losing part will withdraw and try to find another territory. If it doesn't it will starve to death instead of being killed. If there had been abundant food the population would have increased quickly until there wasn't.
Humans are omnivores, not carnivores. There wasn't abundant food in one area, rather over a large expanse. Thus the need for groups/bands to be on the move. Being continually on the move does not lend itself well to large populations, both in terms of food and child rearing. Young children are not able to travel on their own, adults have to carry them. Without milk from animals or infant formula, youth had to be weaned until around 6 years old. Both of these resulted in offspring being reproduced every 4-6 years, instead of what you see today. Infant death rates were also much higher. The growth rate for humans pre-agriculture was around 0.005%. Meaning the population doubles every 250,000 years. Ponder these numbers..Population density of earth for hunter-gatherers (based off 3 mil people)=0.05 per sq mile. Today? 130 people per sq mile. The world was a completely different place than what we see today.

George the original one wrote:Pacific Northwest natives were hunter-gatherers. However, the various tribes were often warring with their neighbors. Slavery, territory, prestige, potlatch, etc. Agriculture was pretty much unknown to them; plenty of salmon in the rivers, a bunch of not so tasty plants growing everywhere.
George-The PNW natives, like the natives up the coast in SE Alaska, weren't really hunter-gatherers in the traditional sense. Because of the plentiful salmon runs and varied ocean life it made much more sense to settle by the rivers and ocean for extended periods of time, instead of being constantly on the move.

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Re: Sapiens -- A Brief History of Human Kind

Post by George the original one » Mon Mar 09, 2015 1:28 pm

I think, then, the description you should use is nomad rather hunter-gatherer.

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Re: Sapiens -- A Brief History of Human Kind

Post by theanimal » Mon Mar 09, 2015 1:32 pm

George the original one wrote:I think, then, the description you should use is nomad rather hunter-gatherer.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunter-gatherer ;)
A hunter-gatherer or forager society is a nomadic society in which most or all food is obtained from wild plants and animals, in contrast to agricultural societies, which rely mainly on domesticated species.

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Re: Sapiens -- A Brief History of Human Kind

Post by George the original one » Mon Mar 09, 2015 1:43 pm

"Hunter-gatherers tend to have an egalitarian social ethos, although settled hunter-gatherers (for example, those inhabiting the Northwest Coast of North America) are an exception to this rule. Nearly all African hunter-gatherers are egalitarian, with women roughly as influential and powerful as men."

LOL, yeah, so PNW natives are an exception.

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Re: Sapiens -- A Brief History of Human Kind

Post by jennypenny » Thu Mar 19, 2015 6:24 pm

That was great. And now I'm horribly depressed.

From a technical standpoint, he's a terrific writer. It's clear and detailed and doesn't feel dumbed down at all, yet my 12yo would be able to read and understand almost all of it. I appreciate that he didn't hedge on his arguments or positions. He treated all of the subjects fairly, and avoided condemning humans even when describing some of the low points in our history.

There's so much in that book that I could talk about it for hours. I just wouldn't know where to start.

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Re: Sapiens -- A Brief History of Human Kind

Post by Dragline » Thu Mar 19, 2015 9:10 pm

Well, the weakness in any well-written thing is always in the unstated assumptions upon which it is based. Harari goes to great pains to characterize every abstract creation or narrative as "myth" -- his label, without even pausing to tell us why he picked a pejorative word "myth" (meaning "not real") instead of the natural and neutral alternative, "narrative", which could be true, false or incapable of testing in the Popperian sense. In effect, he seems to be saying that anything not perceivable by a turtle is not real.

In that regard, his major problem is he never deals with the perception problem that philosophers have grappled with endlessly -- that is, are we even capable of perceiving everything there is to perceive? The answer is "certainly not" -- given that even other animals can perceive things that humans cannot (not to mention endless neurological experiments), but nevertheless does not turn these things into "myths". Thus, most of latter-day theoretical science is devoted to building machines to perceive things that we cannot. But the same age-old questions remain -- now presented as conjectures in scientific lectures. Watch this starting at about 45:00 to see what I mean: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNgY9XHEFM8

Can we assume we will ever be able to perceive everything there is to perceive? Or invent machines that can? Seems like a pretty vain and unsupported assumption. Harari never addresses it, but implicitly assumes it to be true. He should have read some Karl Jaspers.

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Re: Sapiens -- A Brief History of Human Kind

Post by Ego » Fri Mar 20, 2015 12:28 am

jennypenny wrote: There's so much in that book that I could talk about it for hours. I just wouldn't know where to start.
We've had several long driving days where we've spent the entire time in a long meandering conversation about one of his topics.

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Re: Sapiens -- A Brief History of Human Kind

Post by Ego » Fri Mar 20, 2015 12:37 am

Dragline wrote:
In that regard, his major problem is he never deals with the perception problem that philosophers have grappled with endlessly -- that is, are we even capable of perceiving everything there is to perceive? The answer is "certainly not" -- given that even other animals can perceive things that humans cannot (not to mention endless neurological experiments), but nevertheless does not turn these things into "myths".
They are myths precisely because the creators of the myths claim to perceive more than is perceivable. Also, the fact that the results of their expanded perceptions are varied and mutually exclusive doesn't help their cause.

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Re: Sapiens -- A Brief History of Human Kind

Post by Dragline » Fri Mar 20, 2015 7:27 am

Unfortunately, that's not the sense of definition that Harari uses the word, "myth". Rather, he contends that every abstraction is a myth, including nations, corporations, money, law, literature, numbers, logic and anything else that another animal or primate, say a chimp, would not have any understanding or use for. Logically, this ends up getting you to Reductio Ad Absurdum, or perhaps something along the lines of "I think therefore I am not."

Critically, his usage of "myth" does not comport with standard definitions of that word, and is therefore merely a disguised form of argumentation that is popular on TV news and political websites (the labeling exercise), but is really beneath an academic historian. It's essentially the Vizzini trap ("You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3sLhnDJJn0

It was a deep flaw in the book that detracted from the very interesting and useful models he presents.

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Re: Sapiens -- A Brief History of Human Kind

Post by jennypenny » Fri Mar 20, 2015 8:43 am

I agree that where Harari strays is in his presumption that all human constructs are, by nature, fictitious. In an interview with NPR, he even refers to them as fictions ... "We control the world basically because we are the only animals that can cooperate flexibly in very large numbers. And if you examine any large-scale human cooperation, you will always find that it is based on some fiction like the nation, like money, like human rights. These are all things that do not exist objectively, but they exist only in the stories that we tell and that we spread around. This is something very unique to us, perhaps the most unique feature of our species." I would argue that such contructs can exist objectively. The difference between the 'myth' of capitalism compared to a concept like gravity is that the objective definition is only valid at the moment it is defined.

I didn't take exception to his use of the word myth, although I agree that he should have defined it since it was an integral part of the book. I assumed he was using the term as it is traditionally used in Judaism and Jewish philosophy. IIRC (I'm pushing the envelope of my knowledge in this area), a 'myth' is a retelling of events with a meaning ascribed to them. It's a way to convey an idea or event so that the underlying meaning or 'truth' is evident. A scientist may observe the actions of an ant and a grasshopper, but the 'story of the ant and the grasshopper' (a myth in that sense) conveys the 'truth' to be learned from the story. The validity of any or all of the facts used in the myth is almost inconsequential.

Using that definition, I didn't think that Harari was disguising his argument. I thought he was arguing that all meaning is fictitious, and that the only 'truth' that is valid is the truth than can be gleaned from the physical world. I couldn't disagree more. Harari, like other social scientists we've read, is trying to apply the methods used in the natural sciences to the social sciences. While useful, it has its limitations.
Last edited by jennypenny on Fri Mar 20, 2015 9:01 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Sapiens -- A Brief History of Human Kind

Post by Ego » Fri Mar 20, 2015 8:58 am

@dragline, DW hated it too.

I liked the idea that he was looking at the modern world from the perspective of a hunter-gatherer. His argument (presumption?) that these "imagined entities" would simply disappear if we were to stop collectively believing in them was interesting to me.

Perhaps the definition of a word (myth) is an imagined entity and Vizzini's demand that it be used as he determines appropriate says more about Vizzini than it does about the little guy with the lisp. Conceivable?

*I can't watch videos right now but I assume that link goes where I think it goes.

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Re: Sapiens -- A Brief History of Human Kind

Post by Ego » Fri Mar 20, 2015 9:10 am

jennypenny wrote: Using that definition, I didn't think that Harari was disguising his argument. I thought he was arguing that all meaning is fictitious, and that the only 'truth' that is valid is the truth than can be gleaned from the physical world. I couldn't disagree more. Harari, like other social scientists we've read, is trying to apply the methods used in the natural sciences to the social sciences. While useful, it has its limitations.
I thought he was distinguishing between types of entities, not ruling out non-physical truth. He mentioned the far end of the scale, the fact that we can imagine entities that have never and will never exist.

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Re: Sapiens -- A Brief History of Human Kind

Post by jacob » Fri Mar 20, 2015 9:14 am

Dragline wrote:Unfortunately, that's not the sense of definition that Harari uses the word, "myth". Rather, he contends that every abstraction is a myth, including nations, corporations, money, law, literature, numbers, logic and anything else that another animal or primate, say a chimp, would not have any understanding or use for.
I'm currently reading the book but I haven't gotten to the myth part yet. However, using the word "myth" is not uncommon in works that describe humans from 50,000', so he's just following tradition. It means the same as narrative, story, concept, idea, ...

Check out: http://www.amazon.com/The-Universe-Stor ... 0062508350

I suppose the idea is to create some distance between what is naively taken as "fact" or "truth" (as in "common sense" truthiness), e.g. my country, my religion, my science, ... is simply just the equivalent of a myth to someone who hasn't been born or converted into it.

Also see, the word "retirement" ...

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Re: Sapiens -- A Brief History of Human Kind

Post by Dragline » Fri Mar 20, 2015 10:29 am

Ego wrote:@dragline, DW hated it too.

I liked the idea that he was looking at the modern world from the perspective of a hunter-gatherer. His argument (presumption?) that these "imagined entities" would simply disappear if we were to stop collectively believing in them was interesting to me.

Perhaps the definition of a word (myth) is an imagined entity and Vizzini's demand that it be used as he determines appropriate says more about Vizzini than it does about the little guy with the lisp. Conceivable?

*I can't watch videos right now but I assume that link goes where I think it goes.
Ah, but Vizzini IS the little guy with the lisp. The other guy is the swordsman, Inego Montoya.

I agree that the model is useful, especially the concept of inter-subjectivity as related to the objective and individual subjective. But labelling things like corporations, nations and money as purely imagined or mythical, as opposed to inter-subjective, was not really helpful and seemed more directed at an agenda to me.

His definition of "objective" as "exists independently of human consciousness or beliefs" also begs the question as to how to measure the objective (e.g., if a non-human animal perceives it, is that objective?), which turns back to those ancient philosophical questions on the limits of perception (human or otherwise) that kind of get swept under the rug.

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Re: Sapiens -- A Brief History of Human Kind

Post by Ego » Fri Mar 20, 2015 11:55 pm

Dragline wrote:
Ah, but Vizzini IS the little guy with the lisp. The other guy is the swordsman, Inego Montoya.
Ha ha ha.... I felt an itch in the back of my head that something was wrong with that.

I had a long conversation last night with a kid who is trying to travel using bitcoin as much as possible. In a roundabout way he made the same points Harari made wrt currency, national borders and law. As he was speaking I was thinking that the only way for things to change is that those who hold fast to their fixed view of the world must leave the stage and be replaced by those who hold a different view. I wondered if that will happen in this case or if he'll shed his beliefs as he gets older.

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Re: Sapiens -- A Brief History of Human Kind

Post by Dragline » Sat Mar 21, 2015 7:00 am

That's exactly what Harari says -- widely held abstract narratives never just "disappear", but need to be replaced by other abstract narratives. This was another one of those ideas I thought was powerful because its the same one I have seen in other contexts.

For example, I'm pretty convinced from reading books about generational theory that its not a question of people actually changing their minds, but just people dying off and being replaced by others that hold different beliefs. This holds even for those who consider themselves the most skeptical/analytical. As Max Planck said: "A scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it." Classic example: Tyco Brahe never accepted the Coperican model of the universe. But he was kind of an ass, and eventually got drunk and died of urinary complications, only to be replaced by his student, Kepler, who did.

As current popular examples, one might point to how quickly things have changed in the US on attitudes towards marijuana and gay marriage. Check out what this analysis said about gay marriage in 2004 -- older people (GIs and Silents) were very opposed: http://assets.aarp.org/rgcenter/general ... lues.pdfIs Since 2004, GIs are now essentially all dead and Silents are dying. And boom, all of the sudden its like flood gates opened up and things rapidly changed without too many individuals really "changing their mind".

If this survey is correct, I wouldn't be surprised to suddenly see similar changes in gun-related attitudes/laws in the next 5 or 10 years: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015/03/10/ma ... cord-lows/

"Only 14 percent of adults under age 35, but 31 percent of those over age 65, say they personally own a gun. That gap has increased over time — in 1980, younger adults were only slightly less likely than older ones to report that they owned a gun."

Note that the same is not true with respect to climate change, where the older and younger generations do not differ that much: http://environment.yale.edu/climate-com ... an2010.pdf

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Re: Sapiens -- A Brief History of Human Kind

Post by jacob » Thu Mar 26, 2015 10:56 am


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Re: Sapiens -- A Brief History of Human Kind

Post by theanimal » Thu Mar 26, 2015 9:01 pm

It looks like instead of 100 things, minimalists should be shooting for under about 25 pounds. :lol:

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