Dr. Emi Garzitto
Plight of Early Adaptors
We survived by telling stories.
We survived by creating lies.
We arrive on this small blue planet very late. This massive interconnected ecosystem took over 4.5 billion years to build and we arrived to the party a mere 200,000 years ago.
Our ancestors are about 2 million years old. In the beginning there was some monkey/being hungry enough, reckless enough, determined enough to climb out of a tree and seek another tree. There is a problem. In order to get there, he or she had to saunter in an empty space, exposing themself to great risk. He or she had to manoeuvre in a way their bones did not yet support. They had to find a time and a place or maybe an impulse and make a run for it to get to that far away tree that would offer more protection, more food, or more something.
I doubt that first monkey/being made it but others who had seen the courage or the idea or the excitement or the something dared to make a try. And one more monkey/being decided to venture into danger and eventually someone made it and eventually there were more.
In the beginning our hip sockets faced sideways — good for climbing trees but bad for navigating long periods of empty space. Over time Homo Sapiens developed different structures that favoured a straight line. Our hip sockets faced forward, favouring upright forward moment — Bad for climbing but awesome for navigating long periods of empty space.
It is the change of this hip socket that defines our species.
When we were first Homo Sapiens out on the Savannahs in East Africa no one would have guessed that we would one day be first on the global food chain. We were not the strongest. We could not run the fastest and we were not terrific at hiding. We are unlikely kings and queens of any jungle, turf or terrain and no one would have bet on our survival. In fact there is evidence that we almost did not make it, with as few as 10,000 of us, some suggesting less than 100, eating kills after all the other species had their fill, surviving on the marrow in the bones and the little that was left after every species had had their fill.
We all came from East Africa and within 70000 years we populated the entire world. It’s incredible to think about. At one point we ate last and in fear — and then, in an evolutionary second, we find the confidence to walk and populate the entire planet. How did we do this?
Yuval Harari in his book Homo Sapiens makes a case, that our ability to band together in large groups enabled us to thrive. Previously, we traveled in small kin tribes of no more than 70. Larger groups of Homo Sapiens came together and built communities that were safer, able to kill and eat better food sources, as well as fend off threat and danger.
In order to create a group that was bigger than the people that you were biologically linked with, you had to have something bigger connecting you. You needed more than kinship and biology to build communities that would trust each other and take big risks.
You had to have the ability to create a larger story that would enact a large group to band together to do something dangerous something brave something unexpected — To kill, to plan, and to make difficult choices. Our ability to work together and our ability to believe a story connected us to others and helped our species evolve.
Everything in evolution is about conservation. What do we really need? What’s important? Social systems take up a lot of space in our brain and they require a lot of energy. That means we need to find more stuff to eat and that can mean putting our lives in danger. The prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that helps us get along, think about others, imagine something, look at past and future, this is the part of the brain that evolved. It grew because our survival depended on it. We needed the capacity to work with large groups, to persuade, to remember, to build connections and trust, and most importantly, to tell a story and believe that story.
We survived by telling stories.
We survived by creating lies.
Lies that would inspire you to take the risk of working together for one cause, for one goal, or for the spirit of fire or the spirit of the great bear, or God.
Lies that would enable you to sacrifice yourself for the greater good — for the story — for the big tribe.
Our stories save us and our stories kill us.
Brett Weinstein, an evolutionary sociologist coined the term “metaphorical truth” as a truth that is wrong, but if you behave as if it is correct you come out ahead. Believing a metaphorical truth advances a species. They are systems of belief that save the people until modernity evolves, and then metaphorical truths run their course and get replaced by new stories. Every story advances civilization and is meant to precede the story before it in increments.
We don’t do well, when we are in the transition of a new metaphorical truth.
A nation is a story.
Money is a story.
Throwing a virgin into the volcano to appease the angry gods is a story.
Religion is a story.
We don’t do well, when we are in the transition of a new metaphorical truth. Right now we are in one of those moments. Thomas Kuhn might call this a paradigm shift. Yuval Harari would describe this as a function of our evolving species that allowed us to adapt and work together to sacrifice and make choices that serve the greater good over the one or some.
How did Homo Sapiens survive? We survived by telling a collective lie. Over and over and over again, evolving, moving, shifting and over time moving us forward.
How will Homo Sapiens continue to survive? By doing the same thing, except now, today, the collective ‘metaphorical truth,’ the one we are familiar with, that gives us an illusion of certainty, familiarity and safety, it has to die. It has to die and we have to go back into the savannah, into empty space, vulnerable, hungry, lonely, crazy or inspired. It is our turn to be that monkey, that one who steps forward to tell a different story, a different lie.
Who will volunteer to be that brave monkey?