Anthropology

Homo Sapiens besting the Neanderthals isn't the first time one hominid annihilated all the others

The idea that at one point, Neanderthals lived among Homo sapien sapiens, suggests a process of elimination whereby we beat out the Neanderthals and became the last inheritors of the Earth. It's stories like these that perpetuate the popular notion of an arc of progress through history.

But perhaps there were multiple time periods with last-surviving hominids. Perhaps human speciation is a pendulum that swings back and forth between mono-hominid and poly-hominid eras. Since such timescales are beyond our archaeological reach, we don't know if our hallmark mono-hominid trends such as technological growth, civil rights, feminism, liberalism, the march towards peace, etc. happened before, but were lost when speciation led to the real world wars.

Joseph Campbell's hero's journey is universal, simply because it's the most efficient, entertaining story about self-actualization

Joseph Campbell's presentation of the monomyth is designed purposefully with an unanswered mystery. That there exists common myths in cultures that did not have contact with each other bespeaks of some innate, shared human longing, and therefore something universally identifiable with the hero's journey.

However, it's a simple exercise to guess what this innate, shared longing is all about. For one, the hero's journey is simply about education. Parents tell children stories about heroes to instill courage in grappling with the unknown: "There may be woolly mammoths in some valley or some other such mystery, but you will figure it out. If not, there will be mentors along the way." It reinforces the role of teachers, but also that of students transcending their teachers to acquire new knowledge.

The monomyth also follows the laws of flow, with the hero or player attempting something beyond their skillset, thereby causing anxiety and doubt. Eventually, through practice or trial-and-error (i.e. falling into the abyss), they will transform into new capable players and return to the village with bounty. The hero's journey is, therefore, the most compact, entertaining story about self-actualization.

Or, the monomyth is just what happens when a basic story reaches its logical form after generations of evolution. The first version could have been, "John went out into the woods, was hungry, starved for a few days, but invented bear traps, then came back with bear meat for the tribe." After iterative storytelling, with adjustments made over years to increase the story's appeal, it becomes, "John was hungry, had visions (i.e. hallucinated), was eaten by the bear, but became a bear god in the process, and now watches over the universe." The consequences are exaggerated to involve death and the abyss, and the stakes are made astronomical, with the whole world hanging in the balance. All of this makes for better storytelling, which means that the monomyth has a lot in common with a writer's room plumbing the human psyche for the most viral stories possible.

Textual Animal

We were once the social animal, but we're increasingly becoming the textual animal. All our thoughts and beliefs are bound up in text, as ideas are often first introduced to us via something we read on the web or in print. And when we verify said beliefs, such as when we're challenged, we Google for answers, further codifying our beliefs.

Our relationships are increasingly bound by text as well, in many cases, literally via text messaging, and more often via social media. And even though social media is largely constituted by photos, those photos would seem empty without accompanying captions or text replies. Even a "Like" is a textual response, albeit via shortcut. And even if the Internet doesn't account for half of the volume of one's social life, it may dominate more than half of our basic social functions. Keeping tabs on someone and feeling their presence are possibly half of what constitutes a friendship. At some point, the text starts to become the point, and an alien trying to understand humanity might see us first as a massive, colliding torrent of words, rather than flesh and blood.

The Industrial Revolution, farming, the Ice ages: We've been preparing for the Singularity for 50,000 years

The Singularity is a recent addition to mankind's list of End Times scenarios, which includes ideas such as the Rapture or Armageddon. These type of scenarios are usually considered psychological defense mechanisms to help us cope with death. And while they do help alleviate the fear of death, they compensate for a more ever-present death: the death of one's surroundings. When your whole world changes and everything you were once attached to is no longer valid, then that is a death of sorts. Change is death, and our way of coping with massive life change is to imagine a fantastical change even greater than it so that by contrast our life's turmoil seems insignificant.

So in a way, we've been preparing for the Singularity ever since our species first experienced future shock. While the pace of technological change has accelerated in ways that our ancestors could not have been prepared for, we have been preparing for our world turning upside-down ever since surviving our first Ice Age. Massive weather changes did not kill our ancestors. We just improvised and moved to a different biome. We changed our clothes, modified our hunting techniques, and reorganized our societies. Such is our brain's capacity for adaptation. And once settled, even if there would be stability for many generations, we would still be imprinted by enough survived disruptions to pepper our minds with visions of the greatest change of all.

The advent of birth control has been balanced by the proliferation of birth-uncontrols like alcohol and drugs

The advent of birth control is balanced by the proliferation of alcohol and other drugs, which prevent people from making rational mating choices. Perhaps "balance" is the wrong word, because these are all just options. Birth-control is an option, and so is the ability to reach for a chemical to suppress rational thinking. The evolution of mankind is the evolution of freedom. From freedom of diet to the free use of our hands, to the free use of tools, we are driven by the expanding and exploiting of our infinite choice.

We shape the world, and it shapes us back, and the fact that we get used to it has been essential to our survival

The prophecy of future shock, which is defined as the neurosis caused by a rapidly changing world, would have already happened. We would have been shocked when we covered the Earth with farms, or when we developed mass weaponry, or when we worked sixteen-hour days in soot-covered factories, or when we crammed into small boxes in tall skyscrapers, or when we lit up the night with candles, or when we cooked all our meals with fire, or when we moved from the plains to the glaciers. We shape the world, and it shapes us back, and the fact that we get used to it has been essential for survival.