Monday, March 6, 2017

Week 5: March 10 Questions (Chapters 11, 12 and 13 (?):

This week we are following through on Jeanne's great idea from our last gathering: YOU bring the questions! After going around the room, it was felt to be a good time for each of us to take on the responsibility for coming up with questions or passages that were of interest to each of ourselves. You can use a hi-liter, make notes, or (heaven forbid!) fold over the top corner of a page - anyway way you choose, but please come prepared to share your own discussion points.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Week 4: Feb 24 Questions (Chapt 8, 9, 10)

Chapter 8 concludes Part Two (The Agricultural Revolution). Chapter 9 and 10 introduce Part Three (The Unification of Humankind). The whole book, though, seems based on the idea that the world has been made smaller by homo sapiens in that thousands and thousands of people unknown to each other for thousands and thousands of years gradually morphed into a single culture common to the whole planet. The questions that follow are intended to highlight specific points made in each section of each chapter. The truths that flow from them might be summarized in questions such as, What’s next: where are we as homo sapiens going? Is there any turning back? Why are so many people afraid of (or enthusiastic about) world trade, world government, and world unity? How do we resolve disputes that threaten world peace?  
CHAPTER 8: There is No Justice in History
1.     What do Hammurabi, Aristotle, the Brahmins, the Shudras, and the authors of the American Declaration of Independence have in common? What fictions support their views? How are these views sustained in contemporary society?
The Vicious Circle
2.     How have concepts of purity and pollution enforced social and political divisions between people?
Purity in America
3.     Why did the lot of the slaves not improve after the American Civil War? What was the impact of the Jim Crow laws (de jure in the South; de facto in the North)?
He and She
4.     What does it mean to say that biology enables, while culture forbids?
5.     Is it natural for an insect to fly or a chimpanzee to use sex to cement political alliances?
Sex and Gender
6.     What is the difference between sex and gender?
What’s so Good About Men
7.     Is there some universal biological reason why almost everyone valued manhood over womanhood?
Muscle Power
8.     Could boxing matches have produced better pharaohs and better popes? (cf Trudeau)
The Scum of Society
9.     How did the militarily challenged Caesar Augustus establish a stable empire?
10.  Could a woman have done so as easily?
Patriarchal Genes
11.  Why ae human woman less likely to play dominant roles in their societies than elephant females in theirs?
CHAPTER 9: The Arrow Of History
12.  What is cognitive dissonance? How is it evident in Christianity, American politics, and Muslim culture? Is it like doublespeak in 1984?
The Spy Satellite
13.  Does the inexorable trend toward unity really bring the New York stockbroker and the Afghan together? If so, what’s next?
The Global Vision
14.  Why can Osama Bib Laden be said to have transcended the binary evolutionary division (us vs them) of homo sapiens?
CHAPTER 10: The Scent of Money
15.  Why did Muslim merchants accept gold coins having the sign of the cross?
How Much Is It?
16.  What is the problem with the barter system? Why did it not work for the Soviet Union?
Shells and Cigarettes
17.  How was it possible to convert forbidden sex into salvation?
How Does Money work?
18.  Why have people trusted money for as long as 5,000 years? When have they not trusted it?
The Gospel of Gold
19.  How does money unify the world? What can challenge that unity?
The Price of Money
20.  Why is money not enough?

Friday, February 10, 2017

Week 3: Feb 10 Questions (Chapt 5, 6, 7)

 Chapter 5: History's Biggest Fraud


1.  What was the agricultural revolution according to Harari?  What were the effects?

2.  P. 81 “We did not domesticate wheat.  It domesticated us.” 
Explain whether you agree or disagree.

3. What is the luxury trap?

 Chapter 6: Building Pyramids


4.  P. 101  “These forfeited food surpluses fueled politics, wars, art and philosophy. They built palaces, forts, monuments and temples. . . . History is something that very few people have been doing while everyone else was ploughing fields and carrying water buckets.”
Is history simply something “done” by very few people?  Discuss.

5.  P. 102  “The problem at the root of such calamities (conflicts, collapse of social order, etc.) is that human evolved for millions of years in small bands of a few dozen individuals.  The handful of millennia separating the Agricultural Revolution from the appearance of cities, kingdoms and empires was not enough time to allow an instinct for mass cooperation to evolve.”

People often used words such as “instinct,” “human nature,” and “culture” when they try to explain something that they are NOT too clear about.  What is your understanding of “instinct” in the quote?  Do you agree with the author in his use of “instinct” in explaining the lack of cooperation among Sapiens?

6.  Chapters 5 and 6:  The author seems to argue that the Agricultural Revolution, including planning for the future, brought Sapiens stress and troubles instead of a better life.
Do you think so? Explain.

7.  P. 103  Empires became linked to standing armies around 2250 BCE.  How did the Agricultural Revolution influence the development of empires and standing army?

8.  Pp. 105 – 109  How are both the Code of Hammurabi and the Declaration of Independence of the United States of 1776 myths of history serving as cooperation manuals among large numbers of people?

9.  Pp. 108 -110  Harari quotes the famous line from the American Declaration of Independence and then translates the line into biological terms.  Do you agree with the author’s reasons for the change?  Why or why not?

 Chapter 7: Memory Overload


10.  Ch. 7  What is an imagined order?  Why is it necessary in a Sapiens society?  Give examples from the book or your own experience.

11.  Pp. 130 – 132  About the language of numbers and its various “descendants,” Harari writes:  “Writing was born as the maidservant of human consciousness, but is increasingly becoming its master.”   Do you agree or disagree?  Explain.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Week 2: Jan 27 Questions (Chapt 2, 3, 4)

Chapter 2: The Tree of Knowledge

1. P. 21 “The “Cognitive Revolution.” Accidental genetic mutations changed the inner wiring of the brains of Sapiens, enabling them to think in unprecedented ways and to communicate using an altogether new type of language. We might call it the Tree of Knowledge mutation.”

What does he mean by the “Tree of Knowledge mutation”? Why do you think he uses that term? Why is this an appropriate/good name (or not!) for this shift in our cognitive abilities? Given the Christian history, does that place a moral judgement or value on that shift?

2. P. 22 - Our language developed as “a means of sharing information about the world. But the most important information that needed to be covered was about humans, not about lions and bison. Our language evolved as a way of gossiping.”

How was gossip pivotal to our development? What would you say is its role today?

3. P. 24/25 - Sapiens seem to be the only animal capable of imagining things they have never seen, including the creation of legends, myths, gods and religions. How has this helped us to “rule the world”? How might this be our downfall?

4. P. 28 -The author writes that there are “no human rights…outside the common imagination of human beings.”

Do humans innately ‘have’ rights, or have we decided as a species, to grant ourselves those rights? (What about other animals?)

5. pg 31 - The author writes, “An imagined reality is not a lie.”

Do you agree or disagree? (What would Trump or Kelly Conway say?) :)

6. P. 32 - “Ever since the Cognitive Revolution, Sapiens has thus been living in a dual reality. On the one hand, the objective reality of rivers, trees and lions; and on the other hand, the imagined reality of gods, nations and corporations. As time went by, the imagined reality became ever more powerful, so that today the very survival of rivers, trees and lions depends on the grace of imagined entities such as gods, nations, and corporations.” DISCUSS.

7. Pg 34 Our new ability to tell stories enabled cooperation of large groups of people (beyond 150), allowing us to transform social structures, interpersonal relations, economic activities within decades.

Our storytelling served a purpose; we ‘evolved’ quickly - not biologically, but societally and culturally. Does it still serve us? Will something else evolve in us? What do you think might be the next evolution for us as a species?

8. P. 35/36 - Trade. Seems pragmatic, but can’t happen without trust between strangers; we appeal to common myths to bring trust between strangers.

We are starting to see this today re: world markets — Brexit/EU, USA/Mexico, — closing down borders, putting up walls, decreased trust, re-negotiations of trade agreements.

How could common stories help our world right now?
How are some of the ‘stories’ being told affecting the world?

Chapter 3: Adam and Eve


1. P. 40 “For nearly the entire history of our species, Sapiens lived as foragers. …(E)volutionary psychology argues that many of our present-day social and psychological characteristics were shaped during the long pre-agricultural era.”

Our current “environment gives us more material resource and longer lives than those enjoyed by any previous generation, but it often makes us feel alienated, depressed and pressured.”

Plague of obesity because we are programmed to gorge on high-calorie sweets and fats — ripe fruit, in short supply for them, doughnuts and french fries for us.
What can we learn from our ancestry/ DNA to help us with today’s challenges?

2. Pg 43: Artefacts tell the story of the society to future generations.

Our ancestors, the foragers, moved all the time so “had to make do with only the most essential possessions…the greater part of their mental, religious and emotional lives was conducted without the help of artefacts.” 
In the digital age, are we moving away from artefacts, once again?

3. P. 46 “…they still spend the vast majority of their time in complete isolation and independence…there were no permanent towns or institutions. The average person lived many months without seeing or hearing a human from outside of her own band, and she encountered throughout her life no more than a few hundred humans.”

Imagine! Would you prefer a life like that, or ours today (seeing millions at one gathering, alone)!

4. p. 49 - “The human collective knows far more today than did the ancient bands. But at the individual level, ancient foragers were the most knowledgable and skillful people in history.”

They were smarter, more skilled, more capable, more knowledgable, than we are, as individuals. More tuned in to nature and to their own bodies. (Fit as marathon runners, observed foliage, great physical dexterity, moved silently etc.)

How do you think our movement from being outside, connected to nature, in tune with our bodies etc. into enclosed, concrete, out-of-the-elements environments has affected modern-day humans?

5. pg.54 - Animism:

“The belief that almost every place, every animal, every plant and every natural phenomenon has awareness and feelings, and can communicate directly with humans.” 

Why do you think animism was the primary belief of the foragers?
How do theism (belief in a god-being) and animism compare?
If animism made a come-back today, what would be the result?

6. P. 57 - The pic of the hands — It seems we have always wanted to ‘make our mark’, to be remembered, to say, “we were here.” Is this some sort of quest for immortality? Wanting future generations to see something of us? Or is it some sort of communication with ourselves, to be a reflection of our OWN worth?

Chapter 4: The Flood


P 64: “The journey of the first humans to Australia is one of the most important events in history, at least as important at Columbus’ journey to American or the Apollo 11 expedition to the moon…Homo sapiens climbed to the top rung in the food chain on a particular landmass and thereafter became the deadliest species in the annals of planet Earth.”
P. 66: - more than 90% of Australia’s megafauna disappeared
Homo sapiens was still overwhelmingly a terrestrial menace.
“ecological serial killer.” (Australia, New Zealand, Arctic Ocean…all islands…)
P 68: - Had mastered “fire agriculture” - “completely changed the ecology of large parts of Australia within a few short millennia (which, in turn, “influenced the animals that ate the plants and the carnivores that ate the vegetarians”.)

P 69 - To America: Even larger ecological disaster, this time in America
- within 2000 years - most species gone. 34/47 genera of large mammals (along with thousands of smaller mammals, reptiles, birds, insects, parasites.
“…(T)he inevitable conclusion is that the first wave of Sapiens colonization was one of the biggest and swiftest ecological disasters to befall the animal kingdom.”

Author asks, ‘Perhaps if more people were aware of the First Wave (spread of the foragers) and Second Wave (the spread of the farmers) extinctions, the’d be less nonchalant about the Third Wave they are part of. If we knew how many species we’ve already eradicated, we might be more motivated to protect those that still survive.

Do you think that’s true? Would this knowledge make a difference in our collective behaviour?

Our ancestors were operating without the scientific information we have today (e.g., weather patterns, other species) and were also operating from a ‘survival perspective’. Today, we have the ability to do more than survive - yet we are creating a Third Wave of Extinction. What do you think our descendants will say about this period in time?

Given our level of awareness and scientific information (as compared with our ancestors who were just trying to survive and were unaware of the devastation they were wreaking) — what is our moral responsibility to the other species of the world, if any?

Or, is this just nature (survival of the fittest) continuing its natural path?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Additional Articles

You may be interested in this article about the peopling of our planet and genomics:

Archaeological evidence shows human settlement in Yukon much earlier than previously thought:

Related articles:

The book Europe and the People Without History gives a somewhat different interpretation of global history ~1400 - 1900 CE (Wikipedia).  It is regarded as a classic in the field.

Europe and the People Without History is a book by anthropologist Eric Wolf. First published in 1982, it focuses on the expansion of European societies in the Modern Era. "Europe and the people without history" is history written on a global scale, tracing the connections between communities, regions, peoples and nations that are usually treated as discrete subjects.[1]

A global history[edit]

The book begins in 1400 with a description of the trade routes a world traveller might have encountered, the people and societies they connected, and the civilizational processes trying to incorporate them. From this, Wolf traces the emergence of Europe as a global power, and the reorganization of particular world regions for the production of goods now meant for global consumption. Wolf differs from World Systems theory in that he sees the growth of Europe until the late eighteenth century operating in a tributory framework, and not capitalism. He examines the way that colonial state structures were created to protect tributary populations involved in the silver, fur and slave trades. Whole new "tribes" were created as they were incorporated into circuits of mercantile accumulation. 
The final section of the book deals with the transformation in these global networks as a result of the growth of capitalism with the industrial revolution. Factory production of textiles in England, for example transformed cotton production in the American south and Egypt, and eliminated textile production in India. All these transformations are connected in a single structural change. Each of the world's regions are examined in terms of the goods they produced in the global division of labour, as well as the mobilization and migration of whole populations (such as African slaves) to produce these goods. Wolf uses labor market segmentation to provide a historical account of the creation of ethnic segmentation.[2] Where World Systems theory had little to say about the periphery, Wolf's emphasis is on the people "without history" (i.e. not given a voice in western histories) and on how they were active participants in the creation of new cultural and social forms emerging in the context of commercial empire.[3]

Wei Djao

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Week 1: Jan 13 Questions (Chapt 1)

Chapter 1: An Animal of No Significance

1. According to the author, who were our "cousins" and "siblings"?

2. Harari argues that different human species did not develop in a straight line. What are his reasons?

3. What were the costs to Homo Sapiens for being wise?

4. What is the author trying to say in the following passages? Do you agree with him? Explain.

Pg 3 - Do you agree with the author’s use of the word “history”? i.e., history is only the ‘development of human culture’ and not the previous 13 billion years?

Pg 5 - What do you think/feel when you consider the author’s statement that: “Just 6 million years ago, a single female ape had 2 daughters. One became the ancestor of all chimpanzees, the other is our own grandmother.”

Pg 5/6 - Homo sapiens were not the only ‘humans,;’ we had brother and sister species as well. How does that affect how you see the place of humans today in the world (if at all)?

Pg 6 - The author states he thinks it is “…doubtful whether Homo sapiens will still be around a thousand years from now.” From your reading of the chapter and/or your understanding of humans today, what might be some of his reasons for making that statement? Do you agree or disagree?

Pg 10 - The author suggests that ‘humans are born early and underdeveloped compared to most animals’, coming out more like ‘molten glass than glazed earthenware from a kiln.’ He argues that this initial malleability is what makes it possible today to “educate our children to become Christian or Buddhist, capitalist or socialist, warlike or peace-loving.” Does this suggest that humans are born innately amoral (being neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’) and it is solely our lived experience that drives our development into the children and adults we become? Or, do humans have a natural/innate tendency to be good? Or bad?

Pg 14/15 - The Interbreeding Theory vs. Replacement Theory

What are the differences? (See pg 14/15) Why is this potentially political dynamite? What will it mean, if the initial DNA reports that indicate some interbreeding happened, are true?

Pg 18 - The author asks, “What kind of cultures, societies, and political structures would have emerged in a world where several different human species coexisted?” Your thoughts?

Pg 18 - “Our lack of brothers and sisters makes it easier to imagine that we are the epitome of creation, and that a chasm separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. When Charles Darwin indicated that Homo sapiens was just another kind of animal, people were outraged. Even today many refuse to believe it.” If we were to accept that we are not the epitome of creation, that there isn’t that big a chasm between us and other animals (as science is increasingly demonstrating), what would the implications be?

Pg 11/12 - The author suggests that our position at the top of the food chain is not only a relatively new occurrence, but it happened in a “spectacular leap” from the middle to the top. In other words, while the other ‘top’ species (lions etc.) evolved slowly into that position, we jumped up the chain (by our use of fire, for example). He argues that this quick leap has not ‘enabled the ecosystems to develop checks and balances’ which might prevent us from ‘wreaking too much havoc.’ Unlike most other ‘top predators’ on the planet, we have ‘fears and anxieties over our position, making us doubly cruel and dangerous,’ and that it is this that has resulted in our deadly wars and ecological catastrophes.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Next Meeting 7:30 pm, Friday, January 27

For our next meeting, please try to read:

Chapter 2 The Tree of Knowledge
Chapter 3 A Day in the Life of Adam and Eve
Chapter 4 The Flood

We look forward to seeing you Friday, January 27 at 7:30 pm. Judging from our first meeting, the group discussions are sure to be interesting!

If you are unable to attend this or any other meetings, please feel free to post comments or questions using the comments link below.