The creation myth is a device for survival

“The creation stories gave the members of each tribe an explanation for their existence. It made them feel loved and protected above all other tribes. In return, the gods demanded absolute belief and obedience. And rightly so. The creation myth was the essential bond that held the tribe together. It provided its believers with a unique identity, commanded their fidelity, strengthened order, vouchsafed law, encouraged valour and sacrifice, and offered meaning to the cycles of life and death. No tribe could long survive without the meaning of its existence defined by a creation story. The option was to weaken, dissolved, and die. In the early history of each tribe, the myth therefore had to be set in stone.

The creation myth is a Darwinian device for survival. Tribal conflict, where believers on the inside were pitted against infidels on the outside, was a principal driving force that shaped biological human nature. The truth of each myth lived in the heart, not in the rational mind. By itself, mythmaking could never discover the origin and meaning of humanity. But the reverse order is possible. The discovery of the origin and meaning of humanity might explain the origin and meaning of myths, hence the core of organized religion.”

(page 8)

Prologue to Edward O. Wilson. The Social Conquest of Earth. New York: Norton, 2012.

Borrowed from the Grande Bibliothèque.

Like a waking dreamer

“Humanity today is like a waking dreamer, caught between the fantasies of sleep and the chaos of the real world. The mind seeks but cannot find the precise place and hour. We have created a Star Wars civilization, with Stone Age emotions, medieval institutions, and godlike technology. We thrash about. We are terribly confused by the mere fact of our existence, and a danger to ourselves and to the rest of life.”

(page 7)

Prologue to Edward O. Wilson. The Social Conquest of Earth. New York: Norton, 2012.

Borrowed from the Grande Bibliothèque.

Cultural transitions

“Looking back on the last few hundred generations, two cultural transformations have been of vital importance to the human body and need to be added to the list of evolutionary transformations above:

TRANSITION SIX: The Agricultural Revolution, when people started to farm their food instead of hunt and gather.

TRANSITION SEVEN: The Industrial Revolution, which started as we began to use machines to replace human work.”

Although these last two transformations did not generate new species, it is difficult to exaggerate their importance for the story of the human body because they radically altered what we eat and how we work, sleep, regulate our body temperature, interact, and even defecate. Although these and other shifts in our bodies’ environments have spurred some natural selection, they have mostly interacted with the bodies we inherited in ways we have yet to fathom. Some of these interactions have been beneficial, especially allowing us to have more children. Others, however, have been deleterious, including a host of novel mismatch diseases caused by contagion, malnutrition, and physical inactivity.”

(page 28)

Daniel E. Lieberman. The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease. New York: Pantheon Books, 2013.

Borrowed in digital format from the Vancouver Public Library.

To explore the labyrinth of myth

“There is no grail more elusive or precious in the life of the mind than the key to understanding the human condition. It has always been the custom of those who seek it to explore the labyrinth of myth: for religion, the myths of creation and the dreams of prophets; for philosophers, the insights of introspection and reasoning based upon them; for the creative arts, statements based upon a play of the senses.

Great visual art in particular is the expression of a person’s journey, an evocation of feeling that cannot be put into words. Perhaps in the hitherto hidden lies deeper, more essential meaning.”

Prologue to Edward O. Wilson. The Social Conquest of Earth. New York: Norton, 2012.

Borrowed from the Grande Bibliothèque.

Culture is radically transforming our bodies

“Evolution, in addition, isn’t just about biological evolution. How genes and bodies change over time is incredibly important, but another momentous dynamic to grapple with is cultural evolution, now the most powerful force of change on the planet and one that is radically transforming our bodies. Culture is essentially what people learn, and so cultures evolve. Yet a crucial difference between cultural and biological evolution is that culture doesn’t change solely through chance but also through intention, and the source of this change can come from anyone, not just your parents. Culture can therefore evolve with breathtaking rapidity and degree. Human cultural evolution got its start millions of years ago, but it accelerated dramatically after modern humans first evolved around 200,000 years ago, and it has now reached dizzying speeds.”

(pages 27-28)

Daniel E. Lieberman. The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease. New York: Pantheon Books, 2013.

Borrowed in digital format from the Vancouver Public Library.

Five major transformations

“Leaving aside the precise details of the family tree (essentially, who begat whom), the story of the human body can be boiled down to five major transformations. None of them were inevitable, but each altered our ancestors’ bodies in different ways by adding new adaptations and by removing others.

TRANSITION ONE: The very earliest human ancestors diverged from the apes and evolved to be upright bipeds.

TRANSITION TWO: The descendants of these first ancestors, the australopiths, evolved adaptations to forage for and eat a wide range of foods other than mostly fruit.

TRANSITION THREE: About 2 million years ago, the earliest members of the human genus evolved nearly (though not completely) modern human bodies and slightly bigger brains that enabled them to become the first hunter-gatherers.

TRANSITION FOUR: As archaic human hunter-gatherers flourished and spread across much of the Old World, they evolved even bigger brains and larger, more slowly growing bodies.

TRANSITION FIVE: Modern humans evolved special capacities for language, culture, and cooperation that allowed us to disperse rapidly across the globe and to become the sole surviving species of human on the planet.

(pages 26-27)

Daniel E. Lieberman. The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease. New York: Pantheon Books, 2013.

Borrowed in digital format from the Vancouver Public Library.

We are not an inevitable species

“The evolutionary history of the human body is an interesting yarn. One of its most valuable lessons is that we are not an inevitable species: had circumstances been different, even slightly so, we would be very different creatures (or in all probability we wouldn’t exist at all). For many people, however, the chief reason to tell (and test) the story of the human body is to shed light on why we are the way we are. Why do we have big brains, long legs, especially visible belly buttons, and other peculiarities? Why do we walk on just two legs and communicate with language? Why do we cooperate so much and cook our food? A related, urgent and practical reason to consider how the human body evolved is to help evaluate what we are and are not adapted for, hence why we get sick. In turn, evaluating why we get sick is essential for preventing and treating diseases.”

(page 23)

Daniel E. Lieberman. The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease. New York: Pantheon Books, 2013.

Borrowed in digital format from the Vancouver Public Library.