So if mankind is now 300,000 years old, what beliefs about the present should we revise?

by on June 8, 2017 at 11:52 am in History, Philosophy, Uncategorized | Permalink

Ray Lopez told me “Blog on it!”  So I posed that query on Twitter, here is the background, here are some of the answers, check my mentions for more and for credits:

Great filter perhaps more likely to be behind us, if it took us 295,000 years to start having anything like civilization?

We’re slower learners

Civilization is precarious and the great filter from apes to higher intelligence is worse than we thought.

Initially & erroneously, I read ‘president’ instead of ‘present’.

Great question. Certainly the concept of civilization is an incredibly late concept, and not necessary for human flourishing.

Based on a single data point, the advanced from anatomical modernity to civilization is 50% harder than previously thought.

The moral arc of history is…even longer and bends even more gradually

That current rates of productivity growth are somehow abnormal

That there’s a bigger delta between our current environment and the one we evolved in.

We don’t have _nearly_ the cultural bandwidth to transmit all the wonderful wisdom developed over _300k years_. Much has been lost.

Our first revision might be that we have good certainty on the age of mankind. Perhaps it’s 500,000 years? What other fossils might we find?

interbreeding with Neanderthals was even freakier than we thought?

That rather than being rare – ‘the end of the world’ is a horrifyingly repetitive phenomenon for human civs.

Lower probability that other intelligent species lived long enough to develop interstellar travel or communication

That 140 characters, instead of flying cars, is an even bigger disappointment. I mean, seriously, after 300,000 years?

The longer we have been evolving with our unique set of Sapiens traits the more time evolution has had to make them elaborate and distinct.

That it took twice as long to start the process of civilization than previously thought. Let’s not blow it.

That we really should know better.

Apologies if I missed yours!

1 JK Brown June 8, 2017 at 12:02 pm

“We’re slower learners”

You have got to understand that until we developed writing, the sum of human knowledge was being passed from one teenager to telling it to another. Learned on the street, so to speak. We can’t fathom what was distorted by this several millennia long game of telephone.

2 prior_test2 June 8, 2017 at 1:18 pm

Using Australia as an example, a surprising lot of accurate information seems to have been passed on for thousands of years – ‘Traditional stories passed down through generations by Australian Aborigines may be among the oldest accurate oral histories in the world, scientists have claimed.

The findings have allowed them to map how the continent may have looked around 10,000 years ago.

Oral folklore tells how the Great Barrier Reef once formed part of the coastline of north east Queensland, while Port Phillip Bay in Victoria was once a rich place for hunting kangaroo and opossum.

Researchers have found other stories from all over the continent that mirror how the landscape dramatically changed towards the end of the last ice age.

The Great Barrier Reef, off the Queensland coast, was once part of the mainland according to Aboriginal tales

They say at this time sea levels rose as a result of the melting of the huge ice caps that covered much of the northern hemisphere around 10,500 years ago.

The researchers now believe that these stories could constitute some of the oldest accurate oral histories in the world, passing through some 300 generations.’

3 Milo Fan June 8, 2017 at 2:07 pm


4 prior_test2 June 8, 2017 at 3:01 pm

And here I was, thinking that a Daily Mail link would pass MR commenter muster as an authoritative and reliable source, being used often enough by Prof. Cowen. And if there is one thing no one has ever accused the Daily Mail of, it is being a hard left publication.

Oh well, here is the link to the research paper –

And a bit from the description – ‘Changes in sea levels around the Australian coast are now well established. Marine geographers can now point to specific parts of the Australian coast and know with some confidence what the sea levels were at a particular time before the present. This paper reports on a substantial body of Australian Aboriginal stories that appear to represent genuine and unique observations of post-glacial increases in sea level, at time depths that range from about 13,400–7,500 years BP.’

5 Thor June 8, 2017 at 5:05 pm

“And here I was”…

Perhaps if you just stopped trying to score points, either through sucking up passive-aggressively or through your needling, and just participate in the conservations like a normal educated person, you wouldn’t be disappointed.

6 Ampersand June 13, 2017 at 6:46 pm

I can’t speak for prior, but it seems to me that all caps LOLs from a self professed troll is not an invitation to any sort of productive conversation.

7 Thor June 8, 2017 at 5:27 pm

Robert Edgerton in his book on maladapted cultures — Sick Societies — discusses among other things the decline of “technology” in Tasmania, where the native population was be shown to have possessed and then lost (forgotten) certain technologies and practices. (Obviously he writes about other places and cultures as well, such as the Aztecs.)

8 Mr. Econotarian June 12, 2017 at 12:52 pm

The loss of writing, coinage, and manufactured goods (like “factories” for clay pots) after the Romans left Britain is another example of technological decline. These things came back only well after the Anglo-Saxon invasions.

9 EverExtruder June 8, 2017 at 12:04 pm

“Civilization is precarious and the great filter from apes to higher intelligence is worse than we thought.”

Spot on. Also, I don’t think we’re done with great filters yet….my intuition tells me another one isn’t far off.

10 Hazel Meade June 8, 2017 at 12:06 pm

We’re obviously being manipulated by extraterrestrials. How else can we explain the sudden and mind-boggling development of advanced technological civilization within the span of a few thousand years?

11 The Other Jim June 8, 2017 at 12:42 pm


12 Cooper June 8, 2017 at 1:21 pm

The Other Jim’s answer is silly.

The real one is agriculture. Specifically grain agriculture in Mesopotamia.

13 JWatts June 8, 2017 at 2:08 pm

I don’t think his answer is silly, but it is too specific.

You said agriculture, but without mining you still won’t end up with an advanced technological civilization.

14 Borjigid June 8, 2017 at 3:06 pm

Agriculture is a prerequisite for mining. To your point, agriculture is necessary, but not sufficient.

15 prior_test2 June 8, 2017 at 3:08 pm

And yet mining was going on for literally thousands of years before any advanced technological civilization occurred. And plenty of steel was being forged in places like India apparently without using coal. A good overview is here –

Basically, India appears to be the birthplace of using iron and creating steel – how did that advanced technical civilization work out for them?

Or maybe the reason was that they did not use coal?

16 Thor June 8, 2017 at 5:07 pm

If you consider “mining” for particular stones and rocks — the ones like flint that make better sharper tools — then mining predates agriculture.

17 Mark Thorson June 8, 2017 at 5:15 pm

Yes, that’s when religions arose. God is just the way a simple people interpret advanced extraterrestrial intelligence. Then we screwed it all up.

18 Glenn Mercer June 8, 2017 at 12:11 pm

Yes, I am biased (I’m an advisor to this firm). And yes, within the grand sweep of your post the flying car thing is trivial. And yes, a million dollar flying car may not be what Peter Thiel had in mind (my, he’s been quiet lately!), but he said “flying cars,” not “affordable flying cars.” So, here’s a flying car:

I have seen the beast actually fly and actually drive. Three minutes to convert from car to plane or vv. 400 meters ground roll + 50 feet altitude.

I had to weigh in as I was getting annoyed by all the attention being paid to West Coast flying car startups, who by assuming battery power and VTOL (or STOL) aim more towards urban hoppers than what I would call a flying car. Harumph.

19 The Other Jim June 8, 2017 at 12:43 pm

We’ve had flying cars for decades. They are called helicopters, and they are everywhere.

20 Cooper June 8, 2017 at 1:28 pm

The base model helicopter, the R-22, costs $250,000.

A base model car, the Ford Fiesta, costs around $15,000.

I think flying cars need to fall in price by an order of magnitude before people will be satisfied that they are “everywhere”.

21 Glenn Mercer June 9, 2017 at 2:01 pm

Helicopters can fly, but not sure they are meant to drive. How are they a flying car, defined as able to fly and to drive? (I lifted that definition from Wikipedia, since if it is on the internet it must be accurate.)

22 Albigensian June 8, 2017 at 1:28 pm

It’s not that it’s impossible to build a flying car but that doing so inevitably results in compromises: one ends up with something costly that’s neither an excellent flying machine nor an excellent driving machine.

For example, if you want to use an airplane’s landing gear as car wheels then you’ll have to make them larger and heavier, and you’ll probably want to add a transmission to drive them as well. Unless you want to use the propeller to move the car, which will compromise the efficiency of the airplane because you’ll really have to put a safety screen around it if you don’t wish to turn pedestrians into hamburger meat). And of course those pesky wings have to go somewhere (detachable or foldable, either of which will cost weight and reliability and may compromise aerodynamics).

Since airplanes cost more than cars (and helicopters cost even more than airplanes) the compromises tend to be more in the ground transportation end than in flying, yet the dual-use requirement inevitably compromises the performance of both.

Anyway, I’m still waiting for a really good jet-pack: safe, fast, and able to be used just about anywhere. Why take the elevator to your flying car in the garage when you can just launch off your balcony?

23 Milliez June 8, 2017 at 12:12 pm

The theories of people like Graham Hancock get raised in status?

24 aat June 8, 2017 at 1:28 pm

the premise does, in any case, even if any particular claim made by Hancock is not necessarily correct (or even falsifiable).

Hancock is a fascinating figure in lots of ways, but the most fascinating idea he espouses, in my opinion anyway, is that there is a kind of “deep time” embedded within the human psyche and manifested as recurring patterns within civilizations. In other words there appears to be something akin to what an animist would call “spirits” that follow us around from camp to camp, city to city, civilization to civilization. The literal truth of these things is not really up for grabs (they aren’t literally true) but their figurative power as residents of the mind is indisputable.

25 Scott Mauldin June 8, 2017 at 12:15 pm

“all the wonderful wisdom”

And yet so much of it is not wonderful, or wisdom. For example, some peoples eschewed the eating of fish or citrus, foods now widely regarded as “healthful”, and many cultures prohibited marriage between other groups or even too much contact with foreigners, ideas which impede genetic and cultural diversification. Much “wisdom” is simply heuristics for a particular cultural or geographic niche and serves no useful purpose to a wider audience.

26 Anonymous June 8, 2017 at 12:23 pm

I have been thinking about path dependence in recent days. There are lots of alternatives we might like that (as difficult as it is to admit) we can’t get to from here.

But sometimes path dependence works in our favor. We fortunate few get to enjoy civilisation because it has happened.

27 shrikanthk June 8, 2017 at 12:26 pm

What are the earliest Homo sapiens remains outside Africa?

Sure, HS may have originated 350K years ago, but the spread beyond Africa to more habitable climes amenable to agriculture happened less than 70-80K years ago.

28 Brett June 8, 2017 at 12:59 pm

It was about 50,000 years ago. That wasn’t necessarily the only time Homo Sapiens migrated out of Africa, but it appears to be the dominant one that ended up displacing the other hominid species and spreading homo sapiens all over the world outside of Africa.

29 Thor June 8, 2017 at 5:09 pm

Tribal functionary to Tribal Dear Leader, circa 150,000 years ago:

“Damn, another expedition failed to report back, boss…. Do we send yet another?”

30 Nathan Taylor June 8, 2017 at 12:31 pm

If you are part of the Kurzweil school of exponential change (Robin Hanson has a version of this with his foragers, farmers, industrial revolution, ems), then the idea that human liftoff had a very slow exponential takeoff seems very reasonable.

That is, my priors have shifted to thinking an exponential new curve may arrive with a trigger built on some kind of AI economics have slightly gone up.

To be clear, that this doesn’t mean it’s imminent. My priors haven’t shifted on that. Could anywhere from 50 to 400 years. Just that this kind of state change seems slightly more likely, as exponential change for humans with phase shifts, seems to have worked at all scales.

Note: I would also argue that homo erectus was the actual shift, where selective pressure along the lines of Joeseph Henirch (human see-human do, starting the ratchet for culture-gene selection) first got started. So in that sense no change for me. But still think homo sapiens going back farther in time before really getting going does align and add more evidence to this view.

31 Winter June 8, 2017 at 12:33 pm

It further underscores one of William Nichols’ arguments for a young Earth:

“Yes, Sir, The late Invention of Arts, and the Shortness of the History of the World, are invincible Arguments against its Eternity. If the World was from Eternity, you must needs make them an eternal Race of the most stupid Blockheads imaginable, without the least Drachm almost of Wit, or Contrivance, or indeed common Sense; and that none of these Qualification ever were known in the World, till within these two or three thousand Years last past.” – William Nichols, “A Conference with a Theist” (1696)

32 Jeff R June 8, 2017 at 12:34 pm

Certainly the concept of civilization is an incredibly late concept, and not necessary for human flourishing.

Try surviving in the wilderness for a few weeks with nothing but some sharp stones and then come back and talk about ‘flourishing.”

33 Ray Lopez June 8, 2017 at 12:42 pm

You confuse density with flourishing. Skeletal remains show the North American Indian, who needed many acres per person to survive, was healthier than the colonial settler. I would imagine the North American Indian was healthier than the South American Indian (higher density down there) too.

34 Jeff R June 8, 2017 at 12:56 pm

I would say that specialization and trade are necessary conditions for flourishing, yes. Density was a byproduct of that, although I concede your point that this was not at all pleasant. Note: it is also my impression that North American populations were kept back from their Malthusian limits by death in combat. The types of people who tend to flourish in that situation are, in general, pretty nasty people.

35 Thiago Ribeiro June 8, 2017 at 12:43 pm

Lots of Brazilian natives did it.

36 The Other Jim June 8, 2017 at 12:44 pm

Indeed, most of them still are.

37 Thiago Ribeiro June 8, 2017 at 1:02 pm

It is not the true. Indians are allowed to keep their traditional ways or life, they are protected by Brazil’s laws. Moreover, the government has ordered a halt on attempts to contact uncontacted Indians. Most Brazilians, however, can enjoy the blessings of modern technology and institutions.

38 shrikanthk June 8, 2017 at 12:36 pm

What’s important is to note that progress after the discovery of “growing food” has been pretty fast.

Agriculture dawned on us roughly 10-12K years ago. From that point it took us barely 7-8K years to compose great epics (Gilgamesh, Vedic literature), build great cities (Harappa, Egypt, Sumer), develop writing (Egypt), develop religion (Egyptian religion, Hinduism), make fairly advanced scientific discoveries (like duration of year, geometric identities).

That’s pretty fast progress. All within some 7-8K years of the dawn of agriculture.

39 Hazel Meade June 8, 2017 at 12:43 pm

Why did it take so long to develop agriculture?

40 Edward Measure June 8, 2017 at 1:09 pm

The Pleistocene climate was to hostile for agriculture. The Holocene brought in a more moderate climate.

41 Hazel Meade June 8, 2017 at 2:29 pm

Really? The pleistocene climate was too hostile for agriculture, everywhere in the world? That’s a pretty sweeping statement.

42 Roger Sweeny June 8, 2017 at 3:40 pm

The idea is that it was too variable–everywhere in the world. A group might be starting to rely on growing crops and then for two years almost nothing grows. Those who don’t starve take up full time foraging again.

43 Miguel Madeira June 8, 2017 at 2:43 pm

Agriculture is boring.

44 Sir Barken Hyena June 8, 2017 at 5:36 pm

By what measure do we think it was slow? 20th C standards of innovation? Maybe it took precisely the right amount of time, maybe it was unusually fast.

45 hello June 8, 2017 at 7:28 pm

I remember reading about (perhaps on this blog) a paper arguing that the genetic change that allowed lactose tolerance was very important for the development of civilization. It opened up a major source of calories that was previously inaccessible. Grain by itself was not enough for robust civilization. Taking this point of view, it is a biological change that allowed civilization to flourish. Have no idea how credible this is…

46 Mark Thorson June 8, 2017 at 10:27 pm

Lactose intolerance is common in the native people of east Asia and the Americas. Nixtamalization of corn seems to have been the nutritional revolution that made the Mayan and Aztec civilizations possible.

47 Careless June 9, 2017 at 1:06 am

Not just them. Common in the places where civilizations first started. About 70% of people in the Fertile Crescent and Egypt are lactose intolerant, and that was likely much higher 5000 years ago, the mutation being as young as it is.

It makes no sense as an explanation for civilization, as it was a development that occurred in people who wouldn’t be civilized for thousands of years

48 Zig June 11, 2017 at 10:06 pm

More likely associated with marauding Indo-Europeans

49 Ray Lopez June 8, 2017 at 12:39 pm

Here is more background, which I think goes up in status:

Keep in mind you can have fertile offspring from two different species (not every offspring is sterile, like the mule is, Horse + Donkey = Mule)

Besides what Milliez says, the status of chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov’s views on ‘deep history’ (forget his teacher’s name) go up, who thought civilization is millions of years old, as do the Creationists, a bit. If Adam & Eve can coexist besides a Cave Man, and their descendants interbreed, then a literal interpretation of Genesis becomes more likely. Not that I believe in these claims, just that their status goes up. Wow, I am talking like TC now, reading this blog has made me into a miniature Tyler Cowen. I wish I could play chess like him. Thanks for the shout-out TC!

50 Hazel Meade June 8, 2017 at 12:53 pm

I like this theory. We know that the clash between homo sapiens and neanderthals happened pretty recently, and it’s a well known concept in evolutionary biology that species isolation, and later reintegration, can cause bursts of evolutionary advancement. So maybe there were several such sub-species groups that split off due to isolation caused by the ice ages, and then sometime in the last 50,000 years, they all merged back into homo-sapiens. After a few thousand years of sorting, some new combination of genes pops up and boom, you get a rapid evolutionary advance – agriculture, civilization, writing, etc.

51 Milo Fan June 8, 2017 at 2:09 pm

Be careful, Hazel, that blend isn’t found in sub Saharan Africans.

52 Hazel Meade June 8, 2017 at 2:32 pm

Ahh, but genetic diversity apparently leads to great things. Maybe sub-saharan Africans are an isolated population that has a few useful new genes to offer. Certainly racial purity looks like a recipe for evolutionary stagnation.

53 Milo Fan June 8, 2017 at 7:05 pm

That explains why Brazil is a world power!

There might be some useful genes in Africans(not many, if phenotype is any indication) but adaptive introgression, like run of the mill natural selection, only works in conditions where the desirable genes are selected for. Doesn’t look like that now.

54 Lanigram June 8, 2017 at 7:41 pm

There is more genetic and language diversity in Africa than the ROW.

55 Thiago Ribeiro June 8, 2017 at 12:41 pm

From the earth of this fossil, three thousand centuries look up to me. It feels good knowing I am the culmination of Mankind’s long march.

56 Ray Lopez June 8, 2017 at 12:43 pm

Very poetic TR, calling yourself a fossil.

57 Thiago Ribeiro June 8, 2017 at 1:05 pm

No, the fossil is the fossil cientists have found. It looks up to me, as the actualization of its potentiality and dreams.

58 Ted Craig June 8, 2017 at 12:44 pm

How about “civilization is overrated?”

59 Lanigram June 8, 2017 at 7:43 pm

It’s good if you are the king. It’s good to be the king! 😉

60 rayward June 8, 2017 at 12:45 pm

Three steps forward, one step back. That’s the story of civilization. Cowen’s cyclical view of history. But why the cycles? Sure, we (sort of) understand economic cycles, but why historical cycles? Complacency? More likely greed. But isn’t greed good? Cowen borrows Thiel’s metaphor: “140 characters, instead of flying cars”. No, it’s not the 140 characters that’s the problem, it’s that a few visionaries discovered the gold in the internet, namely the gold in digital advertising, and Silicon Valley has been selling soap ever since. No, there’s nothing wrong with greed, but it infected the so-called “tech” sector like a plague. A tech apologist would argue that tech billionaires are investing their riches in ways that will catapult civilization to the next stage. I am willing to concede that the vanity projects of billionaires can be the catalyst to catapult us to the next stage. And I am willing to concede that the democratization of the economy (i.e., a consumer driven economy) is a drag on progress, as the economy seeks the lowest common denominator to generate the greatest amount of profits. Where is the balance? I suspect Cowen knows, or I believe he knows. Or is it fears?

61 Cooper June 8, 2017 at 1:37 pm

The Next Big Thing requires a huge amount of investment capital. We might be past the point where a civilization changing idea is going to come out of a garage.

It’s unlikely that the democratic governments of the world will be interested in allocating public resources to these types of projects. The political impulse is to spend taxes on transfer payments, not research projects.

So maybe we do need the Elon Musks of the world to fund the next Tesla or SpaceX. If a project needs $3 billion all at once to get going, *somebody* has to be there to write that check.

62 Lanigram June 8, 2017 at 7:46 pm

Yeah, somebody has to write the check for subsidies, tax credits, and carbon credits – the taxpayer!

63 Brett June 8, 2017 at 12:49 pm

It’s not just that we spent a long time before civilization, but that we appear to have spent 250,000 of those years in Africa with limited out-migration to other areas. Razib Khan has a post on this and the results in general. It would appear that it wasn’t until about 50,000 years ago that part of homo sapiens swept out of Africa and mostly displaced or absorbed the other hominid groups.

64 David Bates June 8, 2017 at 12:52 pm

Stable temperature plateau allows the rise of agricultural civilization.

65 Brett June 8, 2017 at 1:03 pm

Not so sure on that one. There’s theories that the Younger Dryas event – a very sudden, 1200 year long period returning to colder glacial epoch temperatures – may have spurred the rise of agriculture in the Near East. That agriculture then survived the rapid transition back to “normal” Holocene conditions.

66 chuck martel June 8, 2017 at 12:55 pm

“We’re slower learners”
They knew as much as they needed to know.

“interbreeding with Neanderthals was even freakier than we thought?”
Seems as though it’s still going on.

“That it took twice as long to start the process of civilization than previously thought. Let’s not blow it.”
Time is relative. Seconds to you is a century to a fruit fly.

67 dearieme June 8, 2017 at 12:56 pm

“what beliefs about the present should we revise?” None. Stop being silly.

68 chuck martel June 8, 2017 at 1:13 pm

The development of mining techniqWithout the products of mining there would be no civilization as we know it,
so a world without mining is unlikely, at least for the foreseeable future.
Mining has been an essential component of social development since prehistoric times.
Minerals have met uniquely human needs through the ages, including securing food and
shelter, providing defense, enhancing hunting capacities, supplying jewellery and mon-
etary exchange, enabling transport, heat and power systems, and underpinning industry
(Hartman 1987). Thus it is no coincidence that we associate most ages of cultural develop-
ment with minerals or their derivatives: the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the
Steel Age, and today’s Nuclear Age. Gold rushes in recent history contributed to settlements
in and development of large areas in Canada, California, South Africa, and Australia.

69 Dan in Philly June 8, 2017 at 1:19 pm

Intelligence is overrated in civilization. If we assume that HS of 300,000 is the same as today, it wasn’t because he was intelligent that he created civilization, or he would have done it before now. Something else caused the creation of civilization, maybe a cosmic accident.

70 EverExtruder June 8, 2017 at 1:29 pm

Who knows, but this particular event is certainly “convenient”.

71 daguix June 8, 2017 at 1:38 pm

Network effects in growth are underrated

72 Jeff Fisher June 8, 2017 at 1:47 pm

I enjoyed, and learned a lot by, reading “After the Ice: A Global Human History 20,000-5000 BC”.

73 Alvin June 8, 2017 at 2:08 pm

How about that global warming, or at least man-made global warming, is baloney.

74 Sergey Kurdakov June 8, 2017 at 2:16 pm

it depends how to measure. if we take current 6-7 billion people it turns that most of humanity population ever is alive today, so several thousands ( maybe hundreds ) early humans living for few more ( even hundred ) millennia does not add much. if we then take tasmanians ( which did not use clothing and presumably due to low population had the same rate of evolution like early humans ) we could then assume, that early humans were not so much ready for advanced civilization. it were last ice ages and harsh european/siberian climate and relatively high population due to huge available spaces which performed selection for higher IQ then agriculture kicked in and iq was raised further.

given that homo evolution was also driven by ice ages in Quaternary period – it looks like harsh but no such periods are necessary for accelerated evolution of intelligence.

now given that in 500 million years earth will start to be less habitable( ) and having overall trend of encephalization quaternary pump was really luck for our intelligence to appear.

so in short – it does not matter if additional 100 thousand years were added to our history.
what matters is that glaciation did not halt co2 levels to such degree that plants disappear ( and it was near it – with low co2 levels most plant died and just very few plants allowed volcanoes to replenish co2 and not to kill planet – but it was quite possible that snowball earth could happen – just some less volcanic activity and the earth ‘would be done’ ) and very difficult conditions of last ice ages pushed for higher rate of selection of intelligence

btw co2 levels explain why there were not much progress – human population grew due to better conditions about 130 thousand years ago and had lucky times 70 thousand years ago to make it possible to leave africa for more spaces. and before 130 thousand years – small bands had to survive in africa and that is why they moved from morocco to Ethiopia – it was not really good place in morrocco to live in during most of that 300-190 years ago span. but whatever did not kills us make us stronger.

75 Milo Fan June 8, 2017 at 2:18 pm

If a tribe of Neanderthals were found, we’d declare them part of humanity, thus the definition of humanity would change, thus it would be 600,000 or so years old.

That’s basically what happened here.

76 Butler T. Reynolds June 8, 2017 at 2:27 pm

We may yet find Atlantis.

77 Veobaum June 8, 2017 at 2:58 pm

Hmmm… At a 1% population growth rate we will run out of atoms in the universe in far less time.

78 Li Zhi June 8, 2017 at 3:27 pm

Since I’m not convinced we are a “species”, I’m certainly not impressed with evidence suggesting that this so-called species has existed for 300,000 years. Until we determine what change in our DNA and probably in our environment led to the discrete change in our ancestors’ behavior ~15,000 years ago, talk about how old our ‘species’ is is smoke and mirrors. How robust is our knowledge of the genetic basis of our behavior (as if I have to ask)? One thought I have is that maybe it isn’t us that changed but that by 20,000 – 15,000 years ago, we’d gotten rid of our major competitors. To the victor belong the spoils.

79 CD June 8, 2017 at 3:52 pm

There are two key moments, no? One is the origin of homo sapiens, the other is when homo s. acquired language and sophisticated symbol-using capacities. If the second moment was only around 100,000 years ago (which I know is not universally accepted, but seems plausible) then this discovery just doubles the span of time during which homo s. was only one among many specialized hominids.

I suppose that might cause us to consider the acquisition of language and sophisticated symbol-using capacities a more chancy and less inevitable event.

For my money, the discoveries that have not been adequately thought through are not those, but Göbekli Tepe and similar sites. If people are interested in “civilization,” then evidence of significant shared religious practice before the rise of cities seems important.

80 edgar June 8, 2017 at 4:13 pm

The current global dominance of homo sapiens owes everything to the Holocene interglacial that began 11,700 years ago. As it draws to a close and Quaternary glaciation resumes, leading inevitably to a new glacial maximum, agriculture will vanish and cannibalism will become the primary survival mechanism as we go extinct. If past is prelude, a new more efficient but smaller brained species will evolve to replace us just as we replaced our bigger brained predecessor homo neanderthals.

81 Sergey Kurdakov June 8, 2017 at 4:35 pm

it won’t resume.
with current co2 levels and our understanding of glaciation the next glacial period won’t start in 100 000 years. By then setting mirrors similar to shade idea and by this adding some more solar radiation (or maybe pumping more co2 than now – maybe methane?) will not allow glaciation to occur.

82 edgar June 8, 2017 at 6:59 pm

In the ice core record, temperature drives CO2 – not the other way around. Sometimes the earth warms quickly at 180 ppm CO2. Other times it cools quickly at 280 ppm CO2. It is not at all settled that anthropogenic CO2 emissions preclude long-term natural cycles from operating as they have in the past. There have been 9 interglacials in the last 800,000 years and they have ranged from 9,000 to 31,000 years with an average of about 19,000 years each. There are indicators that the current interglacial may be one of the shorter ones. Another 100,000 years would be unprecedented.

83 Sergey Kurdakov June 8, 2017 at 7:51 pm

“In the ice core record, temperature drives CO2 – not the other way around.” so you agree that forcing drives warming?

now does additional co2 drives warming? yes. how much? without feedback it’s about 1C per co2 doubling ( the current controversy is about amount of feedback – but it can not be too small due to response to above mentioned change due to forcing, so climate sensitivity (a response f climate to additional forcing from co2 ) is really 1.7-3.4C per doubling co2 as it’s commonly estimated – even if figure is somewhat lower – it cannot be much lower.
so driving co2 and methane or changing forcing by other means – will halt new ice age.
as for estimations – currently earth is in similar position in Milankovich cycle which previously led to ice age, we do not have ice age – and most probable reason – is human activity. So that is – we skip one ice cycle and the next conditions are not expected in 50 000 years, but will be milder, than current conditions, so we will skip next one too. More severe lack of solar insolation is expected only in 100 000 years, but then again – with forcing it is possible to skip that.

84 ohwilleke June 8, 2017 at 5:02 pm

The multiple conclusions on the amount of time that is necessary to develop a civilization/slow learners are mostly wrong.

The really key bottleneck development for civilization was the intention of farming, and the real barrier to developing it was not human learning capacity but rapidly changing weather – not so much hotter or colder as unstable. For most of human history until the Neolithic revolution when agriculture was invented, average global temperature varied by 2-3 degrees celsius every 60-100 years. If your grandfather tried to grow crops that might be suitable for Seville, Spain, the weather might be more like Norway by the time that you are old enough to farm. The constant change made it impossible to domesticate crops.

Farming emerged within a few centuries of the weather settling down in more than half a dozen different places and the effects were dramatic. For example, farming was introduced to Egypt about a 1000 years after it was invented in the Fertile Crescent. The advent of farming there caused the population density of Egypt to increase by a factor of 100x in about a century.

It took about 3500 years for the invention of farming to transform into kingdoms made up of multiple city-states with an elaborate religion, a written language, pervasive government regulation of commerce, international trade, elaborate public architecture and more. But, you can’t build cities without weather conducive to farming any more than you can learn to make igloos out of ice blocks in the Sahara.

85 M June 8, 2017 at 5:09 pm

After this discovery, the new factor in the finding is that there were Homo at the time already had a modern facial size.

Our priors about brain shape and size of our ancestors at 300,000 YBP are unchanged. The new fossil has an archaic vault, pretty much like a Neanderthal and like we’d expect Homo at the time to have.

So likely the only belief about the present we should revise is that people have had small faces for a long time and it didn’t help them much (e.g. they didn’t replace people like the Neanderthals with large facial sizes for about 250,000 more years).

Not exactly profound!

None of the beliefs you mention should be revised at all, because we would only revise those is response to a new fact that 300,000 YBP ancestors were cognitively more modern than we used to think they were. But this discovery doesn’t change that *at all*.

I won’t say this post is totally dumb, because that would be harsh, but you honestly could’ve saved yourself writing it by reading the very least sophisticated article there is about the actual discovery.

86 Mike June 8, 2017 at 7:55 pm

That if I’m a Brittish Statistitian in WW2, and I’m told that we have captured German tanks numered 1, 5, 7 and 11, that I should conclude that the Germans have exactly 11 tanks?

Also, besides the normal correction I should not take into consideration that newer tanks are probably less likely to have been caught yet (just like older fossils are less likely to be found – not only time, but also lower population..)?

87 Captn Obvious June 9, 2017 at 8:26 am

Scream from the rooftops! +100000

88 Max June 8, 2017 at 9:11 pm

Creationists are now even more wrong

89 Thanatos Savehn June 8, 2017 at 10:36 pm

Kind of like the ENCODE announcement almost a decade ago. Your genes are not a blueprint. They’re a toolbox.

The simple (-minded) stories we tell ourselves are just that; and Tyler’s consequentialism, materialism and determinism are as tasty as a moldy cupcake in Fallout3.

90 Locus Of Ctrl June 8, 2017 at 11:35 pm

Biology and (primitive) culture had more time to co-evolve.

91 Anon June 9, 2017 at 5:55 am

I wonder how much of this knowledge is in Western Canon?

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