After many blog posts about my theory of human evolution, I managed to write a book chapter about it. Blogging helped. You may remember the ideas that language began because it increased trade and art began because it increased innovation. However, the center of the theory isn’t language and art, but procrastination. Above all, humans are the animals that specialize and trade. That’s obvious. Not obvious is that specialization begins with repetition — doing something over and over makes you an expert. The tendency to repeat had to be attachable to all sorts of activities, so that our ancient ancestors become expert at a wide range of things and could trade with each other. The mechanism behind this arbitrary repetition made it easy to repeat what you did yesterday and hard to do something new. Nowadays it does the same thing and thereby causes procrastination — difficulty starting something new.
The arbitrary day-after-day repetition began before trade. I believe it began when our ancestors were still hunting and gathering, like chimps. At some point there was a long-lasting surplus of food. The surplus lasted so long that it became beneficial to specialize while foraging. I suspect the great surplus was the discovery and exploitation of seafood, just as Elaine Morgan says, but what caused the abundance doesn’t matter for my theory. Specialization during foraging led to specialization during free time (hobbies). Trade began, part-time jobs (trading your specialty for necessities) began, and, when the pile of knowledge grew big enough, full-time jobs began.
The notion that repetition is behind expertise is supported by the idea that people who are really good at something have practiced a lot — say, 10,000 hours. I am saying two new things here: 1. Repetition is increased by hedonic changes: We want to repeat what we did yesterday. Doing something today makes it more pleasant to do tomorrow. 2. It’s not just superstars, such as the Beatles and Wayne Gretzky (Malcolm Gladwell’s examples), it’s everybody. Arbitrary repetition is behind Adam Smith’s “division of labour”. Our whole economy grew from a tendency to repeat today what you did yesterday.
5 Replies to “My Theory of Human Evolution: New Version”
I think it’s part of why we hate tax time so much. It’s not that prepping your taxes is intrinsically that hard or stressful; it’s hard and stressful because a year passes between repetitions.
See Paul Lafargue (who married Karl Marx’ daughter Jenny). He wrote “La Sagesse de la Paresse”. (The wisdom of laziness). The idea being that human civilization evolved paradoxically because of laziness.
Repetition and/or laziness might also explain why oppressed peoples around the world, down through the ages, have been so reluctant to rise up against their oppressors which would seem the logical thing to do.
More likely it’s hopelessness. “Peoples” is a theoretical construct, and theoretical constructs cannot reason.
Only individuals have logic, and those individuals have to have some reason to believe that their personal rising up will be met with something other than immediate torture.
The “exposure effect” is different from what you are talking about here (doing rather than perceiving) but I wonder if some of this research is relevant:
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