Yeah Communication is Cool, but it’s not Everything

The cognitive revolution is rather deceiving in its title, as this wasn’t necessarily some massive progression of intellect and cognition as much as it was a development in communicative abilities to discuss concepts beyond what we perceive to be reality. Sapiens discusses this transition, as well as the growth of humankind concerning agriculture. Both were crucial with the explosion in population occurring during the early years of humanity. While the numbers were not nearly comparable by today’s standards, our ability to collaborate as a functional whole was crucial in organization of groups beyond 150 (Harari 2015, 22). The initial ability to construct “stories” to explain natural phenomena that were not previously understood allowed us as a species to associate with similar belief systems and establish order accordingly. Following this, systematic societies could be implemented. The agricultural revolution presented a possibility to actualize this capability. Humans soon realized their capacity to utilize livestock without killing them by localizing them and containing them. By breeding animals for food and animal products, societies could be developed in singular locations; thus, the necessity for nomadic life was eliminated.

Homo sapiens soon came to control other species, not through our individual intellectual capacity or realization of animal’s ability to be captured, but through the impact of these two crucial elements in the form of collaboration; what we now consider to be “lesser” species lacked the crucial element of communication. The stories which united early peoples, as well as the social constructs initiated by accelerated linguistic abilities truly set Homo sapiens apart from the rest of the animal community. Harari’s argument, while strong, does fail to recognize other factors in human development. We cannot place the domination of humanity upon a singular component in a complex web of pieces which, when put together, brought forth the reality we now know. Communication was truly important, as was our ability to better cognitively process our surroundings, develop a level of self awareness to perceive faulty logic and methodology, and attempt to formulate ideas to improve performance when it came to tasks like collecting essential food sources and clothing. Asserting that communication somehow triumphed these other elements is preposterous. While it truly assisted in developing many other areas of growth, Harari failed to note the various other impacts curated in early human history.

3 thoughts on “Yeah Communication is Cool, but it’s not Everything”

  1. I understand why you think that communication would not be as important as all the other factors regarding why Sapiens became dominant. But I don’t think you are understanding just how important this is, not only can people communicate better, which means making better strategies to hunt bigger animals, but also being able to live together in bigger groups. Both of these together really helped Sapiens thrive, thus helping to make Sapiens the dominant species and leading to the start of permanent settlements with the help of agriculture. However, I still believe that Sapiens were not the only species that had this ability, that species like the Neanderthals were religious and carved or made their own totems.

  2. First of all, thank you for addressing the evolution of our cognitive abilities as a long process (hence evolution) and not some grand shift in our psychology- as an anthropology student this was really bothering me. I agree that these abilities, paired with the emergence of agriculture, directly lead to the sapiens we know and love today. However, I acknowledge the simplicity of this explanation and further agree with your assertion that Harari failed to mention other factors in our prehistory that contributed to our evolution and the origins of society and human kind. For me, his argument primarily lacked the facts of the similarity between homo sapiens and neanderthals including that these two species interbred. All in all, solid response and recognition of the bits missing from Harari’s foundation.

  3. I think you presented some excellent arguments for the alternative factors which contributed to humanity’s success, in addition to our ability to communicate. Particularly, our levels of self-awareness and ability to perceive incorrect or incoherent methodology is an important skill for the prosperity of the humans which goes completely unmentioned when looking through the lens of communication. It seems like Harari’s ideas of Sapiens success all concern humanity on a large scale, whereas the factors you’re considering also lead to success in individuals, like your first point of being able to effectively process our surroundings. While both are valid, looking at it in this way shows how simplified Harari’s attribution of humanity’s success when compared to the numerous elements at play.

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