Viva La (Cognitive) Revolution!

The Cognitive Revolution, an intellectual transition of humans into being able to conceptualize and imagine realities, occurred around 70,000 years ago. This revolution marked the first of three major revolutions that changed the trajectory of human evolution and adaptation. Through this revolution, Homo Sapiens demonstrated that we are the only organism that can think and communicate about things that do not exist in reality; myths, religions, and fantasies being some of the most prevalent manifestations of this. The Agricultural Revolution, the second of the three major human revolutions, took place around 10,000 years ago. This allowed not only humans to congregate and coexist in mass numbers and form societies, but also permitted the development of trade and hierarchal systems. Since its development, Agriculture has shaped the course of human development in numerous ways, many of which are subjectively good or bad. As a collective, Homo Sapiens know more than we did prior to the Agricultural Revolution, but individually we have become more specialized in our knowledge and it has become far easier to pass down unremarkable genes.


Harari asserts that Homo Sapiens became the dominant species through these revolutions. He suggests that the first step to this dominance came from the Cognitive Revolution in the ability to imagine orders and classify people and things into categories. This ability stems from the development of language, possibly the most important development to come from the Cognitive Revolution. I agree with Harari’s assertions here and believe that the capacity to communicate through language paved the pathway to nearly every human adaptation since its development. I am partially skeptical about Harari’s views on the knowledge pool prior to the Agricultural Revolution versus after. I agree that people knew more about their surroundings, though it seems the whole point of the Cognitive Revolution was to push the boundaries of our knowledge beyond just our surroundings and that this is ultimately what led to the dominance of Homo Sapiens.

1 thought on “Viva La (Cognitive) Revolution!”

  1. Humans are social creatures and if it’s one thing I noticed, social creatures tend to be a bit higher on the cognitive totem pole. Examples would be species like the various ape species, dolphins and others. I would agree that our ability to cooperate is what has made us exceptionally different from other species on the planet. The difference is society. Higher animals like apes and monkey species do seem to have been able to form communities, but nowhere to the sophistication level that Humans have. The ability to communicate in a language complex ideas (such as, I will trade you this round rock for that leaf, move to my right side while we’re hunting that deer, look, I made fire, I think we can use it for cooking) gives us an advantage. It enables us to form economies, social structures, governments, all examples of an advanced species’ behavior. Our ability to be creative (exemplified with the lion-man carving) is what separates us, and what drives our technological development. The conditions for the development of civilization from the beginning to today were just right, and once we got that head start and those basic advantages, we snowballed.

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