The rise of the west and the changing sociopolitical landscape

Aeon this weekend highlighted a 2017 article by Joel Mokyr looking at how Europe became the richest part of the world (or at least one of the richest).  Historically, there have been many theories, ranging from racist rationals, cultural ones, to it merely being Europe and the overall west's turn to be on top. That … Continue reading The rise of the west and the changing sociopolitical landscape

The antecedents of western philosophy

Peter Flegel has an interesting article in Philosophy Now looking at possible connections between ancient Greek philosophy and conceptions explored in the Egyptian New Kingdom period.  Ideas like the four elements and the theory of forms seem to have pretty clear antecedents in Egyptian thought. (There's also a brief suggestion that Akhenaten, known for a … Continue reading The antecedents of western philosophy

Neanderthals and the beginnings of us

The Smithsonian has an interesting article up on what we currently know about Neanderthals.  The article details some of the internecine battles that always seems to be a part of the paleoanthropology field, in this case focusing on the capabilities of Neanderthals, whether they had art, religion, and other qualities of modern humans. Our view … Continue reading Neanderthals and the beginnings of us

Big societies came before big gods

Some years ago I reviewed a book by Ara Norenzayan called Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict.  Norenzayan's thesis was that it was a belief in big gods, specifically cosmic gods that cared about human morality, that enabled the creation of large scale human societies. In small societies, reputation serves as an effective … Continue reading Big societies came before big gods

Breakthroughs in imagination

When thinking about human history, it's tempting to see some developments as inevitable.  Some certainly were, but the sheer amount of time before some of them took place seem to make them remarkable. The human species, narrowly defined as Homo sapiens, is about 200,000 years old.  Some argue that it's older, around 300,000 years, others … Continue reading Breakthroughs in imagination