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Sapiens 1: The Human Family

Page history last edited by Ian Kimber 3 years, 7 months ago



1 - 1 - Lesson 1 - The Human Family - Introduction [6_04].mp4


This introduces the style and theme of the whole course  "A brief history of Humankind" it looks across a very broad sweep from the origin of mankind up to the modern technological age it is a personal original and well thought out view looking at structures looking at some important features that created the co-operation on a large scale that characterises humankind.


  • What is religion?
  • What is an empire?
  • What is money?
  • How does an economy function?
  • Why were men regarded as being superior to women in almost all societies?
  • Did people become happier?
  • What is the likely future of Humankind?


It is aimed to be an introduction and a setting off point for thinking about history


A brief run through of the main concepts is also available as a 15 minute TED talk.


Here it is a link to the online presentation



This is a version that you can download from this site  Note it is 118MB in size





The root thesis of this work is that what distinguishes humankind from all other animals is not any particular skill, strength or even intelligence but an ability co-operate flexibly in very large numbers and that this ability this is based on an ability to accept and act on an agreed concept "fiction" that suggests what actions will be successful, productive or create a good life.


October 2020 

This page and its links are now fully active and available for watching the video lectures  and comments and discussions.


Lecture 1  The Human Family


This deals with the origin of the human species as a development of the great apes in Africa and its dispersal out of Africa and across the world and its splitting into several species evolved to be more fitted to the local climate. Mankind wis initially a species of no great significance


Segment 1    2 - 1 - Lesson 1- The Human Family - 1st Segment [31_29].mp4


Starting with the origins of the universe we have a quick run through physics, chemistry and biology to life and then to cultures which is the main feature of this study.  He sees history as the next stage in sthe science of complex intelligent life forms


The first stage is called the cognitive revolution the development of basic intelligence and communication skills

The second is the agricultural revolution  the development of agriculture and large complex communities.

The third is the Scientific revolution about 500 years ago at the reformation leading up to control of life itself.


He then goes on to define species and the grouping of species into Genera leading to the definition of our own genus and species  Homo Sapiens respectively and its greater generalisation family   I the distant past there were other species in the genera Homo  and the Family of the genus Homo in the family of the Great Apes  like chimpanzees.   We are now aware of many other human species  The first in the chain Was  Australipithicus in Africa which then moved away and diversified into different Species


The initial human species spread and diversifyied over the globe starting 2 million years ago


Neanderthals in Europe  (the men from the Neander valley  well adapted to the cold climate of the northern ice age.

Homo Soloensis  in south east asia  in Java  well adapted to living in jungles and swamps.

As subset of this is Homo Florensis  who were very small only about 1m high living on a small island with a poor food supply.

In Asia another species developed called Homo Erectus very tall and existed from 1.5 My  to 50K  ago

In Eastern Russia was a differen species Homo Denesova       Identified as another species by DNA Analysis.


They were all very different     There are probably many more to be found.


This is not a linear model of evolution from apes to modern man  from 2million years ago to about 10,000 years ago there were many different species of Homo  at least 6 in significant numbers.


There is now only one  what has happened to these other species?


Segment 2    2 - 2 - Lesson 1- The Human Family - 2nd Segment [29_05].mp4


The defining characteristics of humans.


First:   Very large brains compared with its size and weight.  Why do human's have such big brains  it is heavy and requires protection and uses a lot of energy about 25% of the total resting energy cf 2-3% of weight

Development of big brains and tools but still a minor animal  Why big brains?  This requires a lot of food as brains grew  muscles became less strong  Is this good?  A chimpanzee is about 5 times stronger than a man!  The identification of this evolutionary drive is a great mystery in evolution.


Second:   An upright bipedal posture.  This allows humans to see further away and leaves hands free to develop to make and use tools and skills much better than apes.  The cost is more stress in the skeleton and still produces problems of the back and legs.  Women have particular problems in narrowing the hips and restricting the birth canal increasing the risk of death in childbirth and causing babies to be born earlier in the gestation period by evolutionary pressures.  Humans are born at a must earlier stage than normal animals.  Humans are totally dependant on their parents for several years unlike other animals. In fact it takes a tribe to fully develop a human child if you take education and training into account. Human children are much more adaptable and plastic mentally during their development unlike other animals.


The original humans were a long way from being top predators but were gatherers and scavengers and hunted by larger animals it has been suggested that the use of stone axes to get highly nutritious bone marrow from the bones of discarded carcases of dead animals  once the top predators and scavengers have had their fill of the meat it was only later that humans become significant predators because of group co-operation.   In fact they are not well fitted mentally to cope with some aspects of being in the position as top predator.  Think of mankind as a herd of sheep that herd of sheep that developed armaments and ran amok.


Segment 3     2 - 3 - Lesson 1- The Human Family - 3rd Segment [12_31].mp4


How did humankind make this leap from insignificant to top predator?  The first big development was tool was Taming fire.  Fire was used on a daily basis  as a source of light and warm and allows fire to clear land and make easy prey it is also useful as a weapon against predators.  


The biggest advantage was probably cooking food.  Cooking  allows many more seeds and roots to be eaten and also kills off parasites and diseases.   


The brain and the digestion are big users of energy cooking makes food easier to digest and therefore requires less energy and smaller intestines.   This helped the brain grow to improve skills but was not enough to get us on the top of the heap. It gives the ability of mankind to punch above its weight and strength even individually.  Further developments were needed before this could happen;


Segment 4     2 - 4 - Lesson 1- The Human Family - 4th Segment [29_12].mp4

Other species of hominids existed over the world and had already moved out of Africa and formed separate species the Neanderthals,  Denisovans. Homo Erectus  etc

Then something else happened.  Homo Sapiens developed and moved out of Africa

  The other human species quickly disappeared  Why?


Neanderthals had the biggest brains and had great strength and manipulative skills and also had fire but they lost out eventually to Sapiens


1  Interbreeding:   The species became merged  results in more genetic diversity.

     There could be genuine differences between major races on humans


2  Replacement:  Outcompeting or by warfare  results in less genetic diversity


The European Neanderthal genome has now been sequenced and 4% are to be seen in Europeans

The Asian Denisovans have also been sequenced and 6% are associated with melanesians and Australian aborigines. 

However these are early results and still require more validation.


It follows that some interbreeding had taken place but not as much as if full interbreeding had taken place so it is a bit of both.   Competition is obvious,  however humans are not tolerant and will resort to violence.  All current humans are very generically similar so the result is that it currently looks strongly as if replacement dominated interbreeding.   This point is reached at around 50,000 years ago.  Homo sapiens must have out competed the resident species.  This could also have involved war and genocide.  The Neanderthals were stronger but died out around 30,000 years ago.


This concludes at about the 24th minute of the lecture.


There was then a bit of a speculative aside about what might have happened if both species had survived? and its relation to religions, politics and law.   There is also a suggestion that humans may be evolving to be different species again see the final lectures for this.


Why did Sapiens win?  That is in the next lecture. 


Return to   1 Index page Sapiens A Brief History of Humankind

Comments (8)

Ian Kimber said

at 10:13 am on Jan 26, 2018

I saw that too. Yes that is very interesting. It just shows how much evidence of this there is yet to discover. As always our theories are limited by the nature of our knowledge. Mankind was so thin on the ground then that they could have expanded and failed several times the effects of secular climate change in the form of ice ages and warm periods which are much bigger changes but slower than the current worries, mean that potential fertile and productive routes to expand can change a lot. over thousands of years.

Sorry I have been a bit slow updating my notes and adding the next lectures. I have more free time over the next few days so here's hoping.

Miall James said

at 12:55 am on Jan 26, 2018

I wonder, does this development alter matters. 'Researchers have identified the remains of the earliest known modern humans to have left Africa.
New dating of fossils from Israel indicates that our species (Homo sapiens) lived outside Africa around 185,000 years ago, some 80,000 years earlier than the previous evidence.'
From the BBC Science pages 26th jan. 2018.

Miall James said

at 10:15 am on Oct 5, 2017

Ian, when is The Cognitive Revolution coming? I’ve been fascinated so far, and I’m really interested to hear about language. After all, given the similarity between the various human species, why didn’yn the others develop it?

Ian Kimber said

at 10:43 pm on Sep 3, 2017

I am not quite sure if this last story of why is completely my own or is hinted at in the book but will look out for it in my repeating the study.

Ian Kimber said

at 10:40 pm on Sep 3, 2017

a good suggestion Alec. I have added a page visit counter as you suggested.

As for the how vs why comment. I agree that Noah concentrates on proposing a thesis and proof of how our human race rose from a clever but insignificant animal to dominate all other spices by working collaboratively and flexibly in very large groups rather than individual dominance. I also agree the question of why this happened at all or at this point and not at any earlier or later phase of evolution is worthy of consideration but may not be answerable or provable.

There is of course the glib catch all answer to the question why "because it could" Which is clearly true because it did!

The question why then, is more difficult. In the past before the string evidence of the catastrophic evidence of mass extinctions was proved convincingly I considered the possibility it may have been a sign that an advanced intelligence had developed dominated and damaged the planet and killed itself off (as is quite likely for mankind) but that is now just the subject of one of my unwritten science fiction stories.

Some people may wish to see it as a wormhole for some sort of divine or external intervention to have acted in mankind. The god of the gaps or possibly A C Clark's 2001 story involving black monoliths.

After a bit of thought the best explanation I have is that Mankind has an extremely small generic diversity and it is suggested that it might be traced back to a group of females as small as three individuals. during a period when the species was for some unknown reason under extreme stress This would make the initial groups of humans strongly related and the purely factual stories of their ancestors provided a good reason for diverse groups of recognisably similar hominid species to co-operate. these factual stories grew with the telling into fiction and evolved into a deity to create the first religion which I strongly believe was the first of the unifying fictions.

Alec Smith said

at 7:09 pm on Sep 3, 2017

Ian, you did ask that we should make some indication that we were following your course, and I think that you would be justified in adding the "recent visitors" tag.
There is a lot to take in, and as is indicated in the introduction, there are many versions of Sapiens history. It has started my reading of the book again, and I shall continue with the course lessons.
For me, although informative and interesting, it smacks of the "how" rather than the elusive "why?".

Ian Kimber said

at 12:07 am on Mar 21, 2015

The next major topic is coming very shortly mike

Alec Smith said

at 9:55 pm on Mar 20, 2015

When I started listening to the series by Yuval Noah Harari, I didn't think I would have the concentration to listen to his message for very long. But his subject seemed interesting enough to warrant the purchase of the book, and that has made all the difference. At first, I imagined that he might be reading as he spoke, but now I see the whole outline of his subject, and follow his talks while reading in the chapter, his slips make him less robotic, and he seems to use a more chatty style which can be absorbed more easily. There have been some severe criticisms of his apparent certainty of pre-historical data, but only from people who think they could have done better themselves. It will be good to enjoy the rest of this as Ian loads it up.

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