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Sapiens 6 Building Pyramids

Page history last edited by Ian Kimber 6 years, 3 months ago


6  Building Pyramids  


The  pyramids in the title do not only refer to the megalithic structures built by ancient civilisations but also the hierarchical and legal pyramids needed to organise these and other complex activities as random villages became towns and eventually large city states and empires.


 Segment   1  7 - 1 - Lesson6 - Building Pyramids - Segment 1 [34_59].mp4


In general we have seen that the agricultural revolution did not improve the lives of the humans, animals and plants but it did allow the selected species to multiply greatly in line with evolutionary pressures.   The impact of the agricultural revolution was to increase the complexity of society as well as an increase in population.  building cities requires agreement between peoples.  Wars and conflicts do not in general arise out of food shortages but other disagreements,  Sapiens can form large extended tribal groups who know each other by sight and reputation.   however they do not have any built in methods of developing mass cooperation between large numbers of individuals who do not know each other.


This cooperation was achieved by agreed fictions and stories to get them to cooperate an imagined order of structure and organisation.

Two very different examples of these agreed myths or laws are given as an example


First the code of Hamelabi    1776 BC the oldest known legal code controlled from Babylon with about 1 million people

This is a law model of a just King

The text states that the gods decreed to the King that laws should be observed to maintain justice and social order 

To abolish the exploitation of the weak and strong about 300 different edicts an judgements.


For example:-    a superior man an eye for an eye etc  

                                                       eye of commoner pay 60 shekels compensation

                                                       eye of a slave half his value 

                                                       similarly for women and relatives of the offender 

This shows a clear stratification of society  into a hierarchy,   the two genders and three classes upper, lower and slaves ,  children are the property of their parents  i.e. a daughter for a daughter in the same class.

note also the the physical punishments were not for the offender but other members of his family in the case of equality or financial compensation for lower classes.


Secondly the American declaration of independence in 1776 AD

These principles are given by divine power

     All men are created equal  

     Have rhe right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness


these laws are still being learned today


both claim universal eternal and divine justice and cannot both be right! and if they met both leaders would argue for their cases


In fact both must be wrong.   Decrees by God are an invented story by man.  Human equality is as much a myth  this can be translate the first line into true biological fact



This says that we hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal

That they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights

Among these are  life liberty and the pursuit of happiness


The revised biologically accurate version should be


This says that we hold these truths to be self evident that all men are evolved and different

That they are born with mutable traits

Among these are  life,   and the pursuit of pleasure  


However this statement of bald reality does not completely cancel a lot of the aims in the original declaration or even the code of Hamelabi  which are needed to create a feeling of fairness and agreement between people although attitudes themselves evolve with time.  How and why does this work?



Segment    2   7 - 2 - Lesson6 - Building Pyramids - Segment 2 [34_50].mp4


The social order is an imagined order and therefore it is far less stable than evolutionary order and can change.  This is not like animals who's social orders are genetically programmed.

One of the main facts is that human beings spend a lot of time stabilising the order by persuasion and coercion.

One priest or persuader is much more effective and powerful than an group of armed man.


How do you get people to believe in an imagined order like Christianity, democracy or capitalism.


The first  stabilising factor  is through education during our youth or life.  This includes the myth and legends about good and bad things, Another is through advertising and current fashion forms part of this process.

In the past people in authority were there by their birthright had to look like the accepted authority figures at all time all the time because it came form their position in society.  Noblemen protected their good name at all costs with violence if need be and could not be disrespected.  General living conditions even for the wealthy meant that personal privacy did not exist. 


Nowadays people are individuals with a value not depending on the class of your birth.  This western egalitarian and individualistic society today allows leaders to dress like working man as part of a style.  Individual development is an important part of todays society and value system  Personal privacy is also important.  Even for children.   individualism requires this to be expressed in having one's own space or room in architectural design. 


The second stabilising factor is the imagined order shapes our deepest desires and wishes. These are determined by the imagined ideals like for examples taking vacations abroad.  This is not a natural process we are programmed by our society to want this as an idea of success.  We must have a wide range of experiences. in food, activities and travel.  Consumerism makes us desire new things and the latest versions of things.  In the past things were only thrown away when they were worn out and not repairable.

In the past the elite stayed in their country and could not travel except for very big political reasons

Romantic consumerism today  i.e.   to make the most of you life you must have as many experiences as possible and travel.  In order to be happy you must have all the right products advertising drives us to this.  The tourism industry sells you experiences.  

In the past this was not so. In a stratified society it would be a physical demonstration of status like a statue,  building or a tomb.


The third thing is that this order is a collective phenomenon or fashion one person may by choice opt out but it does not affect the rest

There are three main factors in the way this works with illustrative examples


1  Objective   Link our imagined reality with reality as it exists.    like radioactivity and protection a scientific approach based on measured reality cause and effect.


2  Subjective  The imagined order shapes our deepest desires  an imaginary friend  This is an idea of an individual and is different for each individual


3 Inter-subjective  it is embedded in our society as a whole by communication with each other.  They are shared beliefs

To change inter subjective things you have to persuade everyone else to follow a different imagined path for example  gods, nations, money, companies,  Human rights.  environmental “green” attitudes.  


These changes can happen.      For example the change in social attitudes to smoking from a general adult activity to an antisocial bad habit over the last 50-60 years. Other changes are talking place


Segment  3    7 - 3 - Lesson6 - Building Pyramids - Segment 3 [18_36].mp4


Food and an imagined order is not enough to run a large and complex town or country.  You need a way to record store and process information  too much information for one person to cope with and guarantee not to forget important details. People can remember very well lots of details about people and animals and their relationships Detailed numerical information is difficult to remember an is not something the brain can cope with.


Not just larger amounts other types just detailed data areas of fields amount of crops we are not equipped to handle numbers like this

structured civilisation needs to raise money in taxation and plan ahead  the Sumerians in southern Iraq invented a method of writing and recording numbers

commerce and legal information was the main use of the first script not poetry and the arts.  This happened about 4000 years BCE     Stories were still transmitted by word of mouth and memory.

The first written documents were written by accountants and tax collectors. Then came laws.  It was only much later that poets and philosophers used writing.

The first written documents were 29,086 measures barley 37 months Cushim i.e. this quantity of barley were received ove this period signed by Cushim a person or a post ie an accountant's note!  boring detailed economic documents


Later writing became more detailed and efficient forms of writing capable of expressing more things like actions, rules and eventually feelings.  The first written languages were for mathematics.


Return to   1 Index page Sapiens A Brief History of Humankind


Comments (6)

Ian Kimber said

at 3:50 pm on Feb 3, 2018

I agree but the reasons for this can often be very different.

Any individual almost always considers themselves to be a member of several different groupings for example I consider myself as:- an animal, a human being, European, British, English, a Northerner, a Lancastrian, I live in the west country. A Scientist, A member of a bowls club Etc As such my attitudes are based on how these groupings are treated by other entities on this planet.

These interactions are complex Let us look at one aspect.

If I was very concerned about fairness in distribution of resources equally I might feel that the fact that the UK pays more into Europe than it gains from it is bad and a good reason for opting put of this inequitable deal I also note that Britain gives more in grants to Scotland and Wales and feel similarly about the existence of the United kingdom However I know that the UK is a wealthy country compared with most of the other countries in Europe so it is only to be expected that we should pay a bit more in than we get out. similarly with England Scotland and Wales so I am in favour of remaining in in Europe and the United Kingdom. Other people think differently and wish to leave Europe but strangely they do not wish to say good riddance to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland! maybe it is a strong wish not to relinquish control

As aI see it Catalonia is the wealthiest bit of Spain and wants to keep more of its resources to itself.

On the other hand a large sub group may wish for its independence because it is being treated badly by a dominant group.

Ian Kimber said

at 3:19 pm on Feb 3, 2018

I have now completed the revision of my notes for this page and made a very large amount of changes because i was ver dissatisfied with my earlier ones.

Picking up with your western oriented point. I agree this is so. I think that this is because he is lecturing mostly to a western orientated audience and choosing examples fro their own history and present attitudes. I agree that other cultures and social structures notably Arabic Chinese and Native African are very different both now and in the past but that is not the point. What he is talking about are the rules that generate and stabilise any society's rules and morays. This is independent of what these rules and morays may be. That is the imagined order based on religious or other approaches to good behaviour and the creation of a coherent society. If one were dealing with these societies one would chose different historical and modern examples to argue the same case. to include all the examples for different societies would make the argument far too long or far too sketchy.

Miall James said

at 4:15 am on Jan 31, 2018

Still catching up, but I'm not at all sure about his rather heirarchical approach. Ideas with few adherents can take over, if enough people change their minds, and nation-states can break up if enough people want it to happen; Catalonia, Scotland for example are close to that point.

Miall James said

at 4:00 am on Jan 31, 2018

Catching up with this again. Section 2 is very Western-orientated, isn't it. Not sure how well it works with others, although packs of Chinese tourists are appearing all over th world!

Ian Kimber said

at 8:48 am on Jan 3, 2018

I am about to review and update my notes on these lectures over the next day or two. I was hoping to do it a day or two ago but events conspired! I have just started reading his follow on book "Homo Deus" and in his introduction to the main book he discusses life liberty and the pursuit of happiness again in considerable detail and I also have misgivings about his thinking on this topic and will expand in more detail shortly after I have reviewed what he says here

Miall James said

at 12:35 pm on Jan 2, 2018

Listened to segment 1 in this section. Not sure about his ‘pursuit of happiness’. Biological entities exist to pass on their DNA.

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