My wife just got Lasik surgery last week (leave me a comment if you want an intro to this Northern VA ophthalmologist -- she's incredible and also operated on my eyes years ago, and I still have 20/15 vision) and while I was in the waiting room, I happened upon a 2009 Nat Geo article about The Hadza, an ethnic group that still today lives as hunter-gatherers.
The article provides an amazing contrast between that lifestyle and the "modern" lifestyle the rest of us lead. One passage got me really interested in how the change happened. The author wrote about how the Hadza lifestyle is one that's free of disease epidemics, war, famines, social stratification and more.
And even more intriguing was that for over 2 million years, humans' forefathers lived as hunter-gatherers. But then 10,000 years ago, something changed, and we started to domesticate plants and animals. As the article points out, that means for 99% of our existence we were hunter-gatherers, and only very recently did things change.
I did some research to try to figure out what caused this change, dubbed the Neolithic Revolution. Was it one tribe that figured it out? Was it an environmental factor such as an ice age? Why did humans (and those that came before them) life a nomadic lifestyle for many millennia, and then abruptly switch?
It's impossible to overstate the impact of that change. Here's a small sampling of the effect the Neolithic Revolution had on us:
- Religion: It's widely reported that organized religion began as a result of humans settling down. For example, the Hadza live in the present day and don't contemplate the past or future much, and they don't have much in the way of rituals or religion.
- Nations: Villages, then cities, and finally nations formed from this change. Hunter-gatherers are nomadic by nature and not territorial. They don't have any geography to defend.
- War: As a result of the formation of territories and nations came war, also something invented by humans in the past 10,000 years due to this change.
- Technology: The Hadza's possessions are few and can be carried with them wherever they go. They still hunt with spears, bows & arrows. Advanced technology is a direct result of the path that the Neolithic Revolution started.
So what caused this revolution? And what will the next one look like?
There's a great paper by Jacob Weisdorf titled From Foraging to Farming: Explaining the Neolithic Revolution which comes to the same conclusion as the Wikipedia page on the topic: Nobody really knows exactly why this change happened. There are a number of theories put forward which indicate it was likely due to an environmental change and happened gradually over several thousand years.
As we all know, change happens much more quickly now. And if something as simple (yet profound) as changing the way we obtain food completely revolutionized us as a species, then I wonder what effect the massive amount and speed of change will have on us in the next several hundred years.
What do you think will cause the next Neolithic Revolution? Will it be the maturation of artificial intelligence to a level changes our interactions with machines? Will it be the creation of drug therapies customized to each person's sequenced genome? Or will the relentless march of technology over the next millennia be the modern day equivalent of the domestication of plants and animals? Not a change created by a single person, but an amalgamation of changes over a protracted period of time that completely change the way humans interact with the world (and likely beyond)?
I'd love to know what you think in the comments below.
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