Imagine the big, beautiful world.
… with infinite resources (food, water, safety) as far as the eye can see.
Fruits were happy.
Antelopes were even more happy, because the lions did not eat them.
Even animals as sympathetic as the serpent have become vegetarian.
In fact, it became the annoying vegan who not only avoided meat, but always boring others with it — like poor Adam and Eve.
Oh yes, the Earth was once, The Paradise,
… until some asshole messed it up.
Spoiler: It wasn’t Adam.
Actually, it was started by the Greeks with nonsense like the Earth being round.
Then that Copernicus guy we met in the previous episode dropped a mental nuclear bomb: he said that the solar system doesn’t revolve around the Earth.
But this was only the first great trauma…
Now here’s the second — the guy who killed Adam and Eve.
No, it’s not God.1Even if I draw like a 3 years old
It’s Charles Darwin.
And this is our world… a long time ago.
In the beginning, the seas were like an “ancient soup”.
How can you recognize soup? There’s a lot of juicy stuff floating in the liquid.
But this was a little different from grandma’s soup… If you forget that out in the sun, it’ll go sour — and you get a big fucking slap on your neck.
But if the early primordial soup of the Earth got sunshine, the organic matter would have condensed — the ingredients would have come together into additional larger molecules.
Therefore, the molecules could chill in the sun all day.
It was a great life — a paradise, you might say.
… but as we all know now, in happy peacetime there is always an idiot who mess everything up.
One molecule couldn’t fucking handle itself, so it created a playmate.
No, not from his own ribs.
Spoiler 2: It wasn’t Adam.
Or you know what? Let it be Adam.
“Adam the molecule”, the first reproducing
human gene, used the grandma’s primordial soup to replicate itself, and made a copy of itself from his own rib the building blocks of the soup — Eve.
It was love at first sight, and as usual for couples, the honeymoon came:
- they hung out together all day
- have stayed overnight countless times
- they could not break away from each other
That’s how it went for a while, but then things got real, so they started a family, knowing that a few billion years later they would be able to claim some serious family allowances for it.
Eventually, they became so happy with the extended family life that they multiplied completely — after all, they were the only family in the neighbourhood able to make copies of themselves.
But here’s an important note.
The more copying you do, the more mistakes you make!
Like having to write your name 500 times:
- your hands get tired
- your brain wanders
- eventually you make mistakes
And if you repeat this many times, your own mother couldn’t even recognize your name.
Oh, and there’s another twist.
The copying error is passed on to the other descendants.
It means you don’t copy your original signature, you always copy the one you wrote before. Did you misspell your initials? You have to start the next one like this!
If we just copied the original, there wouldn’t be many mistakes. But from the copy of the copy of the copy of the copy, the mistakes add up.
The mistakes are called: mutations.
So it happened that the world became an army of copies, constantly creating another copy of their own mutation.
Although they all had the same reproductive molecule as their ancestor (Adam, the molecule), they were increasingly different from him.
These DNA copying errors have created humanity’s second great trauma: Evolution.
There were now two kinds of molecules swimming in the primordial soup:
- chilling all day and wanted only one thing — to survive
- bored as fuck and wanted nothing more than — to reproduce.
Surviving and reproducing.
The two oldest, most important life instincts.
Or by another name: Netflix & Chill.
But we all know that raising children is expensive…
After a while, this led to the resources (the building blocks of the soup that stored the sun’s energy) running out, because — surpriiiiise — they weren’t unlimited.
It doesn’t seem like a serious problem today, but it’s what has given birth to the biggest and deadliest arms race ever: natural selection.
Some of the new molecules — lacking solar storage building blocks — began to directly harness the energy of sunlight to survive and reproduce.
Another branch took advantage of the previous chemical work and… ate them.
And their mutants, like the one who have exploited the very ones they had evolved from — and ate them.
Genes became plants and animals, animals became herbivorous or carnivorous, and so on.
… but the goal remained the same:
As you’ve probably guessed, the first type (the plants) didn’t like being eaten by the second.
And the second one (herbivorous animal) didn’t like being eaten by the mutants.
And the mutants that evolved in the line (such as the predators) didn’t like the fact that the first and second one kept meowing.
We have gone from being a paradise to a place where everyone is fucking dissatisfied.
So some started to move to escape.
Others started to protect themselves — e.g. by putting up a protein wall around themselves.
Others again have started to chemically dismantle the defenders and use the building blocks released.
They have evolved.
All the inaccurate variants, which resulted in higher survival and reproduction rate, survived — others extinct.
Poor fellas tried everything:
- Larger size
- Faster speed
- More power
But these all required extra energy, so to get larger or faster or stronger, you had to put in even more building blocks… and no one knew then what their 500 millionth descendant (Newton) would discover: there are laws of physics, too.
So after a while, no matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t get any bigger, stronger or faster.
They tried something else:
Joining together with other molecules.
… and when many genes joined together, they started to build complete survival machines.
But the goal remains the same:
As genes combined what they have evolved individually, increasingly complex survival machines have been created.
But after a while, even with the molecules joined each other, the limit was reached — it was too expensive to get faster, bigger or stronger.
So some survivors tried to escape from the ocean to the land.
Then, when land was no longer safe — the air.
This deadly competition has evolved into today’s diversity of flora and fauna.
… and when I say diversity, I mean fucking diverse.
Like, when the roles are reversed, and the plant eats the animal.
Other times, the species itself does not even know what it wants to be.
Occasionally, a species goes extinct.
Unfair, but ohers can exist in not one, but two worlds.
Not to mention the third.
Some are beautiful.
Others are… not.
… and we’re just scratching the surface — there are a bunch of other weirdopus.
And the unicorn is the one who is “fabulous”? A horse with a horn? Really?
You live in a world where a fairytale creature is the least bizarre.
But don’t be fooled: now, billions of years later, not the survival machines — animals or plants, nor the fungus or viruses or bacteria — the ones that rule the world.
- They come to life.
- Then they developed unique abilities.
- After that, they joined together to form giants.
Now they control their survival machines, safe from the inside — with remote control.
Each gene gives different instructions to its survival machinery.
Some species have therefore become super-intelligent — while others are not very smart, but extremely strong.
Some are incredibly fast — others are dirt slow, because they have put the emphasis on proper protection.
Some are highly adaptable — while others don’t need it.
Some are huge — others are invisibly small.
Millions of survival strategies, only one goal:
The survival and reproduction of genes.
And among the many wonderful creatures, there was one nobody yet knew that it would be the dominant one.
1) A species that — because of its Cooperation — has been able to exterminate even much larger species.
2) A species that — because of its Innovations — has been able to subjugate the strongest animals.
3) A species that — because of its Intelligence — has been able to make the smartest animals its faithful companions.
4) A species that — because of its Communication — has been able to coordinated, captured and herded even those much faster than it.
5) A species that — thanks to its Adaptability — has been able to conquer both the largest uninhabitable mystery, and the smallest, everyday world that is constantly in front of our eyes.
The species, which is not the strongest, biggest, fastest — but because of these distinguishing features, eventually became the dominant of the world.
The apex predator of this planet:
By now — billions of years after the beginning of this story — these five features have led us to dominate the land, the water and the air.
… and even to leave the planet.
The 5 features that genes have chosen for us — and that have won us the race (so far).
If you look closely, these five are the roots of our communication model.
- Humanity has always lived in tribes — which made the Source so important
- Homo is the first species to become conscious — the Target was born
- Which led to the cognitive revolution — the basis of Idea
- What made our communication system supernatural — the power of Context
- And the most important feature for survival — avoiding Killers
The STICK framework.
Let’s start with the first one — the Source — which is based on cooperation.
So the first big leap was… the beginning of life.
The first living gene were born, who has been able to survive as long as it has been able to reproduce.
Nobody knows why or how — stack a bunch of little cells on top of each other, or put them together to make a human, they will still lack one important thing: life.
The second big leap came when the resources ran out. Genes started to evolve — to survive and reproduce.
But after a while they reached the limit, they couldn’t get any bigger, stronger or faster.
So the third big leap happened when they couldn’t evolve any further, so genes joined forces — to build survival machines.
But (just as at the level of genes, so too in the evolution of survival machines) life soon reached the point where it was no longer worth it for more molecules to come together in a survival machine to become bigger, stronger or faster.
Then — and here comes the 4th big leap — just as molecules started to come together to form survival machines, survival machines of the same species started to cooperate — to live in a pack, a shoal or a tribe.
But the goal has always remained the same:
The survival & reproduction of genes.
Then — the 5th big leap — happened when the herds reached their maximum size, so not only the same species, but also completely different survival machines started to cooperate.
But this is still not the highest level of cooperation.
Because (drum roll… the 6th big leap) the different cooperating species slowly started to… become one.
And from there it was easy as hell to conquer the land, the air… and space.
- first, genes come to life — they survived and reproduced
- next the genes changed on their own, they evolved
- then they started to team up with other genes to build survival machines
- then the survival machines also started to group together with others like them
- until finally they started to form symbiotic relationships even with other types of survival machine species
- which ended up… to becoming one
Think of these groups (swarms, packs, herds, flocks, colony) as a cell in your body.
You are a survival machine. If I take a cell out of you, it dies.
They cannot live alone, because when they decided to get together, they gave up their freedom — and it cannot be reversed.
The same happens with groups.
If a gazelle is separated from the herd, if an ant is separated from the colony, if a fish is separated from the shoal — it will die.
- be eaten
- starve to death
… or if it somehow manages to survive, it cannot reproduce, so their germline dies with it.
The same is true of human groupings, which we call: tribe.
Its members cannot survive alone because together they form a unit.
Humankind has lived in tribes for 99.9% of its time, and today, when we are no longer living in a tribe, we are still part of a much larger tribe in some way, what we call: civilization.
If you look closely, we are quite similar to other animals.
- cats — 90% genetically similar to humans
- dogs — 94% genetically similar to humans
- chimps — 99% genetically similar to humans
But there’s one feature that is uniquely human:
The greatest innovation, as you will see in the next part (Target).
Walking on two legs requires a narrower hip than walking on four legs.
For this reason, evolution favoured those who gave birth earlier. But early delivery resulted in a less developed baby.
Human babies are… cute. And I have listed all their positive qualities.
Unfortunately, they are — we all were once — pathetic:
- very slowly developing
- needs care for years
In comparison, when baby sea turtles hatch from their nest, they need to run into the ocean immediately from predators waiting for them in the sand.
When we are born, we can’t run in the sand, swim in the ocean… heck, we can’t even lift our own heads.
Imagine what would happen if a newborn was left in the forest. No, don’t imagine.
Only Romulus and Remus managed this somehow.
And the situation is not much better for adult humans, because they still have “housework”:
- hunting, fishing and gathering
- making and maintaining fire
- escaping from predators
- making tools
- migrating to better places
And on top of all that… raising children.
We have no fur, sharp teeth or muscle.
Even if they somehow manage it and the children grow up, that’s just the “survival” part of the equation.
How will they reproduce?
Incest results sick children — but no one else is around, only family. No Tinder.
That’s why humanity developed the first “superfeature” — one of the five key factors that made humans the dominant species in the animal kingdom:
We lived in tribes.
For children raising, parents were not enough — it took a whole tribe.
Everyone had a job:
- males did the hunting, fishing, toolmaking and warfare
- females did the cooking, gathering, dressmaking and childcaring
- children grew, developed and then helped the parents
Parents who had to do it all themselves… didn’t survive. Natural selection favoured those who could cooperate.
But a tribe is not just these roles — it’s is more than the sum of its part.
- Fewer tasks per person
- Multiplied physical strength
- Accumulated knowledge
- more resources
- more safety
- more potential mates
Social cooperation is the key to our survival and reproduction.
That’s why homo sapiens is a social animal.
But as has been said before, many animals live in herds.
So why is it special — a superfeature — for humans?
So cooperation is vital.
Not just for us, but for many other animals.
… but if it gives you that much of an advantage, then the larger the group, the stronger it is — right?
A clan of 100 hyenas can easily defeat a lion.
100.000 ants can gather more food than 100.
It is easier for a fish to pick the fittest one out of 1.000.000 than out of 100.
Big numbers are useful, yes.
… but size doesn’t mean anything.
There are tens of thousands of bees in a beehive, hundreds of thousands of ants in a colony, millions of herring in an army — but there’s a problem too. These cooperations are not flexible, because they can only work in one way. They’re programmed.
They are like robots.
On the other hand, there are the dolphins, wolves, chimpanzees who are much more flexible — but only in small numbers. And while “robots” can produce thousands of offspring, these animals can only produce a few. Their relationship is based on closeness.
They are like mavericks.
So basically there are the two types of cooperation:
- Robots — big number, but not flexible
- Mavericks — flexible, but small number
In the animal world, the bigger the number of members, the looser the cooperation. Bigger means looser. And if it grows bigger and bigger, at some point it reaches the critical mass and … BOOM. It falls apart.
This is the point where, for example, cliques are formed in a human group.
- first, just cliques
- then, rebellion
- finally, riot
… and the group falls apart.
This is one of the biggest problem with social interaction, that no animal has ever been able to leap.
Until Homo Sapiens appeared.
Man has long been a victim of this social trap.
- no human mother can bear hundrends, thousands or a million of children — so big numbers are off
- ancient people were not as clever as they are now — so flexibility was off
But then something happened in our evolution (the other 4 superfeatures, which I will introduce in the following parts of the STICK framework: Target, Idea, Context and Killers), which then enabled the fifth one:
Our Cooperation to go from a feature to a superfeature.
Do you remember that I said that during my studies in psychology, among all the irrelevant information, sometimes a gold nugget popped up?
The first was Miller’s law — that human’s social channel capacity is very limited.
The next gold nugget came when I learnt evolution.
It’s called Dunbar’s number — and it says that the maximum group size for people is 150 member. Under 150, to keep order and function well, there is no need for:
- official ranks
There will be cliques, perhaps rebellion — but no riot.
This is because Homo sapiens and his ancestors lived in hordes of under 150 people for millions of years. We can know so many people intimately. That’s the limit of closeness. Under this number, we know our members well enough that what they think about us matters — it could be a matter of life or death.
We need to:
- adapt to the different personalities
- know each other’s strengths and weaknesses
- share our time and attention
When we know one person, we need to keep in mind and maintain only one relationship.
But when we know two person, we need to remember not just one, but two of our relationship with them — plus their relationship to each other. Ahh, the situations where you can’t seat two family members together at the wedding.
It is no longer one, but three relationships! And with one more person, it goes up to six!
When there are five of you, you have 10 relationships to keep in mind.
And the number of connections grows exponentially as more and more people get involved.
Even calculating how many relationships you have to keep in mind is hard work — not to mention all the personalities, strengths and weaknesses!
That’s why your brain stops working at around 150.
Well, Dunbar’s equation is:
Homo sapiens total brain volume to neocortex ratio = 147,8.
It can be as low as 100, or as much as 250.
Think of it as an onion.
According to the theory:
- the tightest circle has five people — the loved ones
- the second layer has 15 — the good friends
- next layer has 50 — friends
- then comes the 150 — meaningful contacts
- beyond that 500 — acquaintances
- and finally 1500 — people you can recognise
No wonder that the larger the neocortex, the larger the groups of animals.
… and guess what: among animals, mammals — and among mammals, primates (monkeys, humans) have the largest brainstem size.
Did you ever see complex animals (crows, dolphins, elephants) more than 150 hanging out together?
… and this is where homo sapiens comes in.
People are socialized in the largest group of complex social organizations.
We are the only species that can cooperate both in large numbers and flexibly.
Well, I’ll show you the answer in part three.
Now let’s explore the potential of cooperation!
Old animals in a new world
As you have seen, evolution takes a long time to bring about change.
Humans are no exception.
We have lived in tribes for millions of years, so our brains are used to ancient tribes. But nowadays, we are not.
… and somebody should tell evolution about this.
It’s like our limbs. It’s like our limbs. We’ve lived on land for millions of years, so our hands and feet are used to it. We don’t have fins, or swimming muscles, or scales.
We kind of swim — or at least we think we do, until we have to swim in a race with a shark.
Becoming an Olympic swimmer won’t make your fins grow. Evolution needs more time.
This is exactly the case with our civilization.
We have lived in tribes for millions of years, so our brains are used to it.
Our brains works as well in modern civilization as our limbs do in water. We can survive somehow… but we are not sharks. Far from it.
Our emotions, needs and social skills evolved in the wild, in tribes.
Just think about it:
- the industrial revolution is about 300 years old — when we live as workers/office workers
- the agricultural revolution is about 10,000 years old — when we settled and became farmers
- the homo sapiens is hundreds of thousands of years old — we lived as hunters/gatherers
… and our ancestors have lived on Earth for millions of years.
Which do you think is our brain’s default mode of operation?
10,000 years is the blink of an eye in evolutionary terms — and 200 years is only a small fraction of that.
That’s why our every sense, every feelings, every instincts evolved as hunter/gatherers.
Our life is super-modern — but our brain is old as fuck.
This is both good and bad news.
It’s good, because it hasn’t changed much in human terms (human life cycle). Everything we learn that has worked in the past will work in the future.
It’s bad, because we are the same stupid animal as we were thousands of years ago… but with nuclear weapons.