Tag Archives: Evolution

The Nature of Technology: What it is and How it Evolves by Brian Arthur


  1. This book is an argument about what technology is and how it evolves. Technologies are put together from pieces – themselves technologies – that already exist. Technologies therefore share ancestry, combine more, and combined again to create further technologies. Technology evolves similar to how a coral reef builds itself from activities of small organisms – it creates itself from itself; all technologies are descended from earlier technologies. Technologies are not “inventions” that come from nowhere so in a sense, technology created itself 

Key Takeaways

  1. Technology, Evolution, Recursion, Phenomena
    1. Technologies have a recursive structure and collectively advance by capturing phenomenon and putting them to use. The economy arises from technologies and therefore issued forth from all these capturings of phenomena and subsequent combinations
    2. We are caught between two huge and unconscious forces: our deepest hope as human’s lies in technology but our deepest trust lies in nature. These forces are like tectonic plates grinding inexorably into each other in one long slow collision. The collision is not new but more than anything else it is defining our era. Technology is steadily creating the dominant issues and upheavals of our time. We are moving from an era where machines enhance the natural to one that brings in technologies that resemble or replace the natural. As we learn to use these technologies we are moving from using nature to intervening directly within nature. And so the story of the century will be about the clash between what technology offers and what we feel comfortable with. 
    3. We have great understanding about individual technologies but very little in the way of the general understanding. Much like in 1800 there was a great understanding about the family relationships among animals but few principles like evolution to hold all this knowledge together. Missing in other words is the theory of technology – an “Ology” of technology
    4. For me how technology evolves is the central question in technology because if we could understand its evolution we could understand that most mysterious of processes: innovation. Combination drives change or at least the innovation of technology. Invention proceeds from the constructive assimilation of pre-existing elements into new syntheses. So the very cumulation of earlier technologies begets further accumulation. The more there is to invent with the greater will be the number of inventions. These two pieces lead to a theory of evolution of technology that novel technologies arise by combination of existing technologies and that existing technologies beget further technologies. 
    5. Why we are seeing change, innovations, disruption at levels never before seen – there are more building blocks than ever before that can be combined and recombined in new ways, leading to new innovations. This trend seems likely only to continue
    6. The change in vision I am proposing is from standalone technologies, each with a fixed purpose, to seeing them as objects that can be formed into endless new combinations. These technologies can be easily combined and they form building blocks which can be used again and again. Technology, once a means of production, is becoming a chemistry
    7. Arthur gives three definitions of technology:
      1. A means to fulfill a human purpose
      2. An assemblage of practices and components
      3. An entire collection of devices and practices available to a culture.
      4. A means to fulfill a purpose: a device, method, or process (combination, recursiveness, reliance on a natural effect(s) 
    8. Technology consists of parts organized into component systems or modules and some of these form the central assembly and others have supporting functions. This is a general rule: what starts as a series of parts loosely strung together, if used heavily enough, congeals into a self-contained unit. The modules of technology over time become standardized units. In this sense technologies have a recursive structure as they consist of technologies within technologies all the way down to the elemental parts. There is no characteristic scale for technology as every technology stands ready, at least potentially, to become a component in further technologies at a higher level 
    9. Combination is inherently a very disciplined process as all these different modules must not only work together but further the primary function 
    10. Just like higher level technologies are composed of a series of assemblies and subassemblies, they’re also composed of a series of natural phenomenon. For example, maybe one or two phenomena such as trucks use the burning of fuel and low friction to roll or several phenomena such as detecting planets that are too far away to see directly. But, in either case, it is combinations of natural effects that we can exploit for greater technology
    11. Phenomena are the source of all technologies. In the essence of technology lies and orchestrating them to fulfill a purpose. Phenomenon or simply natural effects exist independently of humans and of technology. They have no use attached to them. The principal by contrast is the idea of use of a phenomenon for some purpose and it exist very much in the world of humans and of use. In practice, before phenomenon can be used for technology, they must be harnessed and set up to work properly. They can barely be used in raw form and must be coaxed to operate satisfactorily and may only work in a narrow range of conditions. So, the right combination of means to set them up for the purpose intended must first be found. Therefore the practical technology consists of many phenomena working together. Technology can then be thought of as a collection of phenomenon captured and put to use. In its essence a technology consist of certain phenomenon programmed for some purpose. Technology can then be seen as a metabolism where the phenomenon are the genes of technology – they interact in complex ways, converse with each other, similar to how subroutines and computer programs call each other. Biology programs genes into myriad structures and technology programs phenomena to myriad uses 
    12. I like to think of phenomena as hidden underground – not available until discovered in mind into. This is general with phenomena as a family of phenomena is mined into effect. Some covered earlier begin to create methods and understandings that help uncover later. One effect leads to another, then to another, until eventually a whole vein of related phenomenon has been mined into. A family of a facts forms a set of chambers connected by seams and passageways – one leading to another. And that is not all. The chambers in one place, one family, of the facts leads through passageways to chambers elsewhere to different families. Quantum phenomenon could not have been uncovered without the prior uncovering of the electrical phenomena. Phenomenon form a connected system of excavated chambers and passageways. The whole system underground is connected. This build out happens slowly as it earlier forms of instruments and devices help uncover later ones. In this way, the uncovering a phenomenon builds itself out of itself. Phenomena accumulate by bootstrapping their way forward. 
    13. Not every phenomenon of course has an immediate use but when a family of phenomenon is uncovered, a train of technology typically follows. 
    14. Technology is not merely applied science. It is better to say it builds both from science and from its own experience. Science is in no small part the probing of nature via instruments and methods – via technology
    15. Evolution works by new technologies forming from existing ones which act as building blocks. Sometimes these blocks come from radical innovation but novel building block elements also arise from standard day-to-day engineering. 
    16. Novel technologies come from linking, conceptually or physically, the needs of some purpose with an exploitable effect (or set of effects). Invention, we can say, consists in linking a need with some effect to satisfactorily achieve that need
    17. Technologies tend to become more complex – much more complex – as they mature. 
  2. Domains
    1. The greatest innovations are new domainings – a switching to a new cluster of technologies. They allow not only a wholly new and more efficient way to carry out a purpose but allow entirely new possibilities. As when the provision of power switched from being expressed in waterwheel technology to steam. A change in domain is the main way in which technology progresses but a novel domain may appear to have little direct importance early on. Such components and the way they are used do not just reflect the style of the times, they define the style of the times. An era does not just create technology, technology creates the era
    2. Half of the effectiveness of a domain lives in its reach. The possibilities it opens up. The other half lives in using similar combinations again and again for different purposes
    3. The domain’s grammar determines how its elements fit together and the conditions under which they fit together determines what works. Where do such grammars arise from? Well, of course ultimately from nature. Behind the grammar of electronics lies the physics of the electron motions and the laws of electrical phenomena. Big grammar determines how the elements interrelate, interact, and combine to generate structures. Grammars in large part reflect our understanding of how nature works in a particular domain. Mastery in the technology in fact is difficult to achieve because of technology grammar. Unlike a linguistic one, this grammar changes rapidly. 
    4. Domains are worlds in the sense that experts lose themselves in them. They disappear mentally into them just as we disappear into the world of English when we write a letter. They think in terms of purposes and work these backwards into individual operations in their mental world. Much as a composer works a musical theme back into the instrumental parts that will express it. Some domains have deep worlds with a lot of possibilities. What can be accomplished easily in the domain’s world constitutes that domains power. So, understanding this leads to the natural conclusion that an object or business activity to be worked on effectively must be brought into more than one world to make use of what can be accomplished in each. But there is a general lesson here: cost accumulates anywhere and activity leaves one world and enters another. Shipping a freight containers by sea is not expensive but transferring freight from the domain of rail into the shipping container world requires the cumbersome and expensive technologies of railhead, stocks, container handling cranes, and stevedoring. Such bridging technologies are usually the most awkward aspect of a domain. They create delays and bottlenecks and therefore run-up costs but they are necessary because they make the domain available in control what can enter and leave its world. We can think of a domain as containing a small number of central operations that are streamlined and cheap – maritime container transportation say. But, surrounding these on the outer edges of the domain, are the slower and more awkward technologies that allow activities to enter the world and leave it when finished – the docs and gantry cranes of that world. These in general are costly. Domains reflect the power of the worlds they create but they also reflect its limitations. There is nothing static about these worlds. What can be accomplished constantly changes as a domain evolves and as it expands its base of phenomena. One implication is that innovation is not so much a parade of inventions with subsequent adoptions. It is a constant re-expressing or redomaining of old tasks within new worlds of the possible
    5. If we can see technologies as having dynamic insides we can better understand how technology can modify themselves over their lifetime. We can see that technologies interior components are changing all the time. As better parts are substituted, materials improve, methods for construction change, the phenomenon the technology is based on are better understood, and new elements become available, its parent domain develops. So, technology is not a fixed thing that produces a few variations or updates from time to time. It is a fluid thing – dynamic, alive, highly configurable, and highly changeable overtime. The second difference lies in how we see technology’s possibilities in its collective sense. Technology does not just offer a set of limited functions. It provides a vocabulary of elements that can be put together or programmed in endlessly novel ways for endlessly novel purposes. 
  3. Design & Invention
    1. Requirements start from the key purpose and proceed outward, the needs of one assembly determining those of the next. A design is a set of compromises. Intention comes first and the means to fulfill it – the combination of components – fall in behind it. Design is expression 
    2. Many innovations and great designs do not come from genius but from an accumulation of knowledge and expertise slowly gathered over years 
    3. The search is continuous, conceptual, wide, and often obsessive. This continuous thinking allows the subconscious to work, possibly to recall an effect or concept from past experience, and it procures a subconscious alertness so that when a candidate principle or a different way to define the problem suggests itself the whisper at the door is heard. Strangely, for people who report such breakthroughs, the insight arrives whole, as if the subconscious had already put the parts together. And it arrives with a “knowing” that the solution is right – a feeling of its appropriateness, its elegance, its extraordinary simplicity. The insight comes to an individual person, not a team, for it wells always from an individual subconscious. And it arrives not in the midst of activities or in frenzied thought, but in moments of stillness. One must be open to see a purpose for what appears to be a spurious effect 
    4. At the creative heart of invention lies appropriation, some sort of mental borrowing that comes in the form of a half conscious suggestion 
    5. Invention at its core is mental association. Principles often apply across field and at the core of this mechanism – call it principle transfer – is seeing an analogy. 
    6. An emerging technology always emerges from a cumulative of previous components and functionalities already in place. This is the pyramid of causality. Particularly important is knowledge – both scientific and technical – that has cumulated over time 
    7. Origination is at bottom a linking – a linking of the observational givens of a problem with a principle (a conceptual insight) that roughly suggests these, and eventually with a complete set of principles that reproduces these. At heart, all inventions had the same mechanism: all link a purpose with a principle that will fulfill it, and all must translate that principle into working parts 
    8. A technology develops not just by the direct efforts applied to it. Many of a technology’s parts are shared by other technologies, so a great deal of development happens automatically as components improve in other uses “outside” that technology. A technology piggybacks on the external development of its components. This internal replacement is part of what makes technologies more complex as they age but so does structural deepening. Sometimes changing internal components won’t do, so adding assemblies or systems is needed. 
    9. Origination is not just a new way of doing things, but a new way of seeing things. But it threatens. It can cause an emotional mismatch between the potential of the new and security of the old. Old technologies can lock in because of this and causes a phenomenon we will call adaptive stretch. It is easier to reach for the old technology and adapt it by “stretching” it to cover the new circumstances. There is a natural cycle. A new principle arrives, begins development, runs into limitations, and its structure elaborates. The new base principle is simpler, but in due course it becomes elaborated itself. 
    10. Just as pulling on one thread of a spider’s web causes the web to stretch and reshape itself in response, so the arrival of a new technology causes the web of prices and production in the economy to stretch and reshape itself across all industries. Cheaper steel due to the Bessemer process caused railroads, construction, and heavy machinery to changed their costs and what they could offer their consumers 
    11. Innovation emerges when people are faced by problems: particular, well-specified problems. It arises as solutions to these are conceived of by people stating many means or many functionalities that they can combine. It is enhanced by funding that enables this by training and experience in myriad functionalities. By the existence of special projects and labs devoted to the study of particular problems and by local cultures which foster deep craft. But it is not a monopoly of a single region or country or people. It arises anywhere problems are studied and sufficient background exists in the pieces that will form solutions. In fact we can see that innovation has two main themes. One is this constant finding or putting together of new solutions out of existing tool boxes of pieces and practices. The other is industries constantly combining their practices and processes with functionality is drawn from newly arriving toolboxes, new domains. This second theme, like the first, is about the creation of new processes and arrangements, new means to purposes. But it is more important. This is because it is a new domain of significance. Think of the digital one – it is encountered by all industries in an economy. As this happens, the domain combines some of its offerings with arrangements native to many industries. The result is new processes and arrangements, new ways of doing things – not just in one area of application but all across the economy. 
    12. Because all technologies come from some combination of past technologies, the value of the technology lies not only in what can be done with it but also in what further possibilities it will lead to. Inventions beget more inventions as there are more possible combinations, leading to exponential growth. Even if new technologies can potentially be supplied by the combination of existing ones, they will only come into existence if there exist some need, some demand for them. Or, even better yet, opportunities for technology niches they can usefully occupy. 
  4. Other
    1. Ironically we can say that design works by combining and manipulating clichés. But, still, a beautiful design always contain some unexpected combination that shocks us with its appropriateness. 
    2. We must get comfortable with technology with non-physical effects such as organizational or behavioral effects like the monetary system, contracts, symphonies, algorithms, legal codes, and so on
    3. All explanations are constructions from simpler parts
    4. I do not believe there is any such thing as genius. Rather it is the possession of a very large quiver of functionalities and principles. 
    5. New bodies of technology tend to have their leading edge highly concentrated in one country or region as real advanced technology issues not from knowledge but from something we’ll call deep craft. It is more than knowledge. It is a set of knowing. Knowing what is likely to work and not work. Knowing what methods to use, what principles, what parameters. It derives from a shared culture of beliefs, an unspoken culture of common experience. Deep knowings in a technology can be levered into deep knowings in another. Technology proceeds out of deep understandings of phenomena and he’s become embedded as a deep set of shared knowing that reside in people and establishes itself locally and that grows over time. This is why countries that lead in science lead also in technology. And so, if a country wants to lead in advanced technology, it needs to do more than invest in industrial parks for vaguely foster innovation. It needs to build its basic science without any stated purpose of commercial use and it needs to culture that science in a stable setting with funding and encouragement. Let the science sow itself commercially and small startup companies allow these nascent ventures to grow and sprout with minimal interference. Allow the science and its commercial applications to seed new revolutions. Building a capacity for advanced technology is not like planning production in a socialist economy but more like growing a rock garden. Planting, watering, and weeding are more appropriate than five year plans
    6. Human needs are not just created by biological nerds or prosperity but are also created directly by individual technologies. Once we possess rocketry, we experience a need for space exploration. However the vast majority of niches for technology are created not from human needs but from the needs of technologies themselves. The reasons are several. For one thing every technology by its very existence sets up an opportunity for fulfilling its purpose more cheaply or efficiently. And, so, for every technology there exists always an open opportunity. And, for another, every technology requires supporting technologies to manufacture it, organize for its production and distribution, maintain it, and enhance his performance. And these require their own sub supporting technologies. The third reason technology generates needs is because they often cause problems indirectly. In this it generates needs or opportunities for solutions
    7. These technologies and their needs grow fractally. Entertainment used to consist of public speeches or shows but now novels, movies, podcasts, sports and so much more exist too. 
    8. Arthur thinks of the economy as the set of arrangements and activities by which a society satisfies its needs. The economy is an expression of its technologies. The economy in this way emerges from its technologies. It constantly creates itself out of its technologies and decides which new technologies will enter it. Notice the circular causality at work here. Technology creates the structure of the economy and the economy mediates the creation of novel technology and therefore its own creation
    9. Technologies can cause structural change in the economy and this change is fractal – it branches out at lower levels just as an embryonic arterial system branches out as it develops into smaller arteries and capillaries 
    10. The more high-tech and sophisticated technologies become, the more they become biological we are beginning to appreciate the technology is as much metabolism as mechanism. As we come to better understand biology we are steadily seeing it as more mechanistic as we better understand the mechanisms behind it. Conceptually at least, biology is becoming technology and physically technology is becoming a biology. The two are starting to close on each other and, indeed, as we move deeper into genomics, more than this, they are starting to intermingle
    11. As technology becomes more biological and generative, the economy reflects this too. In the generative economy, management derives its competitive advantage not from its stock of resources and its ability to transform these into finished goods but from its ability to translate its stock of deep expertise into ever new strategic combinations. Reflecting this, nations will prosper not so much from the ownership of resources as from the ownership of specialized scientific and technical expertise

What I got out of it

  1. A fascinating and deep read about technology, how it evolves, permeates, and builds off of itself. Some rich language and concepts to apply to many disparate fields

Why Do People Sing? Music in Evolution by Alexander Jikuridze, Alexander Jordania

Why do People Sing? Music in Evolution by Alexander Jikuridze, Alexander Jordania


  1. “One of the most important new questions that this book will try to answer is why the most archaic parts of the human brain, which are only activated by the critical survival needs, are activated when humans sing or listen to music. Is it possible that singing really had a function of survival for our distant ancestors? Despite the diversity of the approaches and models for the origins of singing and music, the author of this book believes that singing and music had much more important functions in the evolutionary history of our species than has ever been suggested by any of the above mentioned scholars. The central idea of this book is very simple yet very complex at the same time. The author suggests that human singing had a tremendously important role in our evolutionary past. It was singing that provided our ancestors with defense against predators, provided our ancestors with food, gave rise to human intelligence, morality, religion, formed the human body and facial morphology, gave birth to human arts and the mystery of artistic transformation. That’s why this book, dedicated to the origins of singing, is in fact a book about human evolution. That’s why, in this book, we will be discussing many big issues that you would not expect to be discussed in a book about singing. “

Key Takeaways

  1. Human singing is one of the greatest mysteries of human evolution. Charles Darwin was one of the first people to be puzzled by this phenomenon. in “The Descent of Man” he wrote: “As neither the enjoyment nor the capacity of producing musical notes are faculties of the least use to men in reference to his daily habits of life, they must be ranked amongst the most mysterious with which he is endowed”
  2. There is no human culture without singing, but singing plays a very different role in various cultures.
  3. Generalizations are always dangerous, but we could say that when people lose links with their traditional culture, the role of singing decreases in a society. That’s why in many western societies people generally sing less than people in more traditional societies. Interestingly, together with the decline of singing in the general population of Western cultures, there is also a contrasting development: plenty of studies strongly suggest that singing in a choir is good for your psychological and physical wellbeing. As a result, there is an increasing popularity of singing and participation in community choirs in western countries.
  4. The exception – a scholar’s only true friend. Scholars formulate plenty of new hypotheses to explain existing facts. In the process of creating a new hypothesis, scholars are often carried away by the long list of facts that fit comfortably into their hypothesis, and therefore neglect the facts which do not fit their hypothesis. These ‘misfit’ facts are labeled ‘exceptions’. Understandably, scholars usually dislike exceptions. Sometimes scholars push exceptions to coerce into their hypothesis, in other times they try to discredit the fact or the source where the fact came from. And if nothing helps, notorious sayings like ‘no rule without exceptions,’ or even worse, ‘exception proves the rule,’ are always at hand. But of course, to a nonbiased person it is clear that an exception cannot prove the rule, and that a rule with ‘exceptions’ is actually a bad rule. My favorite literary hero, brilliant analytic Sherlock Holmes once said: “I never make exceptions. An exception disproves the rule”. I agree with Holmes and consider the saying ‘exception proves the rule’ as the last resort for a wrong hypothesis. So what is in reality an exception? Exception is a scholar’s best friend, the only true friend that tells the bitter truth. Do not listen to the calming array of facts that prove your hypotheses, they are like many flattering friends who are ready to lie to you in order to make you a happier person. Listen to your only true friend – exception. And only if this friend is silent, not complaining of any facts that do not fit your idea, you can be truly happy. One exception can outweigh dozens of proving facts. There is no greater proof for your hypothesis than the absence of an exception.
  5. Milk Drinking Syndrome and origins of European Polyphony: Many readers of this book might not be aware that different human populations differ drastically from each other according to their ability to absorb milk. It was found, for example, that African Americans have a much higher percentage of people who cannot absorb milk compared to European Americans. later studies suggested that the number of populations that have problems with milk is quite big, and includes populations of sub-Saharan Africa, Arabs, most of the Jews, most Asian populations, Australian aborigines and Melanesians. And finally, in the 1970s, scholars came to the quite amazing conclusion that with some minor exceptions, the only major population on our planet that can drink milk without complications is the population of North and central Europe and their descendants. If we take into account that most of these scholars were Europeans themselves, and for them drinking milk was a very natural part of their life, it is not difficult to understand this kind of initial unconscious ‘European arrogance’ towards other populations of the world. From the end of the 1970s it has been acknowledged that although very young children of every human population naturally drink milk, it is a norm for most human populations that as children grow, they lose the ability to absorb lactose and to drink milk. Therefore it is the North and central European adult population’s ability to absorb milk, if we may say so, that is ‘out of the human norm’. after this fact became known, the embarrassing earlier complaints from many parts of the world about the ‘no quality food provision’ for the developing countries were understood, and humanitarian aid programs correspondingly had to adjust their policy of providing huge quantities of milk powder to the starving populations of third world countries, who could not actually drink milk. This methodologically interesting case teaches us a very important lesson – not to extrapolate European experience to other populations of the world. In my 2006 book I suggested the term ‘Milk Drinking syndrome’ for similar cases when European experience is unjustly extrapolated on the rest of the world.
  6. Rise of Andean Mountains and the origins of Polyphony: Just a week after his 26th birthday, while resting in a forest, Charles Darwin experienced a major earthquake that struck Chile on 20th February of 1835. Walking a few days after the earthquake on the beach, Charles noticed that some mollusks that always live on the rocks under the water were now on the rocks well above the water level. Darwin made a correct conclusion that the recent earthquake was to blame for this, and on a bigger historic scale he concluded that series of such earthquakes during many millions of years were responsible for the actual rise of the surface and the creation of the huge range of Andean mountains. Darwin correctly understood the historical dynamics of landscape changes and the rest was a question of multiplying the results of small time span changes (that humans can observe) into a large evolutionary scale that humans cannot observe. Some things are incredibly slow. For example both American continents are moving westwards about the same speed as nails grow on your fingers. To notice and understand this kind of slow developments, we need to study the historical dynamics. The question of historical dynamics is absolutely crucial for the correct understanding of any process that goes for centuries and millennia, including the process of the origins of vocal polyphony.
  7. Singing is so central for human cultures that no one ever questioned the universality of singing. The question which we are going to address in this chapter is which of the many functions of singing was possibly the initial core one that gave music its unique position in the life of every human society. Was it possibly the Mother-child relationship as Ellen Dissanayake proposed? Or charming the opposite sex as Charles Darwin and Geoffrey Miller argued? Or establishing cohesiveness in human society as John blacking suggested? Or possibly singing is just an outgrowth of human language as Spencer thought? Or even simpler, was singing just an evolutionarily useless tool invented for auditory pleasing our ears as Steven Pinker suggested?
  8. During the 20th century many new facts appeared pointing to the unique emotional and psychological power of music. For example, in the first world war it was found that playing music to patients during the surgical operations allowed doctors to use almost half the regular dosage of the painkillers; it was also found that music can help to rehabilitate patients with strokes and severe mental disability. As a result of such findings, music therapy deservedly became one of the quickly developing spheres of musical research. Apart from such practical findings, there were very interesting theoretical findings as well. For example, it was found that music has unexpectedly deep roots in the human brain, and that listening and making music involves deep and ancient brain structures which are only activated for crucial for survival purposes; we also learned that virtually all newborn babies have absolute pitch (which is rare even among professional musicians), and the fact that all newborn babies cry at the same pitch, at the pitch known to us as ‘A’.
  9. Charles Darwin criticized Spencer’s idea of the music being an outgrowth of human speech, and suggested that music predated the origin of language, serving the needs of sexual selection through charming the opposite sex with musical prowess. Maybe even more importantly, Darwin famously declared ‘as neither the enjoyment nor the capacity of producing musical notes are faculties of the least use to men in reference to his daily habits of life, they must be ranked amongst the most mysterious [phenomenon] he is endowed.’
  10. Whether singing is dangerous or not depends on where you live. For the animal species who live in the trees, for some reason, singing does not seem to be dangerous, but for species who reside on the ground singing is deadly dangerous. If you do not believe this assertion look at the statistics: almost all of the singing species that we know today live high on the treetops, such as birds and gibbons. Not a single animal species that lives on the ground sings. There is only one exception, only one species which lives on the ground and sings: humans. Yes, let us repeat one more time: we are the only species on our planet who live on the ground and can sing. Even amongst animal species that live in the water there are at least a few singers like whales, dolphins, seals and sea lions, but not among ground living species.
  11. I suggest that this is the main reason why tree-dwelling species feel more secure to sing or to communicate with a wide range of vocal signals. A leopard or a wild dog can hear the singing of the birds and smaller monkeys from the higher branches of the trees very well, but the singers are well out of their reach.
  12. Apparently, humans are very weak compared not only to animals of a similar size, but even much smaller animals. For example, if you put together photos of a common chimpanzee and the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger, it will be quite difficult to believe the fact that the much smaller chimpanzee is several times stronger than this powerfully built sportsman. Humans look much bigger and stronger than chimpanzees, no questions about that, but when it comes to actual physical strength, chimpanzees and even smaller baboons are much stronger than humans. Therefore, we need to remember that during the course of evolution humans became bigger, but they lost big part of their physical strength.
  13. Rhythmic unity brought a few new important features into human defensive singing and made it much more efficient: (1) singing/shouting is physically louder if it is precisely organized rhythmically; (2) rhythmically well-organized group vocalizations send a strong message to the predator about the unity and determination of the group; and (3) doing repetitive rhythmic physical actions in a big group (working, marching) is an extremely effective way to create a strong bond between the members of a human group. But most importantly, I suggest that loud rhythmic chanting-singing shouting, apart from the external function (scaring away predators) had a crucially important internal, psychological function as well.
  14. According to recent research by Jonathan Presoak, many American soldiers confess that it would have been impossible for them to get into the required combat spirit if they did not listen to heavy and rhythmic rock music. I hope we all can agree that, when a combat unit goes out for a combat mission, it is of paramount importance that they all are feeling the strength of their unity and an utmost trust towards each other. This feel comes from being in a state of collective identity, in a state of battle trance, and rhythmic music and dance are the best means to put soldiers in the state. I propose that the central function of the rhythmic loud singing was to put our distant ancestors into a very specific altered state of consciousness which I call the ‘Battle Trance.’ This is a very specific state of mind designed by evolution for the most critical moments of life, when the total commitment of every member of the group was needed for a life-or-death fight. This state has several characteristics: (1) humans in a state of battle trance do not feel pain. This state is known as ‘analgesia’; (2) in this state humans also do not feel fear. This state can be called as ‘phobia’; (3) in this state humans may totally neglect their individual survival instincts as they are fighting for something bigger and more important than their own life; (4) in this state humans sometimes demonstrate supernatural strength; lifting cars and doing other things that are beyond their usual physical capabilities; (5) in this state humans lose their individual identity and acquire a different, collective identity, and as a result every member is acting in the best interests of the group, even neglecting the powerful instincts of self-survival. (6) Going into the battle trance may happen instantly, fully instinctively, or can be induced by special ritual-like activities.
  15. Among humans this motherly instinct of utmost dedication towards the offspring turned into something different: the total dedication of all members of the group to the interests of the Group they belong to. Like in a well-established combat unit, where in the heat of the battle one can sacrifice his own life to save friend’s life, human ancestors developed the feel of group identity. The feel of group identity is based on the total trust and dedication of each member of the group to the common interest. Group identity kicks in when there is a critical situation, a mortal danger for survival of the group or any of its members. In such moments the noble principle of ‘one for all, all for one’ rules any individual self-preserving instinct, fear and pain. Such human sentiments, like patriotism or religious belonging, are primarily based on this ancient instinct, and the feelings of group identity are becoming particularly strong in the moments of big national or religious upheavals, wars, natural disasters. Going into the battle trance and acquiring group identity can be viewed as a classic example of altruistic behavior, although I want to maintain that humans go into group identity not because of their feeling of duty towards others, but mostly because the powerful forces of evolution designed this mechanism as a better survival strategy for a group and every member of the group. Evolution supplied powerful neurological mechanisms to make this feeling a positive experience. Going into group identity brings the most exhilarating feelings to every member of the group. Every member of the group feels bigger, feels stronger, and virtually feels immortal. You can only become truly immortal if you do not fear death. Group members in such an altered state of mind, when they share total trust with each other, emotionally believe that the group cannot be defeated
  16. I am proposing that the mechanism of the battle trance has been designed by the forces of evolution as the highest ranking instinct in the entire hierarchy of human instincts, the instinct that rules our behavior in the most critical situations of life.
  17. Want to suggest that our ancestors became very skillful competitors at scavenging opportunities. They were very slow and bad hunters, and they lacked natural weapons to kill a prey, but they became excellent at scaring away all other competitors, including the strongest of the African predators, the lion. So I am suggesting that aggressive or confrontational scavenging was the central means of obtaining food for early hominids. I propose that our distant ancestors were targeting lions and waiting for them to make a kill. As the kill was made, after some special preparation (we will talk about the nature of this ‘special preparation’ very shortly), hominids would approach the feasting pride and would start scaring them away from the kill with the display of loud rhythmic group sound, stomping on the ground, drumming, clapping, threatening body movements, and stone throwing.
  18. So we came to the conclusion that the evolutionary function of music was directly connected to the physical survival of our species. It was loud rhythmic music that was preparing humans for confrontations with powerful African predators, instilling boundless bravery into virtually unarmed hominids with only rocks in their hands, turning separate individuals into a unit of dedicated and self-sacrificing warriors, and giving predators a strong message that behind our ancestor’s rhythmic war cry there was a fanatic unity and an absolute dedication from every fighter towards a common goal. As this fanaticism was also supported by the heavy rocks thrown at the closest possible range, no wonder that after countless bloody confrontations on the African savannah, lions started avoiding these kamikaze-style warriors. Lions did not need hominids, as it was too much trouble for them to hunt hominids or to eat them if they managed to kill some of them (about this see later). on the other hand, humans needed lions as ‘professional killers’ and hunters of the big game, who could kill a decent meal for the whole group
  19. Even if hominids could stand their ground against the biggest predators during the day, sleeping in the open savannah for the badly armed hominids must have been a very serious challenge. Some insightful ideas were expressed. Adrian Cortland made a brilliant suggestion that one of the ways to secure night time sleep was to organize a loud evening ‘concert’ to scare away potential predators. I would like to suggest that there were at least four more factors to make night time less dangerous for the hominids: (1) reclaiming the dead bodies, (2) cannibalism, (2) the use of eyespots, and (4) smell of the human body
  20. When a predator kills its prey, it intends to eat the kill. Prey animals, even after defending their family members with ferocity, usually stop fighting if the attacked member of their group is already dead. Therefore, as soon as the kill is made, there is no more confrontation – the predator got what it wanted, the fight is over and now the predator can enjoy the meal. It was totally different with hominids and humans: being superb masters of intimidation as a group, if their member was killed and taken by a predator, they would follow the predator and reclaim the dead body from the predators. What is the aim of such crazy bravery? Of course, you cannot bring to life the dead member of your group, but with this behavior you can give a strong message to the predator: every time it attacks your group and kills someone, you are not going to give them a chance to eat the dead body in peace. This behavior, repeated generation after generation, would teach predators the lesson that preying on humans was unprofitable. Of course, individual humans are among the worst armed animals, so tracking and killing a human for a leopard, tiger or a lion is much easier than killing an antelope or zebra, but it is a totally different story when it comes to eating the kill. Antelope or zebra family members do not start a massive attack on the predator after the kill is made, much unlike humans. Therefore, from a predator’s point of view, humans are easy to kill but very hard to eat.
  21. These two options had different, short-run and long-run consequences. In short run, if you do not eat the dead body, then predators will eat it. You might think this does not matter as the person was already dead, but it did matter in the long run, because if predators can easily obtain and eat human/hominid corpses, there is a good chance that they will become habitual man-eaters.
  22. Although this has never been suggested before, I propose we have eyespots, but we fail to notice them because of two reasons: (1) humans are generally not good at noticing eyespots, and also, (2) because we only have them when we sleep. If the reader asks friends or family members to close eyes and looks at their ‘sleeping’ faces, they may notice, that the eyebrows, arched upwards, and eyelashes, arched downwards, form quite visible oval eyespots on a ‘sleeping’ human face.
  23. I suggest that the birth of questioning behavior was the birth of human intelligence. We can look at the entire evolution of the human species and the development of human society and civilization from the point of view of an exchange of information and the means available in a society to ask each other questions. The ability to ask questions was the first and truly revolutionary change in the quest to exchange information via direct communication. Human dialogical language, intelligence, mental cooperation and a self-developing brain emerged together with the ability to ask questions. After this we never stopped inventing different ways of asking each other or ourselves questions. At some point we started asking questions using speech (do not forget – we started asking questions before the advance of fully articulated speech!). Then came written language, so our questions could survive time and could be transferred to other places.
  24. I hope the readers of this book remember that, according to my model, early humans had two mental states: the ‘ordinary’ state, or the state which was present in everyday non-critical situations, and much more rare ‘critical’ state, which was appearing only when the total dedication of the whole human group was necessary for the physical survival of the group. Although instances of the appearance of the ‘critical’ state were rare, it was crucial for the physical survival of our ancestors. Evolution provided powerful neurological mechanisms to promote the interests of the group over the individual interests when it mattered the most. That’s why in this state our ancestors had a neurochemically-created uplifting feeling, a spiritual disregard of earthly needs including feelings of fear and pain, and had the intoxicating feeling of obtaining a super-personality. In order to achieve this state when it was needed, our ancestors developed elaborate rituals, mostly based on strong rhythms: loud drumming, group singing, group dance, use of verbal formulas or mantras, together with visual elements of personality change: body and face painting, use of clothing and most likely the use of masks. The central goal of human (and even hominid) rituals was to affect the mental state of the participating individuals, to turn their mental state from individual, or ‘everyday’ state into the collective, or ‘critical’ state of mind. This was an amazing transformation of mental state, nothing short of the changing of identity of a whole group of people, turning them from separate individuals into the members of a common single super-personality. Most importantly for us, as physical survival was the biological priority, the orders of the collective or ‘critical’ state of mind were overriding any opposition from the ‘ordinary’ state of mind. The phenomenon known as ‘common sense’ is obviously a product of logical thinking of an individual in ‘ordinary’ state, but the ‘critical’ state of mind produces set of behaviors that often contradict the logic of common sense. In this state a person can do both deeply moral and extremely immoral things, from sacrificing his own life in order to save somebody else’s life on one hand, to doing horrible atrocities during battle on the other hand. Such atrocities, committed in a state of a battle trance (and usually together with the members of the combat unit), are difficult to comprehend from the point of view of common sense, often even for those who actually committed them. Most importantly, I am maintaining that these two ‘ordinary’ and ‘critical’ states of mind are present in the brain of every normal and healthy individual. These two states can be quite independent from each other, similar to two different personalities residing in one brain. In a way, we all have a ‘split personality’ in our healthy brain, but our second personality takes charge only in the most critical moments of our life. So let us remember, in the critical moments of life our ‘critical’ state of mind takes over and overrides all other orders coming from our logical mind. In such moments we go into the extremely focused state of mind, where we instinctively follow either the group behavior (if we are in a group), or follow the orders coming from the external source (for example, a group leader, or a hypnotist), or some other, instinctive and mostly unknown impulses from inside of our own brain.
  25. The phenomenon of the post-hypnotic suggestion also proves that the conscious brain cannot resist orders coming from the ‘higher authority’ – the unconscious brain. A person who receives an order while still under the hypnosis (so the order is received by the second identity), will carry out the order after receiving the triggering signal, already in full consciousness, after the session, even if following the order causes a fully conscious person great embarrassment or even some personal danger. Although today hypnotic trance is mostly (although not always) induced to individuals, group hypnosis must have been the original environment for the emergency of this state. I propose that the origins of hypnotic trance must be found in the primordial state of the battle trance, when for the sake of survival a group of individuals were acting as a single organism, with united single conscience and single aim. So I suggest that the individual unconscious was designed by the forces of evolution as a part of a united ‘collective conscience’, to promote the survival of a species. And here let us remember one more time, that loud rhythmic music and loud drumming were the central elements of inducing trance in our ancestors several millions of the year ago in African savannah, and the same method can be used today as well, not only in the shamanic rituals in the native peoples of North Asia or America, but in the comfortable lounge of the hypnotist as well.
  26. These two states of mind also refer to two sides of our human nature: individual and social. Like two masks of the ancient tragedy, happy and sad masks, we all have two personalities in a single brain, personalities that might not even know each other very well. Finding the balance between them is crucially important for a healthy and happy mental life. As Jung proposed, music and other arts help us keep the healthy balance between these two sides of our personality. Arts can connect us with our second, hidden, or ‘critical’ identity. I suggest that this mysterious power of different arts, including music, dance, painting, the use of masks, clothing, leading to the artistic transformation and the virtual change of our identity, originate from the ancient ritualistic exhilarating rhythmic dance and song, designed by the forces of evolution during the millions of the years in order to physically survive.
  27. Another fascinating side of the ancient ‘critical’ state is that for the normal functioning of our brain in the long run, we need to activate our ‘critical’ state from time to time, in order to feel our ‘second identity’ and to have a healthy relationship between the two sides of our selves. The millions of years of everyday battle and going into the ‘critical’ state of mind, where our ancestors were ready to fight for the higher aim, left us with a legacy where we crave the exhilarating feel of dedication to a higher aim, higher than one’s own life. To experience this feeling, we use very different techniques. With our profoundly social nature, our interdependence on each other, and as a result we are today searching for venues to feel our collective identity in the individualized world. We are all still humans, and we all still crave to experience the same spiritual feeling of being a part of something larger than ourselves. If our personal life is the only thing we are left with, even with all the comfort of contemporary life, but without experiencing ourselves as a part of a something bigger, then we may experience feeling of losing the meaning of life, and this feeling can be the most effective way to induce this feeling
  28. Music, dancing, abusing our health with chemical substances, and endangering our life with different activities (climbing mountains, swimming with sharks, doing bungee jumping, petting tigers and lions, running on the tracks in front of the racing cars, and even paying handsome sums of money to arrange our own kidnapping as a newly established service in Paris offers). From the point of view of the common sense some of these activities simply do not make sense. Extremely different in their actual forms and results (from reckless and life-endangering behavior to altruistic religious and community based behavior), these activities are directly or indirectly connected to the activation of our deep brain structures, and involving our ‘second identity’, the ‘critical’, or collective state of our mind.
  29. In the new model presented in this book, the role of human singing in human evolution is seen in a very different light. According to the new model, group singing was a crucial factor of hominid physical survival, the central means of defense from predators for our ancestors, and the central means for obtaining food through ‘confrontational scavenging’. It was group singing, together with loud, rhythmic drumming and vigorous body movements that would put our ancestors into a battle trance, create an unseen but powerful mental network between individual humans, and turn all of them into a single, collective super personality through which each member of the unity was religiously dedicated to common interest. Music was creating a mental web for the groups of hominids, or as Benzon brilliantly expressed in his 2001 book, ‘music is a medium through which individual brains are coupled together in shared activity.’ it was the state of battle trance that allowed our distant ancestors to dominate African savannah and made them feared arch-enemies for the kings of the savannah – the mighty lion. Altruistic drive, self-sacrificial dedication, human morality and religion are all the descendants of the ancient battle trance and of the important human principle ‘strength is in unity’. According to this model the birth of human altruistic behavior was not a well calculated ‘you help me and I’ll help you’ mechanism, but it was a necessary psychic state, created by the power of natural selection, for the physical survival of our ancestors.
  30. ‘Aposematism’ is the complete opposite strategy of Crypsis. Aposematic species do not try to stay unnoticed. On the contrary, they try to be clearly seen and heard by everyone. Their bodies are decorated in the brightest possible colors to be clearly seen, and they make sounds to let everyone know that predators must keep away from them. The principle of aposematic animals is ‘here I am, I am not afraid, and I am warning everyone to stay away,’ very much like a person singing loudly while walking at night in the forest.
  31. Why do we need such a detailed discussion on the principles of aposematism? What does it have to do with human ancestors or with human singing? I am proposing that aposematism was the central defense strategy for our distant ancestors. I am proposing that the elements of Audio-Visual intimidating Display, which we already discussed in the third chapter, constituted a classic set of tools for a multi-channel aposematic display: audio elements (loud rhythmically united singing in harmony and drumming), visual elements (tall bipedal body on long legs, head hair, painted body, use of animal pelts on shoulders), and the olfactory element (body odor). Ironically, if we add the olfactory element to the initial set of audio and visual signals, instead of AViD (Audio-Visual intimidating Display) we will have AVoiD (Audio-Visual-olfactory intimidating Display). With their fierce look, big painted bodies, bipedal threatening posture, threatening movements, loud and rhythmically united sounds, and ability to go into the battle trance and fight fearlessly with heavy and sharp stones, our hominid ancestors were truly a species to avoid.
  32. We must remember, that sexual selection has two very different strategies: (1) female choice, and (2) male to male competition (usually known as a ‘male to male combat’). Apart from this well-known division I suggest that we must also differentiate between two related but very
  33. No method can provide a scholar with a guaranteed problem solution receipt, but I want to recommend to readers a method that I often use when I am facing a difficult problem. Here is the method: if you are searching for the solution of a problem, at some point try to look at the existing facts from a greater distance, take a wider scope of facts into your account.  
  34. We are profoundly social, and we are profoundly musical. Our musicality and social nature had been together for millions of years. Unlike many other species who mostly use music as a means of competition, for us music was primarily a tool for cooperation. That’s why the harmony made together in a group of singing humans is possibly the best symbol of our social nature. Of course, as with every cooperation, musical cooperation was also made as a tool for more successful competition on a bigger, group level. Today we are searching for the factors uniting humanity, and if we manage to find uniting music it will be a big step towards reaching the unity of humanity. The main argument of this book is that the extraordinary strength of musical emotions and the amazing depths of musical centers in our brain comes from our evolutionary past, when singing was crucial for the physical survival of our species for the millions of years. The evolutionary choice that our distant ancestors made, when they did not stop singing on a predator-infested ground, a place where no other species dare to sing, triggered a chain of long transformations leading to Homo sapiens. I suggest that continuing singing was the first crucial evolutionary step towards becoming a homo sapiens, possibly even before our ancestors committed themselves to bipedal locomotion. Through the unique model of behavior, based on living on the ground and trying to be as visible as possible and as loud as possible,
  35. Our ancestors developed most of the morphological features we still carry around: bigger body, longer legs, long head hair, hairless skin, eyebrows, small teeth, low male voice. The same model of survival, based on the Audio-Visual-olfactory intimidating Display, triggered plenty of other important behavioral features: bipedalism, making stone tools, dancing, singing in dissonant harmonies, use of body painting, use of clothes, altruistic behavior, prehistoric cannibalism, fanatic dedication to group ideals and aims, strive towards morality and religion, ability of asking questions, appearance of human cognition, intelligence, language, and speech. As a species, we are all the children of our singing ancestors, and with the great evolutionary lullaby for many millions of the years we gradually obtained virtually all of our morphological and behavioral features that make us humans.

What I got out of it

  1. A mind-blowing book which gives an alternate view as to why people started singing and how it has impacted human’s evolution. Battle trances, protection, aposematism, so much more. Worth reading in its entirety

River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life by Richard Dawkins

  1. “The universe has created an ability to self-replicate using the surrounding materials to make exact copies of itself, including replicas of such minor flaws in copying as may occasionally arise. What follows is what we call life. Never were so many facts explained by so few assumptions. Not only does Darwinian Theory command superabundant power to explain. Its economy in doing so has a sinewy elegance, a poetic beauty that outclasses even the most haunting of the world’s origin myths. One of my purposes in writing this book has been to accord due recognition to the inspirational quality of our modern understanding of Darwinian life. There is more poetry in Mitochondrial Eve than in her mythological namesake…Another of my purposes is to convince my readers that “ways of making a living” is synonymous with “ways of passing DNA-coded texts on to the future.” My “river” is a river of DNA, flowing and branching through geological time, and the metaphor of steep banks confining each species’ genetic games turns out to be a surprisingly powerful and helpful explanatory device.”
Key Takeaways
  1. The river = a river of information through time, DNA
  2. It is obvious but not a single of our ancestors died in infancy as they were able to pass along genes that helped them survive. We all inherit all our genes from an unbroken line of successful ancestors. The world becomes full of organism that have what it takes to become ancestors
  3. Genes do not improve in using, they are just passed on, unchanged except for very rare random errors. It is not success that makes good genes. It is good genes that make success, and nothing an individual does during its lifetime has any effect whatever upon its genes.
  4. Genes can buy their way through the sieve, not only by assisting their own body to become an ancestor but by assisting the body of a relation to become an ancestor
  5. To be good at surviving, a gene must be good at working together with the other genes in the same species – the same river. To survive in the long run, a gene must be a good companion. It must do well in the company of, or against the background of, the other genes in the same river. Genes of another species are in a different river. They do not have to get on well together – not in the same sense, anyway – for they do not have to share the same bodies
    1. A biological reasoning and example as to why cooperation is the highest form of competition
  6. Bauplan = blueprint, or a fundamental body plan (Dawkins argues against this as it can lead to errors in thinking as changes in species are subtle)
  7. Genes as digital information
    1. Pulse Code Modulation – The transmission of genes is well-nigh perfect even if the transmission along the line is poor. The discrete levels are set far enough apart so that random fluctuations can never be misinterpreted by the receiving instrument as the wrong level. This is the great virtue of digital codes, and it is why audio and video systems – and information technology generally – are increasingly going digital…After Watson and Crick, we know that genes themselves, within their minute internal structure, are long strings of pure digital information. What is more, they are truly digital, in the full and strong sense of computers and compact disks, not in the weak sense of the nervous system. The genetic code is not a binary code as in computers, nor an eight-level code as in some phone systems, but a quaternary code, with four symbols. The machine code of the genes is uncannily computer like…Up until 1953 it was still possible to believe that there was something fundamentally and irreducibly mysterious in living protoplasm. No longer
    2. Genes are pure information – information that can be encoded, recoded and decoded, without any degradation or change of meaning. Pure information can be copied and, since it is digital information, the fidelity of the copying can be immense. DNA characters are copied with an accuracy that rivals anything modern engineers can do. They are copied down generations, with just enough occasional errors to introduce variety. Among this variety, those coded combinations that become more numerous in the world will obviously and automatically be the ones that, when decoded and obeyed inside bodies, make those bodies take active steps to preserve and propagate those same DNA messages. We – and that means all living things – are survival machines programmed to propagate the digital database that did the programming. Darwinism is now seen to be the survival of the survivors at the level of pure, digital code.
    3. DNA, seen in this light, becomes tempting to liken to a family Bible
  8. Mitochondria ideal for dating common ancestry within a species because, besides mutations, they’re identical and come from one common mother
  9. Supernormal stimulus – a stimulus even more effective than the real thing
  10. Eyes have evolved in different species and in different ways dozens of times. Dragonflies see completely differently than humans
  11. Sphexish – Hofstadter’s word for inflexible, mindless behavior
  12. Do good by stealth – a key feature of evolution is its gradualness
  13. Nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. We humans have purpose on the brain. We find it hard to look at anything without wondering what it is “for, what the motive for it is, or the purpose behind it. When the obsession with purpose becomes pathological it is called paranoia – reading malevolent purpose into what is actually random bad luck. But this is just an exaggerated form of a nearly universal delusion. Show us almost any object or process, and it is hard for us to resist the “why” question – the “what is it for?” question. Beware this “purpose fallacy” – the “as if designed” assumption.
  14. Utility function – maximize happiness for the greatest number. In nature, DNA survival is being maximized, not happiness. God’s Utility Function seldom turns out to be the greatest good for the greatest number. God’s Utility Function betrays its origins in an uncoordinated scramble for selfish gain. Group welfare is always a fortuitous consequence, not a primary drive. That is the meaning of the “selfish gene.”
  15. Henry Ford illuminated on this Utility Function when it is reported that Ford once “commissioned a survey of the car scrapyards of America to find out if there were parts of the Model T which never failed. His inspectors came back with reports of almost every kind of breakdown: ales, brakes, pistons – all were liable to go wrong. But they drew attention to one notable exception, the kingpins of the scraped cars invariably had years of life left in them. With ruthless logic Ford concluded that the kingpins on the Model T were too good for their job and ordered that in the future they should be made to an inferior specification.” This may seem counterintuitive in some respects but in nature, as in cars, it is possible for a component of an animal to be too good, and we should expect natural selection to favor a lessening of quality up to, but not beyond, a point of balance with the quality of the other components of the body. More precisely, natural selection will favor a leveling out of quality in both the downward and upward directions, until a proper balance is struck over all parts of the body.
  16. In nature, often come across physiological changes with changes in hierarchy. Female blue-headed wrasse quickly become a bright-colored male if his place needs to be taken once he dies
  17. Information Bomb – there is another type of explosion a star can sustain. Instead of “going supernova” it “goes information.” The explosion begins more slowly than a supernova and takes incomparably longer to build up. We can call it an information bomb or, a replication bomb, or life. We humans are an extremely important manifestation of the replication bomb, because it is through us – through our brains, our symbolic culture and our technology – that the explosion may proceed to the next stage and reverberate through deep space. The triggering event of a replication bomb is the spontaneous arising of self-replicating yet variable entities. The reason self-replication is a potentially explosive phenomenon is the same as for any explosion: exponential growth. The more you have, the more you get
  18. Success is simply synonymous with frequency in circulation
  19. Language is the networking system by which brains exchange information with sufficient intimacy to allow the development of a cooperative technology. Cooperative technology, beginning with the imitative development of stone tools and proceeding through the ages of metal-smelting, wheeled vehicles, steam power and now electronics, has many of the attributes of an explosion in its own right, and its initiation therefore deserves a title, the Cooperative Technology Threshold. Indeed, it is possible that human culture has fostered a genuinely new replication bomb, with a new kind of self-replicating entity – the meme, as I have called it in The Selfish Gene – proliferating and Darwinizing in a river of culture.
What I got out of it
  1. The analogy of DNA as pure, digital information is helpful as is the idea of information bombs

Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex Among Apes by Frans de Waal

  1. An incredible insight into the takeovers and social organization of a chimp colony in the Netherlands. “The behavior of our closest relatives provides clues about human nature. Apart from political maneuvering, chimpanzees show many behaviors that parallel those of humans, from tool technology to intercommunity warfare. In fact, our place among the primates is increasingly a backdrop of substantial similarity. Our uniqueness breaks down as we study our relatives.”
Key Takeaways
  1. Simplified conditions, like the one found at Arnhem Zoo with this chimp colony, allow researchers to see more because there is less. A totally wild environment is too dynamic, too chaotic to be able to closely observe some of the interactions which are dissected in this book
  2. “Every country has its Dick Cheneys and Ted Kennedys operating behind the scenes. Being over the hill themselves, these experienced men often exploit the intense rivalries among younger politicians, gaining tremendous power as a result. I also did not draw explicit parallels between how rival chimpanzees curry favor with females by grooming and tickling their young and the way human politicians hold up and kiss babies, something they rarely do outside the election season. There are tons of such parallels, also in nonverbal communication (the swaggering, the lowering of voices), but I stayed away from all these. To me, they were so obvious I am happy to leave them to my readers…The social dynamics are essentially the same. The game of probing and challenging, of forming coalitions, of undermining others’ coalitions, and of slapping the table to reinforce a point is right there for any observer to see. The will to power is a human universal. Our species has been engaged in Machiavellian tactics since the dawn of time, which is why no one should be surprised about the evolutionary connection pointed out in the present book.”
  3. Only in harmonious groups are adult males solicitous and tolerant of kid’s behavior
  4. When excited or aggressive, their hair stands on end so they appear larger than life and often this behavior can be seen as much as 10 minutes before by inconspicuous body movements and changes in posture
  5. The group dynamic is one large web and the alpha male is just as, if not more, ensnared in the web as the rest
  6. Since they don’t need to forage for food as they do in the wild, there is considerably more time to socialize and the close quarters, especially in the winter months, which leads to nearly twice as many aggressive incidents as in the summer months
  7. “Experts sometimes choose to create the impression of knowing nothing. They act in exactly the opposite way from the young teacher, who held forth with such conviction. Both attitudes lead nowhere, but unfortunately I will not be able to avoid them completely.”
  8. “Everyone can look, but actually perceiving is something that has to be learned. This is a constantly recurring problem when new students arrive. For the first few weeks they “see” nothing at all…Initially we only see what we recognize. Someone who knows nothing about chess and who watches a game between two players will not be aware of the tension on the board. Even if the watcher stays for an hour, he or she will still have great difficult in accurately reproducing the state of play on another board. A grand master, on the other hand, would grasp and memorize the position of every piece in one concentrated glance of a few seconds. This is not a difference of memory, but of perception. Whereas to the uninitiated the positions of the chess pieces are unrelated, the initiated attach great significance to them and see how they threaten and cover each other. It is easier to remember something with a structure than a chaotic jumble. This is the synthesizing principle of the so-called Gestalt perception: the whole, or Gestalt, is more than the sum of its parts. Learning to perceive is learning to recognize the patterns in which the components regularly occur. Once we are familiar with the patterns of interactions between chess pieces or chimpanzees, they seem so striking and obvious that it is difficult to imagine how other people can get bogged down in all kinds of detail and miss the essential logic of the maneuvers.”
  9. When chimpanzees are frightened or distressed, they bare their teeth much further than when they put on the so-called play-face
  10. When males are displaying and trying to intimidate, it is not uncommon to see females take away their weapons
  11. Side-Directed Behavior: behavior toward opponents and behavior toward companions or outsiders
    1. Seeking refuge and reassurance – the most common form and an excited or frightened chimpanzee clearly has a need for physical contact
    2. Recruitment of support
    3. Instigation
    4. Reconciliations – after conflict, the opponents are attracted to each other like magnets! They had to physically connect to make up and tension and hesitancy remains as long as the opponents had not reconciled their differences. This action serves to repair valuable relationships
    5. Coalitions – when two apes fight or threaten each other, a third ape may enter the fray and side with one of them. Sometimes this escalates and larger coalitions are formed. However, this does not cascade – chimpanzees never make an uncalculated move and the top position in a group may depend on aggressive cooperation (highest form of strategy, dominance) and, often, it was the females who were the most important part of helping their chosen male get into the position of alpha
  12. Social Intelligence Hypothesis
    1. Chimps developed such high intelligence in order to deal with an increasingly complex group life. The evolution of primate intelligence started with the need to outsmart others, to detect deceptive tactics, to reach mutually advantageous compromises, and to foster social ties that advance once’s career
  13. Alpha males
    1. Hair is constantly slightly on end, even when not actively displaying and walk in an exaggeratedly slow and heavy manner – all meant to make one look larger and heavier
    2. The submissive greeting is the most special form of behavior indicative of social order – deep bows, grunting, looking up at the alpha, kiss his feet/neck/chest. Alpha reacts to this by standing taller and making his hair stand on end which makes the contrast even greater
    3. Dominance manifests in two different ways – social influence (power, who can defeat whom and who weighs in most heavily when a conflict in the group occurs) and formal dominance (ones actual rank within the colony)
    4. Physical strength is only one factor and almost certainly not the critical one in determining dominance relationships
    5. A leader who hesitates in defending his proteges might very well have problems defending himself
    6. Tantrums are indicative of the beginning of the end but familiarity breeds contempt. Tantrums which are thrown too often are ignored
    7. Tend to think that the outcome of a fight determines the social relationship, whereas here the outcome was determined by the social relationship. The same was seen in later dominance processes. The prevailing social climate affected the self-confidence of the rivals. It was as if their effectiveness depended on the attitude of the group (rather like a soccer team playing better at home than away).
    8. Speed and agility are just as important as strength
    9. Alpha males experience a physical and emotional change when they become the alpha – hair on end, a “policy” of trying to stabilize the group after the shake up in hierarchy
    10. Pattern Recognition – an older alpha had a better eye for potentially dangerous social developments and realized better than his partner that such developments must be nipped in the bud
    11. One of the new alphas, Nikkie, received great resistance from the females and never had secure rule. He was “greeted” and groomed and obeyed but he lead from a position of fear rather than respect. Must have the backing and support of the females or else your power is fragile
  14. Chimps overcome basic competitive tendencies more than other animals and achieve a high degree of cooperation. They cooperate in order to create a common front against the neighbors – the psyche is one of both competition and compromise and this is what makes chimp society so much more recognizable to us than the social structure of the other great apes
  15. Chimpanzee males avoid looking at each other in moments of tension, challenge, and intimidation. In moments of reconciliation, on the other hand, they look each other straight and deep in the eyes. After a conflict the former opponents may sometimes sit opposite each other for a quarter of an hour or more, trying to catch each other’s eye. Once the opponents are finally looking at each other, first hesitantly but then more steadily, the reconciliation will not be far away. Often, a “sense of honor” would need to be overcome before the reconciliation begins and often it was a third party who would help them out of the impasse. This third party was always one of the adult females
  16. After a fight, contact and conciliation is so important than the winner can blackmail the loser. The winner refuses to have anything to do with the loser until he has received some respectful grunts
  17. A stable hierarchy is a great sign of peace and harmony in the group but only partially ensure peace in the social system. Horizontal developments – in which children grow up and social ties are established, neglected, or broken – inevitably affect the temporarily fixed “vertical” component, the hierarchy. Western “ladder” view of social ties compared to Japanese “network” view. Hierarchical stability cannot be equated with stagnation and monotony, dominance must constantly be proven (Red Queen Effect)
  18. Loser-supporters: a third individual who intervenes in a conflict on the side of the party who would otherwise have lost
  19. Young males of superior fighting ability cannot usurp power without the support of a sizable portion of a group. You have to have the group buy-in and back you – can never do it alone
  20. The chimps have incredible awareness of their social cues. During one of the fights, both sides were bluffing about how brave they were and could be seen holding their hands in front of their mouths so that nobody could see them bearing their teeth (a sign of fear, excitement, nervousness
  21. In all the time studying the apes, the researchers never once witnessed a conflict between the two highest ranking females
    1. Key for stability within a hierarchy to have the top women on the same page?
  22. There are often issues when there is ‘dual leadership’ or a second person who feels they are entitled to respect and power just as much as the true leader. As Machiavelli reasoned, “He who attains the principality with the aid of the nobility maintains it with more difficulty than he who becomes the prince with the assistance of the common people, for he finds himself a prince amidst many who feel themselves to be his equals, and because of this he can neither govern nor manage them as he might wish.”
  23. The males are incredibly tolerant of children. They cannot risk getting upset and losing the support of the females
  24. Sex
    1. The formation of territories is one way of demarcating procreational rights; the formation of a hierarchy is another. There is a definite link between power and sex; no social organization can be properly understood without knowledge of the sexual rules and the way the progeny are cared for. Even the proverbial cornerstone of our society, the family, is essentially a sexual and reproductive unit. Sigmund Freud, speculating about the history of the unit, imagined a “primal horde,” in which our forefathers obeyed one great chief, who jealously guarded all sexual rights and privileges for himself
    2. A female can only be fertilized by one male. By keeping other males away from her, a male increases the certainty that he will be the father of the child. Consequently, children will more often be sired by jealous than by tolerant males. If jealousy is hereditary, and that is what the theory assumes, more and more children will be born with this characteristic, and later they in turn will attempt to exclude other members of the same sex from the reproductive act.
    3. Whereas the males fight for the right to fertilize as many females as possible, the situation for the females is totally different. Whether she copulates with one or one hundred males, it will not alter the number of children she will give birth to. Jealousy among females is therefore less marked. Female competition occurs almost exclusively in pair-bonded species, such as many birds and a few mammals, such as humans. Men get most upset at the thought of their wife or girlfriend having sex with another man, women dislike most the thought that their husband or boyfriend actually loves another woman, regardless of whether or not sex has occurred. Because women look at these things from the perspective of relationships, they are more concerned about a possible emotional tie between their mate and another woman
    4. If a female does not want to mate, it is usually over. Persistent males run the risk of being chased by the female they approached and some of the other females too. Consequently, it is the females who largely engineer the evasion of the rules that exist among males
  25. If the number of individuals in any colony becomes unnaturally alrge, the system collapses (Dunbar’s Number)
  26. Triadic Awareness (Lateral Networks)
    1. Just as individual recognition is a prerequisite of a stable hierarchy, so triadic awareness is a prerequisite of a hierarchy based on coalitions. The term triadic awareness refers to the capacity to perceive social relationships between others so as to form varied triangular relationships. For example, Luit knows that Yeroen and Nikkie are allies, so he will not provoke conflicts with Yeroen when Nikkie is nearby, but he is much less reluctant to do so when he meets Yeroen alone. What is special about this kind of knowledge is that an individual is not only aware of his or her relationships with everyone in the group, but also monitors and evaluates relationships that exist in the social environment so as to gain an understanding of how the self relates to combinations of other individuals. Elementary forms of three-dimensional group life are found in many birds and mammals, but primates are undoubtedly supreme in this respect. Mediation with a view to reconciliation, separating interventions, telling tales, and coalitions would all be inconceivable without triadic awareness
    2. If any of this sounds simple, it is because triadic awareness is second nature to human beings, and we find it hard to imagine a society without it
    3. Dependence on third parties plays such a prominent role in the chimpanzee hierarchy that the basic relationships are completely overshadowed. This is not only true for the complex balance of power in the male triangle. A small child, for example, may chase away a full-grown male. He is able to do so under the protection of his mother or “aunt.” Like the children, these females are basically inferior to the males, but they, in turn, can rely on the support of other females and sometimes can appeal to dominant males for help
  27. The Female Hierarchy
    1. The basis of hierarchical positions is sex-related. Among males coalitions determine dominance. The male dominance over the females is largely determined by their physical superiority. Among females it is above all personality and age that seem to be the determining factors.
    2. Conflicts between females are so rare and the outcome is so unpredictable that they cannot be used as a criterion for determining rank.
    3. The female hierarchy in our chimpanzee group seems to be based on respect from below rather than intimidation and a show of strength from above
      1. Perhaps why it is so stable and powerful – get buy in and respect from the bottom
    4. Our understanding of ape hierarchies is further complicated by the fact that there is a third type of dominance that exists alongside formal dominance and power. For example, when the alpha male places a car tire on one of the drums in the indoor hall with the intention of lying down on it, one of the females may push him away and sit down herself. Females also remove objects, sometimes even food, from the hands of the males without meeting with any resistance
    5. They have things to offer that cannot be taken by force, such as sexual and political favors, and their silent diplomacy, which helps to calm tempers. This provides the females with a good deal of leverage: if being popular among the females is critical for the stability of a male’s leadership, he had better be lenient and accomdating towards them
    6. Quite the opposite from subhuman primates, a man must be generous to be respected
  28. Mutual fear as the basis of alliance formation makes nations weigh in on the lighter side of the balance. The result is a power equilibrium in which all nations hold influential positions. The same principle applies to social psychology and is known as the formation of “minimal winning coalitions.”
  29. A rational choice is based on an estimate of the consequences.
  30. The hankering for power itself is almost certainly inborn. The question now is, how do chimpanzees achieve their ambitions? This too may be hereditary. Some people are said to have “political instinct,” and there is no reason why we should not say the same of chimpanzees. I doubt, however, whether this “instinct” is responsible for all the details of their strategies. Experience is needed to use innate social tendencies as a means to an end in the same way that a young bird born with wings to fly needs months of practice before it has mastered the art. In the case of political strategies, experience can play a role in two ways: directly, during the social processes themselves, or through the projection of old experiences into the future
  31. Sympathy is related to intimacy and familiarity
  32. Sharing
    1. For the adult male, the amount that he himself possesses is not important. What matters is who does the distributing among the group. (However, this only applies to incidental, extra food. Main meals and hunger can cause chimpanzee males to quarrel violently, as the Holloman colony showed.) Females, on the other hand, tend to share mainly with their own children and best friends and do not get into quarrels with other group members. Taking food by force is extremely rare in our colony; sharing is something apes learn young
    2. Their control rests on giving. They give protection to anyone who is threatened and receive respect and support in return. Also among humans the borderline between material and social generosity is scarcely distinguishable. Observations of human children by the psychologists Harvey Ginsburg and Shirley Miller have demonstrated that the most dominant children not only intervene in playground fights to protect losers but also are more willing to share with classmates. The investigators suggest that this behavior helps a child to command high status among peers. Similarly, we know from anthropological studies of pre-literate tribes that the chief exercises an economic role comparable to the control role: he gives and receives. He is rich but does not exploit his people, because he gives huge feasts and helps the needy. The gifts and goods he receives flow back into the community. A chief who tries to keep everything for himself puts his position in jeopardy. Noblesse oblige, or, as Sahlins said, “A man must be generous to be respected.” This universal human system, the collection and redistribution of possessions by the chief, or his modern equivalent, the government, is the same as that used by chimpanzees; all we have to do is replace “possessions” by “support and other social favors.”
      1. Honor this golden rule of generosity in all areas of life. Give more than you receive in every manner
  33. Reciprocation
    1. The influence of the recent past is always overestimated. When we are asked to name the greatest human inventions we tend to think of the telephone, the electric light bulb, and the silicon chip rather than the wheel, the plough, and the taming of fire. Similarly the origins of modern society are sought in the advent of agriculture, trade, and industry, whereas in fact our social history is a thousand times older than these phenomena. It has been suggested that food sharing was a strong stimulus in furthering the evolution of our tendency to reciprocal relations. Would it not be more logical to assume that social reciprocity existed earlier and that tangible exchanges such as food sharing stem from this phenomenon? There are indications of reciprocity in the nonmaterial behaviors of chimps. This is seen, for instance, in their coalitions, nonintervention alliances (A remains neutral if B does the same), sexual bargaining (A tolerates B mating after B has groomed A), and reconciliation blackmail (A refuses to have contact with B unless B “greets” A). It is interesting that reciprocity occurs in both the negative and the positive sense. Nikkie’s habit of individually punishing females who a short time before joined forces against him has already been described. In this way he repaid a negative action with another negative action. We regularly see this mechanism in operation before the group separates for the night. This is the time when differences are squared, no matter when these differences may have arisen. For example, one morning a conflict breaks out between Mama and Oor. Oor rushes to Nikkie and with wild gestures and exaggeratedly loud screams persuades him to attack her powerful opponent. Nikkie attacks Mama, and Oor wins. That evening, however, a good six hours later, we hear the sound of a scuffle in the sleeping quarters. The keeper tells me later that Mama has attacked Oor in no uncertain manner. Needless to say Nikkie was nowhere in the vicinity. Negative behavior hardly enters into the theories about reciprocity that anthropologists and sociologists have developed. Despite the emphasis on powerful exchanges there has not been much theoretical progress
    2. Every individual voluntarily enters and stays in any relationship only as long as it is adequately satisfactory in terms of rewards and costs. Interactions between humans have been regarded as a kind of trading in advantageous and disadvantageous behavior. Here too reciprocity is an important theme, not only in the positive form but also in its negative form.
    3. This give-and-take mechanism is a very old, and very fundamental feature of our species and of chimps. Much of the process may take place in the subconscious, but we all know from experience that things come bubbling up to the surface when the difference between costs and benefits becomes too great. It is then that we voice our feelings. By and large, however, reciprocity is something that takes place silently. The principle of exchange makes it possible actively to teach someone something: good behavior is rewarded; bad behavior is punished
    4. Life in a chimpanzee group is like a market in power, sex, affection, support, intolerance, and hostility. The two basic rules are: one good turn deserves another and an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth
  34. The major themes found and discussed in the chimpanzee colony
    1. Formalization – ranks are formalized. When they become unclear a dominance struggle ensues, after which the winner refuses reconciliation as long as his new status is not formally recognized
    2. Influence – an individual’s influence on group processes does not always correspond to his or her rank position. It also depends on personality, age, experience, and connections. I regard our oldest male and oldest female as the most influential group members
    3. Coalitions – interventions in conflicts serve either to help friends and relatives or to build up powerful positions. The second, opportunistic type of intervention is seen specifically in the coalition formation of adult males and goes hand in hand with isolation tactics. There is evidence for a similar sex difference in humans
    4. Balance – in spite of their rivalry, males form strong social bonds among themselves. They tend to develop a balanced power system based on their coalitions, individual fighting abilities, and support from females
    5. Stability – relationships among females are less hierarchically organized and much more stable than among males. A need for stability is also reflected in the females’ attitude toward male status competition. They even mediate between males
    6. Exchanges – the human economic system, with its reciprocal transactions and centralization, is recognizable in the group life of chimpanzees. They exchange social favors rather than gifts or goods, and their support flows to a central individual who uses the prestige derived from it to provide social security. This is his responsibility, in the sense that he may undermine his own position if he fails to redistribute the support received
    7. Manipulation – chimpanzees are intelligent manipulators. Their ability is clear enough in their use of tools, but it is even more pronounced in the use of others as social instruments
  35. To my eyes, the most striking result is that there seem to be two layers of social organization. The first layer we see is a clear-cut rank order, at least among the most dominant individuals. Although primatologists spend a lot of energy discussing the value of the “dominance concept,” they all know that it is impossible to ignore this hierarchical structure. The debate is not about its existence but about the degree to which knowledge of rank relationships helps to explain social processes. I think that, so long as we concentrate on the formal hierarchy, the explanations will be very poor indeed. We should also look behind it, at the second layer: a network of positions of influence. These positions are much more difficult to define, and I consider my descriptions in terms of influence and power only as imperfect first attempts. What I have seen, though, is that individuals losing a top rank certainly do not fall into oblivion: they are still able to pull many strings. In the same way, an individual rising in rank and at first sight appearing to be the big boss does not automatically have the greatest say in all matters. If it is hard to explain this duality of the social organization without using human terms, it is because we have very similar behind-the-scenes influences in our own society. When Aristotle referred to man as a political animal he could not know just how near the mark he was. Our political activity is part of an evolutionary heritage we share with our close relatives. What my work at Arnhem as taught me, however, is that the root of politics are older than humanity
  36. Human’s daily dabbling in politics are not always recognized as such because people are past masters in camouflaging their true intentions. Politicians for example, are vociferous about their ideals and promises but are careful not to disclose personal aspirations for power. This is not mean to be a reproach, because after all everyone plays the same game. I would go further and say that we are largely unaware that we are playing a game and hide our motives not only from others but also underestimate the immense effect they have on our own behavior. Chimps on the other hand, are quite blatant about their “baser” motives. Their interest in power is not greater than that of humanity, it is just more obvious
  37. To compare humans with chimps can be taken to be just as insulting, or perhaps even more so, because human motives seem to become more animal as a result. And yet, among chimps, power politics are not merely “bad” or “dirty.” They give to the life of the Arnhem community its logical coherence and even a democratic structure. All parties search for social significance and continue to do so until a temporary balance is achieved. This balance determines the new hierarchical positions. Changing relationships reached point where they become “frozen” in more or less fixed ranks. When we see how this formalization takes place during reconciliations, we understand that the hierarchy is a cohesive factor, which puts limits on competition and conflict. Child care, play, sex, and cooperation depend on the resultant stability. But underneath the surface the situation is constantly in a state of flux. The balance of power is texted daily, and if it proves too weak it is challenged and a new balance established. Consequently chimpanzee politics are also constructive. Humans should regard it as an honor to be classed as political animals.
What I got out of it
  1. Female support counts for as much as nearly anything, coalitions/reconciliation as important in chimp’s life as in human life, much more about cooperation than simply brute strength/size/speed, aggressive cooperation is one of the highest forms of strategy, the need for physical contact is crucial for social bonding and reconciliation, power is truly comprised of two things: social influence and formal dominance, must get buy in from the bottom of the group in order to have a stable hierarchy, man must be generous in order to be respected, stability vita for a well functioning group and hierarchy, hierarchy is a cohesive and a constructive factor which put limits on competition and conflict

The Autobiography of Charles Darwin by Charles Darwin

  1. The life and accomplishments of Darwin through his own eyes
Key Takeaways
  1. I have attempted to write the following account of myself, as if I were a dead man in another world looking back at my own life. Nor have I found this difficult, for life is nearly over with me. I have taken no pains about my style of writing.
  2. The passion for collecting which leads a man to be a systematic naturalist, a virtuoso, or a miser, was very strong in me, and was clearly innate, as none of my sisters or brother ever had this taste.
  3. I have heard my father and elder sister say that I had, as a very young boy, a strong taste for long solitary walks; but what I thought about I know not. I often became quite absorbed, and once, whilst returning to school on the summit of the old fortifications round Shrewsbury, which had been converted into a public foot-path with no parapet on one side, I walked off and fell to the ground, but the height was only seven or eight feet. Nevertheless the number of thoughts which passed through my mind during this very short, but sudden and wholly unexpected fall, was astonishing, and seem hardly compatible with what physiologists have, I believe, proved about each thought requiring quite an appreciable amount of time.
  4. The school as a means of education to me was simply a blank. During my whole life I have been singularly incapable of mastering any language. Much attention was paid to learning by heart the lessons of the previous day; this I could effect with great facility, learning forty or fifty lines of Virgil or Homer, whilst I was in morning chapel; but this exercise was utterly useless, for every verse was forgotten in forty-eight hours.
  5. I believe that I was considered by all my masters and by my father as a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard in intellect. To my deep mortification my father once said to me, “You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat-catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family.” But my father, who was the kindest man I ever knew and whose memory I love with all my heart, must have been angry and somewhat unjust when he used such words.
  6. Looking back as well as I can at my character during my school life, the only qualities which at this period promised well for the future, were, that I had strong and diversified tastes, much zeal for whatever interested me, and a keen pleasure in understanding any complex subject or thing. I was taught Euclid by a private tutor, and I distinctly remember the intense satisfaction which the clear geometrical proofs gave me.
    1. NOTE: recipe for learning
  7. I had many friends amongst the schoolboys, whom I loved dearly, and I think that my disposition was then very affectionate.
  8. With respect to science, I continued collecting minerals with much zeal, but quite unscientifically—all that I cared about was a new-named mineral, and I hardly attempted to classify them.
  9. This was the best part of my education at school, for it showed me practically the meaning of experimental science.
  10. I was sent there to commence them. But soon after this period I became convinced from various small circumstances that my father would leave me property enough to subsist on with some comfort, though I never imagined that I should be so rich a man as I am; but my belief was sufficient to check any strenuous efforts to learn medicine.
  11. I also attended on two occasions the operating theatre in the hospital at Edinburgh, and saw two very bad operations, one on a child, but I rushed away before they were completed. Nor did I ever attend again, for hardly any inducement would have been strong enough to make me do so; this being long before the blessed days of chloroform. The two cases fairly haunted me for many a long year.
  12. My zeal was so great that I used to place my shooting-boots open by my bed-side when I went to bed, so as not to lose half a minute in putting them on in the morning; and on one occasion I reached a distant part of the Maer estate, on the 20th of August for black-game shooting, before I could see: I then toiled on with the game-keeper the whole day through thick heath and young Scotch firs.
  13. After having spent two sessions in Edinburgh, my father perceived, or he heard from my sisters, that I did not like the thought of being a physician, so he proposed that I should become a clergyman.
  14. Considering how fiercely I have been attacked by the orthodox, it seems ludicrous that I once intended to be a clergyman.
  15. But I am glad to think that I had many other friends of a widely different nature.
  16. But no pursuit at Cambridge was followed with nearly so much eagerness or gave me so much pleasure as collecting beetles. It was the mere passion for collecting, for I did not dissect them, and rarely compared their external characters with published descriptions, but got them named anyhow. I will give a proof of my zeal: one day, on tearing off some old bark, I saw two rare beetles, and seized one in each hand; then I saw a third and new kind, which I could not bear to lose, so that I popped the one which I held in my right hand into my mouth. Alas! it ejected some intensely acrid fluid, which burnt my tongue so that I was forced to spit the beetle out, which was lost, as was the third one.
  17. I have not as yet mentioned a circumstance which influenced my whole career more than any other. This was my friendship with Professor Henslow. Before coming up to Cambridge, I had heard of him from my brother as a man who knew every branch of science, and I was accordingly prepared to reverence him. He kept open house once every week when all undergraduates, and some older members of the University, who were attached to science, used to meet in the evening. I soon got, through Fox, an invitation, and went there regularly. Before long I became well acquainted with Henslow, and during the latter half of my time at Cambridge took long walks with him on most days; so that I was called by some of the dons “the man who walks with Henslow;” and in the evening I was very often asked to join his family dinner. His knowledge was great in botany, entomology, chemistry, mineralogy, and geology. His strongest taste was to draw conclusions from long-continued minute observations. His judgment was excellent, and his whole mind well balanced; but I do not suppose that any one would say that he possessed much original genius. He was deeply religious, and so orthodox that he told me one day he should be grieved if a single word of the Thirty-nine Articles were altered. His moral qualities were in every way admirable. He was free from every tinge of vanity or other petty feeling; and I never saw a man who thought so little about himself or his own concerns. His temper was imperturbably good, with the most winning and courteous manners; yet, as I have seen, he could be roused by any bad action to the warmest indignation and prompt action.
  18. Looking back, I infer that there must have been something in me a little superior to the common run of youths, otherwise the above-mentioned men, so much older than me and higher in academical position, would never have allowed me to associate with them. Certainly I was not aware of any such superiority, and I remember one of my sporting friends, Turner, who saw me at work with my beetles, saying that I should some day be a Fellow of the Royal Society, and the notion seemed to me preposterous.
  19. During my last year at Cambridge, I read with care and profound interest Humboldt’s ‘Personal Narrative.’ This work, and Sir J. Herschel’s ‘Introduction to the Study of Natural Philosophy,’ stirred up in me a burning zeal to add even the most humble contribution to the noble structure of Natural Science. No one or a dozen other books influenced me nearly so much as these two.
  20. These gravel-beds belong in fact to the glacial period, and in after years I found in them broken arctic shells. But I was then utterly astonished at Sedgwick not being delighted at so wonderful a fact as a tropical shell being found near the surface in the middle of England. Nothing before had ever made me thoroughly realise, though I had read various scientific books, that science consists in grouping facts so that general laws or conclusions may be drawn from them.
  21. We had several quarrels; for instance, early in the voyage at Bahia, in Brazil, he defended and praised slavery, which I abominated
  22. The voyage of the “Beagle” has been by far the most important event in my life, and has determined my whole career; yet it depended on so small a circumstance as my uncle offering to drive me thirty miles to Shrewsbury, which few uncles would have done, and on such a trifle as the shape of my nose. I have always felt that I owe to the voyage the first real training or education of my mind; I was led to attend closely to several branches of natural history, and thus my powers of observation were improved, though they were always fairly developed.
  23. During some part of the day I wrote my Journal, and took much pains in describing carefully and vividly all that I had seen; and this was good practice.
  24. The above various special studies were, however, of no importance compared with the habit of energetic industry and of concentrated attention to whatever I was engaged in, which I then acquired. Everything about which I thought or read was made to bear directly on what I had seen or was likely to see; and this habit of mind was continued during the five years of the voyage. I feel sure that it was this training which has enabled me to do whatever I have done in science.
  25. Looking backwards, I can now perceive how my love for science gradually preponderated over every other taste. During the first two years my old passion for shooting survived in nearly full force, and I shot myself all the birds and animals for my collection; but gradually I gave up my gun more and more, and finally altogether, to my servant, as shooting interfered with my work, more especially with making out the geological structure of a country. I discovered, though unconsciously and insensibly, that the pleasure of observing and reasoning was a much higher one than that of skill and sport.
  26. As far as I can judge of myself, I worked to the utmost during the voyage from the mere pleasure of investigation, and from my strong desire to add a few facts to the great mass of facts in Natural Science.
  27. I think that I can say with truth that in after years, though I cared in the highest degree for the approbation of such men as Lyell and Hooker, who were my friends, I did not care much about the general public. I do not mean to say that a favourable review or a large sale of my books did not please me greatly, but the pleasure was a fleeting one, and I am sure that I have never turned one inch out of my course to gain fame.
  28. In July I opened my first note-book for facts in relation to the Origin of Species, about which I had long reflected, and never ceased working for the next twenty years.
  29. Because no other explanation was possible under our then state of knowledge, I argued in favour of sea-action; and my error has been a good lesson to me never to trust in science to the principle of exclusion.
  30. No other work of mine was begun in so deductive a spirit as this, for the whole theory was thought out on the west coast of South America, before I had seen a true coral reef. I had therefore only to verify and extend my views by a careful examination of living reefs.
  31. This excursion interested me greatly, and it was the last time I was ever strong enough to climb mountains or to take long walks such as are necessary for geological work.
  32. I saw more of Lyell than of any other man, both before and after my marriage. His mind was characterised, as it appeared to me, by clearness, caution, sound judgment, and a good deal of originality. When I made any remark to him on Geology, he never rested until he saw the whole case clearly, and often made me see it more clearly than I had done before. He would advance all possible objections to my suggestion, and even after these were exhausted would long remain dubious. A second characteristic was his hearty sympathy with the work of other scientific men.
  33. “What a good thing it would be if every scientific man was to die when sixty years old, as afterwards he would be sure to oppose all new doctrines.”
  34. His knowledge was extraordinarily great, and much died with him, owing to his excessive fear of ever making a mistake.
  35. —reminds me of Buckle whom I once met at Hensleigh Wedgwood’s. I was very glad to learn from him his system of collecting facts. He told me that he bought all the books which he read, and made a full index, to each, of the facts which he thought might prove serviceable to him, and that he could always remember in what book he had read anything, for his memory was wonderful. I asked him how at first he could judge what facts would be serviceable, and he answered that he did not know, but that a sort of instinct guided him. From this habit of making indices, he was enabled to give the astonishing number of references on all sorts of subjects, which may be found in his ‘History of Civilisation.’
  36. During the first part of our residence we went a little into society, and received a few friends here; but my health almost always suffered from the excitement, violent shivering and vomiting attacks being thus brought on. I have therefore been compelled for many years to give up all dinner-parties; and this has been somewhat of a deprivation to me, as such parties always put me into high spirits. From the same cause I have been able to invite here very few scientific acquaintances.
  37. My chief enjoyment and sole employment throughout life has been scientific work; and the excitement from such work makes me for the time forget, or drives quite away, my daily discomfort.
  38. I record in a little diary, which I have always kept, that my three geological books (‘Coral Reefs’ included) consumed four and a half years’ steady work;
  39. To understand the structure of my new Cirripede I had to examine and dissect many of the common forms; and this gradually led me on to take up the whole group. I worked steadily on this subject for the next eight years, and ultimately published two thick volumes
  40. From September 1854 I devoted my whole time to arranging my huge pile of notes, to observing, and to experimenting in relation to the transmutation of species. During the voyage of the “Beagle” I had been deeply impressed by discovering in the Pampean formation great fossil animals covered with armour like that on the existing armadillos; secondly, by the manner in which closely allied animals replace one another in proceeding southwards over the Continent; and thirdly, by the South American character of most of the productions of the Galapagos archipelago, and more especially by the manner in which they differ slightly on each island of the group; none of the islands appearing to be very ancient in a geological sense. It was evident that such facts as these, as well as many others, could only be explained on the supposition that species gradually become modified; and the subject haunted me. But it was equally evident that neither the action of the surrounding conditions, nor the will of the organisms (especially in the case of plants) could account for the innumerable cases in which organisms of every kind are beautifully adapted to their habits of life—for instance, a woodpecker or a tree-frog to climb trees, or a seed for dispersal by hooks or plumes.
  41. soon perceived that selection was the keystone of man’s success in making useful races of animals and plants. But how selection could be applied to organisms living in a state of nature remained for some time a mystery to me. In October 1838, that is, fifteen months after I had begun my systematic enquiry, I happened to read for amusement ‘Malthus on Population,’ and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long-continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of new species. Here then I had at last got a theory by which to work; but I was so anxious to avoid prejudice, that I determined not for some time to write even the briefest sketch of it. In June 1842 I first allowed myself the satisfaction of writing a very brief abstract of my theory in pencil in 35 pages; and this was enlarged during the summer of 1844 into one of 230 pages, which I had fairly copied out and still possess.
  42. But at that time I overlooked one problem of great importance; and it is astonishing to me, except on the principle of Columbus and his egg, how I could have overlooked it and its solution. This problem is the tendency in organic beings descended from the same stock to diverge in character as they become modified. That they have diverged greatly is obvious from the manner in which species of all kinds can be classed under genera, genera under families, families under sub-orders and so forth; and I can remember the very spot in the road, whilst in my carriage, when to my joy the solution occurred to me; and this was long after I had come to Down. The solution, as I believe, is that the modified offspring of all dominant and increasing forms tend to become adapted to many and highly diversified places in the economy of nature.
  43. The success of the ‘Origin’ may, I think, be attributed in large part to my having long before written two condensed sketches, and to my having finally abstracted a much larger manuscript, which was itself an abstract. By this means I was enabled to select the more striking facts and conclusions. I had, also, during many years followed a golden rule, namely, that whenever a published fact, a new observation or thought came across me, which was opposed to my general results, to make a memorandum of it without fail and at once; for I had found by experience that such facts and thoughts were far more apt to escape from the memory than favourable ones. Owing to this habit, very few objections were raised against my views which I had not at least noticed and attempted to answer.
  44. I gained much by my delay in publishing from about 1839, when the theory was clearly conceived, to 1859; and I lost nothing by it, for I cared very little whether men attributed most originality to me or Wallace; and his essay no doubt aided in the reception of the theory.
  45. Whenever I have found out that I have blundered, or that my work has been imperfect, and when I have been contemptuously criticised, and even when I have been overpraised, so that I have felt mortified, it has been my greatest comfort to say hundreds of times to myself that “I have worked as hard and as well as I could, and no man can do more than this.”
  46. An unverified hypothesis is of little or no value; but if anyone should hereafter be led to make observations by which some such hypothesis could be established, I shall have done good service, as an astonishing number of isolated facts can be thus connected together and rendered intelligible.
  47. My ‘Descent of Man’ was published in February, 1871. As soon as I had become, in the year 1837 or 1838, convinced that species were mutable productions, I could not avoid the belief that man must come under the same law. Accordingly I collected notes on the subject for my own satisfaction, and not for a long time with any intention of publishing. Although in the ‘Origin of Species’ the derivation of any particular species is never discussed, yet I thought it best, in order that no honourable man should accuse me of concealing my views, to add that by the work “light would be thrown on the origin of man and his history.” It would have been useless and injurious to the success of the book to have paraded, without giving any evidence, my conviction with respect to his origin.
  48. During subsequent years, whenever I had leisure, I pursued my experiments, and my book on ‘Insectivorous Plants’ was published in July 1875—that is, sixteen years after my first observations. The delay in this case, as with all my other books, has been a great advantage to me; for a man after a long interval can criticise his own work, almost as well as if it were that of another person.
What I got out of it
  1. So many nuggets but Darwin’s recipe for learning is gold: concentrated self-study, keeping of a diary/journal, keeping indexed notes of relevant material, seeking to test and destroy beloved concepts by immediately scribbling down ‘unfavorable’ evidence/results and thinking through why this may be right, and learning lessons by heart