How Humans Evolved through Fire, Language, Beauty, and Time
In the tradition of Guns, Germs, and Steel and Sapiens, a winner of the Royal Society Prize for Science Books shows how four tools enabled has us humans to control the destiny of our species
"A wondrous, visionary work." --Tim Flannery, scientist and author of the bestselling The Weather Makers
What enabled us to go from simple stone tools to smartphones? How did bands of hunter-gatherers evolve into multinational empires? Readers of Sapiens will say a cognitive revolution -- a dramatic evolutionary change that altered our brains, turning primitive humans into modern ones -- caused a cultural explosion. In Transcendence, Gaia Vince argues instead that modern humans are the product of a nuanced coevolution of our genes, environment, and culture that goes back into deep time. She explains how, through four key elements -- fire, language, beauty, and time -- our species diverged from the evolutionary path of all other animals, unleashing a compounding process that launched us into the Space Age and beyond. Provocative and poetic, Transcendence shows how a primate took dominion over nature and turned itself into something marvelous.
Science writer Vince (Adventures in the Anthropocene) looks at human evolution in terms of four elements dubbed Fire, Word, Beauty, and Time in this stimulating account. She begins with humans' literal and figurative quest for fire and other forms of energy in order "to escape our biological limitations and exceed our physical capabilities." Word, meanwhile, covers how language and storytelling contributed to humanity's evolutionary success. The final two elements are connected more tenuously to their titles, with Beautyreferring to "the importance of meaning in our activities," and Timeto the human drive to understand and explain nature. Throughout, she uses up-to-date scholarship, such as on how Neanderthal and Denisovan genetic material expresses itself in current human populations. Vince's fascinating examples draw from cultures as diverse as Ice Age humans, ancient Greeks and Romans, and contemporary hunter-gatherer societies including one in which, anthropologists report, the "best storytellers have the most children" as well as modern urban dwellers. While warning that the "norms" fostering "large and multicultural societies" have weakened recently, she urges readers to take a long view and remember that humanity has often effected "great social improvements in a very short time." Even those broadly familiar with humanity's story will find new information and insights in Vince's fascinating study.