Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Collisions among disparate peoples shaped the modern world through conquest, epidemics, and genocide

January 27, 2009 Geography and Emergence
The Broadest Pattern of Human History By Jared Diamond

As world travel developed in recent centuries from 1492 onward, it quickly became obvious that peoples with very different economies, technologies, and political organizations coexisted in the modern world. At one extreme were the large Iron Age states occupying much of Europe, Asia (except Siberia), and North Africa, plus the smaller Iron Age states of West Africa. Comparable in political organization, but lacking in iron technology, were the Inca Empire of the Andes and the Aztec state of Mexico.

The range of societies continued through the Neolithic settled chiefdoms of other parts of the Americas and Polynesia, with some of those societies (such as Polynesian Hawaii and the Mississippian civilization of Indian North America) verging on the level of states. The list went on to the Neolithic tribal farming societies of New Guinea and the remainder of the New World and concluded with the hunter-gatherers of the Arctic, Australia, and scattered areas of the Americas, Africa, and Asia.

This snapshot of the diverse world as of 1492 was subsequently illuminated by archaeologists, who obtained in effect a series of snapshots at earlier times. It then became clear that the geographic differences among human societies as of 1492 resulted from differences, extending back over at least 10,000 years, in the dates of first appearance of developments such as stone tool grinding, metallurgy, pottery, and plant and animal domestication. For example, mass production of copper tools, which was beginning to be widespread in the Andes in the centuries before 1492, was already spreading in parts of Eurasia 5,000 years before that. The stone technology of the Tasmanians, when first encountered by literate observers in 1642, was simpler than that of Upper Paleolithic Europe tens of thousands of years earlier.

The collisions among these disparate peoples shaped the modern world through conquest, epidemics, and genocide. These collisions set up reverberations that have still not died down after many centuries and that are being played out in some of the most troubled areas of the world today (such as South Africa and the former Soviet Union).

In the present essay, I shall explore the hypothesis that these differences between human societies resulted not from differences between the peoples themselves, but from effects of environment and geography - that is, from contrasts between the real estate that different peoples inherited. Two caveats are necessary at the outset, since many people may initially consider this topic an unfit one for polite discussion.

  • First, this whole subject stinks of racism, because nineteenth-century Europeans explained the observed geographic differences in complexity of human societies in terms of supposed parallel differences among peoples in their mental abilities.

Despite much effort to document these supposed differences, no sound supporting evidence has been forthcoming. Available evidence even supports the reverse conclusion. Read More: HereJARED DIAMOND is Professor of Geography at UCLA. He is the author of the recently published Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies. Dr. Diamond is also the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship - "Genius Award".


Jan 27, 2009 The Relational Reinterpretation Hypothesis Anno 1840
from Shared Symbolic Storage by Michael

Last year Penn, Holyoak, and Povinelli published a quite controversial article called "Darwin's mistake: Explaining the discontinuity between human and nonhuman minds." In it they argued that what is special about human cognition is our innate analogical ability, an ability to reinterpret sensory and cognitve data in terms of abstract relational terms.

The system enabling "higher order, abstract, role-governed, relational reasoning” is grafted on top of our primate cognitive system and explains why our cognitive capacities are so widely different from that of other animals.

The main tenet of this proposal is shared by many researchers, as seen, for example, in Anette Karmilof-Smith's (1992) concept of "Representational Redescription" Hypothesis or Jean Mandler's (2004) "perceptual meaning analysis"
"as the central, attentive process that redescribes attended perceptual information into a simpler and conceptual (accessible) form."

Interestingly, I just found a similar proposal in John Pringle Nichol's "Views of the Architecture of the Heavens" from 1840, although I am quite sure that similar views can be traced much farther back in time :
"We are bound by the inherent necessities of our Being to search for the explanation of every fact or phenomenon, through its relations with some actual order, present or past" (281). being. 8:20 PM 8:48 PM

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