A Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century is about the evolution of our species and its future. The authors seek a single, consistent explanation of the observable universe that has no gaps, takes nothing on faith, and rigorously describes every pattern at every scale. Their aim is to introduce the readers to a robust scientific framework for understanding ourselves. I was attracted by the book title and would like to see its contents.
Heather Heying is an American evolutionary biologist, former professor, and author.
Bret Weinstein is Heather’s husband. He is an American podcaster, author, and former professor of evolutionary biology.
A Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century contains an introduction, 13 chapters, an epilogue, and an afterword.
The chapters are:
1. The Human Niche
2. A Brief History of the Human Lineage
3. Ancient Bodies, Modern World
7. Sex and Gender
8. Parenthood and Relationship
11. Becoming Adults
12. Culture and Consciousness
13. The Fourth Frontier
A Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century is like a text book with lots of definition. Perhaps it is because its authors are two former professors. This book talks about the evolution of Homo sapiens. The evolutionary story of humans is not primarily one of individuals surviving. It is one of people coming together.
Humans are both competitive and collaborative. Most best ideas that our species has generated have been the result of of a group of people who had different but consilient talents and vision, non-overlapping blind spots, and a political structure that allowed for novelty. The connections between humans allow us to transcend our individual limitations, often focusing on our trade while being sustained by the specialised labor of others. Most fringe ideas are wrong, but it is exactly from the fringe that progress is made and paradigm shifts happen.
The authors introduce a concept that is new to me: culture is a regulator of genome expression. I used to think that culture and gene are two unrelated things but after reading this book, this concept actually does make sense.
Regarding culture and genome, the authors has proposed The Omega Principle which has 2 premises:
1. Epigenetic regulators, such as culture, are superior to genes in that they are more flexible and can adapt more rapidly,
2. Epigenetic regulators, such as culture, evolve to serve the genome.
Furthermore, they also propose a three-part test of adaptation. A trait is presumed to be an adaptation if it:
1. is complex,
2. has energetic or material costs, which vary between individuals, and
3. has persistence over evolutionary time,
The authors use the word “hyper-novel” to describe this rapidly changing modern world. This is the first time I read this word but I think it describes the current world perfectly. They think the biggest problem of our time is our species’ pace of change outstrips our ability to adapt. The authors believe the major errors of modern health and medicine are reductionism with a tendency to overgeneralise in a hyper-novel world where quick but expensive and potentially dangerous fixes are common.
Other than the history and theories, the authors also propose some solutions to the problems of the modern world. One of them is about building a society in which all opportunities are open to everyone. They opine that the first step is recognising that we are, on average, different. Pretending that we are identical, rather than ensuring that we are equal under the law, is a fool’s game. To ignore our differences and demand uniformity is a different kind of sexism.
They think that a good regulatory scheme is efficient and light-handed – all but invisible. Regarding parenting, they espouse exposing children to risk and challenge. However, this is a rule that is context dependent.
They advise us not to waste time and intellectual resources by trying to explain away the past, we should learn from it and move on instead. Every opinion is not equally valid and some outcomes do not change just because we want them to.
Regarding models of human behaviour and psychology, these models tend to be based on empirical studies of WEIRD (Western nations, with a highly Educated populace, an Industrialised economic base, that are relatively Rich and Democratic) undergraduate students. Thus, they may well be accurate readings of the psychology and behaviour of WEIRD undergrads, but not inherently good models for the rest of the world. I strongly agree with this statement.
They introduce the the concept of fourth frontier in this book. It states that we can engineer an indefinite steady state that will feel to people like they live in a period of perpetual growth, but will abide by the laws physics and game theory that govern our universe. We are explorers and innovators by design, and the same impulses that have created our troublesome modern condition are the only hope for saving it.
There are recommendations (The Corrective Lens) at the end of some chapters about how to live in this modern world. After reading this book, it makes me rethink what are humans. The authors want to help the readers to become a better problem solver by seeing through the noise of our modern world. Though I am not sure if I am a better problem solver now, this book does open my mind.
One sentence to summarise this book: Be a generalist, not a specialist in this hyper-novel world.
- In everything there are trade-offs.
- Following directions when people giving them seem to have no idea what they’re doing, or why, is neither honourable nor smart.
- What a thing does, and what we think (or know) that it does, are not the same thing.
- Risk and potential go hand in hand.
- Insight and growth do not happen when you are comfortable with what you know.
Interested in A Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century?
You may get the book from through the link below*.
Get the print book from Kinokuniya Malaysia here
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