Transcendence: How Humans Evolved Through Fire, Language, Beauty, and Time by Gaia Vince


  • 12: Timekeepers: Our cells have clock genes that regulate hormones, heart rate, brain activity, moods, and bodily functions. Perhaps it’s our ability to sense time passing that gives us a sense of purpose. It’s our episodic memory that lets us recall the past and imagine the future giving us a survival advantage. At some point, our ancestors were able to sense the time of the seasons, which allowed them to know things like when to save food for the winter. Rituals, ceremonies, and feasts evolved to honor seasonal change. The sky served as our first clock and ancient astronomers had great power. This dates back about 30,000 years.
  • Four centuries after Jesus died, the Christian empire reset the start of the calendar to his estimated birth date. Now this Gregorian calendar is used globally. Romans were the first culture to run their lives by the clock or sun dial. Gear-based clocks were invented in the fourteenth century. This resulted in monumental public clocks that let anyone nearby know the time. In the industrial age, some people carried pocket watches and people clocked in and out of work. Time became money. This changed how we lived. Quartz crystal clocks were invented in the 1920s. This allowed just about anyone to know the time at any time. The atomic clocks invented in the 1960s allowed for higher accuracy.
  • 13: Reason: If we can better predict the future we can improve our survival chances. This is where reason comes in. Science is built on making and testing predictions. Humans evolved to engage in scientific thinking, which contributed to cultural evolution. This improved our ability to innovate, which is important when you are migrating around the world. Innovation is risky and has a high failure rate. Improvements are usually made by tweaking things than by big leaps. Mathematics was invented about 5,000 years ago but didn’t take off until the invention of the zero in the seventh-century CE.
  • Science doesn’t vary from culture to culture. There is just one science. Unfortunately, science became a casualty of Christian and later Islamic dogma. During the dark ages, science suffered in Christian Europe and flourished in Arab lands. During the Renaissance, science made a big comeback in Europe at the same time the Islamic world regressed. Vital players during the industrial age were more likely to be artisans like clockmakers and carpenters than university-based scholars. Humans can think fast using reflexes to deal with the environment or they can think slow and use reason to survive.
  • 14. Homni: In a sense, humanity is becoming a superorganism that Gaia calls Homo omens or Hommi for short. Although our population has grown from 1 billion to 7.7 billion in the past 150 years, we now see a slowing of this expansion. We are one big interconnected population with a big technological toolbox. We are now in the Anthropocene Era or the age of humans. We have engaged in massive deforestation, caused a surge in extinctions, destroyed some ecosystems, and created a deluge of waste. Our cultures will need to adapt as our genes, environment, and culture continue to evolve. We are acquiring the skills to speed up our genetic evolution using tools that hack our DNA. CRISPR, invented in 2012, allows rapid, easy, and accurate editing of life’s blueprint and has enormous potential.
  • We are also evolving a cadre of robots driven by artificial intelligence with seemingly unlimited potential. While these technologies have great potential they also pose many potential threats. By many measures, things are better than ever. We have the safest, most plentiful, and affordable food supply ever. Deaths by wars have fallen and global wars are less likely as we are all so interconnected and interdependent through our economics, trade, family, and cultural practices. Who could have predicted we would be where we are today as we face new problems and hopefully new solutions. Thanks, Gaia.

Gaia Vince

  • Gaia is a science writer and broadcaster interested in the interplay between humans and the planetary environment. She has held senior editorial posts at Nature and New Scientist, and her writing has featured in newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, The Times, and . She also presents science programs for radio and television. In 2015 she became the first women to win the Royal Society Science Book of the Year Prize solo for her debut, Adventures in the Anthropocene: A journey to the Heart of the Planet We Made. She blogs at WanderingGia.Com and tweets at @WanderingGaia.
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