Lessons from Prehistory to help us live better Modern lives

Death peers through the thick grass.

The hunters are here. Silent and motionless, hidden yet agile.

It isn’t easy to kill a wild beast with spears and arrows but these men have mastered the art of killing.

They await the elder’s signal, the one with the orange paint on his face; the color being the mark of his skills and experience. He attentively waits for the right instance to strike, then with a roar, pounce at the beast at once. Thrusting their spears within its thick skin, hitting the weak spots, they manage to kill it within minutes.

That’s how an average work day looks like in Prehistory.

The buzzing alarm clock injects him with gloom.

He drags himself out of bed with a desire to discontinue the routine he has been stuck into for years.

Relies on his phone’s feed to feed him socially as he commutes to work.

Stares at a screen for eight hours and returns home. Watches dumb television program and realizes how terrible his life is.

Resolves to fix himself, lacks the will power to do so. Hates himself for being who he is. Goes to bed. Wakes up. Repeats.

That’s how an average work day looks like today.

Off course, these are exaggerations.

But sometimes we need to hyperbolize certain things before learning from them.

Sure we’ve made progress along the ages there is no doubt about it, but could it be the case that humans have lost some of their fundamental traits to modernization?

There has been a massive shift in our lifestyles as we’ve evolved but what is so different, both intellectually and behaviorally, on part of our ancestors that separates us from them and how we could use it to enrich our existence today is something that shall define the scope of this article.

Let’s dive into it

 

You are a Nomad.

Humans are among the very few (if any) species that can be found on every continent of planet earth.

But why is that? What makes us so successful or pervasive?

Well, that is because we’ve had a nomadic past.

Early humans migrated thousands of kilometers searching for food and shelter, inhabiting any place that could support them.

I want you to know that moving a few kilometers looking for food is different that colonizing entire continents. And that gets much harder considering we didn’t have today’s technology during prehistory.

What our ancestors undertook wasn’t a picnic trip but the greatest move anything living could ever imagine.

They walked deserts and sailed oceans with tools made of nothing but wood and stone and managed to colonize some of the farthest and the most hostile places on the planet.

(I’m officially taking off ten minutes to deal with the level of mind blown I am right now!)

What does this tell us about the early humans?

It means one single thing if anything, that humans are explorers.

These early men were dominated with potent urges to familiarize the unknown. They couldn’t help but migrate in search of better resources and it is this greed, this sense of dissatisfaction that forced us to colonize the entire planet.

They were willing to risk their lives in search of better ones…..can we do the same?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking you to leave your home and sail across the Pacific. Well, you could if you wanted to but the point is…….

When we compare ourselves to these early men, the fact that we’ve become sedentary turns out to be more self-evident than it has ever been.

We’ve grown stagnant.

The inner curiosity, the inner urge to explore that separates us from the rest has taken a back seat as we’ve turned the mundane and the familiar into our home.

Modernization prioritizes structure and stability. This is achieved by establishing routine.

While this might not be a bad thing, it leaves a little room for any adventure.

In trying to maximize our efficiency we fail to nurture the very quality that has made us great: our curiosity.

The very existence of boredom implies ignored curiosity. So next time you get bored, remember that it’s just you not being the natural explorer you are meant to be.

But what does it mean to explore in an era when most of the world has been mapped already?

One can always choose to travel and explore physical places but that is not what a modern explorer would be.

Perhaps exploration in today’s modern context would be more psychological or philosophical rather than physical. Perhaps we could visit and configure ideas just as our ancestors visited and populated new regions. Maybe discovering new ways of thinking can be the next level of exploration and just like the past, set us on a path of exponential growth.

Let me ask you, which was the last time you entertained a radical or strong idea? Which was the last time you had your way of thinking irreversibly altered by a chain of thoughts? Which was the last time you discovered something new or tried developing a skill? Do you constantly challenge your beliefs and your opinions? Or have you grown rigid and stagnant in your way of thinking? If you have done so recently then you have been true to your innate nature, be proud 🙂

If not, it’s never too late.

Quote on Learning

Concern yourself with your curiosity and seek out to fulfill it. Let it drive you to beautiful places where you’ve never been before because doing so is a major part of being human.

The idea here is to never stop learning.

To constantly engage into things that may help us expand the borders of what we consider to be possible.

John Green in his amazing Ted talk talks about why learning is important, this one is worth your time.

If you were to scan a human brain, you’d notice a ‘pleasure-system’ set in place to promote seeking. In other words, our minds are wired to learn, seek and understand. This explains why we find learning pleasurable.

This means that learning new things isn’t simply good for you, it is basically what you are supposed to do, just the way you are supposed to eat and have sex.

It’s all needed for survival. Luckily, all that is fun happens to be needed for survival, isn’t that cool? Ooh wait, maybe it is the other way around, crap.

(Never mind the evolution jokes :P)

Never give up learning, be an intellectual nomad 🙂

Moving on, what’s the next big change since prehistory? No, it isn’t governments and politics. Actually, I don’t think that even a considerable improvement since prehistory.

The next thing is……

 

 Teamwork guys, teamwork

Humans have undoubtedly been the greatest hunters of all time.

You might want to attribute that to our intelligence but being smart isn’t what made us the strongest.

It was the one word that you must have heard your manager say over a million times in all those fancy corporate meetings: TEAMWORK

The prehistoric man did rely on a huge variety of wild fruits and small animals, meaning we weren’t solely dependent on hunting large animals but we were really good at it when we had to.

Hunters would cross several miles of the terrain reading footsteps and other signs of creatures that they could kill.

On having spotted the prey they would try separating it from the herd and then chase it upto a point where the creature collapsed out of mere exhaustion!

They would then skin it, pull off the useful meat while few of them would keep an eye around looking for other predators. You don’t wanna mess with an adult lion, even if you are the two legged smart ape.

Humans were not the biggest or the fastest or the strongest, it was their ability to work together that fed them.

We knew we had to work together to survive and that is why we evolved into being more social. Being in a larger group means fewer chances of being hunted and more success at killing prey. A larger group also requires a bigger brain which makes you smarter overall, so it is in everyone’s best interest to stick together.

But along our transition from cave-paintings to memes, something changed.

We lost the true essence of teamwork. (And no it isn’t the HR’s job to fix that)

In the modern world, teamwork simply means working together with the group, while that isn’t what it meant for our ancestors.

To them, teamwork meant working FOR the group.

Let me elaborate.

If you look closely, our society is a selfish one.

(My apologies, that was too obvious to be mentioned)

Most of us merely focus on gathering enough for ourselves without ever considering our role in the group. We are self-centered and greedy, most of our economics is based on it and we spend most of our energy ensuring that our interests remain in line with those of everyone around us in order to avoid conflict.

That is what business is, offering what people want so that you can have what you want.

But in prehistory, there were no individuals, there was only the tribe.

People hunted to feed their families and neighbors alike, women gathered berries and fruits for everyone, not just themselves.

Everyone cared for the group and as a result, everyone was taken care of.

Quote about making lives better

Modernization has managed to plant within us the seeds of doubt, making us believe that somehow there is a lack of something that we need, and we’ll have to compete hard to get it.

We value financial stability over meaningful relationships, we value the acquisition of luxuries over finding and doing meaningful work.

We hardly consider our contribution towards the world.

Again, I’m not saying that it is wrong to make money, you can have as much as you want but just make sure that your approach towards it isn’t a self-centered one.

Make sure that whatever you do brings value to the lives of others, no matter even if it is on a tiny scale.

Imagine living in a world where everyone works for the betterment of species, everyone just ensures the progress and the safety of this global tribe that we are a part of, a world where everyone would be equal and thus perhaps happy.

(I know, I know, never gonna happen, but we can always try, can’t we?)

We need to shift our focus from profits to people. 

We’ve been talking enough about money and power, now it is the time to talk about relationships.

And it’s so bloody obvious when you think of it! people can live together without any money, they have for thousands of years in the past but could even a single one of us live without people?

Don’t take my word for it, see what the longest research project of all time says about the subject in Robert Waldinger’s Ted talk and decide for yourself.

So what have we learned so far?

A. That we must be intellectual explorers, and

B. We must work for the greater good.

Astrophysicist Niel DeGrasse Tyson sums it up perfectly when he says:

Neil deGrasse Tyson's quote on what he believes in

Those were two major human qualities that we might be losing to modernization and the value they can add to our lives. But what do we do with this information?

I don’t want to tell you how everything sucks and not give you a solution about it.

Luckily, there is an answer.

The traces of which can be traced right back to prehistory.

We call it, ART.

Art is going to save us.

Yup, I’ll tell you why.

Archaeologist Nicolas Conard has studied mountain caves in southern Germany which were occupied by humans roughly around 40000 years. We’ve found wooden sculptures to ivory flutes in these caves!

This is probably the origin of art.

“I think all of these symbolic artifacts were the glue that held society together. The likelihood that music was played in the caves is 100%. The likelihood that stories were told, that ideas were exchanged, that social interaction was taking place here, in my opinion, is essentially certain.”

Says Nicolas Conard on the role of art in ancient society.

The reason why this is noteworthy is that back at that time the world was experiencing an ice-age. Survival was difficult than ever before, both for humans and another human like species called Neanderthals who lived alongside us.

By the end of the ice-age, the Neanderthals had (almost) gone extinct while we survived.

Experts believed that it was culture and artistic expression that strengthened our society and helped us survive.

Art kept us alive.

But that was prehistory, what role does art play in our lives today?

If you think about it, art at its core is about expression.

Anyone who creates or consumes art is first engaged with an idea and the fact that art is only possible with exchange ensures that it is only through art that we can explore the abstract in a social way.

The fact that art evolved in such growing social setting during such a primitive age only tells us how essential expression is to our survival.

Although our culture today greatly values artistic expression it often falls into the ‘entertainment category’ rather than being recognized as a tool for personal and social growth.

What about the catharsis? Or the new landscapes of intellectual and spiritual growth it can open for us?

Why don’t we invest as much and as deliberately into intended artistic expression/consumption as we do into making money or getting an education?

A growing obsession with profits and a stubborn ignorance towards our very fundamental needs is perhaps the price we pay for modernization.

It is through art that we can explore the unknown (both inside and outside of us) and if done on a social level, art can bring us closer as a global tribe.

Hope this is enough motivation for you to create and engage with art on a regular basis.

Conclusion.

Times have changed, we have changed and it is great to see how far we’ve come. But this isn’t the end and the fight for survival isn’t over yet.

There is still so much to achieve, so much to learn and much more to do. Our society isn’t perfect, not even close to it and if we need to get there we’ll have to do it together while staying true to who we are.

Maybe we’ll have to take a few steps back and examine who we are, but we cannot afford to lose ourselves to time.

I hope this article could induce some thoughts and I hope it helps you live a better life.

How do you think pre historic men differed from us and what more could we learn from them? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading, stay awesome 🙂

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