5:35/5:39, 72/91. Podcast.
Alfred Binet, who gave us IQ, was born on this day in 1857. We’ve been missing the point of brainpower ever since. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who gave us five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance), was born in 1926. And southern writer Shirley Ann Grau in 1929, who was denied an academic career, married a philosopher, and said “I see people first. I do stories first.” WA
Stories, ours and hers and his. “An enlargement of the experience of being alive,” David McCullough calls history, and in Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari places that experience in its wide bio-cosmic context.
About 3.8 billion years ago, on a planet called Earth, certain molecules combined to form particularly large and intricate structures called organisms. The story of organisms is called biology. About 70,000 years ago, organisms belonging to the Homo sapiens started to form even more elaborate structures called cultures. The subsequent development of these human cultures is called history.
It’s a compelling, sweeping story, reminiscent of Carl Sagan’s in Cosmos (and Neil Tyson’s), “let me tell you a story…”
And that’s Harari’s thesis, that storytelling propelled our species’ advance. Our craniums expanded so we could narrate our experience in subtle, complex, delightful, meaningful ways. Or they expanded because we tried. But cranial size is not the true measure of our intelligence. Practical wisdom, the ability not only to spin a story but also to apply its lessons in fruitful ways, and to do what needs to be done, is. In telling our stories, speaking for earth, we do enlarge our experience. That’s good, because experience moves us forward.
“We humans have set foot on another world in a place called the Sea of Tranquility, an astonishing achievement for creatures such as we, whose earliest footsteps three and one-half million years old are preserved in the volcanic ash of east Africa. We have walked far.” And the story continues.
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