This is probably what our grandfather looked like, 12,500 generations removed.
He almost certainly lived in Africa about 200,000 years ago. Whether or not his name was Adam, every human being alive today carries his genes.
One of the key learnings for me in writing OtherWise is that most of the time -- in fact, almost all of the time -- we operate on the same gut feelings, cognitive biases, and tribal instincts as gramps here.
- Gut feelings to ward us from danger and to attract us to people who will protect us or ensure the survival of our genes.
- Cognitive biases to speed decision-making in a hostile environment.
Feelings and biases may not be rational, but in snake-infested jungles they can be the key to survival.
Similarly, when our primordial ancestors dropped from the trees and started walking across the savanah, survival favored those who had a innate ability to work in small groups and a natural hostility toward anyone not of the group.
Those characteristics were so critical that, over a number of generations, they became the norm. And they survive to this day.
What looks like conscious thought and deliberate behavior is deeply rooted below our levels of awareness. Usually, we're on autopilot. Someone’s in the cockpit, it's just not who we think.
We call our species homo sapiens, literally “wise man,” but our species’ wisdom isn’t most manifest in the taming of fire or the use of tools. It’s most obvious in our dealings with each other.
Ironically, that’s when our simian roots are also most apparent, especially in the way we relate to strangers.
Becoming OtherWise requires a degree of mindfulness that consumes lots of calories. Going with the flow of our primordial instincts is a lot easier.
But in a smaller, flatter world that really isn't an option. There are just too many strangers, and our lives are too intertwined with their's.
Luckily, our primordial ancestors passed along another instinctual legacy -- the capacity for empathy and understanding. It may have atrophied over the generations, and it's too easily manipulated, but it may be our species new best hope for survival.