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Revolutions that made the Earth$
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Tim Lenton and Andrew Watson

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199587049

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199587049.001.0001

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The origins of us

The origins of us

Chapter:
(p.363) 19 The origins of us
Source:
Revolutions that made the Earth
Author(s):

Tim Lenton

Andrew Watson

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199587049.003.0019

This chapter describes how the evolution of natural language represented a revolution in the transmission of information, which decoupled human social evolution from gene-based evolution, giving it a ‘genetic material’ analogous in many ways to DNA, which could be transmitted both to contemporaries and future generations. This allowed cultural evolution to accelerate, and new levels of social organization to emerge. The result was the rapid development of human imagination and culture. Only after the emergence of language did our ancestors begin to reshape their environment on a large scale. However, a truly global environmental change relied on human societies increasing their inputs of energy, starting with the transition to agriculture, and culminating in the fossil fuel age.

Keywords:   natural language, transmission of information, human social evolution, gene-based evolution, genetic material, DNA

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