How coded into our DNA are the universal innovations that have driven human history globally? Futurist Byron Reese shares what he’s uncovered here!
What We Discuss with Byron Reese:
- Why innovations that increase productivity are always good for humans — because they won’t steal and devalue our jobs, but create more than we can fill.
- Why did it only take humanity three generations to get from the Wright Brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk to landing on the moon, but our ancestors endured 80,000 generations using the same stone tool without modification?
- How much does civilization owe to the advent of language?
- Why are ancient cave paintings found around the world so eerily similar — down to stenciled human hands with missing fingers?
- What can we learn about our species and its intrinsic coding by studying the communication patterns of honeybees, ants, and other insects?
- And much more…
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We’re not saying it was aliens, but…there are some downright confounding mysteries about human history that make extraterrestrial intervention seem like the most obvious leftover once Occam’s razor has done its slicing and dicing on the evidence. But what if the truth lies somewhere more primordial and in the fabric of humanity’s very DNA?
On this episode, we’re joined by Byron Reese, author of Stories, Dice, and Rocks That Think: How Humans Learned to See the Future — And Shape It and We Are Agora: How Humanity Functions as a Single Superorganism That Shapes Our World and Our Future. Here, we acknowledge the debt civilization owes to the invention of language and speculate over how it — along with art and other intelligence-leveraged innovations — sprang up across the world around the same time. We explore the universality of certain narratives that show up in fairy tales with origins that can be traced back 5,000 years, and we wonder what new leaps in cognition and communication await our species in the future. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
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Thanks, Byron Reese!
If you enjoyed this session with Byron Reese, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Resources from This Episode:
- We Are Agora: How Humanity Functions as a Single Superorganism That Shapes Our World and Our Future by Byron Reese | Amazon
- Stories, Dice, and Rocks That Think: How Humans Learned to See the Future — And Shape It by Byron Reese | Amazon
- Byron Reese | Website
- Byron Reese | Instagram
- Byron Reese | Facebook
- Byron Reese | LinkedIn
- Byron Reese | Twitter
- Marc Andreessen | Exploring the Power, Peril, and Potential of AI | Jordan Harbinger
- AI & Employment | Byron Reese
- Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. | The Nellens
- Why ChatGPT Won’t Replace Humans | Fast Company
- How to Use ChatGPT as a Tool, Not a Replacement | MarketSmiths
- I, Pencil by Leonard E. Read | Foundation for Economic Education
- Here’s What the Neuralink Brain Chip Is Supposed to Do | Verywell Health
- Agora Definition & Meaning | Merriam-Webster
- Going to North Korea: Part One | Stereo Sunday | Jordan Harbinger
- Going to North Korea: Part Two | Stereo Sunday | Jordan Harbinger
- Acheulean Handaxe: Humanity’s First Formally Shaped Tool | ThoughCo.
- The Day Language Came into My Life by Helen Keller | PVAL
- Ramy Romany | Unwrapping the Mysteries of Ancient Egypt | Jordan Harbinger
- Many Prehistoric Handprints Show a Finger Missing. What If This Was Not Accidental? | The Guardian
- What Humans Can Learn from the Language of Honeybees | Noema
- The Food Dance Gets New Life When Bees Get Cocaine in an Addiction Study | The New York Times
- Gorbachev and Reagan: The Capitalist and Communist Who Helped End the Cold War | The Guardian
- Cooperative Eye Hypothesis | Wikipedia
- Koko the Impostor: Ape Sign Language Was Babbling Nonsense | Big Think
- Evolutionary Dynamics Do Not Motivate a Single-Mutant Theory of Human Language | Scientific Reports
- 25 Dark Original Versions Of Children’s Fairy Tales | List 25
- Melancholy at the Movies | The Moscow Times
- How Medieval Europe Finally Ditched Roman Numerals | Discover Magazine
940: Byron Reese | Humanity’s Mysterious Journey from Antiquity to AI
This transcript is yet untouched by human hands. Please proceed with caution as we sort through what the robots have given us. We appreciate your patience!
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On the Jordan Harbinger Show. We decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people and turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you. Our mission is to help you become a better informed, more critical thinker through long form conversations with a variety of amazing folks, from spies to CEOs, athletes, authors, thinkers, performers, even the occasional Russian spy, cold case, homicide investigator, music mogul, or tech luminary.
[00:00:32] And hey, if you're new to the show or you wanna tell your friends about the show, I suggest our episode starter packs. These are collections of our favorite episodes on topics like persuasion, negotiation, psychology, geopolitics, disinformation, cyber warfare, crime, and cults and more. That'll help new listeners get a taste of everything we do here on the show.
[00:00:48] Just visit Jordan harbinger.com/start or search for us in your Spotify app. To get started today, we're talking with my friend Byron Reese. Byron is an entrepreneur, but more importantly, he's a really brilliant thinker who has been to North Korea way more times than pretty much anybody I know, including myself.
[00:01:05] He's kind of the, the human embodiment of a book of random interesting facts, right? So a book of, uh, you know, factoids isn't the right word, but just super interesting, maybe, maybe Snapple ish facts come to life, but we do a bit of a deeper dive in it that might be selling it a little short. Sorry, Byron.
[00:01:21] Today, in addition to North Korea, we'll explore human and animal communication and the origins of human language and communication as well. We'll also connect language to advanced thought processes and something called theory of mind, which has implications not only for animals and of course for humans, but even for artificial intelligence.
[00:01:39] Speaking of which, we fade into this conversation on the subject of AI and Jobs just because we hit record while we were wrapping before the show. And, uh, well, we'll just fade into the show the same way. Here we go with Byron Reese,
[00:01:55] how can you run outta people? First of all, we have an overpopulation problem. What? We're gonna run outta people. You must mean. What do you mean qualified
[00:02:01] Byron Reese: people? I think we're gonna have this huge shortage of humans to do all these jobs. I used to have this podcast where everybody predicted in five years we were gonna have like, oh, all employment.
[00:02:10] And then that was more than five years ago and none of us happened. And I can't think of a single job that has been eliminated. Not one job. No.
[00:02:18] Jordan Harbinger: That was what Mark Andreesen said on the show too, is he was like, people thought books were gonna take jobs away from, I don't know, like oral history tellers, and they just became writers.
[00:02:27] All these jobs are gonna be taken away by ai. It's like mechanization for assembly lines. Okay. A lot of those people became engineers and a lot of those other people got different jobs 'cause they don't have to put a part in a machine that slams down on it anymore. 'cause a robot does that. It's not the same people, but people just get different jobs.
[00:02:44] My sort of only counter to that as the retooling argument, right? You can't retool somebody whose job it was to put something in a machine and be like, okay, you're the guy who maintains these robots that do that now because it's very hard to do.
[00:02:55] Byron Reese: I think that idea that can you retrain coal miners to code isn't how the economy works, right?
[00:03:01] What happens is everybody does something just a little bit above what they're currently doing, very adjacent to it. Just a tiny bit different. Everybody shifts up a notch. I figured that the half-life of a job is about 50 years. I think about every 50 years. We lose about half of all jobs. I think it's been going on for about 250 years.
[00:03:17] And so you say, how do we lose half of all the jobs every 50 years and maintain full employment? And it's because everybody's just doing something adjacent slightly above what they're doing, and we're all riding that wave up. The big problem is we now aren't gonna have enough people. I. When you look at the number of things that technology enables, there's an infinite number of jobs on the universe.
[00:03:40] The job exists. Every time somebody can take something and add technology and labor to it and make something else, they've created a job. And with technology, I think what we have done is create so many opportunities. We just don't have enough people to do everything that you can imagine doing with technology.
[00:03:57] I can look out my window right now and say, oh, there needs to be a person doing this and this and fixing this and running this road and riding this and running broadband here and all of these things. There just aren't gonna be people to do it. And that's why this myth that we're gonna like have this surplus of people is, I think ridiculous that we're gonna have a shortage of people because there's just so many things we can get them
[00:04:16] Jordan Harbinger: to do.
[00:04:17] And you don't think AI will replace a lot of those particular jobs, right. I also understand that because I forget what this problem is called, but essentially people think, oh, AI can do anything. But the problem becomes almost making a robot that can be controlled by ai, that can do that same thing in a way that could ever be economical, like bagging groceries.
[00:04:36] The problem
[00:04:37] Byron Reese: is you can always see what's gonna be destroyed and nobody can see what's gonna be created. If you went back in time and showed people the internet 25 years ago, they would say, oh, the yellow pages are gonna go out of business, and the travel agents and the stockbrokers, and they would've been right about everything.
[00:04:52] They wouldn't have ever said, oh, there's gonna be Etsy at eBay, Airbnb, Twitter. You can't see what it'll create. You can only see what it's gonna destroy. So the rule to remember is that things that increase human productivity are always. If you don't believe that you should advocate for a law where everybody has to work with one arm tied behind their back.
[00:05:12] Because if you did that, you would create an enormous amount of jobs. You would need two people to mow your yard, two people to trim your hedges. You would create all of these jobs, but they wouldn't pay anything 'cause you just destroyed everybody's productivity. All these technologies do is give everybody another arm, and that's never bad for people ever.
[00:05:31] That's an absolute statement. That's never bad for people. And with ai, you're just giving them a bigger brain. I would say this, if AI can somehow hurt jobs, then you should advocate for like a pill of something we put in the water that lowers everybody's IQ by 10 points.
[00:05:46] Jordan Harbinger: I was just gonna say, isn't this a book where there's a chip that goes in your brain that makes you the same IQ as the IQ of everybody else in the world or in the country?
[00:05:55] It makes sure that everybody is the same because that's what's supposed to be fair. So it basically handicaps all the smart people. And the government's like, yeah, this is good, because now not as smart people aren't at a disadvantage. This is a very famous book. I'm gonna have to google this 'cause this is like exactly what you're talking about right now.
[00:06:11] The thing
[00:06:12] Byron Reese: is, is that if making everybody smarter is bad, then it stands to reason that a good thing to do would be that to make everybody less smart, and that's just ridiculous. Why would making people more intelligent and giving people more tools ever be bad for people? Again, I think it comes back to, you can always see what it's gonna destroy and you can never see what it's gonna create.
[00:06:33] And if you just stick with the simple idea that things that increase human productivity are good for humans, you can have confidence that even though you can see one side of the equation, what's gonna get destroyed, that there's this other side. There's a reason we didn't have Airbnb and Uber and all that in 1997.
[00:06:52] These technologies when they come out, you can only see 'em in the context of what you had before. That's why like TV was like radio with pictures. That's what they thought. And it just takes time for people to figure out, oh my gosh, we can do this now.
[00:07:06] Jordan Harbinger: You're right. People don't think of what's going to be created.
[00:07:09] They only think of what's going to be destroyed. And so that creates an inherent bias because it's really obvious that you're not going to need your scheduling assistant or your admin or something like that. And so that everyone's got the fear of God put into them for that. Wait a minute, we're gonna need all these other people who are really good at something that we can't even imagine yet.
[00:07:28] I was catching up on email this morning 'cause I just got back from Taiwan and my wife had sent a reply to somebody this morning and it was this really professional email. My wife's intelligent, she's smart, but I was like, wow, she's getting really good at writing email. And I was like, Hey, this is a really surprisingly great response to this person.
[00:07:45] She's like, oh yeah, chat GPT. The app she uses the most is not her web browser. It's not social media. She doesn't google anything anymore. She just asks Chat GPT, and it gives her an answer or it gives her an email or it gives her ideas on how to name something or create something or respond to something or negotiate something.
[00:08:02] It's basically an extension of her brain and she's one of the people that are using this way more than anybody else that I've seen in my own life. I'm sure there's guys online that use it for everything, but the primary function of her smartphone now is just to reach chat, GPT to ask it how to cook something, make something, order something, negotiate.
[00:08:19] It's really incredible That I think is gonna be the future because I don't know about you, but I Google everything and I have, for 20 plus years, I would never go to the library to research something anymore. For example.
[00:08:31] Byron Reese: I think these large language models are amazing for a simple reason that you've just touched on, which is when books came out, we had libraries.
[00:08:39] It was always hard to find something in the library. They had the card catalog it. It could be in there and you could never find it. Right now, when you do a search on a search engine, it says, Hey, in a quarter of a second, I got you 30 million answers to that question. The thing is, you don't want 30 million answers.
[00:08:54] You want one answer, the right answer for you, and that's really what these language models do. What they do is they resynthesize human knowledge so that we get to having a single planet wide knowledge base instead of 50 billion individual little pages scattered around the internet. It is us coming back to having one global mind, and that's why it's powerful.
[00:09:15] My whole shtick is about how humanity functions as a single super organism. I call it Agora. It's an animal. I think it's a literal living, breathing creature, but now it's starting to have one mind. There was an essay that this guy wrote way back, called I Pencil. Nobody knows how to make an iPhone, right?
[00:09:33] Your body has 30 different elements in it. An iPhone has 60 different elements. There's not a person who can make one, and yet they get made and they get made. I think 'cause it's collective. Creature makes them. And now that collective creature has this collective mind, which is gonna be these language models.
[00:09:49] They're not there yet. Obviously they're brand new. They just came out last November. But you can see where it's going. It's synthesizing all knowledge as opposed to making it available. It's bringing
[00:10:00] Jordan Harbinger: it together. And something that's been sort of on my sci-Fi brain recently as well is, so these large language models or chat, GPT type AI for people who are following along at home here, they were trained on a specific set of data, and then the new ones are gonna be trained on all data that they can get their hands on.
[00:10:16] And then that becomes the bottleneck as data they can get their hands on. So like Google might create an AI and they're like, all right, put everything that's in Google into this LLM. Then Neuralink or whatever brain machine interface is gonna come out in 20 years or something that becomes consumer grade or 30, I don't know how long this is gonna take.
[00:10:33] 'cause it goes in your brain. It's gonna take longer than we think. So it goes in your brain and then it's gonna be using all of what Facebook and other social media companies were calling Data Exhaust. Where did you log in from? What device was it? Oh, we're never gonna use this. And now they're like, wait, we can target people because we know they're at home on their phone or on their desktop using wifi.
[00:10:52] So we know that they have a bigger screen. We can reformat the ad or we can be like, Hey, are you bored? Do you wanna go on a vacation? 'cause we know they're not on one right now that the grocery store. So that sort of data will then be coming from your brain and it'll be like, what's this person's heart rate right now?
[00:11:05] Oh, it's pretty high. They're scared. Let's advertise this thing to them that's gonna comfort them. And that advertising data or that data exhaust will then go into the LLM. And so AI will get to know you better than you know yourself. 'cause it has biometrics for every human. Then we'll really have a hive mind, right?
[00:11:19] Because it'll be connected to, who knows, 5 billion people at the same time, and it will be actually able to create something, whether that's intellectual property or whatever, based on everything that's going on with the majority of humans on earth at that particular time. That's within the realm of our lifetime possibly going to happen.
[00:11:38] Byron Reese: A lot of people get afraid of that. If I buy a metal detector and I go to the beach, I can swing that thing around and I can dig anywhere on the beach I want to. I can dig anywhere. I can say to that metal detector, you're not the boss of me. I'm gonna dig where I want to, but I'd be a fool not to dig over the spot.
[00:11:53] It goes, beep beep over, right? At some point you'll just learn that it's right and that you're better off when you dig where it says BPB, and I think this will be the same thing. People talk about this collective mind abstractly. When I was a kid, I was a boy scout and I was a nerd, surprisingly. And I went to summer camp and I looked at all the merit badges I could take, and I saw this one bookkeeping and I was like, oh my gosh, I wanna learn bookkeeping.
[00:12:22] So I show up to the bookkeeping merit badge, and it turns out it's a misprint. And I had actually signed up for beekeeping. Yeah, that sounds right. That's how I got into beekeeping and I became fascinated with bees. And bees or a super organism. A hive is actually a creature with different properties than a bee.
[00:12:36] A hive is a warm-blooded creature. It holds its body temperature at 97 degrees, and bees are cold-blooded and all these other things. And I really got to think about whether humans. Are actually a literal creature. And, and I treat it as a scientific hypothesis. And I say, well, if that were true, there would be all kinds of things we couldn't survive apart from each other.
[00:12:54] And I think that's true. We would demand conformity of each other because in a super organism, like a beehive or an ant mound, if a bee starts acting weird, they just kill it. Mm-Hmm. And, and we like to think we're individualistic, but really we demand an enormous amount of conformity and on and on and on.
[00:13:10] So you can actually, I think, prove humanity functions as a superorganism, as a single animal, not a metaphor, not some touchy-feely thing, but an actual living creature. And who knows how far up it goes. A bunch of Agoras could come together and form it even higher, one higher and higher, one or lower, lower, lower.
[00:13:28] We just exist at one level. And so I think that's what we're starting to be able to see this synthesis of all of this knowledge. I call it a digital echo, where everything, you look at, every breath you take, everything gets logged passively. Do we have a trillion things attached to the internet yet? I don't think a trillion yet, but we're gonna get there very soon.
[00:13:48] Mm-hmm, and then 2 trillion, then 10 trillion, then a hundred trillion, and at some point it starts breathing like a being and having a single mind. But that doesn't mean we lose anything as individuals.
[00:14:00] Jordan Harbinger: It is hard to wrap your mind around. And it does get scary because when you stop understanding it and it starts to get a little bit like, wait a minute, then what happens to us as individuals?
[00:14:08] It's easy to say that nothing happens to us as individuals, but I think a lot of us are afraid of losing our humanity through ai. But I also feel like we should probably bring this conversation down to earth a little bit. 'cause I already decided this conversation's gonna be a little all over the place because you've done so many different interesting things.
[00:14:20] And usually I read a book, I focus on a topic, but I decided not to with this one. So it's gonna be hard to smoothly transition from one thing to another. But I don't know. I don't think people care. So first of all, I know you've been to North Korea many times, way more than I have. I'm wondering what your interest is there.
[00:14:35] I mean, I'm interested in North Korea too. I've obviously stopped going now that it's illegal. Are you still going? Why am
[00:14:41] Byron Reese: I, uh, interested in it? I think the purpose of travel is to go places that are different than the place you just came from. I think it's depressing to get off an airplane and see an IKEA or Walmart.
[00:14:51] I. And I think you, having been there a number of times, would have to agree of all the most different places in the world, it is the most differently. Different,
[00:14:59] Jordan Harbinger: yeah. So far I haven't been to Turk Stan or anything like that, but I've heard that it's almost like Diet North Korea and I'm like, oh, well I'll just mainline the real thing.
[00:15:07] Byron Reese: So I go there because they get spectacle. I'm sure you've been to the Mass Games, it's a performance of a hundred thousand people all at once. It's really hard to even imagine. You've gotta be in the biggest stadium in the world and one half of it you've gotta. But it's made of human beings holding up cards and it's Each person's a pixel.
[00:15:24] Yeah, correct. 500 by a hundred. It's 50,000 pixels, 50,000 people holding up this card and then they switch 'em and the picture changes. And meanwhile 50,000 people are dancing and telling the story of Korea. And I've been all over it, all over the country. There's a place in the north, this resort where you go and there's like a hot tub in your room and big cork and you pull the cork out and this irradiated water bubbles up.
[00:15:47] It's got natural radon and I've been there. Yeah, yeah, exactly. And you soak in the water and you soak up the radiation and you feel great the next day and you just don't get that in other places. That's why I
[00:15:57] Jordan Harbinger: go, I did pass on the radioactive tub thing. My roommate, my friend Sailor Joe, who often used to travel with me, they didn't tell us that you should only stay in for like 10 or 15 minutes.
[00:16:07] So he stayed in there for hours and just sat in there and I'm like, take some iodine, bro.
[00:16:12] Byron Reese: There's a theory, it's a French theory, which says that radiation's like vitamin C mm-hmm, a pound of it'll kill you. But that doesn't mean the right amount is zero. A little bit is actually really healthy. That's their thesis behind it.
[00:16:28] It's possible
[00:16:28] Jordan Harbinger: we get radiation from the sun, but too much sun gives you cancer. It's possible that low levels of radiation kill weaker cells that would not be good for you. I don't know anything about that. I just know that I'm not really taking health advice from a bus driver in North Korea anytime soon.
[00:16:44] Although I did some pretty unhealthy stuff there. I think it was that same resort. They found clams or oysters or whatever they were in the water and then threw gasoline on them and let the gasoline on fire to cook them. And then we ate them. And I definitely ate a bunch of gasoline flavored oysters and was like, this is probably not good.
[00:17:02] And I had a little jaundice the next day and I thought, that's the liver and kidneys working extra hard. This is probably not a good idea. I shouldn't do that again. That kind of thing was disturbing, but also quintessentially North Korea. Also, that same resort, I don't know if you're as nosy as I am, but on the floorboards I found a mono audio out jack on the floor, and I was like, oh man, I wish I had a mono adapter and a speaker, because I bet that when you plug something in there, you get the propaganda blasted into your room 24 7 and you know that creepy morning wake up music, they play in North Korea at 6:00 AM or 5:00 AM where all the workers have to wake up and go work.
[00:17:38] I bet that if you are a local and you stay in one of those rooms, they plug in a speaker for you. But if you're foreign, they take it out. That's what I think that's for. Have you noticed those? No. Next time you will look on the floorboards, you'll see like a big old 1970s record player headphone jack and maybe bring a pair of headphones.
[00:17:54] They're not gonna be suspicious of a pair of headphones and a and a jack. So you could probably play that and listen and in fact. Onto this hand ax you gave me with the book, which thanks for that, by the way. It was pretty cool. I'd never seen anything like that. So this is a rock that was a tool for pre-humans?
[00:18:09] Is that what
[00:18:10] Byron Reese: that is? Yeah. So there was a creature called Homoerectus that lived for 80,000 generations and it had one tool, this hand ax, it looks like a teardrop shaped arrowhead. The interesting thing about it is they never change, and I'll see why. That's interesting. It's really profound that they never change.
[00:18:27] They haven't changed so much that people can't date them within a million years. They say that's between one and 2 million years old or something. And the reason it's a big deal is because if everybody had just copied their parents' hand axes, they would've drifted and been different in all different places.
[00:18:42] But they're always the same for 80,000 generations. And that. It's because they only knew how to make them instinctually the way a bird will build a nest and they'll build the same nest generation after generation after generation. It is a technology. And so people look at that and think it's technology, but it isn't.
[00:18:58] It's a genetic object that they knew how to build, but they didn't know why. And probably deep down in your DNA, you know how to build that too. And the reason it's profound is that's very unlike us. It only took us three generations to get from Kitty Hawk to the, it took us 250 generations get. To William Shakespeare.
[00:19:18] It only took us 125 generations to get from the first coin to the worldwide financial system. And yet they went 80,000 generations with one tool. And that never changed. And I think the big deal with that is just because we didn't gradually evolve into us. Something happened like a radioactive spider bit, a human 50,000 years ago.
[00:19:38] And suddenly we got technology, we got art, we became us, we got language and all of the rest. And that to me is the beginning of our story. Not a million years ago. As we gradually became us, we became us overnight. One human somewhere. I. There are these things called human universals, which are things that if you go into the middle of nowhere and find an uncontacted tribe of people, you will find they do these 250 things.
[00:20:02] They will celebrate birthdays, they will have kinship ritual, they will have magic. They will have music, they will dance. All of these things are universal to all humans. All humans, and those are things I think that all came to us when that spider, not literally when that moment happened, that made us human.
[00:20:20] Something happened to us that made us human.
[00:20:23] Jordan Harbinger: This is why people think aliens built the pyramids and zapped us with something, right? Because of this particularly quick change. Look, that theory might just be as valid as anything else because we don't know what that spark was, right? It was just, Hey, somebody was born really smart and stayed that way.
[00:20:39] I don't really understand how that could have happened. We don't
[00:20:41] Byron Reese: know how, we know that genetically you're very similar to a chimp. Yeah. And yet you're nothing like a chimp. Right? Not only are your lifespan radically different, are the strength radically different, but you're nothing like one, and yet you're only a tweak away if you have a DNA holds about 700 megabytes of information.
[00:20:59] If you throw out the supposed junk DNA, that doesn't do anything, and then you, you share 60% of your DNA with mild to you and 50% with bananas. When you throw away all the common stuff and then you get down to the core of what is us, it's just two or three meg tops. Huh? That make us. And the thing about it is when we got language is when we got thought.
[00:21:20] 'cause you have to think in language. That's when we became conscious. And that sounds like that's utter speculation, but it actually isn't. Helen Keller wrote this amazing thing about what her mental life was like before her teacher came and she said she did not realize she was a thing. She did not realize she was something different than the universe.
[00:21:39] She was not something set apart. And she said only after her teacher instructed her, did she realize that she was an entity that was different than the universe. And that's when according to her, consciousness happened for her, and that's when she became alive. And that's, I think, a microcosm of what happened to us 50,000 years ago when we got language.
[00:21:59] We think of language as being about communication, and that's nice that it does that, but really it's about thought without language. Your mental processes are incredibly limited. You'd like
[00:22:09] Jordan Harbinger: to think, oh, I can still think in complex ways. I don't need to be able to say it or articulate it. And yes, our inner dialogue is something like 4,000 words a minute, and our outer dialogue is much less depending on how fast you talk, but it's still less than 4,000 words a minute.
[00:22:22] You really can't think in creative complex ways without language at all. It's almost hard to believe that's the case, but it is. I mean, Helen Keller almost proved it right there, even if that's anecdotal piece. I got interested
[00:22:35] Byron Reese: in why people have such different outcomes in animals. Because no matter what you think of animals and no matter how great you think they are and how smart purposes are and all of that, you have to admit their outcome is radically different than ours in terms of we have technology in cities.
[00:22:51] If a chimp uses a stick and sticks it in an ant mound to get ants, we're like, oh, it uses a tool. And it's like, that's nothing like an electron microscope. I'm sorry. It is just something different. So why are we so different? What is it about us that's so different and why isn't there another thing that's 90% of us and 80 and 70 and 60%?
[00:23:09] I happen to think, my personal belief is that intelligence like ours is very volatile and dangerous. 99 point as many nines as you wanna put after a percent of all life isn't intelligent, bacteria aren't intelligent and all these things aren't. And we come along and I think we're very volatile and I think, so you say, why are we here?
[00:23:29] And I would say we're here. 'cause planets that do not create life like ours, even if it's just all mindless planets that do not evolve, an intelligent species get whacked by an asteroid every a hundred million years and die out. So they have to generate something intelligent. But it also tells us that planets that generate multiple species also
[00:23:51] Jordan Harbinger: die out.
[00:23:52] Yeah. They probably kill each other with nuclear weapons or something. Yeah, that's exactly
[00:23:55] Byron Reese: right. Because it's so volatile and that the Goldilocks amount of intelligence species is one, and that implies that's our purpose, ultimately is to protect this planet from cosmic threats.
[00:24:09] Jordan Harbinger: You are listening to the Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest, Byron Reese. We'll be right back. This episode is sponsored in part by four Wellness. I'm cautious, especially with supplements that I always try to, I wanna try things out before I recommend 'em to you guys, basically. So I've been taking four Wellness's flagship product for a few weeks now, and I've, so I feel comfortable sharing this with you.
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[00:25:37] This episode is also sponsored by Stitch Fix. Every new year, I make it a point to declutter my closet, get rid of clothes I no longer wear. It's a refreshing way to welcome a new look for the year. Personally, I'm not keen on mall shopping and not having my size in stock. I guess everybody's either my size or nobody is 'cause they never have anything for me.
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[00:26:26] Plus a well curated wardrobe really can boost your confidence and no more malls. Big thanks to Stitch Fix. They just get us and they'll get you too. Try email@example.com slash Jordan and you'll get 25% off when you keep everything in your fix. That's stitchfix.com/jordan stitchfix.com/jordan. If you're wondering how I manage to book all these amazing people for the show, it's because of my network, and I know networking is a gross word, but it's really just the circle of people that know, like, and trust you and vice versa.
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[00:27:22] You'll be in smart company where you belong. You can find the course still for email@example.com. Now, back to Byron Reese. If there was another intelligent human-like species at the same level of intelligence as humans, there's no way we wouldn't be at genocidal conflict with one another forever until one side lost.
[00:27:42] There's no way you could
[00:27:43] Byron Reese: say there used to be other sapiens and there aren't anymore for that reason. I mean,
[00:27:48] Jordan Harbinger: they weren't as intelligent as humans, I guess. Isn't that the verdict? But imagine if they were, we would just still be hunting them and killing them to extinction ourselves as the human species.
[00:27:57] We still do that to each other with the same species. If it was a different species, it wouldn't even be questioned.
[00:28:02] Byron Reese: It's a sad commentary on us. You're made of cells and every one of your cells has a life. It lives a life and it dies, and it doesn't know you exist, but somehow you come together and there's Jordan.
[00:28:14] And you share the same physical reality with those cells, and so you're something emergent, you're something with all these new abilities, and I think you're also very dangerous. People are very dangerous.
[00:28:24] Jordan Harbinger: I like the idea of being dangerous. By the way, before I forget about this, you wrote about cave paintings.
[00:28:29] Some found miles into caves, which is shocking. Imagine walking into a cave, going miles in there, which is damn far by any account, and then being like, this is where I'm gonna paint. Does that mean they lived in the caves or does that mean they went in there to do the painting and then left? Why do this, do we know?
[00:28:46] Byron Reese: We don't know. The most amazing historical fact. I know, probably is. Imagine what you would think the first cave art would look like. I would think it would look like stick figures. Yeah. Like what a little kid would do and then it gets better and better. But it is, the first cave art we have is like beautiful.
[00:29:01] I would frame it and put it on my wall, and so that's amazing. Like that's the first cave art. The second strange thing about it is we executed it with technology, and so you can imagine if a cave painter at the very beginning wanted black, they had charcoal in the fire, right? But they didn't want to use charcoal.
[00:29:17] They used something called hami where you have to heat it 1700 degrees, very hard to do in a campfire, but then it's a deep black. Chauvet in France, one of these caves, the closest source of that is 130 miles away. So they were like, eh, I don't think this charcoal's dark enough. Let's go 130 miles, get this mineral, burn it to 1700 degrees, make big money out of it, and all of that.
[00:29:38] And then they would come back to the same caves for four to 5,000 years. And that's weird. We don't have any monument we go to really for 5,000 years back again and again and again. And don't destroy maybe the pyramids, but, but no, nobody lived in the caves. We don't see those kinds of remains, and we don't really know why they're there.
[00:29:56] But oftentimes animals are painted with eight legs, and the theory is, and flickering light, it looks like they're running. That's
[00:30:04] Jordan Harbinger: cool. Egypt, a place that I will probably not go anytime soon again, was just the most incredible thing. Seeing that stuff in person, walking around the value of the kings and having little kids take you for $2 to something that nobody is at, and then there's a hole in a fresco or whatever you call it, and you can just crawl in there and there's pottery in there and you're not supposed to be in there, but you're just like, I can't believe this is just sitting here.
[00:30:30] There's not even tape over the door that says like, Hey, don't go in here. It's just open. It's just a tomb that's thousands of years old. And they're like, yeah, you can go down in there. And I'm, you know, a hard pass on dying in an ancient tomb that collapses on me. But still, you can go in there and there's thousands of these things.
[00:30:46] And we had my friend Remy Romani on the show talking about how it's like a single digit percentage of the tombs have been discovered and explored so far.
[00:30:54] Byron Reese: When I was there, I talked to a museum director who said, not only do they think there are more tunes like touch and better, they're not looking for them because if they find them, then again they have a chance of being destroyed and you have to preserve 'em in either perfectly safe.
[00:31:10] So why not leave 'em there they 500 years and find them when we have better technology? I think that's a wonderfully long view. It's why the Chinese haven't excavated the first Emperor's tomb. They know exactly where it is and they haven't excavated it for largely the same reason.
[00:31:23] Jordan Harbinger: I did not know that.
[00:31:24] That is fascinating. Yeah. They're not trying to be like, we should dig this out and throw it in a museum and then build condos over this land. You mentioned also in the cave painting, going back to cave paintings here, that many hand prints on the walls are missing a finger. Do we know why that's the case?
[00:31:38] And they're mostly left hands? That seems completely random, but it also speaks to the idea that maybe this particular place that people kept going back to for 5,000 years was not only a very special, sacred spot, but also the only people that could go there were, I don't know, were they priests that had to cut off a finger to enter?
[00:31:55] I don't really get what's going on there.
[00:31:56] Byron Reese: Maybe. I mean, that's a real theory. The first thing is there are these hand prints on these walls, and they're reverse hand prints. So what they did is they would take pigment, put it in their mouth, mix it with saliva, and they would have a straw. They'd put their hand on the wall and they would blow that pigment on it.
[00:32:11] They would make a reverse hand print. The weird thing is we find these on all continents. So they weren't made like in one place and that was caught on somehow. I think they're a human universal. For some reason, people made those and we're really intrigued by the idea that that we might be able to pull, 'cause they use saliva to mix it and they blew it.
[00:32:31] We might be able to pull DNA out of the pigment that's left over from when it was blown and we'll know exactly who they were. But to your point, most of them are left hands, which indicated right-handed people because they held the thing to, and a surprisingly large number are missing a digit. So the question is, did you just lose digits and the old world because life was rough.
[00:32:53] People think maybe it is something like ritualistic. I kept trying to figure out, could you bend your finger back in a way does it mean something? But nobody knows. There's also a number of symbols that aren't writing, but we don't know what they mean. Are they like gang markings where they have marked somehow their identity or do they mean something we haven't deciphered?
[00:33:12] Jordan Harbinger: I suppose if we can pull DNA outta the pigment with future technology or whatever. Then we find remains of those exact same people. 'cause we could DNA match it. You could see if the remains were missing a finger or if just the hand print was missing a finger and then you'd know if they were betting their finger or if they had actually chopped it off or lost it.
[00:33:30] Yeah, man, this is what I'm talking about with the different subjects here. A lot of this stuff is just so fascinating. I was also surprised that the most common form of animal communication is bioluminescence. I really thought it was gonna be smell or pheromones or something. I had no idea it was gonna be light.
[00:33:46] Byron Reese: Yeah. Who would've thought? My kids just went down in a submarine, half a mile under the ocean, and there was a brief point where they turn all the lights off, everything gets dark, and then he flashed it for just an instant and everything lit up like a story night. And that just gives you some notion that the untold trillions of creatures that communicate with bioluminescence in the ocean,
[00:34:08] Jordan Harbinger: so they flashed the submarine light just for a sec to signal to the creatures and they all sort of said, we see you.
[00:34:13] Exactly. That to me is straight outta avatar. It's just crazy to think that there's billions of different creatures from bacteria to, I guess, fireflies that use bioluminescence to communicate. It does make sense. It's highly efficient. You can probably detect it in more efficient ways or quicker than smell or pheromones and through water.
[00:34:30] The whole thing is just mind blowing. My wife was a beekeeper for a while and she told me something like, bees do something that signals future tense, whereas most animals besides humans can only speak or communicate in the present. There's no, Hey, this happened or this will happen. It's all just current except bees can say something about the future using a dance, which I think is also fascinating.
[00:34:53] Yeah, they
[00:34:54] Byron Reese: can do displacement where they can talk about things that aren't there. But first you have to realize that no bee is smart. Their brain is roughly the size of a grain of salt. Mm-Hmm. So they aren't intelligent and nobody teaches them the dance. 'cause a bee only lives six weeks. It probably only does the dance for about two weeks of it's alive.
[00:35:10] Nothing's teaching 'em how to do it. So they know it. Somehow it's coated in that tiny bit of DNA. That's the information that's encoded. So they don't know what they're doing. They're like a rectus making that thing. They do it, but they don't have any knowledge of what they're doing. And yet it's complex behavior.
[00:35:26] When they go to find a new home, which they do every year, there's about 20 factors. Is it shielded from the rain? Are there ants nearby? Are there other bee colonies nearby? Is the entrance hole this big, but not this big and not this big? All these factors, and they're able to make intelligent decisions even though none of the bees are intelligent.
[00:35:43] And again, we're back to super organisms. That's because the hive is smarter than a bee, and that's because you are smarter than your cells. And that's why Agora, this creature is smarter than us and lives on a different timescale. You see, a honey beehive can live a hundred years. A bee only lives six weeks, and Agora lives thousands of years, and we only live a hundred.
[00:36:03] You mentioned pheromones and the difference between pheromones and hormones is generally hormones are internal. You have hormones in your body, but pheromones are external. And so when you think about ants passing each other and releasing pheromones, they too are a single creature and they're really hormones.
[00:36:18] They're really hormones that they're releasing because they're in inside. If you think in terms of this colony as an animal, they're just cells in this bigger organism. I keep saying this, it isn't touchy-feely. It's simple biology. This is just biology. It's testable hypotheses that these are animals. A honeybee hive is an animal that is made up of cells called honeybees, and uh, yeah, I'm fascinated by it.
[00:36:41] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, the bees are really incredible. We only gave them up when we had kids 'cause they do require time that you don't have when you have two babies. Was it you who told me that bees on cocaine talk faster and exaggerate the amount of honey at the source? They do because I think that is hilarious. Just how much a worker bee and a Wall Street attorney have in common.
[00:36:58] That's funny. I'm thinking back to my Wall Street days and it's like, bro, there were so many hotties at the club last night. I spent like $25,000. Man, you should have been there. It's okay. Calm down. Calm down from whatever you're snorting and meet me in the conference room. It's like bees do the same thing.
[00:37:13] Byron Reese: It's true. See, in the dance, they say how much honey is off in the distance and on cocaine they're like, there's a ton of honey there. You gotta get over there. Oh my God, there's so much honey. Yeah. But their algorithm is error correcting. If other bees go there and come back and they're like, eh, no honey there, it falls apart.
[00:37:29] So it's an error correcting algorithm that the Superorganism uses to get rid of the Coke bees input.
[00:37:35] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. When he's high, he says all kinds of stuff. Don't listen to that guy. How do we know that languages have propped up almost at the same time, the world over. You wrote about that in the book, but how can we know that kind of thing?
[00:37:45] On the one
[00:37:45] Byron Reese: hand, we can't. Okay. Writing is only 5,000 years old, and language we think is 50,000 years old. There's not consensus on that because there's no remains that prove it. But if you accept the hypothesis that we got language when we got art, when we got figural representation, that is we could carve a rock to look like a lion that we got at the same time we got music because we can find flutes.
[00:38:11] If you accept that, then what you find is we got figural representation, we got cave art, and we got musical instruments all on the same day. If we got 'em all at the same time, they probably came from the same cause. And we infer that that's language. And the point is that all over the world, our oldest caves are all roughly the same age.
[00:38:30] So the oldest ones we have are, say 45,000 years old. The oldest ones in Western Europe are 35,000. The oldest ones in Africa are 40,000. So they're all the same age over to these people that didn't have any contact with each other. And you start finding loots and cave art and figural things carved all at the same moment either something happened that spread really quickly.
[00:38:53] And that could be a thousand years. Some human was born with all this stuff and they had such a survival ability that they populated the world and they went out and bred with everybody else and it passed down and rippled through, which could have happened or something woke up in humanity all at once.
[00:39:09] It was all late and all of a sudden it just happened or we don't know. It's a big mystery why you would think our oldest cave art, we would find it a million years old here and then 500,000 years old here, and then a hundred thousand year old here and then 10,000. But it isn't like that. It's like all over the world happened at once.
[00:39:25] Last thing I'll say, we think we're not gonna find anything older. We may find something 2000 years older or something, but when you know of 500 caves with art, that all date to the same narrow period. Yeah.
[00:39:36] Jordan Harbinger: I'm not an aliens built up pyramids guy at all, but it is like, what happened? What was the thing that happened?
[00:39:42] It's such a mystery and it's such a fascinating one because could that kind of thing happen again in human evolution?
[00:39:49] Byron Reese: That is a great question. Noam Chomsky believes it was a mutation that happened in one person. What it suggests is that if a tiny genetic tweak makes us live twice as long as chimps, then there's probably a tiny genetic tweak in us that make it live twice as long or make it twice as smart.
[00:40:08] There's no reason to believe we are the pinnacle of animal intelligence or animal longevity at all.
[00:40:14] Jordan Harbinger: It makes me wonder about genetic engineering and like you hear like China's engineering kids that are smarter, and what happens if you figure out how to make somebody not 10% smarter, but like a thousand percent smarter or even a hundred percent smarter, that would be really hard to contain because the benefit to that could be absolutely enormous for a nation state.
[00:40:34] And then by the time you figure out that it's a terrible idea to do that, the genetic cat is outta the bag. It's probably a different show, but that kind of thing is fascinating. And if we don't kill ourselves through nuking each other, by then imagine, I don't know. I'm tempted to joke and say that there are plenty of humans that are half as smart as other humans, but I think we're talking about an order of magnitude, which is really gonna be a crazy difference.
[00:40:54] It's gonna be like a different species.
[00:40:56] Byron Reese: Do you think people with 200 IQs are more effective than people with 180 more effective than people 140 more effective than people in 120? Maybe not.
[00:41:05] Jordan Harbinger: Not really, but I think somebody with an IQ of 1000 plus, whatever other boosts you get from being a 10 x improvement, you're probably gonna be on a completely different
[00:41:15] Byron Reese: level.
[00:41:15] What's actually happening is that our brains are getting smaller and we're getting less intelligent. And you say, wait,
[00:41:22] Jordan Harbinger: what? No, that doesn't surprise me at all. I feel it in myself.
[00:41:25] Byron Reese: Yeah. The last three to 5,000 years, our brains have been shrinking, and you know why everybody listening probably knows what the division of labor is that you specialize in.
[00:41:34] I specialize and one guy grinds depends. And one person does this because we specialize, we do more collectively, but less individually. There's a cognitive division of labor in that your average hunter gatherer knew how to do a bunch of things that you don't know how to do. Sure. You know, estate planning or whatever it is you do.
[00:41:51] You know that better than any hunter gatherer. But the other a hundred things you don't, the honor gatherer need more about. So what is happening is because we're all specializing, which is what happens in Superorganisms, by the way, we all specialize. There's the queen bee and the worker bee and the drone bee.
[00:42:06] We all specialize cognitively, and so each of us is less and less intelligent. Collectively, the species are smarter and smarter, but individually we are all less intelligent unless we get in there and start flipping switches. That's the scenario you're talking about. Yeah. We're not gradually migrating that way.
[00:42:22] I think you can say Agora, the collective intelligence is getting smarter and smarter. Agora can do anything at this point. If there were a big asteroid heading towards the earth, Agora, a euphemism for the collective of humanity could stop it if we were all willing to work
[00:42:36] Jordan Harbinger: together. Yeah, that's a big, if I saw that
[00:42:38] Byron Reese: movie, exactly, we could do it if we would work together.
[00:42:41] See, bees are harmonious in the sense that it isn't like half the bees are potty against the other half. If we have that going on, we are dysfunctional as a creature. But anyway.
[00:42:53] Jordan Harbinger: This is the Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest, Byron Reese. We'll be right back. This episode is sponsored in part by Better Help. We often get caught up in the whole new Year, new you craze, but let's flip the script and think about what we wanna keep the same here in 2024. There are a few things I'm pretty proud of and I wanna maintain.
[00:43:08] First up, curiosity, love for learning, going after the language thing. It's what drives the podcast. And honestly, just a big part of who I am is that constant improvement. Another thing, networking and relationships. I've spent years cultivating these relationships with amazing people. These connections are really enriching for my life, my business, my family, et cetera.
[00:43:25] Therapy also helps you keep your strengths and make changes that really stick. Learn positive coping mechanisms and how to set healthy boundaries. A lot of y'all need that as as per feedback. Friday therapy is all about helping you be your best self. And it's not just for folks who've been through some crazy trauma.
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[00:43:52] So as we head into the new year, let's focus on expanding what we're doing right. Celebrate the progress you've already made. Visit better help.com/jordan today to get 10% off your first month. That's better. hlp.com/jordan. This episode is also sponsored by Shopify. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak combine vision and expertise to evolve Apple from a small garage operation to a worldwide powerhouse in the playbook of business success.
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[00:45:04] Go to shopify.com/jordan now to grow your business no matter what stage you're in. shopify.com/jordan. This episode is also sponsored in part by AG G one. If you're a long time listener, you probably know I've been drinking AG G one for like a decade. Their founder is a huge health enthusiast. He's a friend of mine.
[00:45:20] Been that way for a while. When I started drinking a G one daily, it's, well, you know, it's like vegetable powder, but it doesn't taste disgusting and it was kind of nice 'cause you don't have to worry like, did I eat enough Snap peas today, AG one is a foundational nutrition supplement that supports your body's universal needs, like gut optimization, stress management, immune support.
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[00:46:32] Also, you, if you can't find it, can't remember what the sponsor is, go ahead and email meJordan@jordanharbinger.com. I am happy to surface those codes for you. Thank you for supporting those who support the show. Now for the rest of my conversation with Byron Reese, maybe the big jump for humanity then isn't making us more intelligent.
[00:46:50] It's flipping off the tribalism switch that keeps us killing each other and doing stupid crap like that. 'cause if you could flip that off, which in theory is easier than turning yourself a thousand times smarter, if you could flip that off, then it would be like, wait a minute. We have people in our collective human tribe that are suffering greatly over here and over here and over here, and due to these different belief systems.
[00:47:11] All right? We all need to figure out how to come to the level, and you would. Overnight, be able to get rid of a lot of these crazy tribal conflicts, which is what's keeping us from realistically being able to defend ourselves against something like that. I mean, just look at diseases. You can't even keep people from spreading them to each other through basic principles of hygiene, let alone, hey, there's an asteroid headed towards Earth.
[00:47:33] We need China and the United States and Russia to all drop everything, knock off the crap, and really just put our finest minds in one room and in good faith, attack this problem. It sounds horrible to say this, we almost do need a genetic intervention where we're like, we're flipping off the tribalism Switch in your brain.
[00:47:51] Byron Reese: Or some kind of a threat. Ronald Reagan asked Mikhail Gorbachev, he said, if aliens were to invade, would we be willing to drop our conflict and work together to defend ourselves? And Gorbachev said, yes, we know this happened. Because they both tell the story. Uh, Gorbachev in one of his books, and Reagan told it as well.
[00:48:08] So it's almost like at some level, we need a shared threat.
[00:48:12] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. But if the threat has to be credible and so great and not affected by disinformation to the point where everybody actually believes it, it depends how fast the alien invasion really comes. Right. Back to human cooperation. Tell me about eye sclera, the white part of our eyes.
[00:48:25] People have said, and I think you wrote that maybe this was selected for, so that we can see what other people are looking at. And when I hear about theories like this, this is just an educated guess, right? There's no way for us to have tested that sort of thing. I scientists just ask themselves why our eyes are like this when other primates eyes aren't and they just say like, oh, maybe it's because of this.
[00:48:44] Is that how that happens?
[00:48:46] Byron Reese: Absolutely. Uh, that said, you can't tell across the room what somebody's looking at. Yeah. And that's because of the lights of their eyes. There's only one animal that if you point at something, it will look at that. Dogs a dog. Yeah. Yeah. And that's because we've bred them for that.
[00:49:02] We bred them to help us so that if there were two dogs and one looked at what you were pointing at, the other didn't, you ate the other one that with dinner. And then people in Russia bred tame foxes. Basically in about 50 generations, we've had 40,000 years of domesticating dogs. So we've bred them to be this creature that is very much in tune with us and they can tell what we're looking at and they can even tell if you don't point what you're looking at.
[00:49:24] And so that's the theory is that other apes that don't cooperate, they don't have as much white in their eyes. You can't tell what they're looking at. Therefore they didn't cooperate. So gradually humans got a little more white in their eyes. You could see what somebody was looking at. You could cooperate with them.
[00:49:37] Jordan Harbinger: You could either The old side eye. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. We used to communicate threats silently too. Do people still keep foxes? That sounds like a cool pet to have. Although it could be one of those things that sounds great in theory and then bites you all the time. That
[00:49:49] Byron Reese: was what they wanted to try to figure out was how long it would take to domesticate a species that either two had resisted it, and it didn't take very long at all.
[00:49:55] They showed all the other sides of domestication. Their ears began to lay flat, their tails changed, and all these other things that happened in domesticated dogs, and many of which happened in domesticated, people we're essentially self domesticating. I don't wanna get on the rabbit hole, but there's a theory that grain domesticated humans, wheat wants to propagate and wheat wants to grow.
[00:50:14] So weed's like, oh, I need these people to plant and harvest and weed, and whoever, whatever ended up domesticating us or we self domesticated. We show these same attributes. Oh, the rabbit
[00:50:22] Jordan Harbinger: hole is that wheat actively domesticated us. Not
[00:50:25] Byron Reese: really. I'm kidding. That we actively domesticated
[00:50:28] Jordan Harbinger: us because I'm like, that's a little bit out there,
[00:50:29] Byron Reese: man.
[00:50:30] All right. I, I agree. I was joking with that. But we probably self domesticated and we show these other signs of domestication.
[00:50:36] Jordan Harbinger: What about when animals was cocoa a gorilla? The one that had the kittens, uhhuh so she could speak sign language? Right. I don't think so. No. She could sign. I have a
[00:50:46] Byron Reese: whole chapter in, in a book about this.
[00:50:48] First of all, she obviously couldn't speak anything but she could sign. So all kinds of things communicate. That's easy. A dog communicates by biting you to say it disappears, communication, but speech is is high bar and all of these creatures. First thing you have to understand is there's never been a creature that has ever asked a question.
[00:51:07] None of these talented apes have ever asked a question. There may be one bird. The parrot who asked one question one time, maybe. But other than that, we don't know of anything. So they're not interrogative. They can do signs of different words, but language is a specific thing. You have to be able to talk about things that aren't there.
[00:51:26] You have to be able to combine things in new ways together to make new meanings. You can't just have a symbol for banana. You hold it up when you want a banana, and then you get a banana and you hold it up, you get a banana. It's just training something that if you do this side, you get a banana that isn't like, ah, I shall sign banana and then I shall sign banana and two, and I will ask for two bananas.
[00:51:48] There's nothing that does anything like that. Hmm. So I don't believe, also, oftentimes there's only one person that can read the signs of the creature. Often it's their handler. I'm not saying that they deliberately mislead. I really don't think they do. But sometimes they'll ask a question, you get a nonsensical answer and say, oh, stop joking.
[00:52:05] Stop kidding. Come on. When maybe they weren't kidding at all. Mm-Hmm. We seem to want there to be other animals that have language, and I just don't think
[00:52:14] Jordan Harbinger: there are. Oh, I see what you're saying. So since they can only communicate with the handler, basically the handler's filling in blanks that are just enormous gaps in the communication.
[00:52:23] So. If she says, how are you feeling today, Coco? And Coco says nothing and just does a bunch of nonsense. The handler goes, well, I'm gonna disregard that because none of that was anything. And then Coco says, I want a banana. The handler goes, oh, you're telling me that you're hungry. That's not really what happened.
[00:52:39] That's your interpretation of what this sign would mean in this particular context. But the gorilla itself doesn't necessarily have that. The gorilla doesn't say, I had a rough night. I'm really hungry. I didn't eat much for dinner last night. I want a banana. She just said Banana and the handler's filling in all this stuff.
[00:52:53] And that's some of the criticism I've read about this too, is this is just saying banana. That's it. It's not telling you about the day or the evening. This is very simple stuff, but when it comes through the handler, it ends up almost exaggerated. It sounds like you're saying that's because humans in general, we just wanna think, I taught this gorilla sign language and look, it unlocked the mind of this intelligent being that just couldn't speak and that's not really true.
[00:53:16] Byron Reese: Correct. I'm not saying any of these people are being deceptive, like they really believe that about these animals. Yeah. Here's yo Chomsky's argument against this speech is very complicated. It's a complicated mental thing, and the idea that somehow apes could do it, they had this big mental ability and they just didn't know until a human came along and showed them.
[00:53:37] He says it would be analogous to, humans can really fly. We just don't know it until a bird comes along and shows us and then we're like, oh my gosh, I can fly. You don't evolve the ability to fly without gradually learning to fly. And the idea that these animals, somehow they've evolved this enormous mental ability that they could do it.
[00:53:55] And until we came along and taught them sign, they just didn't, just not credible. It's not how evolution works. Chomsky goes so far as to say that if that were true, you have just disproven evolution. Mm-Hmm. Because evolution doesn't evolve you some ability to do language, but guess what? Nobody for a thousand generations ever did, but it persisted and evolved.
[00:54:14] Anyway. Chomsky, by
[00:54:15] Jordan Harbinger: the way, for people who don't know, formerly linguist at Harvard, just very famous in this space and also very famous for having crazy L takes unpolitical topics that I mostly disagree with these days. I don't know. He seems like a cranky guy now.
[00:54:28] Byron Reese: He is a linguist and as you point out a political commentator as well, he's famous in like four different areas, and I'm specifically talking about him as a linguist where he is, I think a trailblazer.
[00:54:38] Although again, not universally. He believes humans have an innate ability to do language and that animals don't. He has plenty of adherence, but that's by no means a settled question. And I don't, I don't wanna imply that it's
[00:54:50] Jordan Harbinger: whenever I play fairytales for my kids, my wife and I tend to look at each other and go, what the hell is this?
[00:54:57] And we Google it. What is the meaning of this? Tell me about fairytales. 'cause these are the concept of stories and communication. Where were these created and why are they so weird? A lot of them are violent and dark too. They've been redone for YouTube kids. But if you look at the original one, was it Hansel and Gretel?
[00:55:13] My wife is playing something and I was like, I remember it very differently. Didn't they get eaten by the witch? They didn't just escape and run home. They got eaten in the candy house, I thought, and my wife's like, no, that's disgusting. And we looked it up and sure enough, there's different versions of this.
[00:55:27] What are these from? What are they for?
[00:55:29] Byron Reese: You're entirely right. That's still white. They killed the evil stepmother by heating up some shoes to red hot metal and making her wear 'em and dance.
[00:55:38] Jordan Harbinger: So they killed the witch that way. I didn't know that.
[00:55:40] Byron Reese: That's horrible. Yeah, just a made her dance to death. So linguists can figure out how old these stories are, which is very fascinating.
[00:55:47] They can look at commonalities in different places, figure out how the language progressed, and they can actually say, this originated on this date in this place with some amount of, we think confidence. So our oldest of these fairy tales are much older than we thought. They go back 5,000 years. The Smith and the Anvil, uh, tale about fooling the devil, we think predates writing and jacking the Beanstalk, which is a story about an imperialist who goes to another land, kills all the natives, kicks all the gold, and comes home, goes back a long way and and so forth.
[00:56:18] One theory is that they came from a violent world. Why do people go to saw movies? They think it's the same way. It's a safe way to experience something like that.
[00:56:28] Jordan Harbinger: That's interesting. I looked up a lot of these old fairytales 'cause I was like, oh, the Pied Piper, they paid this guy and he got all the rats out of town.
[00:56:36] And it's like, actually what happened is they told the guy they were gonna pay him. He got all the rats outta town and then they ripped him off and then he took all their kids. By using his magic pipe. And I was like, oh, that is horrific. Like he just
[00:56:50] Byron Reese: stole their kids. That one actually may be based on a fact.
[00:56:54] There's a inscription in a Bible that was, uh, it was a hundred years ago today that the children all left the town in Amlin. They think that might be a real story. What a, a
[00:57:03] Jordan Harbinger: guy with a magic pipe led all the children away?
[00:57:05] Byron Reese: Well, I don't know. Somehow took all the children.
[00:57:08] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my God. That's like a genocidal little fairy tale.
[00:57:10] And it could have been a euphemism for something else. Something else that surprised me was that many older movies were shot with alternate depressing endings for the Russian market. Is that true? 'cause that is so weird. What is the deal with that?
[00:57:23] Byron Reese: So we're talking the silent era, so like
[00:57:25] Jordan Harbinger: black and white films that have subtitles written on 'em or whatever?
[00:57:29] Correct. Okay. So
[00:57:30] Byron Reese: they would do two things. They would have multi-ethnic casts for different localities. So they would shoot a scene with European descendant actors and they would shoot it with Asian descendant actors and so forth. Really? So that they could
[00:57:42] Jordan Harbinger: Sounds pretty woke for the silent era.
[00:57:45] Byron Reese: Yeah.
[00:57:45] They could say, Hey, we've got the cameras, we got the sets. Yeah, we got the people. We got everything. Let's do multiple ones. And then they would evidently shoot depressing endings for Russian films.
[00:57:56] Jordan Harbinger: Why? We don't want people to be happy. Make sure this ending sucks. The
[00:57:59] Byron Reese: argument was that was regarded as realistic to them.
[00:58:02] Yeah. Whereas the soccer and Hollywood ending is considered unrealistic. Maybe We think it's unrealistic too, but still want it. But evidently in pre-revolution, Russia, they wanted the dark, depressing
[00:58:14] Jordan Harbinger: ending. It's funny 'cause the psychology behind this is like, okay, in America, oh look, a happy ending. I wanna believe my life is like that.
[00:58:21] And then it's like Russian version. Wow, they all died. At least I'm still alive and I'm sitting here watching this movie. My life's not that bad. We want the positive comparison. Like maybe I'll turn out like that. And they're like, I'm glad I didn't turn out like that. I guess it's just a cultural desire and they dialed that in.
[00:58:35] It's so funny. Why don't we do that now? Why doesn't a Marvel movie end with Ironman just getting his ass kicked? And it's like, well, shouldn't have tried. Should have stayed where you were. Tony Stark. Why don't we do that now? I don't
[00:58:47] Byron Reese: know. You know, movies, gross different amounts in different markets and I think if they felt like they could crack the code on Y, they would've Different endings in different markets,
[00:58:56] Jordan Harbinger: huh?
[00:58:57] It seems like we already did crack the code on Y and then just ditched that knowledge. Maybe. Yeah. It can't be that hard to make Spider-Man die in the end, I guess. There goes your sequel though. That's the problem. I'm not sure where this fits as with everything else in this conversation, but I've always wondered why do we use Arabic numerals in alternative ways of counting?
[00:59:16] The reason I thought about this is because somebody mentioned that they were teaching Arabic numerals in school and they posted it on Facebook, and you could see all these old people get like, I can't believe it. What is society coming to? Because they don't realize we've been using Arabic numerals for thousands of years.
[00:59:28] 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Why don't we use Roman numerals for things like math? You never see V minus IV equals I, right? We don't do that. Why not?
[00:59:40] Byron Reese: That's a great question. So the scientific revolution is what made progress in the West. It came along when we got math in Western Europe because you go to the 16 hundreds, you didn't have the plus sign, you didn't have negative numbers.
[00:59:54] All these things we just couldn't do. We didn't have math because you can't do math with Roman numerals. They had workarounds, but you're right, XVII times xxi is hard to do. Mm-Hmm. People often hear, okay, the big advance was the invention of zero. And you've probably heard that, but that isn't really a good way to describe it.
[01:00:15] Everybody knows what nothing is. The breakthrough that we got with Arabic numbers was the place value of numbers. So you could have a one and you put a zero next to it and it was a 10 mm-Hmm. And then you could put two zeros next to it. It was a hundred. So that where it was in a column told you its value, and that allowed you to do math.
[01:00:33] You know, when you multiply how you do it. When you had zero, you could have place value in numbers, and then you could do complex math and then you could do science. They were hard to get people to adopt because accounting needed them for double entry bookkeeping, which allowed businesses and corporations and raising money and all of that, and they really didn't want to change.
[01:00:53] And you still see them sequels in movies. Super Bowl numbers. Only one Super Bowl has by policy, not been represented by a Roman numeral, and that five. Because they didn't wanna be Super Bowl l. Ah, every other one is done with that Queen Elizabeth II is never done with the two after it clock faces and so forth.
[01:01:12] So that gives you some sense of how hard they are to get rid of when they serve. No purpose. It's
[01:01:17] Jordan Harbinger: always an amazing reminder when you hear Arabic numerals were this way because of counting science and the scientific method. Because when I look at the Middle East now, I just do not associate it with enlightenment, scientific advancement.
[01:01:30] Now it's associated with religious fundamentalism and being almost in the stone age in terms of human rights. And this is probably a different show, but it's almost like, man, these places started out so much further ahead of the rest of the world in pretty much every way. And then religion made a comeback.
[01:01:46] I'm not even sure what happened. Uh, again, it's probably a different podcast. It's, it's so crazy to
[01:01:49] Byron Reese: me. It is true that there was an enlightened period where a lot of those events came from our word algebra. Is obviously Arabic. Our word algorithm is Arabic origin as well. A lot of it they were translating the early Greek works on math and all of that when they weren't translated in other Western languages.
[01:02:08] So they had access to different body of knowledge. There's a lot of really interesting reasons, but cultural ones as well. Like you just said,
[01:02:15] Jordan Harbinger: man, we went all over the place with this one, but I knew there was too much to fit into a coherent topical conversation. Thank you very much for bearing with me on that and coming on the show.
[01:02:23] Man, really interesting conversation. You're full of, factoids is the wrong word. Interesting. Knowledge is the polite way to phrase that. Well, thank you
[01:02:30] Byron Reese: very much. I appreciate that. You still seem to have an honest sense of wonder about the world, like how that blew my mind. I love that. I thought about that all day.
[01:02:38] That was like so incredible and it's just wonderful to feel that way about knowledge. That's what makes a go round.
[01:02:44] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Thanks again for coming on. You're about to hear a preview of the Jordan Harbinger Show with Egyptologist and television host Remy Romani. We're talking about 6,000 years of history.
[01:02:56] Everything you see about ancient Egypt today, everything that we've discovered is calculated to be about just 12% of ancient Egypt. 88% is still hiding under the sand. Egypt is mentioned in so many different sources of history. Uh, one of the sources is obviously on ancient Egyptian walls. Now, there are very similar stories in the Bible.
[01:03:19] I personally believe that the Bible stories, whether completely true or not, they were always inspired from true stories. But I'm trying to finish the alignment of religious history and ancient Egyptian history. I find it fascinating. I think the key to our future is in our death today you study the dead to make sure you're prepared for the future.
[01:03:43] Byron Reese: We have the dead. We have money.
[01:03:46] Jordan Harbinger: They're just dead people. And what archeologists struggle with all the time is if I start digging into this mummy today to unlock secrets of the past that would help us in our future, am I doing it too soon? Am I hurting this mummy? You want to dig, you wanna find more, you want to know more about the past, but if you dig now with the tools you have now, you might hurt some of the data that is stored into all these little pieces.
[01:04:13] It's a massive dilemma that archeologists have to deal with. And today we do have technology good enough to tell us so much about these mummies, so much about the past that we never knew before. For more about Ancient Egypt and Romy's Daring Escape, check out episode 7 84 of the Jordan Harbinger Show.
[01:04:33] Byron's a super interesting guy. Humans don't just talk about the future with language. They also plan for the future. Animals do not do this. I forgot to clarify that earlier in the conversation. Apes don't really do this. They actually, I know some people go, well, what about apes? They actually stop caring.
[01:04:48] Their sort of perspective on the future ends a few minutes ahead of their current timeline of the, of the present, and it really kind of only affects things like hunger. They don't really think, huh, in a couple years, you know, we could probably clear this area, and yet they don't do anything like that.
[01:05:01] Humans do something dramatically different. One kind of funny possibly apocryphal example is the Swedish naval fleet, if you can even call it that, planted oak trees in 1831 to provide strategically important timber for future ship construction. Imagine in 1831 you're thinking, Hey, in 1980. We're gonna need this.
[01:05:21] And that was the plan. That was really the plan. It's actually kind of unbelievable. They planted 300,000 oak trees. Additionally, St. Basil's Cathedral, you know, the building in Russia, the, probably the most famous building in Russia, actually, that very colorful cathedral they ordered, if you can even call it that, enough tiles for the next thousand years or so.
[01:05:41] So they will never run out of tiles to replace the outside. So if they. Something falls off. It gets weathered. They're not gonna go, oh, um, we need something that's exactly this blue. They already have it. It's already there ready to go. Unbelievable. So animals don't do anything like this. Humans really are the only species that even comes close.
[01:05:59] I was also surprised to learn that Navajo language and Mongolian language share a bunch of words. They also share a bunch of stories, especially stories about stars. So like the big dippers, a Bear, and it's being chased by hunters. Siberians also have that same story. So the idea here, this is not a coincidence, the idea here is that once upon a time, this was one people.
[01:06:21] Before they spread out thousands of years ago, and it's amazing to think about stuff like that, isn't it? It's really incredible to think that Native Americans are First Nations and Mongolians and Siberians, they were all one people. So they all these old words and old stories, they all kind of made it.
[01:06:37] And you can see this in other language patterns. For example, the word for wagon might be the same, but the word for car will then be different because cars were invented so much later. All the wagons were at the same time. So before wagons were invented or as they were invented, everybody was in one spot.
[01:06:53] Then you invent something like the wagon and suddenly the civilization spreads out and starts to change and evolve. So those words that existed before that are similar or the same and the words that existed after that, that's where the language really diverges. I don't know, maybe I'm just a nerd. That stuff is so interesting for me.
[01:07:09] Anyway, all things Byron Reese will be in the show email@example.com or ask the AI chat bot on the website as well. Transcripts in the show notes, advertisers deals, discount codes, ways to support the show. All at Jordan harbinger.com/deals. Please consider supporting those who support this show.
[01:07:25] Also, we've got our newsletter Every week. The team and I dig into an older episode of the show. We dissect the lessons from it. So if you're a fan of the show and you wanna recap of important highlights and takeaways, you just wanna know what to listen to next. The newsletter's a great place to do that.
[01:07:37] Jordan harbinger.com/news is where you can find it. We're gonna be doing some giveaways on there. We finally finished the fricking flashcards, so stay tuned for that. The, the Logical fallacy flashcards, those are gonna be ready to rock by the time you hear this. So you can go to the Think If it course. Uh, six Minute Networking.
[01:07:53] Grab those. I better. Come up with some copy to steer people over there. Don't forget, we do have six minute networking firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are already registered, you can grab the flashcards there. I'm at Jordan Harbinger on both Twitter and Instagram. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn.
[01:08:08] This show is created an association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jace Sanderson, Robert Fogerty, mil O Campo, Ian Baird and Gabriel Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for the show is you share it with friends. When you find something useful or interesting, the greatest compliment you can give us is to share the show with those you care about.
[01:08:26] If you know somebody who's interested in the language evolution, definitely share this episode with them. In the meantime, I hope you can apply what you hear on the show so that you can live what you learn, and we'll see you next time.
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