Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud

Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud

by Peter Watson


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060935641
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/26/2006
Pages: 848
Sales rank: 361,537
Product dimensions: 7.37(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.35(d)

About the Author

Peter Watson has been a senioreditor at the London Sunday Times, a New York correspondentof the London Times, a columnist for theLondon Observer, and a contributor to the New YorkTimes. He has published three exposés on the world ofart and antiquities, and is the author of several booksof cultural and intellectual history. From 1997 to 2007he was a research associate at the McDonald Institutefor Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge.He lives in London.

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A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud
By Peter Watson

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Peter Watson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060935642

Chapter One

Ideas Before Language

George Schaller, director of the Wildlife Conservation Division of the New York Zoological Society, is known to his fellow biologists as a meticulous observer of wild animals. In a long and distinguished career he has made many systematic studies of lions, tigers, cheetahs, leopards, wild dogs, mountain gorillas and hyenas. His book, The Last Panda, published in 1993, recorded many new and striking facts about the animal the Chinese call the 'bearcat'. He found that on one occasion a sick panda had gone freely to a human family in the Wolong area, where it was fed sugar and rice porridge for three days, until it recovered and returned to the forest.1

In the late 1960s Schaller and a colleague spent a few days on the Serengeti plain in Tanzania, East Africa, where they made a simple observation which had escaped everyone else. In the course of those few days, they stumbled across quite a lot of dead meat 'just lying around'. They found dead buffalo, the butchered remains of lion kills, and they also came across a few incapacitated animals that would have been easy prey for carnivores. Smaller deer (like Thompson's gazelles) remaineduneaten for barely a day but larger animals, such as adult buffalo, 'persisted as significant food resources' for about four days.2 Schaller concluded from this that early humans could have survived quite easily on the Serengeti simply by scavenging, that there was enough 'ruin' in the bush for them to live on without going hunting. Other colleagues subsequently pointed out that even today the Hadza, a hunter-gathering tribe who live in northern Tanzania, sometimes scavenge by creeping up on lions who have made a kill and then creating a loud din. The lions are frightened away.

This outline of man's earliest lifestyle is conjectural.3 And to dignify the practice as an 'idea' is surely an exaggeration: this was instinct at work. But scavenging, unromantic as it sounds, may not be such a bad starting-point. It may even be that the open African savannah was the type of environment which favoured animals who were generalists, as much as specialists, like a hippopotamus, for example, or a giraffe, and it is this which stimulated mankind's intelligence in the first place. The scavenging hypothesis has, however, found recent support from a study of the marks made on bones excavated at palaeontological sites: animals killed by carnivores do show tool marks but fewer than those butchered by humans. It is important to stress that meat-eating in early humans does not, in and of itself, imply hunting.4

There are two candidates for humankind's first idea, one rather more hypothetical than the other. The more hypothetical relates to bipedalism. For a long time, ever since the publication of The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin in 1871, the matter of bipedalism was felt to be a non-issue. Following Darwin, everyone assumed that man's early ancestors descended from the trees and began to walk upright because of changes in the climate, which made rainforest scarcer and open savannah more common. (Between 6.5 million and 5 million years ago, the Antarctic ice-cap sucked so much water from the oceans that the Mediterranean was drained dry.) This dating agrees well with the genetic evidence. It is now known that the basic mutation rate in DNA is 0.71 per cent per million years. Working back from the present difference between chimpanzee and human DNA, we arrive at a figure of 6.6 million years ago for the chimpanzee-human divergence.5

Several species of bipedal ape have now been discovered in Africa, all the way back to Sahelanthropus, who lived six to seven million years ago in the Djurab desert of Chad and was close to the common ancestor for chimpanzees and humans.6 But the human ancestor which illustrates bipedalism best is Australopithecus afarensis, better known as 'Lucy', because on the night she was discovered the Beatles' song 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds' was playing in the palaeontologists' camp. Enough of Lucy's skeleton survives to put beyond doubt the fact that, by 3.4 to 2.9 million years ago, early humans were bipedal.

It is now believed that the first and most important spurt in the brain size of man's direct ancestors was associated with the evolution of bipedalism. (Most important because it was the largest; there is evidence that our brains are, relative to our bodies, slightly smaller now than in the past.) 7 In the new, open, savannah-type environment, so it is argued, walking upright freed the arms and hands to transport food to the more widely scattered trees where other group members were living. It was bipedalism which also freed the hands to make stone tools, which helped early man change his diet to a carnivorous one which, in providing much more calorie-rich food, enabled further brain growth. But there was a second important consequence: the upright posture also made possible the descent of the larynx, which lies much lower in the throat of humans than in the apes.8 At its new level, the larynx was in a much better position to form vowels and consonants. In addition, bipedalism also changed the pattern of breathing, which improved the quality of sound. Finally, meat, as well as being more nutritious, was easier to chew than tough plant material, and this helped modify the structure of the jaw, encouraging fine muscles to develop which, among other things, enabled subtler movements of the tongue, necessary for the varied range of sounds used in speech. Cutting-tools also supplemented teeth which may therefore have become smaller, helpful in the development of speech. None of this was 'intended', of course; it was a 'spin-off' as a result of bipedalism and meat-eating. A final consequence of bipedalism was that females could only give birth to relatively small-brained offspring--because mothers needed relatively narrow pelvises to be able to walk efficiently. From this it followed that the infants would be dependent on their mothers for a considerable period, which . . .


Excerpted from Ideas by Peter Watson Copyright © 2006 by Peter Watson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This

Noel Malcolm

“[An] extraordinary new book....This is the history of ‘ideas’ as it has never been presented before.”

Felipe Fernandez-Armesto

“This is a grand book...The history of ideas deserves treatment on this scale.”

John Gray

“A masterpiece of historical writing.”

John Derbyshire

“A superior specimen, with numerous interesting factoids...thought-provoking short essays.”

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Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
Science_GeekOH More than 1 year ago
This book was well written and provided a broad perspective. I especially enjoyed the section on the Scientific Revolution. There is some controversy in interpreting this time period that i learned by reading this book. By blending history with explanations of science, it helps to put ideas into perspective.
FBerzal More than 1 year ago
Excellent book on History from the perspective of ideas and their development.
Fan4SFGiants More than 1 year ago
I read Ideas-and I found every moment of it fascinating. I enjoyed reading The Pleasure Of Finding Things Out by Richard Feynman just as much,so read Ideas if you enjoyed reading The Pleasure Of Finding Things Out.
Illiniguy71 on LibraryThing 11 months ago
A unique and sometimes idiosyncratic, but highly informed and intelligent account of world intellectual history (but predominently of the western world) down to the end of the 19th century. The closer I came to the end of this book, the more I appreciated it. Highly recommended.
Linus_Linus on LibraryThing 11 months ago
One of the must read books who wish to understand and chronicle the evolution of human creature.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
IM SO GLAD YOU'RE DOING THIS!!!!! Its so annoying how you have to scroll through hundreds of chatting and advice-giving reviews just to see if you can find a normal review of what the book is about!!! Thank you so much for doing this!!!!! Should we go to a different book with no reviews and u can tell me the plan? Or just do it here? Again, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR DOING THIS!!!!! ~ A FRIEND
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My name is..... well... i won't reveal my real name. I change my name and make up names for myself to conceal my true identity. I cannot stand the advice givers on dork diaries. They are all desperate freaks who stick their faces in other people's business. My plan will stop advice givers and all who chat on dork diaries and give thm what they deserve. Interested? Ask to know the plan and JOIN THE CAUSE!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Has an idea. We get rid of all the addon clans (doveclan clawclan ect) and we keep the originals (thunderclan riverclan shadowclan and windclan.)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Can post
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Who will take me i their clan?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Would you like to join an evil clan?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
To the evil clan person:any clan. I dont really care. Only specification is i have t be a medcat/warrior(that is only one position.)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think it is an okay idea, but i know some will be against it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book so much :)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
How bout a warship fanfic like you r on a ship that is suddenly attacked and nearly scuttles?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We create a place to plot things to make it interesting. Like one of us could rp a badger or other natural predator that will attempt to attack camp. Or a cat could go 'besark' and try to take over the clan. Or something. Anyway, we should have place to plot these things and perhaps activities so that camp isn't constantly boring. Perhaps we can have a game that we play daily or semi-daily or something. Tell me what you think. Just curious before I bring it up to Couragestar to perhaps even suggest at the next gathering. We need more correlation with the other Clans as well...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Come in naked and pee on everything and everyone
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hello im Twilight Suns, a vampire & i started a vampire rp at vampire result one. Post ur description at result two. You join automatically. You dont have to ask. Thanks. |~•Twilight Suns•~|
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Um hello anyone on