Less is More

A population needs to be small if it is to incorporate any substantial innovation, genetic or cultural; large and dense populations simply have too much genetic inertia to be nudged consistently in any direction. Our own species, the Homo sapiens, was born out of such an event 200,000 years ago, when climate change repeatedly led to fragmentation of hominin populations, creating small groups in which genetic and cultural novelties were rapidly cemented, accelerating speciation. About 100,00 years later an African isolate of our species acquired the ability to use symbols; it was almost certainly this unique symbolic cognition that made it possible to eliminate all hominin competition in little time.

A Winter Scene, Hendrik Meyer (Dutch, 1744 – 1793)

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