Why did everything take so long?
One of the biggest intuitive mysteries to me is how humanity took so long to do anything.
Humans have been ‘behaviorally modern’ for about 50 thousand years. And apparently didn’t invent, for instance:
- rope until 28 thousand years ago.
- the wheel until at least 4000BC
- writing until 3000BC
- woodblock printing until 200AD
This kind of thing seems really weird introspectively, because it is hard to imagine going a whole lifetime in the wilderness without wanting something like rope, or going a whole day wanting something like rope without figuring out how to make something like rope. Yet apparently people went for about a thousand lifetimes without that happening.
Some possible explanations:
- Inventions are usually more ingenious than they seem. LiveScience argues that it took so long to invent the wheel because “The tricky thing about the wheel is not conceiving of a cylinder rolling on its edge. It’s figuring out how to connect a stable, stationary platform to that cylinder.” I feel like that would explain why it took a month rather than a day. But a couple of thousand lifetimes?
- Knowing what you are looking for is everything. If you sat a person down and said, “look, how do you attach a stationary platform to a rolling thing?” they could figure it out within a few hours, but if you just give them the world, they don’t think about whether a stationary platform attached to a rolling thing would be useful, so “how do you attach a stationary platform to a rolling thing” doesn’t come up as a salient question for a couple of thousand lifetimes.
- Having concepts in general is a big deal, and being an early human who had never heard of any invention was a bit like being me when I’m half asleep.
- Everything is always mysteriously a thousand times harder than you might think. Consider writing a blog post. Why haven’t I written a blog post in a month?