I thought I found some support for Varki’s denial theory in a new book by Yuval Harari titled Sapiens.
Harari makes the case that humans dominate the planet because we cooperate and we cooperate because we are uniquely able to construct and believe fictional stories.
This is no doubt part of the story but misses the bigger picture and lacks a satisfying explanation for why.
We dominate for many reasons. Cooperation yes, but also sophisticated symbolic language, ability to manage many relationships, forward planning, analytic skills, long term memory, learning ability, etc. All of these things fall under the umbrella of CPU power.
The important question to be answered is, why did only one small group of one species in Africa evolve this higher CPU power, despite many similar species being exposed to the same selection pressures?
Varki provides a plausible answer. Harari does not.
And of course, why with this exceptional CPU power do we believe in wacky economic theories and even wackier religions but not climate change or peak oil or almost anything that matters?
Again, Varki provides an answer. Harari does not.
Here is an EconTalk interview with Harari:
Here is Harari’s TED talk titled Bananas in Heaven.