First Man (2017 documentary)


I watched this video today. It’s a dramatization of human evolution using actors in makeup and is quite well done. They covered quite a bit of detail on what is known about human evolution over the last few million years.

It was in the last 5 minutes of the 90 minute documentary that I became disappointed. They acknowledged that something important happened 100,000 years ago in one small group of hominids in Africa, and that group quickly displaced all of its many close relatives around the world, and then took over the planet. But unlike with other earlier important events like walking, running, hunting, tools, fire, and cooking, they did not even speculate what happened. Nor did they seem to appreciate its significance.

It’s amazing how many people miss the forest for the trees.

This documentary was ripped by MVGroup and is available at the usual torrent places, or you can pay for it here.

Thirty million years ago a new group of creatures appeared on planet Earth: the great apes. From their ranks arose one family, gifted with exceptional skills: our protagonists.

This family would change the face of our world forever.

Moving upright in the trees, they were then lords of the canopy, reigning supreme over limitless forests stretching from Europe to Asia. They founded a new social way of life. They created a language. They invented education as a way of passing on knowledge to their children.

But the day came when the forest no longer sufficed to feed them. Little by little, they ventured onto the ground where they developed hunting skills, and tools to improve their skills.

This early family expanded in number, producing the need to become collectively organized. Politics reared its head. Power structures and warfare soon followed.

Some now decided to risk liberating themselves for good from the world of the trees.

Our ancestors were hungry for freedom. But on the savannah, the predators were absolute kings. So our ancestors invented weapons. And, for the first time, challenged the supremacy of the big cats. A new era had begun.

Man’s early ancestors set off to conquer the world, to explore the unknown, to adapt to every environment. And one day, to conquer fire – a discovery that made them invincible.

They built shelters. They transformed their environment. But still this did not slake their thirst for more. They sought to fathom Nature’s mysteries. They invented stories to explain the inexplicable. Now, they are Men.

Here, for the very first time in television history, is the saga of our origins, told through the story of one single family – an epic journey upon which the latest scientific discoveries shine an exciting new light.

Awareness of Death

The central idea behind Varki’s Mind Over Reality Transition theory (MORT) is that awareness of death creates a barrier to evolving a more powerful brain, and humans are the only species so far to have broken through this barrier, about 100,000 years ago, by simultaneously evolving denial of reality. Two maladaptive behaviors, awareness of death enabled by an extended theory of mind and denial of reality, when improbably combined, become highly adaptive, and in a geologic blink, humans dominated all other life.

This elegant theory fits all known data, and no known data slays it. For curious students of odd human behaviors that conflict with rational intelligence, like denial of overshoot and religion, and other hard to explain human evolutionary singularities, the MORT theory is deeply satisfying. I listed my reasons for MORT enthusiasm here.

In March 2017 the Center for Academic Research & Training in Anthropogeny (CARTA) held a symposium on awareness of death at which Dr. Varki presented his theory. Included in the symposium documents was a compilation of quotations on awareness of death which I found interesting and therefore present here.

What we have here are observations by some smart people on the profundity of human awareness of death, yet none of them were able to devise a scientific theory to explain their observations.

Just as with evolution by natural selection, which in hindsight seems obvious but required Darwin to explain it, someday Mind Over Reality Transition will seem obvious and Varki will be recognized for a great leap forward in science.

Unless of course the implications of the theory prevent the theory from being understood. 🙂

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Bottleneck or Barrier?

Varki’s Mind Over Reality Transition theory says that awareness of mortality is a barrier to evolving an extended theory of mind and this barrier can only be crossed by simultaneously evolving denial of reality.

Only one species has crossed this barrier and it used its extended theory of mind to take over the planet, while denying the consequences of its success.

One prediction of Varki’s theory is that all 7 billion humans will have descended from the individual that managed to cross the barrier.

Here is a short video that explains why it is generally accepted that all 7 billion humans descended from one woman about 200,000 years ago.

The usual explanation is that humans experienced a bottleneck caused probably by a changing climate.

I think Varki’s barrier explanation is more consistent with the evidence.

By Nate Hagens: Blindspots and Superheroes

Here is this year’s Earth Day talk by Nate Hagens.

I used to preface Nate’s talks by saying he provides the best big picture view of our predicament available anywhere.

While still true, I think Nate may now be the only person discussing these issues in public forums.

Everyone else seems to have retired to their bunkers and gone quiet.

If you only have an hour this year to devote to understanding the human predicament and what needs to be done, this may be the best way to spend it.

Varki’s MOR vs. Jaynes’ Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind

I am reading Julian Jaynes‘ “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” and am trying to understand how it relates to Varki’s Mind Over Reality (aka Denial of Reality) theory.


  1. Is Varki a prerequisite for Jaynes, or does Jaynes stand on its own?
  2. Does Jaynes answer questions not answered by Varki?
  3. Does Jaynes conflict with Varki?
  4. Do the two theories offer different explanations for:
    1. the singular emergence of a brain with an extended theory of mind;
    2. the singular emergence of a brain capable of advanced physics;
    3. the singular emergence and universality of religion in the cultures of behaviorally modern humans;
    4. the reason that belief in life after death is the only common denominator between thousands of human religions;
    5. the reason that otherwise intelligent humans deny all aspects of their overshoot and the severe damage they are doing to the ecology that sustains them.

If there are any readers that have pondered these questions I would love to hear your thoughts.

I intend to write a summary and offer answers to the above questions after I finish the book.

Jaynes is quite a dense and unintuitive book so it may require several readings before I have the confidence to tackle a summary.

By Nick Lane: Why is life the way it is?

Nick Lane, my favorite science writer, recently gave an updated version of his talk on the origin of life and why life is the way it is. This talk summarizes his most recent book “The Vital Question” which I reviewed here.

The big ideas are:

  • The emergence of life is probable and simple single-cell life, like bacteria, is probably common throughout the universe.
  • Complex life, like plants and animals, resulted from a one-time “accident” 2 billion years ago, and will be rare in the universe.
  • Increased energy played a key role in the emergence of complex life, as it does for human domination of the planet.

When you layer on top of this Varki’s theory, which explains the improbable singular emergence of the powerful human brain, our existence and its ability to understand this paragraph, becomes something to revere and protect.

The tragic irony is that we are not fighting to protect our special place in the universe because of the same mutation that enabled the emergence of our brain: denial of reality.