Shared Myths, Sacred Glyphs, and Paradigm Shifts

By Emily Foss

Yuval Noah Harari describes the Cognitive Revolution (occurring ~70,000 years ago) as the point in human history where Sapiens developed the capability to speak fictively, or communicate about things born entirely of our imagination. Harari claims that “the ability to create imagined realities out of words enabled large numbers of strangers to cooperate effectively” (Harari, 32). Primitive imagined realities began as shared myths, values, and beliefs that permitted the carrying out complex actions such as hunting large game or challenging a rival band of humans for territory. These endeavors required trust and understanding. Biology, however, limits the number of fellow Sapiens we can intimately know and thereby trust. To circumvent this biological handicap, we developed frameworks to facilitate collaboration that have since evolved into modern trade networks, corporations, religions, governments, nations, etc.

When members of a population collectively subscribe to an imagined reality, they surrender to a system of rules, expectations, and established parameters that are accepted as true, allowing individuals to collaborate to achieve a common goal. Legal systems – rules and procedures that govern the way we interpret and enforce laws – are an example of an imagined order that Harari mentions. Most members of society acknowledge the necessity of a legal system to ensure safety, protection and comfort. Failure by an individual to adhere to these standards of behavior will result in either being sequestered off from the rest of the population (imprisonment) or being outcast to fend for themselves. Ultimately, if you wish to partake in the amenities a civilization provides, you must follow the rules. 

Science is certainly an imagined reality because it is founded on the scientific method, which is a systematic set of rules and standards for observation, measurement and experimentation by which we come to know things empirically.  Any time “rules” or “standardization” are involved, an imagined reality of some flavor exists. 

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