The Power of Collective Learning and Common Myths in Human Evolution


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Sep 06, 2023

4 min read


The Power of Collective Learning and Common Myths in Human Evolution


In our journey as a species, humans have undergone significant transformations that have shaped our existence and propelled us to become the dominant species on the planet. From the cognitive revolution that occurred 70,000 years ago to the development of complex societies, our ability to collectively learn and share information has played a pivotal role. This article delves into the concept of collective learning, the power of common myths, and how these factors have influenced the course of human evolution.

The Cognitive Revolution and Collective Learning:

Around 70,000 years ago, Homo sapiens experienced a cognitive revolution that set them apart from their rivals. This revolution, as described by Yuval Noah Harari, author of "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind," allowed humans to spread across the globe from East Africa. This cognitive revolution can be likened to David Christian's notion of "collective learning" in Big History, which emphasizes our ability to share, store, and build upon information.

Collective learning is a defining characteristic of Homo sapiens and has been instrumental in our progress as a species. It enabled us to accumulate knowledge and pass it down through generations, leading to the development of language, art, and technology. Our ability to unite millions of strangers around common myths, such as freedom, human rights, gods, laws, and capitalism, has been a driving force behind our capacity to cooperate on complex tasks.

The Power of Common Myths:

What sets humans apart from other species is our unique ability to imagine and believe in concepts that do not exist in the physical world. These imaginary constructs, commonly referred to as common myths, have served as powerful social glue, binding communities together and motivating collective action. Despite being intangible, ideas like freedom and human rights have shaped the course of history and have driven societies to strive for progress and change.

Common myths have enabled humans to create complex social structures and institutions that have facilitated cooperation and coordination. They have fostered a sense of shared identity and purpose, allowing individuals to transcend their immediate surroundings and work towards common goals. The belief in common myths has not only shaped our social structures but has also influenced our political systems, economic models, and cultural practices.

The Shift to Agriculture and its Impact:

Some critics argue that the transition from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to an agricultural one was a mistake. However, this perspective overlooks the numerous advancements that arose from farming societies. The ability to cultivate crops and domesticate animals allowed for a more reliable and abundant food supply. This surplus of food enabled individuals to specialize in various tasks, leading to the emergence of written languages, new technologies, and art.

Specialization, made possible by agriculture, laid the foundation for the development of complex societies. It allowed for the accumulation of knowledge and expertise in specific areas, leading to advancements in various fields. The ability to record information through written languages was a crucial aspect of collective learning, as it enabled knowledge to be preserved and shared across generations, further propelling human progress.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Embrace collective learning: Recognize the power of collective learning and actively participate in knowledge-sharing activities. Engage in discussions, attend workshops, and join communities that foster the exchange of ideas and information. By embracing collective learning, you can contribute to the growth of knowledge and drive innovation.
  • 2. Nurture common myths that promote cooperation and progress: Identify the common myths that unite your community or society and contribute to their preservation and promotion. Whether it's advocating for human rights, environmental conservation, or social justice, actively participate in initiatives that reinforce these shared beliefs and values.
  • 3. Embrace specialization and interdisciplinary collaboration: In a world that is becoming increasingly complex, embracing specialization in a particular field can lead to significant advancements. However, it is essential to also foster interdisciplinary collaboration, as it allows for the exchange of ideas and perspectives from various domains. By combining specialized knowledge with diverse perspectives, we can tackle complex challenges more effectively and drive innovation.


As humans, our ability to collectively learn and share information has been instrumental in our progress as a species. The cognitive revolution, the power of common myths, and the shift to agriculture have all played critical roles in shaping our societies and influencing our development. By recognizing the power of collective learning, nurturing common myths that promote cooperation and progress, and embracing specialization alongside interdisciplinary collaboration, we can continue to drive human evolution and create a brighter future for all.

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