The biomimetics of blockchain: The blockchain imitates us, and you don’t know it. Inspired by Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Sapiens (I)

Today in our blog we are going to talk about Blockchain from an anthropological point of view. We are going to look at some of the human characteristics that were indispensable to achieve our dominance of the environment, and how blockchain-based systems mimic these characteristics.

What made us different

“100,000 years ago at least six species of humans inhabited the earth. Today there is only one left, ours: Homo sapiens. How did our species come to prevail in the struggle for existence? Why did our foraging ancestors join together to create cities and kingdoms? How did we come to believe in gods, nations or human rights; to trust in money, books or laws?”

200,000 years before the present, Homo sapiens appeared by evolution in East Africa; people who looked just like us, so that if one of them turned up in a modern morgue the local pathologist would not notice anything peculiar.

Sample of cave art from the Cueva de Manos, Argentina (7,500 BC) It looks like someone wanted to say, “I was here!”

For the next 130,000 years, however, we sapiens passed unnoticed in the vastness of the ecosystem of the Horn of Africa, struggling to survive in the middle of the food chain, just as an upstart football team promoted to the First Division struggles to stay there.

From struggle for survival to world domination

Something happened 70,000 years ago that allowed us to begin the assault not only on the top of the food chain, but to establish ourselves across the planet’s many different habitats, overcoming physically superior contemporaries such as the Neanderthals. But what did we do to push the other human species into oblivion, and why didn’t even the big-brained, strong, cold-proof Neanderthals survive our onslaught? Translated with (free version)

A unique language

From 70,000 years ago, what is known as the cognitive revolution took place. Homo sapiens began to do something unique: imagine things that do not really exist. Experts speculate that a possible change in the internal structure of the sapiens brain may have made this revolution possible. In a remarkably short period of time we sapiens extended our domain to the entire planet.

Diagram of the spread of Homo sapiens across the planet. 45,000 years ago we reached Australia by sea; 16,000 years ago we crossed the Bering Strait, and in the following 4,000 years we covered the American continent.

Earlier sapiens would have looked like us, but had much more limited cognitive abilities (learning, memory, communication). If you are still with me at this point in the post, you may be wondering what is the material advantage of being able to imagine something that does not exist.

Trust in strangers

There are remarkable trust networks in the animal world, such as the common chimpanzees, which have a genetic tendency to live in hierarchical groups headed by an alpha male. Today we also transact in similar environments, for example, when we have outstanding monetary accounts with our group of friends. But how large can a network of trust grow based solely on direct acquaintance among its participants? Under normal conditions, no more than 25-50 participants before it collapses as a result of internal tensions.

Ivory figurine of the “Lion Man” from the Stadel Cave in Germany (about 32,000 years ago) The body is human, but the head is lion-like. This is one of the earliest examples of art and of the human ability to imagine things that do not exist.

Seventy thousand years ago we began to be able to generate imagined orders: abstract and decentralised environments of trust. Abstract ideas such as nations, laws, money or cities allowed thousands of individuals to harbour a sense of belonging to entities that were not tangible and not dependent on personal knowledge among all members of the group. This allowed for much broader ties of trade, information and cooperation than that of remnant species of the Homo family.

Where are ideologies stored, and in what environment were the abstract ideas that allowed thousands of Sapiens to cooperate in the pursuit of global conquest engraved for thousands of years? And above all, what does all this have in common with the blockchain, which is so much in vogue and which promises a disruptive change in our conception of transaction systems, trading of goods, as well as our business and governmental systems?

In next week’s post we will shed light on these thought-provoking questions, so stay tuned and stay curious until then!

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