New Class – A Brief History of Humankind

Make fun of me and call me stupid, if you want, but I just had my mind blown by the first lecture of a history class. My excuse is that when I was in school, I always focused on math and science, while basically ignoring and sleeping through history. In high school, I thought history was boring. It wasn’t until my 30’s that I realized how interesting and important history really is. So when I found a free online class called “A Brief History of Humankind,” on coursera, I clicked the enroll button almost without thinking. I don’t remember ANYTHING from the one world history class I was required to take for my Bachelor’s degree let alone anything from high school. What better way to get an overview of history than taking a survey course that spans all of human history over the course of 17 weeks?

So what blew my mind?

At some point during elementary school (I’m thinking around 5th grade or so), I was briefly taught the idea that man evolved from the great ape family. As is often done for elementary school science, it was presented in a linear and simplified form. Basically, we evolved over time from an ape into a human. In other words, first we were apes and those evolved into neanderthals and then eventually those evolved into homo sapiens, the current human species. There were other steps between those, of course, but it was done in a linear fashion. I have spent my ENTIRE LIFE believing this to be true because I never learned otherwise! In reality, different species of humans, all belonging to the genus Homo, developed and evolved over time in different areas on the planet. How they evolved was directly related to their environments. At one point, homo sapiens (the current human species) coexisted with at least FIVE other human species on the planet at the SAME TIME.

This is very likely “well, duh”-worthy to you, but try to imagine what this information must sound like to someone who had never been taught this and believed the simplified story for over 30 years.

Seriously, I felt like suddenly a million things made far more sense in the universe. I felt smarter. And hey, cut me some slack. 5th grade science was honestly the last time I learned about human evolution. Even the world history class I took in college only started from about 10,000 BCE. And yes, I do feel pretty stupid right now, too. How could I have lived all my life without this knowledge? How did I miss something so important? So here’s a great example of why you should always be trying to learn new things. You never know what you might have missed.

I am really excited about watching the next section of the lecture, which is going to discuss possible theories on why homo sapiens are the only ones left. Something to think about: for the rest of the animal planet, there exist several different species of the same genus. There are different species of cats, birds, bears, etc. So why is there only ONE species of human left? Homo erectus existed for 1.5 MILLION years. Homo sapiens has only been around for 200,000 to 300,000 years. Something look suspicious here? Yeah…

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