Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Q&A with Gaia Vince

Gaia Vince is the author of the new book Transcendence: How Humans Evolved Through Fire, Language, Beauty, and Time. She also has written Adventures in the Anthropocene, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Science and The Guardian. She lives in London.

Q: In Transcendence, you write, "We are not like the other animals, yet we evolved through the same process. What are we then?" How would you answer that, and what initially inspired you to write this book?

A: I was inspired to write Transcendence after a 2.5-year journey I made researching how humans are changing the planetary environment. We are entering the Anthropocene, a human-dominated age. 

This makes us unlike any other creature. We have left our ecological niche and changed the environment we evolved in. We have transcended the limits of our biological evolution and followed a different evolutionary trajectory: one driven by human culture. I wanted to explore this fascinating journey that our species made. 

Q: The book is divided into five sections, Genesis, Fire, Word, Beauty, and Time. How did you decide on the book's organization?

A: Structuring the book was incredibly difficult! I needed to start out with genesis, with the story of the emergence from the physical, chemical and biological constituents of the planet of a new creature capable of cumulative culture. Ultimately, I wanted to focus on what I believe are our four key human evolutionary drivers: energy; information-transfer; subjective meaning; and objective truths. 

Q: What would you say are some of the most common perceptions and misperceptions about human evolution?

A: It is generally perceived as a process entirely governed by our genes. I wanted to change that narrative to show the important role of culture and also our environment. We are created through a human coevolutionary triad of genes, culture and environment. 

There is also an idea that humans only became like us, or a “behaviourally modern” species, relatively recently - some 40,000 years ago. I think that all the evidence points to us being the same species for at least 100,000 years if not 300,000. 

Q: What do you see looking ahead, given technological advances?

A: I think we might be experiencing a cultural explosion in the number, diversity, and complexity of our technological inventions, owing to the vast global human population and our hyperconnectivity. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on several projects looking at the interactions of humanity and the planetary environment. 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Transcendence is available as a physical book and also an audiobook, and makes a great companion if you’re self-isolating...! Do check my website for updates and more.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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