allocate energy to someone else to spend on something not directly tied to the survival of the group was a major shift in societal organization. Caloric energy from grain transformed into technology and status symbols. Just as in the predator-prey energy exchanges found throughout nature, the amount of surplus energy that an individual, a tribe, or a society can harness for its use determines its well-being, lifestyles and capabilities. TaaL: It makes a nice sto ry, but I wouldn’t agree that the human move from hunter-gatherers to agriculture was necessarily progress . As is often the case in the universe, it’s just stuff that happened. My species doesn’t have a word exactly analogous to your word “progress.” To my reading of the fossil record, it looks like agriculture was understood in principle long before it was widely adopted (do you really think sophisticated hunter-gatherers with brains 10% larger than yours didn’t know how seeds worked?). But a primitive agricultural lifestyle is an enormous pain in the ass which wears you out and kills you young and was only adopted once humans (and perhaps contributing environmental circumstances) had killed off all the slow & tasty megafauna, reducing the ER/EI of their preferred hunting strategies. Agriculture certainly did allow more human biomass in a given area, but it has drastically increased malnutrition and diseases, shortened lives, worsened health (a trend only recently reversed by fossil carbon aided medical pr ocesses) and shrunk brains. That’s no surprise: the agenda of the gene will always go for a greater number of miserable people over a lesser number of bright, long-lived healthy ones. That gene agenda has directed most human trajectories throughout history and continues to. Regarding the pyramid pictured above, they certainly do represent a lot of surplus grain calories, but those calories pale into insignificance next to the number your current society burns through. “Excess Energy” available to humans wa s, thus, an emergent result of the unsustainability of eating megafauna, and of the higher human biomass inherent in subsisting at a low trophic level. Famines, malnutrition, large - scale slavery, privileged social classes, deforestation, the displacement of other terrestrial vertebrates, and qualitatively new modes of insanity also emerged at larger scales. For instance, making human slaves build enormous functionless pyramids was just a flat-out peculiar thing to do with surplus energy, and you’ve kept at that sort of thing ever since. Which person, in the image above, is “enjoying the benefits of complexity”? The Bottom Line: Agriculture channeled more food energy through human societies. When crops were good, this meant a surplus which meant higher human and livestock biomass.
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