Fossil record indicates humanity arose on the African Continent - in/around Gauteng. Yet the oldest civilizations on record are far afield - Ebla, Mesopotamia

What drives civilization? Why is the cradle of civilization not nearer the cradle of humanity?

In my opinion civilization is that state of intellect when beings of a community recognize that collaboration rather than competition for resources is feasible, and actively work in that direction (granted we humans still have competition at the level of village, town, company, & nation). Unlike other contemporary civilizations (ants and bees for instance) humans are not segregated into castes such as the warrior, worker - intellect drives human civilization.

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    $\begingroup$ This question appears to be off-topic because, as it stands, it asks about the reasons why humans and human civilizations appear in specific places, which is not a topic that cognitive sciences deals with. If the question were rephrased to ask about which psychological traits make humans attempt civilization, it would be on-topic here. $\endgroup$ – user3116 Aug 1 '13 at 7:36
  • $\begingroup$ Except… it did not appear everywhere and it took a long time between the appearance of anatomically modern humans and anything that could be called civilization. Any sensible explanation will need to account for that and this makes the question a lot more interesting, even from a cognitive science perspective (say about the role of context and culture as opposed to inborn capacities on cognition), than speculations about general tendencies of the human psyche. $\endgroup$ – Gala Aug 1 '13 at 8:30
  • $\begingroup$ You can of course try to identify some “psychological traits” that made it possible and give them a name but, as an explanation, it's mostly empty, in effect saying something like “humans developed civilization because they strive for civilization”. $\endgroup$ – Gala Aug 1 '13 at 8:32
  • $\begingroup$ Well, the reason why it did not appear everywhere is quite simple: What we call "civilizations" are city-states with relatively large populations supported by intensive agriculture. And this was possible only in fertile lands that were usually found along the great rivers. That's the answer to your location question. Agriculture was not possible in the desert, deserts only supported small populations of nomads. But this has nothing to do with cogsci and is off-topic. My point is that I'm just trying to cast the question to be on-topic here $\endgroup$ – user3116 Aug 1 '13 at 8:49
  • $\begingroup$ You seem awfully quick in making sweeping statements about human history (here and elsewhere). There is such a thing as “cognitive anthropology” and it might provide relevant insights. Also, ever heard about “constructivism”? That humans are endowed with a universal tendency to think and socialize in certain ways and that beyond that it's all down to environmental determinism is one view but it is by no means obvious (and you seem to have your geography a little confused, Africa is/was not a desert and agriculture did exist there as well…). $\endgroup$ – Gala Aug 1 '13 at 9:57

Not a real explanation of why writing or cities appeared where they appeared but by that time humans had already spread to many parts of the world so I am not sure there is any particular need to explain why they did not appear in southern Africa, specifically.

Also, the “cradle of humankind” in Gauteng is a large source of hominin fossils (possibly for reasons that have more to do with their preservation than anything else), not of homo sapiens sapiens or anatomically modern humans. We are not talking about the same periods at all (millions of years before present vs. 200 000 years for homo sapiens sapiens and 6000 years for writing).

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  • $\begingroup$ I agree with what you wrote here, but I don't see how this answers your question about what drives civilization (in general, not individual civilizations), which I don't understand to be about the place of origin of the human species or the first loci of settlements but (to be on topic here) about what in the human psyche makes us strive for social norms, knowledge, technology and culture. $\endgroup$ – user3116 Aug 1 '13 at 6:19
  • $\begingroup$ @what This is not “my” question but have you actually read it? It is about the place of origin of various things and why they appeared in some places and not in others. You might find speculation about why humans “strive for technology” interesting (I do not) but it's simply not what was asked. $\endgroup$ – Gala Aug 1 '13 at 6:33
  • $\begingroup$ The question is "What drives civilization?" The place-questions seem to be only secondary. If they are the main question, then this question is off-topic here. $\endgroup$ – user3116 Aug 1 '13 at 7:34
  • $\begingroup$ This is silly, except the three, rather vague, words “What drives civilization?”, the question is entirely about why it appeared in one place but not the other. There is absolutely nothing to suggest this is “secondary” and obviously no mention of the human psyche, social norms, etc. $\endgroup$ – Gala Aug 1 '13 at 8:23
  • $\begingroup$ But the three rather vague words are given as the (title of the) question itself, and it is stated that "The question though is pretty much what the title states." Why do you ignore that clear indication of intent? How do you understand "drives"? $\endgroup$ – user3116 Aug 1 '13 at 8:42

In my opinion the question is not of-topic, because of two reasons:

1) Scientifically, it is hard to approve or not, but Sigmund Freud wrote about it in book: Totem and Taboo wrote that civilization start when human offsprings decided not to kill father and that strongest among them become new "leadeor of herd/doggery" It could explain debate cradle of humanity - craddle of civilization.

2) In Social psychology it is known model of Terror management theory. In this wikipedia articles you have numerous references.

Why I think it is relevant for this web site is relation: neuroscience - cognitive science - social psychology and related social cognition and socila neuroscience.

EDIT: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terror_management_theory#References

EDIT2: Answer: According to Terror management theory people are interested to maintain civilization to maintain illusion of immortality.

Source: Blackwell Handbook of Social Psychology: Intraindividual Processes


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  • $\begingroup$ Okay, but that is a comment, not an answer to the question. How would you answer the question? $\endgroup$ – user3116 Aug 1 '13 at 9:07
  • $\begingroup$ i added in EDIT2 direct answer. $\endgroup$ – ICanFeelIt Aug 1 '13 at 9:29

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