We Blind Copy Our Heroes
One of humanity’s biggest questions has been why are we so much smarter than other animals. We have fire. We have iron tools. We have freaking space rockets!
What is it that has allowed us to so thoroughly outpace every other animal?
If you give a chimp, an orangutan, and a human toddler an intelligence test, here’s what you get.
The Short Version
It is NOT our Intelligence
Extract from The Secret of Our Success
Humanity’s Superpower is social learning. Humans have the ability to learn from each other faster than any other creature on Earth.
The emotion of awe is how humans download culture. It can cause us to worship people and make us perceive them as larger than life. Most people never meet the heroes outside their Dunbar Numberand the spell is never broken.
People of the past, including pharaohs, kings, emperors, and popes have all used awe to convince people to follow them. Modern day celebrities and advertisers also use–and sometimes hijack–awe to gain followers.
Taking a closer look at our heroes and geniuses reveals that they are no better or worse than us.
Chimps are smarter than us in every single area except one. Social intelligence. In this one area we are off the charts. This is Humanity’s Superpower. Individually, we’re not that smart. But, by linking up our brains, we can collectively become very smart. The ability to learn from each other sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom
However, the idea that human intelligence is collective is NOT the story we’ve been told. We’ve been taught to believe in the myth of genius. Special people like Mozart, Newton, Edison, Einstein, Michael Jackson, and Steve Jobs were all somehow blessed with some magical talent. The “magic” is that they used Humanity’s Superpower to build on the successes of others around them. They merely stood on the shoulders of hobbits.
The blue belt is the study of these genius myths and how we blind copy our heros. It’s the culmination of the previous belts: white for realizing you’re in a culture, yellow for culture binds and blinds, orange for the Dunbar Number, and green for Descartes’ Error.
Once upon a time, humans believed that gods walked among them. Some of these gods were mythological creatures like Zeus, Thor, Horus, and Vishnu. And some of these “gods” were real live humans who portrayed themselves as deities so the people would blindly follow them.
Pharaohs claimed to be Gods.
Roman Emperors claimed to be Gods.
Chinese Emperors claimed to have the Mandate of Heaven.
King James I claimed to rule by Divine Right.
The Incan Emperors claimed they communicated directly with the Sun God.
The Popes…well…pretty much the same idea.
We might think that we’ve mostly gotten past seeing humans as Gods, but we still have “deities” like Steve Jobs as the iGod and Thomas Edison as the Wizard of Menlo Park.
But wait?!? Jobs and Edison were real people!!! Yes, and so were Julius Caesar, the Pharaoh Ramses II, the popes, and the many kings who claimed they were God’s representative on Earth. In practice, powerful people are just people who create an image of themselves that is far removed from reality. Look at these two Kim’s: Kim Kardashian and Kim Jong-Un.
KIM vs KIM
Both have created an image of themselves that keeps their followers enthralled, hijacking the emotion of awe to convince people they are perfect. And it works! North Korea still follows Kim Jong-Un and the Kardashians still make millions of those who follow every detail of their lives.
Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about the damaging effects of photoshop on people’s perception of beauty and body image. The image of a model shown in a magazine is not the real life version. It’s a fiction that’s been created with makeup, lighting, and CGI-like photoshop skills.
People see the adulation these models get and so they try to blind copy their heroes and often hurt their bodies, their relationships, and their health trying to achieve these images. Now that you’ve got your green belt, you know how powerfully these deeply felt emotional experiences can drive our thinking. Your understanding the Dunbar Number means that while we will never know most celebrities (or most humans) it can feeeeeeel like we do because we know so many details about their lives. But we only know what they want us to know: the carefully curated images that fit the public persona they’re trying to create.
And that brings us to that other Kim: Kim Jong-Un. Officially, he’s never pooped. Nor had his father Kim Jong-Il. According to them anyway.
And that brings us back to “geniuses” like Edison, Steve Jobs, Newton, Einstein, Mozart, and Michael Jackson. They’re our modern-day gods.
But the more closely you look at geniuses in any field the more closely you’ll understand why Einstein said: “The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.”...
And why Steve Jobs said that the greatest day of your life is the day you realize that the world was built by people no smarter than you.
“…Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, can influence it… once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”
- Steve Jobs
This is that great day for you. It’s the day you realize there are no Wizards. Only men using smoke and mirrors to make themselves seem magical, just like The Great and Powerful Oz who turned out to be a little old man from Kansas.
The key to not being controlled by Kims of either the North Korean or Kardashian variety is to understand the emotion of awe and to always wonder about the man behind the curtain. What is he or she doing back there? Are they pooping? And if they claim they’re not, then be very suspicious.
In practice, once you understand blind copying, you can actually use it as a tool for super speedy learning by deliberately putting yourself in a state of awe around people you want to learn from quickly. Having blindly copied them, you can then slow think about what you want to keep and what you don’t. In general, this is something we all need to know how to do because many of the intuitions we blindly copied from our cultures evolved for very different environments from the ones we find ourselves in now.