Life’s A Banquet
If life gives you lemons, add gin
Life’s a Banquet is the unofficial but essential ‘guide book’ to negotiating your way through life – through education, family life and business, to relationships, marriage, failure and rejection.
Aged 21, Robin Bennett was set to become a cavalry officer and aged 21 and a half, he found himself working as an assistant grave digger in South London – wondering where it had all gone wrong.
Determined to succeed, he went on and founded The Bennett Group, aged 23, and since then has gone on to start and run over a dozen successful businesses in a variety of areas from dog-sitting to cigars, translation to home tuition. In 2003, Robin was recognised in Who’s Who as one of the UK’s most successful business initiators. Catapulting readers through his colourful life and career, Robin Bennett’s memoir is an inspiring tale.
Robin Bennett lives in Henley on Thames, Oxon. He is an author and entrepreneur who has written several books for children and books on the swashbuckling world of business. His documentary, Fantastic Britain, about the British obsession with magic and folklore, won best foreign feature at the Hollywood International Independent Documentary Awards.
Robin says, “When the world seems to be precarious and cruel, remember that the game is to never give up – there’s everything to play for, and it will all be OK.”
Audio Killed the Bookmark
Cognitive language … or Gossip Theory
Along with about 18 million other people, I’m finally getting around to reading Harari’s book on the history of our species, Sapiens. If that sounds highbrow, keep in mind the book I’ve just finished was a Stephen King – Under the Dome, which is low-brow, even for him.
And talking about low brows, according to Sapiens, it turns out that we Europeans all have a bit of Homo Neanderthal in us (not that you’d call him that to his face) or Homo Erectus (even worse). The actual figure of what is non-Sapien in our DNA is between 1 and 4%, which explains why we spend between 1 and 4 % of our time on social networks watching videos of people injuring themselves in amusing ways.
Except it turns out that our dim-looking genetic cousins could not only rip us into small pieces with their bare hands but they were actually smarter than us. The first section of Harari’s excellent tome deals with the question of how Sapiens came to rule the world, allowing for the fact we are stupid and a bit weedy.
The theory is rather brilliant and completely plays to my prejudices, which is the only reason I’m writing about it now. In a nutshell, Sapiens gained the upper hand through team work facilitated by cognitive language. By that, he means we Sapiens took language beyond saying ‘Look, Ugg, danger!’ to ‘Last week, Ugg was eaten by a mammoth by the river. He is stupid.’ The first phrase is merely very basic factual information, no more sophisticated than a dog barking because it’s seen a postman. The second, however, has detailed information – on Ugg: it fixes place, time (in the past), cause of demise and his mental capacity; it also has important information for the well-being of the group, i.e., be careful about going down to the river, there’s hairy elephants about. There’s even a joke at someone else’s expense.
The someone else’s expense is vitally important and explains why Harari supposes we developed cognitive speech in the first place and also why we spend so much time on Facebook – and it is this: Sapiens are very nosey.
But gossiping and taking the piss out of our friends is his point. It is precisely our fascination in what our fellow humans get up to, however trivial, that enabled us to become the massively social creatures who worked as small teams of hunters, then larger groups that turned into villages.
However, beyond that, to be able to form the societies which made up cities, then countries … then empires and all in a hugely short space of time (about 30,000 years, which is a blink of an eye when you think how long it took us to get a decent fire lit), we needed something else.
We needed stories.
Myth and magic became cult, then formalised religion, shared anecdote became culture, then country. Religions have good stories to tell about where they come from and why they deserve our loyalty, countries have them and so do corporations (called brand) – in fact no successful human endeavour can do without them. Stories are what make us work together behind a common cause.
You can harness huge numbers of people you have never met behind a strong idea. Before that the only way to get people to follow you was to be known to them personally and have a really big club, so it was limited in number.
So, where next? Well, I’m only about 50 pages in, so who knows.
However, aside from telling me what I like to hear (that stories are vital) it also got me thinking about machines in general and AI specifically and machine translation, even more specifically. Inadvertently, I think Harari has essentially hit upon the reason why MT and AI will not take over – machines do not have imaginations and without that they lack the ability to grasp the abstract. It also means they cannot gang up on us and take over the world.