Invariants across human societal evolution

I was playing some poker a few days ago, and I got to thinking… the basic betting structure of poker is incredibly elegant. It’s super-easy to understand, yet leads to all sorts of interesting strategies. It’s also exciting on a very gut level. Thus, I thought, if the evolution of human societies had gone very differently (say if we went back to the year 20,000 BC and randomly killed half the genus homo types wandering around, and transplanted others to different continents), something would almost have certainly been developed that was almost exactly like poker wagering. Not poker, obviously, but the betting structure. (Not to mention general betting-on-things-like-races-and-fights.)

And THAT got me to thinking… what other mundane details of our society would almost certainly have ended up exactly the same even if society were otherwise unrecognizeable?

One other that came to mind:
-Office paper. It might not be 8.5 by 11, although there’s probably a sweet spot for size, but it seems almost certain that it would be rectangular, and white seems like the most obvious color. (Assuming that civilization made it that far… it’s hard to imagine civilization getting very far without paper. Or, for that matter, without offices, sadly).
-The week. It might not end up 7 days, but some basic repeating-multi-day-time-unit seems so obvious. Or is that just because it’s ingrained into me? (And lunar months divided by 4 would probably be as likely as anything else.)



Bottled water

Shoes. Shoes make it much easier to move through rough terrain and survive colder climates.

Scissors. There’s just a limit to what you can cut easily with a knife. I’d say knives, but that seems a little more obvious than what you’re going for.

Base 10, assuming the polydactyly gene didn’t become more widespread.

The hammer.
Dust masks.
The Wheel and Axel.
Glass windows.
Selective breeding.

Sex and reproduction.

twicks got it right. Humanity is a people of storytellers. The narrative is how we communicate with one another, it is the form of the ritual by which our moral orders are reinforced. See, the one thing that every single human society has, the thing that makes it a human society, is a moral order - a dichotomy between good and bad, right and wrong.

There was a thread a while back on a very similar question, asking what was the common experience that all human beings had, and that is having a teacher, a mentor of some sort (be it parent or other wise). It’s having guidance. We are all guided by our society into behaving and thinking in certain ways. That confirmation of the moral order, in specific instances, amounts to “If you do this, it’s good,” or “If you do that, it’s bad,” and it’s easy to see how those become narratives, and then complex mythologies.

Lying. Theft. Murder. Not necessarily prevalent, but definitely present.

Actually, there’s no real reason that it couldn’t be base 5. Or maybe base 8, not counting thumbs.

Pornography. Even in societies where it is forbidden, it exists anyway.


Every culture, ever, has had them. They would seem to be as constant as anything else in our existence.

I might have said it first, but you said it a whole lot more eloquently. Thanks for fleshing out my driveby.