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Yali s Question asked, Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little of our own? (pg 14) This was a difficult for him to answer. A common answer for this question is that there is a enormous difference in lifestyles between a New Guinean compared to a white person. This is a common answer but it can be traced to the way each civilization was formed, thousands of years ago. Yali s question alludes to the main idea of the novel; why does development go on different rates in different countries?
2. Why does Diamond hypothesize that New Guineans might be, on the average, “smarter” than Westerners?
Diamond hypothesized that New Guineans might be, on average, smarter than Westerners for two reasons. The first reason Diamond stated was that Westerners are used to living in a dense and crowded population which can easy lead to the spread of disease. Intelligent people would most likely escape places of epidemics. In history, there have been more reports of epidemic in Europe compared to place like New Guinea. The second reason is that most Westerners and Europeans spend time watching television or listening to the radio. On the other hand, youth from New Guinea spend time being active.
3. Why is it important to differentiate between proximate and ultimate causes?
An ultimate cause and proximate cause are very different. An ultimate cause is causation that lead up to the proximate cause. A proximate cause is a particular point or effect that is the outcome of the ultimate cause. Generally, a proximate cause is a more specific effect and an ultimate cause is broader. For example: people began to settle down and farm (proximate) which lead to the growth of a new civilization (ultimate).
6. How are Polynesian Islands “an experiment of history”? What conclusions does Diamond draw from their history?
Jared Diamond stated that in 1935, a group of about 900 Maori on the Chatham Islands (East of New Zealand) were outnumbered two-to-one. Despite the chances, the Maori killed the Moriori. Diamond tells us that this is an example of many other conflicts and conquests globally. He uses it as a small scale “experiment” to test how environments influence societies. This case seems to point to that Diamond’s idea of development is correct; that different environments produce different types of societies. He continues to expand this argument throughout the whole book.
7. How does Diamond challenge our assumptions about the transition from hunter-gathering to farming?
Most people believe that farming is better than hunting and gathering. All elegant people use things that are made from agriculture so we may think that this is a way that is best. Diamond states that there is nothing that is low-grade about hunting and gathering. He says that it is not that bad of a way to live. Actually, he says it may be better than a developed, agricultural way of life to some people. So Diamond is challenges the idea that people intentionally changed to agriculture because it is a better way of life.
8. How is farming an “auto-catalytic” process? How does this account for the great disparities in societies, as well as for the possibilities of parallel evolution?
It s auto-catalytic because when a society starts to farm, it lets everything else in a civilization develop. Until a society farms, people need to spend every day obtaining food. Once a society is able to gather food without a large portion of the people helping, it allows for others to work on new technologies. This means is it auto-catalytic. A large amount of food wrecks the obstacle a society needs to get through. Parallel evolution submits to how civilizations that are not physically close, can still develop similarly because humans will fill the free-time with something other than food searching.
9. Why did almonds prove domesticable while acorns were not? What significance does this have?
Almonds prove domesticable while acorns are not. This is because that bitterness in almonds is prohibited in only 1 gene. In trees, the bitterness of acorns is controlled by multiple genes. This means that about half of the almonds from a tree that is not bitter will also produce trees that are not bitter. In contrast, almost all of the acorns from a “good oak tree would (if you plant them) produce an oak tree whose acorns are bitter. This implies that it would be much easier to selectively breed great almonds than it would be to variety good oaks. Therefore people would quit trying to domesticate oaks but continue to try to domesticate almonds; they would have a much greater chance of victory with the almonds.
10. How does Diamond explain the fact that domesticable American apples and grapes were not domesticated until the arrival of Europeans?
Diamond explains that it is unlikely that Native Americans would have overthrown their traditional nomadic hunting-gathering existence to settle down into a sedentary food-producing way of life unless several other domesticable plants and animals were available to make the transition worthwhile. In other words, it didn’t have anything to do with the apples or grapes specifically, but rather the limited number of additional potentially valuable crops in the area that would have made the lifestyle change appealing. He suggests that Native Americans likely would have gotten around to domesticating these crops eventually, but that Europeans arrived before they progressed to that state.
11. What were the advantages enjoyed by the Fertile Crescent that allowed it to be the earliest site of development for most of the building blocks of civilization? How does Diamond explain the fact that it was nevertheless Europe and not Southwest Asia that ended up spreading its culture to the rest of the world?
It had a mild climate. There was an abundance of wild grains that took very little to domesticate. Hunters and gatherers who settled here were able to survive on the abundant grain until agriculture was established. The native plants were easy to reproduce due to self pollination. Hunting and gathering was not highly successful and the soon agriculture was predominant.
13. What is the importance of the “Anna Karenina principle”?
The Anna Karenina principle states that there are lots of different ways that an animal can be no good for domestication. The reason that this is important is that it explains why people in some places were not able to domesticate any large animals. Diamond points out that there are many reasons why animals might not be good to domesticate. Because there are so many different ways that an animal can be unsuitable for domestication, most of them are unsuitable. This means that places like Africa can have lots of animals, but none might be suitable to domesticate. This (rather than any theories about the characteristics of the people in those areas) explains why no animals were domesticated there.
16. How does Diamond’s theory that invention is, in fact, the mother of necessity bear upon the traditional “heroic” model of invention?
What Diamond says that really goes against the “heroic” model of invention is that individual inventors are not really all that important. He argues two things. First, he says that by far most famous inventors did not actually invent something completely new. Instead, they tinkered with something old and improved it. Second, he argues that if the famous inventors hadn’t come around, someone else would have made the same breakthrough. So he’s saying that invention is a process that is done by building in small steps, not by some genius having an inspiration and creating some finished product right on the spot.
20. How does Diamond explain China’s striking unity and Europe’s persistent disunity? What consequences do these conditions have for world history?
Diamond’s theory is that Europe was not unified, in part, due to the geography of Europe. On page 414 we read that Europe’s large and greatly indented coast line led to isolation of islands and communities. These various isolated communities formed their own governments, cultures, and value systems. China, on the other hand, had a long, but smooth coast. Diamond continues to talk about the Korean Peninsula being isolated enough from China to develop a separate importance. Europe had five isolated peninsulas that approached islands. All of these individual countries, Greece, Italy, Iberia, Denmark, and Norway/Sweden, developed separate languages, ethnic groups and Governments. China also had the geographic element of two major rivers which connected the whole country.
23. Diamond offers two tribes, the Chimbu and the Daribi, as examples of differing receptivities to innovation. Do you think he would accept larger, continent-wide differences in receptivity? Why or why not? How problematic might cultural factors prove for Diamond’s arguments?
I think that Diamond would only accept the idea of larger, continent-wide differences if there were only a very few distinct societies on that particular continent. Otherwise, he would argue that there are too many societies and that they are too different to generalize about. As for cultural arguments in general, as long as the cultures differ in random ways across continents, it is not a problem. Diamond does not say that cultures don’t differ — he just says that one continent won’t have cultures that are all similar and that all differ from those on another continent. If we were to find, though, that all (or the great majority of) African societies were different in a relevant way to all (or a great majority of) European societies, then there would be real problems for Diamond’s theories.
24. How, throughout the book, does Diamond address the issues he discusses in the last few pages of his final chapter, when he proposes a science of human history?
What he is saying is that history cannot be done like chemistry and physics, but it can be done like evolutionary biology and climatology and things like that. In both cases, researchers cannot do actual experiments. But that does not mean we say that these two sciences are not real. If evolutionary biology and climatology can be true sciences, history can move that way too. What Diamond says is that historians need to make more use of “natural experiments” like the one involving the Polynesian islands. He says that there are a lot of cases like that where you can use different things that happened in the past and compare them to one another. This would make history be more like a science.
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