The Recent and Brief Evolution of Human Expert Knowledge

Evolution of intelligence:

  • 4.6 billion years ago - earth formed
  • 3.5 billion years ago - single cell entities arose
  • 2.5 billion years ago - photo synthetic plants appear
  • 550 million years ago - first fish and vertebrates
  • 450 million years ago - first insects
  • 370 million years ago - reptiles appear
  • 330 million years ago - dinosaurs
  • 250 million years ago - first mammals
  • 120 million years ago - first primates
  • 18 million years ago - the immediate predecessor to the great apes
  • 2.5 million years ago - man in his current form
  • 19 thousand years ago - agriculture invented
  • <5000 years ago - writing invented
  • last few hundred years - expert knowledge

What we consider expert knowledge is only a few hundred years new. Language, reason and culture have been around a bit longer since social change dramatically sped up around a mere 20,000 years ago. Before that, significant change took billions of years. (Brooks 1991).

Jessica Berry's (2011 p. 4) new book relays a quote from Nietzsche that expresses the skeptical sentiment nicely.

“Once upon a time, in some out of the way corner of that universe which is dispersed into numberless twinkling solar systems, there was a star upon which clever beasts invented knowing. That was the most arrogant and mendacious minute of ‘world history’, but nevertheless, it was only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths, the star cooled and congealed, and the clever beasts had to die.”1

Nigel Tubbs (2009 p. ix) suggests that reflexive learning about our own learning is the way to humble our cognitive hegemony.

Those who are sceptical of the imperialism that is grounded in the whole idea of a history of Western philosophy miss the point. It is in the enquiry, in the learning, that the imperialism of the project is most open to its being negated and undermined. The history of Western philosophy, as Know Thyself, is a – perhaps the – most effective form of self-critique that the West has available to it. It cannot survive this critique without the formative change that comes from negating its positing of itself. What it learns and how it changes is the subject of the following account of the history of Western philosophy.


(1.) TL 79; “On Truth and Lie in the Extramoral Sense” - page numbers referring to the Breazeale volume


Berry, J., 2011, Nietzsche and the ancient skeptical tradition, Oxford University Press, New York.

Brooks, R., 1991, 'Intelligence without representation', Artificial Intelligence, 47(1-3), pp. 139-59.

Tubbs, N. 2009, History of Western Philosophy. Palgrave Macmillan, Palgrave Connect. accessed 12 Mar 2013,

I study philosophy and social theory at the University of South Florida. I am also a photographer, map lover and sometimes poet.