A philosophical trip into our past

AT the London Soho hotel, international media gathered for the premier screening of Origins: The Journey of Humankind.

What was exciting about this particular screening is that host Jason Silva, better known for his other series, Brain Games, was in attendance.

Accompanied by his dad, the Venezuelan TV personality, filmmaker and public speaker couldn’t contain his excitement about this series as it spoke to his direct sphere of interest as a film and philosophy graduate from the University of Miami.

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CONNECTING THE DOTS:  Jason Silva (inset) is the host of National Geographic Channel’s Origins: The Journey of Humankind.CONNECTING THE DOTS:  Jason Silva (inset) is the host of National Geographic Channel’s Origins: The Journey of Humankind.

Bearing an uncanny resemblance to Ashton Kutcher, the amiable host was also seeing the Money episode for the first time.

CONNECTING THE DOTS: Jason Silva (inset) is the host of National Geographic Channel’s Origins: The Journey of Humankind.

The other subjects explored include: Spark of Civilisation, Cheating Death, Communication, War, Fire, Shelter, Exploration and Transportation.

At the press conference afterwards, Silva asked: “Did you guys like it? It’s different, right?”

And he was correct on both accounts. It was definitely poles apart from traditional documentaries. It boasted a compelling template with commentary from authoritative figures on the subject as well as re-enacted vignettes to add poignancy to the storytelling.

Silva says: “You might have a history show that tells you, in this year money was invented. But you don’t have a show that talks about money as a mental revolution. This show really gets into the nitty gritty of this virtual construct - a symbolic reality. The show, I felt, went into a mind-expanding head-trip of things we take for granted.”

Given his background in philosophy and film, which is married beautifully in this series, he says: “I find science to be hugely important. Often, the average scientific journal goes over people’s heads.”

This show ensures that the scientific ideas and philosophies communicated through Silva engage with viewers while also piquing their curiosity.

When storyboarding the themes for this series, the production guys also looked at key people and their availability for the show.

Silva says: “People like Bill Bryson, who we saw in the Money episode, were among the charismatic experts that had written compelling books on some of these themes. So they could offer a unique voice and perspective and connect the dots for us. So they (the production team) went through the list and saw who was available. Yuval Noah Harai, who wrote Sapiens, was not available. But we got some great people.”

In the episode we all got to watch, there were a few things that jumped out, such as how money as a currency was embedded in slavery and, in recent case studies, gave people the same rush as drugs.

The media also got to see how the US currency was made.

When asked about it perhaps being risky, especially where counterfeiting is concerned, he admits: “Yeah, I couldn’t believe they had access to that. Wow, they are telling people how to do it in the room where they are printing the bills. But National Geographic has a knack for getting insane access to pretty much everything.”

Although he is so widely read he’s practically a walking Wikipedia, even he was surprised by a few things he discovered on the show.

He says: “In shelter, it’s about building spaces. What happens is what we build, builds us. We look at how our lives have been shaped by it. Then we have exploration, which is the broadest subject of them all. We look at the human drive to go beyond our limits and expand our boundaries - how humans evolved from Africa, expanded into other parts of the globe and space. In money, we see how slaves were once used as currency. I don’t like violence. I think nobody does. But the truth is so much innovation and creativity has come from violent conflict and that’s something we don’t think a lot about either. There have been key moments of bad things we have done that led to good things. We explore that in War.”

Silva continues: “In the Fire episode, Kevin Kelly from Wired magazine says that cooking is an external stomach. Every meal became more energy efficient and absorbable when cooked. This meant we stayed fuller for longer. Once we could do that, we could have culture, arts and crafts”

CONNECTING THE DOTS: Jason Silva (inset) is the host of National Geographic Channel’s Origins: The Journey of Humankind.

On the question of money being considered the root of all evil, he responds: “Everything is a double-edged sword. The sex drive propels us to reproduce. The sex drive also makes a rapist do what they do. Language is knowledge passed down. And it was also used as hate speech propaganda by Hitler. All technologies can cook or burn. Money can create institu­tions of learning, start companies that impact the world in a positive way. And money can also be used to empower the sex trade. Money is an amplifier.”

Origins: The Journey of Humankind is a fascinating on so many levels. You will discover so much more about mankind, technology, the past and the evolution of life.

* Origins: The Journey of Humankind airs on National Geographic Channel on Sundays at 9pm.

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