After two weeks of voting and some more fascinating discussion, we have a clear winner in our vote for the innovation that pushed us beyond the cavemen (grown from the original Greatest Innovation discussion). From among the very broad categories of transportation, power generation, agriculture, medicine, weaponry, and beer, communication was the runaway winner--taking 51% of the 219 total votes. Hasmon's comment sums up my thoughts on the importance of communication, "Heard Fritjof Capra on the radio saying this morning, that what enabled homo sapiens to conquer the planet was not superior weaponry but better networking."
Surprisingly, beer only received 8% of the votes. I'll admit that I expected beer to take the prize with little or no contest. I grossly underestimated our readers' passion for history! Agriculture came in second with 18% of the votes, followed by power generation at 13%. Travel/transportation and weapons tied after beer with 4% of votes, and medicine came in last, receiving a mere 1% of the votes.
Early on in the discussion, jackOfManyTrades pointed out that, though I called the category "Language/communication", language is in fact not an invention -- it is innate. Though David Ashton rode gallantly to my defense, I had to admit to bad wording on my part. I think most everyone cut me some slack and took the category to mean all forms of communication, which I listed as including innovations such as the use of symbolism, writing, and numerals.
Later on in the comments, there raged a pretty darned heated discussion about the relative health and quality of the life of cavemen vs modern man. That discussion started with peralta_mike's comment, "Who said we're more innovative than cavemen? Could you survive with no farm, no home, no car, no technology? The survival skills of the cavemen was astounding! To be able to survive and thrive in such a primitive environment." Silicon_Smith came in strong on the side of cavemen: "All the inventions have done is to make us more comfortable, lethargic and less intelligent and resourceful. And, I bet the cavemen lived a healthier life." But Paul.Pacini, wanting none of that, came back with, "Thinking ancient humans, or even current tribes-people, somehow live/lived this “natural,” balanced life with nature and were healthier, lived longer, were “free of toxins,” or didn’t have any impact on the environment is just political, pseudo-science nonsense. Humans in modern societies live longer and are far healthier than ever in history." Silicon_Smith retorted he would, "...trade 20 years of my lifespan any day if I could live a better life for 50 or 60 years. Protracting one's lifespan is not an indicator of quality of health."
I think this is a discussion worthy of our continued consideration: What constitutes quality of life? Do we measure it by years lived or overall health? And how do both play into our overall happiness? Many literary/radio/tv commentaries on quality of life jump to my mind, including John Mortimer's Rumpole of the Bailey "Rumpole and the Quality of Life" and Douglas Adams' entire Hitchhiker's Guide series. And I must give a nod here to Brian Fuller's ongoing discussion on engineering quality -- because though one is about life and one is about an industry, I think the two discussions are, in some basic way, related.