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  • 02.28.17

National Geographic’s “Origins” Tackles Evolution With An Existential Twist

Modern-day philosopher Jason Silva teams with Melodysheep’s John Boswell to examine the seminal events in our evolution.

National Geographic’s “Origins” Tackles Evolution With An Existential Twist
National Geographic presents ORIGINS: The Journey of Humankind [Photos: courtesy of National Geographic]

After tackling how we think with Brain Games and who we are with Shots of Awe, host Jason Silva is asking how we got here, in National Geographic Channel’s Origins: The Journey of Humankind.

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The eight-part series arriving March 6 fuses documentary, scripted storytelling, and cross-discipline expert analysis with psychedelic symphonic videos from Melodysheep and Silva’s freestyle philosophy to trace the pivotal moments in human history that fueled our evolution and enabled modern civilization.

Origins is a reinvention of how we tell the story of humanity,” says Silva, who also serves as consulting producer. “We’re going to look at all the ‘next big things’ that occurred through our history that transformed us. A lot of people interested in the future are excited about the technological singularity, the next big thing that’ll help us transcend our biology. But they don’t realize we’ve had many singularities in the past.”

Jason Silva

The show developed over 18 months. Musician/videographer John Boswell, a.k.a. Melodysheep, came up with the idea with Asylum Entertainment, the producer of NatGeo’s Breakthough, before tapping Silva—with whom he had collaborated on the video, What Is A God?—as host.

“It was the perfect storm—two guys who came up on the internet as kinetic visual storytellers joining forces with the backing of National Geographic,” says Silva. “John came up with the idea of retelling the story of humankind through his sensibilities and brought me on as a guide. It’s a stunning psychedelic retelling of history—historical vignettes stitched together by my riffing about these ideas on what makes us human and how to transcend our humanity. The symphonies, the visual operas bookend and appear in the middle of the show.

Origins is a historical and philosophical examination of humankind’s journey from primitive existence to today, with a glimpse into what’s next through modernizing advances within the categories of Fire, Medicine, Money, War, Communication, Shelter, Exploration, and Transportation, each tackled by a different episode.

The first, Fire, considers the critical points in history when fire allowed us to create, annihilate, expand and dominate—from the first man-made spark in 12,000 B.C. to the first projected missile by the Jin Dynasty in 1232 A.D., to the Great Fire of London in 1666 that enabled a more modern city to arise from the ashes, to the first rocket.

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Medicine follows our journey from looking to gods and magical thinking for cures to microscopes unveiling the world of bacteria to the future of DNA and genetic engineering. Transportation looks at the connective and sensory impact on a species that “spent 98 percent of its history moving five mph on foot before moving exponentially faster from wheels to cars to airplanes to rockets,” says Silva.

“The speed of progress is something people are going to have heir minds blown on this show,” he adds. “Money addresses its value as a human construct that requires a consensus mind. Some people criticize the consensus as something keeping us thinking the same way instead of individually, but that consensus is required for collaboration and cooperation. Human imagination, and the ability to create virtual realities and agree on those virtual constructs, allow us to work on goals that don’t exist yet.”

Ultimately, Silva hopes the show will encourage viewers to consider progress in a new way. “I’m a big Carl Sagan junkie. He was able to talk about astronomy with a philosopher’s sensibility, that sense of awe and wonder,” says Silva. “I want to infuse the facts and ideas in our show with a philosophical sensibility—why this is amazing, why this matters, why you should care. I really want this show to be a profoundly meditative existential psychedelic version of the story of us, that we contain wonders and are capable of greatness.”

About the author

Susan Karlin is an award-winning journalist in Los Angeles, covering the nexus of science, technology, and arts, with a fondness for sci-fi and comics. She's a regular contributor to Fast Company, NPR, and IEEE Spectrum, and has written for Newsweek, Forbes, Wired, Scientific American, Discover, NY and London Times, and BBC Radio.

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