On embracing failure and the cultivation of knowledge

  • Virendra Mistry LJMU


In Yuval Harari’s Sapiens – a book that offers a magisterial sweep of the history of humankind – the beginning of our enslavement by wheat (about 10,000 years ago) is posited as a pivotal moment in our civilisation.  In recognising the crop’s potential and value, our ancestors turned their backs on the frenzied existence of hunter gathering or the nomadic pastoral existence and, in effect, stayed put.  And, in this state of contemplation, things began to change.  The entanglement with wheat led to the formation of enclosures, the cultivation of fields and domestication of animals.  Eventually flatbreads produced by the early strains of grain gave way to the emergence of a ‘loaf-bread culture’ about 2,000 years ago in Europe (Marchant et al., 2008; Rubel, 2011).  Those early pioneers were gloriously curious, a trait that has followed human beings since the beginning of time.  The techniques for grinding, the conversion of grain to flour and, later, yeast discovery, baking methods, cooling, proving, dividing, kneading and other mixing techniques, led to the celebrated sliced white we have today.  All this required patience but, and I’d like to think, the trials and errors enabled our ancestors get to know a little more about themselves along the way. [Editorial continues]