If you were to take a person from 50,000 years ago and plop them down in the middle of 2016, how well will they adapt to modern life? Would it be possible for them to learn how to use our technology and understand scientific concepts like a round Earth orbiting the sun?
closed as too broad by James♦, Bellerophon, cobaltduck, kingledion, AndreiROM Dec 21 '16 at 19:04
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She would not struggle all that much.
Obviously, the person would not speak the local language. At the same time, it is quite likely that sign communication with modern people would be just as possible as it is between researchers and indigenous tribes nowadays. Since humans were already in command of basic language 50,000 years ago, learning the language (say, english) in its simplest version would take the person not much longer than it takes the typical adult (without any pre-existing knowledge of the language and not coming from a similar background).
While the person would, of course, not have any knowledge or understanding of modern technology, my initial guess is that she would adapt relatively fast. The key reason for this is that you do not have to understand how electricity works (in fact, most of us don't) in order to switch the light on. A basic understanding of causality is key here. A precedes B. A precedes B again. Maybe, A always precedes B. Trial and error.
Quite reasonable evidence here are a number of tribes in New Guinea who had not seen any western technology until 50 years ago and who (not as an individual, but as a society) managed to integrate very fast. Nowadays, the grand-children of these people are flying airplanes (no, not like you and me. I mean they are the ones responsible in the cockpit).
In adaption to modern technology, superstitious believes would actually be an advantage much more than a disadvantage. They are key to accepting technological novelties as they are without questioning every detail of the process. With this in mind, our person might do even better in adapting to modern technological life than any knowledgeable person from the 18th century.
This might prove difficult in the beginning. Getting used to the many unwritten rules that govern our society (Wear clothes in public) and are not obvious at all for an outsider, will take time.
Basic skills that led you participate in society like reading and writing, basic calculation, driving a car, would of course be difficult to acquire at first. But after an initial adaption phase of, say, five years they would not be much more difficult to learn for the person than for any same aged adult today.
There are people today, in Papua New Guinea and the Amazon basin, who live as people did 50000 years ago. They adapt. You might read up on them.
The time period is interesting, because this is thought to be when the Ancestors achieved "behavioural modernity". Prior to that time, the archeological record has few signs of things like art and culture among Homo Sapiens, yet after that time period there is an explosion of artifacts such as advanced tools, art, needles and so on. Even the Neanderthals don't exhibit any of these changes unless they have been exposed to the Ancestors, in which case they seem to have adopted many of the new techniques from their cousins.
Why this is so is unknown (and indeed there is a school of thought that there wasn't an explosion of behavioural modernity at all, we simply don't have any surviving artifacts to demonstrate this beyond the 50,000 yer horizon).
If the theories of behavioural modernity are correct, then there should be some sensitivity to timing. A Homo Sapiens specimen from 50,000 years ago but prior to the development of behavioural modernity will simply be unable to comprehend what is going on around themselves, and probably react like a frightened animal. Indeed this would be the correct interpretation, since anatomically modern humans prior to the explosion of behavioural modernity would actually be very smart animals, capable of learning and reacting to things through instinct, but without true cognition, language and perhaps other mental concepts like consciousness the way we understand it.
If OTOH you have gathered one of the Ancestors, who has the new mental wiring for behavioural modernity, they will be extremely frightened and confused (there are no neolithic concepts equivalent to "red tape", for example), but you will have effectively done the same sort of thing as taking an !kung tribesman from the Kalahari desert or a tribesman from the Amazon rainforest and brought them into the modern world. The primary problem isn't that they are not "smart" enough to understand what is going on, they will have been ripped from a neolithic hunter/gatherer existence and simply have no reference points to use when interpreting 21rst century civilization.
Unless you are extremely kind and willing to live and work with them 24/7, they will have an extremely difficult time understanding and interacting with 21rst century people and artifacts, and most likely use neolithic concepts that they are familiar with to guide their behaviour in this world (with predictably unfortunate results).
This guy was used to an agrarian society. There's still a lot of places that live that simply (lots of places in Africa and Asia, for instance).
The parts that would blow his mind would be electricity and the various devices that use it. Those things exist, to a lesser degree, even in agrarian areas. The problem becomes trying to explain things with the massive gap in knowledge.
How do you explain it to him? The answer is you don't. Take him to Times Square and he's probably have a total meltdown from the information overload. In a simpler setting he'd probably fear technology initially, but if you showed him how to use the technology, he doesn't have to understand how it works. I mean, lots of people have smart phones, but couldn't tell you how they work in any meaningful way. So show him a radio, turn it on, and dance with the music. Show him how a car is useful. Once he learns these things are not a threat, he'd most likely fit right in.
Most likely they would think they were dead and were in some kind of Heaven or Hell. Most likely they would be killed in some accident. If they did survive I think they would probably go insane. Nothing would be familiar, no one would speak the same language. Society itself would be completely different, if they didn't go insane they would probably live alone some place far away from civilization
I think the worst problems would be 1) language and no/few common points of reference to learn language. 2) noise pollution: outside of any extremely rural area, there is no quiet anywhere. 3) light pollution 4) inability to gather or hunt outside of extremely rural areas. 5) diseases, differing bacteria in food and water 6) wham, a smoke spewing monster just ran over him.
So, IF s/he had a modern helper who could act as a bridge and put them in the right place, adapting is what a primitive person would be good at in order to have survived their own time. IF adaption was given time and things like personal safety were not a concern because they were in a zoo or protected environment... I think they'd be fine. They would be no worse off than an infant, if they had that protection and the luxury of time to adapt.