Can anybody help me to describe "the layers of experience" in the context below. The author was talking about the similarity between the early human and the modern human. i'm very confused about the using of this.


Under the layers of experience that we call progress, we're still driven by the same instincts and desires that ruled us right at the beginning of the human story. Today we're armed with gadgets, computers, phones, and what do we do with them? The same shopping, gossiping, consuming and sometimes protesting that we've always done.

Source: History of the world by Andrew Marr - Episode 8.

  • 1
    The layer there means "an amount of something that is spread over an area". If we assume that the area is human history, one layer was created by a certain type of experience and spread over the area, and the second layer, third... with accumulated experience.
    – user140086
    Commented Jan 9, 2016 at 6:01
  • With all our accumulated experience that we call progress...
    – CDM
    Commented Jan 9, 2016 at 8:55

3 Answers 3


It's a pretty lousy choice of words. That said, what the author means is this:

All things being equal, it's experience that human beings are expected to learn from. Apart from technological progress, thousands of years of war, famine, slavery, inequality, iniquity, the Black Plague, and so forth, that we have overcome multiple times, were supposed to have taught us to be kind, chivalrous, courageous, steadfast, sympathetic, loving, wise, and so forth. As a group, humanity has been through a lot. And yet, there doesn't seem to be much wisdom going around these days: we aren't really different from our cave-dwelling ancestors.

Case in point:

It took us (as a group) thousands of years to realize that slavery should not be tolerated. Being a slave is a misfortune; being a slave owner is ignominy. It's vile. It's shameful. Ew.

And yet our science fiction stories keep mentioning robots. Not just any robots, but ones that resemble humans.

There's no practical application for those. We've got plenty of robots working for us as it is, each perfectly suited to its function: phones, TVs, tractors, trains, assembly lines: all those are robots. Making them look human would only reduce their efficiency while increasing their energy consumption by orders of magnitude. And yet we insist (or at least science fiction writers do, and their readers welcome the idea) that we must have humanoid robots. The only explanation for this obsession one can think of is we want to be served on by beings that look, sound, and behave like ourselves. Subconsciously, we still want indentured servants - in spite of everything we know about the matter (i.e. in spite of our experience).

And, yes, we use our phones mostly to gossip, and our technology to buy shit we don't need, and upon close scrutiny the cry of "Pizza and YouTube!" is all but identical to "Bread and circuses!"

  • Thank you, it helps me a lot to understand this documentary. Commented Jan 9, 2016 at 10:18
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    @TheNobody: The quality of the documentary seems to be very much in keeping with the "PIzza and YouTube!" mindset. There are better ways to learn history.
    – Ricky
    Commented Jan 9, 2016 at 10:23
  • So would you recommend me a better way Sir, i like history a lot, my email is [email protected], i've spent a great amount of time learning History of the World from this documentary. If you can make contact, it will be my hornor. I'm a student. Commented Jan 9, 2016 at 10:27
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    @TheNobody "The Story of Civilization" is a pretty good start. Don't be intimidated by the size: it's very well written, there's almost no fluff in it, and you can always use it as a guide later: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Story_of_Civilization. It is available on Amazon. Oh, and some novels are actually a great source. The Musketeer series (five books) is fascinating.
    – Ricky
    Commented Jan 9, 2016 at 10:35

For me, "under the layers of experience" evoked "under layers of clothing," before even reading the context -- fashionable layers that superficially veil our primitiveness.

  • Your answer is very helpful, evoking the idea which is similar to the idea of the author and my thought about the whole documentary series. Hope to get more of your comment. Commented Jan 9, 2016 at 13:20

All conversation and literature is layered. Many, perhaps most, conversants are unaware of the layers or subtexts beneath their talk, but ideas and especially the words chosen by an author or a conversant are highly indicative of the subtexts or layers. Specialists in rhetorical criticism are taught to pick up on these hidden and unknown strategies.

For example, the mini-narratives chosen by a person in a conversation typically reveal a lot about their orientation—do they "trust" reality or are they basically distrusting. As a general rule, if you pay attention to a person's talk in four or five different contexts, they reveal their attitudes to trust. Individualist use different words than peoples heavily oriented toward community. Trust is inevitably one of the layers in extensive business conversations.

Great literature is always layered. For example, Charles Dickens' stories are about the plight of the working class poor. He never speaks directly or makes specific recommendations for the socio-economic situations, but uses stories to picture these evils. The movie about the cracking of the Enigma code during World War II ("The Imitation Game") details in background the plight and punishment of Allan Turing, a homosexual (sodomy was punishable by imprisonment), and the central character in the movie, historically responsible for developing the computer and cracking the code. He finally gets around to saying he's gay in the movie, but the conversations and behaviors before that statement are heavily indicative.

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