Job One: Survive

We may never know precisely how the transformation from ape to human took place, because we need more than just physical fossil evidence to prove behavioral theories. But we can come fairly close by surveying humans and observing primates in their natural surroundings. To reconstruct possible scenarios of early survival, evolutionary psychologists begin with the known basics of behavior today and then attempt to reconstruct all possibilities of events in our primal ancestry. The behavior displayed by modern chimpanzee, include such abstract behavioral mechanisms as mating strategies, hunting and gathering techniques, hierarchical positioning, alliances, expulsions, deceptions, and deception detections. We know from work done by field primatologists that the chimpanzee have complex social interactions, and other studies have shown that one bonobo can transfer cognitive reasoning to a symbol board representing objects or phases and thus create a crude communicative language. Kanzi, The Ape at the Brink of the Human Mind, 1996. These non-tangible behaviors are not left behind in the mud and volcanic rock that researchers endlessly dig up; but just as important, they still had an impact on who survived in local environments, and in turn, their individual evolutionary journey.

Regardless whether you accept my suggestion that our ancestors were on the losing end of an evolutionary exclusionary battle, or were just cut off from a primary group of others in their gene pool by cataclysmic geological events, we are still left with the largest overall question: How did our ancestors survive after being cast out from the rain forest onto the savanna? In 1925, Australian anatomist Raymond Dart "discovered" the first physical evidence of these savanna primates. He recognized that a small ape skull sitting on the desk of a local professor by the name of R.B.Young was not that of a baboon because the brain seemed humanlike and very large for a ape and began an extensive study of the skull. He published his findings in the British science journal Nature on February 7, 1925. Dart called his species Australopithecus africanus (the African southern ape). Dart theorized that the species was a human ancestor and an upright biped. A View to a Death in the Morning: Hunting & Nature Through History, 1993.

To reconstruct and understand the predicament faced by our primal ancestors is not all that difficult. Basics concerning all human survival have not changed that much in millions of years. To survive, our ancient ancestors, had to go through the daily grind of acquiring and consuming food and liquids. After this first priority came finding shelter sufficient to protect against the elements, both predatory and climatic. After the ritual of survival has been established and maintained over several weeks or even months, then perhaps our ancestors would begin the search for a mate (if they were in the proper age range), with whom to pass their genes. Immortality is not yet a choice for humankind, and all the above tasks are as much a part of the lives of modern Homo sapiens as they were for our primate ancestors. For the sake of brevity, however, I will concentrate only on food acquisition in this next section to help answer the question of Job One.

Hold That Pose

When one goes to any good natural history museum, one usually can see art work or physical reconstructions (diaramas) of early humans and their surrounding habitats. One of the possible scenarios depicted that I remember vividly was a scene where a hairy male humanoid is making the first cut on a fallen antelope or gazelle with a crude stone. His equally hirsute female mate is alongside, waving her arms in an excited manner while attempting to chase away a lone vulture that was perched in a low tree branch near-by. In the near background lay the dry, caked, harsh, and flat savanna; in the far distant mountain range, one could see the obligatory volcano erupting. Well, that scene is remotely possible, but in every nature film of the past forty or so years that was dedicated to African predators and their prey, I have never seen a human chase down an antelope or a gazelle and then kill it with his bare hands or a small stone as the diarama in this particular natural history museum would lead us to believe. It is doubtful that our ancestral humanoids were capable of capturing a gazelle or antelope on the fly unless the beast was severely injured. Conventional wisdom amongst anthropologists suggests rather that our human ancestors more typically would see vultures circling high above a predatory lion, tiger, or hyena gorging itself with captured prey and hurry, salivating, to the scene. After the four-legged predators had its fill, the vultures would descend and pick at the remaining carcasses. Only then would our ancestors would attempt to claim their share by shooing away any remaining vultures.

But even the above scene is speculation. We can only dwell on the possibility that our primate ancestors had the mental capacity to connect circling buzzards in the distance to a new food source, and hence, survival; but hunger makes you do things that you may be hesitant of trying otherwise. Another possibility is that some of our primate ancestors just lucked into a front row seat to the death struggle between predator and prey, saw the arriving vultures picking at the remains, and made the cognitive connection. Nor is it likely they could they chase away large predators gorging on prey while they numbered just a few and lacked weapons and the skill needed to use them. So, logic rules that events occurred where early humans were equal to the lowly scavenger vulture and not the museum's depiction of a hearty feast for two. Our early ancestors had to survive in the only way they knew outside their familiar and lavishly supplied rain forest. They had to find food in unguarded nests where eggs lay; wade through shallow streams to capture small fish in their hands; and learn to crack open bones of already chewed prey. Early Homo sapiens were primates and scavengers that survived some of nature's harshest environment --and because of these difficult environments, your ancestors evolved into the unique species that you are a part of. You carry with you the same primitive core knowledge of survival techniques, the same marrow-sucking determination, that your ancestors had thousands of years ago and which has allowed you to be you and Homo sapiens to be the dominate species on the planet.

But hyenas and vultures are also living creatures that have to eat, and they most likely did not take too kindly to this new upstart species cutting in on their food source. Since hyenas and vultures usually travel in packs of two or more, they could have kept our lone female back at the museum desperately waving her arms or throwing rocks while her mate hurriedly sliced off whatever remained of the carcass after a large predator had its fill. One person's efforts many not have been enough, and the vultures and hyenas may have attacked or harassed the new species when numbers were in their favor. I hazard to guess that it is at this point where the coming together and bonding into what we call hunter-gatherer groups may have begun.

Don't Bogart That Bone

Accepting the premise that a small group expelled from paradise scavenged carcasses as the most visible and accessible food source, this leads us to the probability that other small groups could have come across others attempting to claim the same prize. But, since cooperative living was already part of their biological make-up in the rain forest, it is possible that after a few bouts with competing groups over fallen carcasses, the idea of combining efforts proved far more advantageous than perhaps losing a life over leftovers. As I have written before, hunger makes humans do desperate things; we can speculate that pre-humans could have overcome competing conflicts and prejudices to reach a common goal. After all, the one quality that this new species had to its advantage is that it did not depend on brute strength; our ancestors survived by their expanding cognitive abilities -- which stressed cooperation. On the other hand, there might not have been cooperation at all. Rival groups could have fought for scavengers' rights and the winners got to eat while the losers went hungry and died off.

I speculate that there was conflict, but that it quickly tapered off as this new species relied more on its increasing cognitive abilities and less on physical strength to obtain goals. In today's society, the geeks, the meeks, the weaks, the eggheads, and the handicapped are isolated in high schools and preyed upon as fun and sport. All these non-aggressive, physically soft individuals, as well as those suffering from low self-esteem, usually become isolated and turn inward toward retrospective thought, problem solving, or mental delusions when taunted or shunned. Sometimes this inward reflections develops into depression as anger is directed inward and combines with low self-esteem. The other side of the coin is that these geeks and meeks are society's saviors. These individuals, if they have good self-esteem because of support from family, friends, academic institutions, and religious outlets, use that energy in positive directions. It is these well-adjusted, far-sighted, intuitive, and ingenious souls that have advanced in the academic, scientific, technological and engineering disciplines and have lead our species out of the dark forests.

There is no doubt that these physically meek and non-aggressive people rule today in ever increasing numbers in the emerging computerized global marketplace. Jocks, brute strength, and large physiques still rule in their own world of high schools and professional sports, but will fade in the future. The tall and imposing male still has the advantage in our society today. The word for "leader" in most foraging societies is "big man," and usually the leaders of those clans are large men. In the United States, taller men are hired more, are promoted more, earn more ($600 per inch in annual salary), and are elected president more: the taller candidate won twenty of the twenty-four elections between 1904 and 1996. How the Mind Works, 1997. This inherent advantage still has a large influence on our society in terms of male domination, which will be discussed in later chapters.

But getting back to our primal scenario of meat scavenging in the new environment, I hazard to guess that some early human scavengers may have come upon others in the process of removing remnants of meat from the bones of a fallen prey, but were having problems keeping the buzzards away. This new group may have helped in the expulsion efforts of keeping the vultures away while the individual doing the scrapping would have a free hand. After all remaining food was removed, it is possible that the newcomers were rewarded with "their share" of the scavenge. An off-shoot of this "sharing" mechanism is that the group receiving the assistance was willing to share some of the food scavenged in order to keep any conflict with the assisting group. But, the crutch of the speculation is that a sort of savanna tit-for-tat may have occurred. This cooperative mechanism, first suggested by Trivers in 1971, can be stated informally like this: "If I help you now, perhaps you will help me later." This cooperative effort may have formed the glue that bound diverse groups into one larger group based on the innate cognitive formation that "larger groups are better for survival then going it alone."

A final possible scenario of the survival methods of our ancestors is that, as the rainforest retreated and the savanna crept farther into their territory, groups simply remained where they originated. They perhaps managed to eke out a living near the edges of the rain forest and survived by combining new scavenger expertise in the encroaching arid land with their old skill in gathering nutrients from forest areas. As the savanna overtook their old forest, the mixed-skilled groups gradually adapted to the new environment. In those interiors where rainforest remained, the locals also continued the old ways of dominate hierarchical positionings.

But irregardless of how geographies shifted, and how or when the separation between human and ape evolved, I cannot emphasize enough my conclusion that "winners" got to remain behind, feasting on lush foliage, roots, ants, nuts, and fruit, while those incapable of competing were pushed aside. Those who remained, continued to gain in upper body strength for tree climbing, and evolved dog-like teeth to tear at flesh and foliage alike to allow consumption of greater varieties of food. The "winners" also evolved larger and more corrosive digestive systems to help break down the harsh nutrients they ingested; on the other hand, the savanna environment limited our primal ancestors' diet to meat protein, and thus, they lost the large "gut" found in the primates because of the mostly meat diet. The "losers" most likely were expelled because of their weak physical weakness and lower hierarchical rankings and were pushed to the outer circumference of the hierarchical center. In fact, this still happens today among apes, as primate studies show. That's the speculative bad news about our primal ancestors; the good news is that, again, this "loser" status pushed our "weak" group out from harm’s way -- yes, that's right -- the bad news and the good news are the same. There, on the outer circle, they were free of the constant physical conflict required in the inner circle. There, on the outer circle they were free to be able to observe and develop their newly found cognitive abilities and muse on the entire series of social events occurring within the inner core of their groups. I hazard to guess that the majority of the new cognitive skills went into attempting to "think of ways" of gaining in hierarchical position and the advantages that such positions held. As the dry savanna encroached and these "losers" found themselves having to face new adaptations, however, I hazard to guess that their new cognitive skills were turned toward helping them survive and adapt to the newer, harsher environment. Our ancestors had to survive on old skills retained and new skills acquired. To reverse the theory, it is highly doubtful that modern Homo sapiens, with all its mental advantages, would be able to adapt, survive, prosper, and reproduce in the same environment as his modern-day primate cousin. (With the exclusive exception of Tarzan or participants in a television episode of Survivor that have a complete production crew standing by, of course).

Humans and apes have evolved down divergent paths, each designed to adapt to their respective local environments, and never shall the two meet again. Why has the theory that modern humans were once losers in an evolutionary battle never been put forth before? One of the most likely reasons for this failure to see the obvious (I'm talking about up until the 1950s), is that males have dominated all the sciences. Does that seem preposterous? Aren't scientists supposed to be unbiased and seek only the truth? Of course, but peel away all outer layers of the modern male scientist, and within you will still find the primal male and his primal innate behaviors. This innate principal is in effect from drug lord to college president. After all, isn't the crutch belief of evolutionary psychology that there are universals to behavior? The modern male who refuses to stop for directions is legitimately seen as the butt of jokes for television talk shows, situation comedies, and feminist philosophers. But no one asks why he acts this way. It is because admitting to any weakness is the most universal all of basic male behavior. Evolved from a competitive environment, this refusal to acknowledge weakness gives strength to arguments that Homo sapiens behavior evolved from the chimpanzee. Admitting that we were once losers in one of the most important events in evolution may be too much to ask of the male warrior who is required to be vigilant, strong, and fearless at all times. This issue of masculine dominance and refusing to see weakness in their primal past brings us to back to the question as to why do creationists attempt to stop the teaching of evolution.

It is my belief that creationists do not want to reduce the inherited power that that they believe their male God gave them through laws in actuality written, interpreted, and enforced by other male law-givers. To admit that man was not created by God, and woman from his rib, and that he evolved from the material that makes stars, could lead down a slippery slope of lost authority. Lost authority leads to loss of resources that help in evolutionary gene transference. The refusal to countenance the belief that humans went from "goo to you through the zoo" has a biological logic, and in refusing to accept the truth and "lowering" themselves by acknowledging their connection to our biological origins, these powerful males can surround themselves with the holy mechanisms of the past that have cemented their patriarchal authority and the advantages that authority confers on their individual and group strength. Ultimately, it's about the resources.

I Have Sinned

I still remember the image of the TV biblical evangelist Jimmy Swaggart a few years back crying on the evening news, admitting his guilt in visiting a prostitute and begging forgiveness from his God for his transgression. His true guilt, of course, lay not in doing what his religion considers a sin, but in failing to recognize that God created the elements within us that in turn create the biological urges that swell up within all of those of mating age. These events lead us to the act of copulation for the purpose of creating another human -- you know -- live long and multiply? It is man's laws that have placed barriers as to with whom one can copulate with, not nature -- nor God's. I fail to understand a religious edict that upholds the sanctity of the unborn fetus, yet dictates that the physical creation of the fetus is inherently impure and outside the social sanction of a male-dominated circle of religious administrators. Biology and physics -- both elements of God's creation -- do not respond to these human laws. All living creatures on this planet respond to all events within their local environments with the negative or positive responses by the chemical reactions we call pain or pleasure. It is these two internal chemical reactions, in millions of varying degrees, that regulate our lives every single day.

Give Me That Old Time Religion

Do not misinterpret my words. Laws and edicts handed down by religious leaders are innately designed for survival purposes that are basically motivated by goodness. They have helped in protecting the inner circle of their clan's interests and hence, through kin selection and altruistic acts aimed at their own phenotypes, these actions have helped them to survival and prosper. "If the word is good enough for papa, then it's good enough for me -- give me that ol' time religion." That's the good news. The bad news is that these protective mechanisms have also created exclusions of other people and their cultures, and have pushed "outsiders" into isolated areas of poverty and hopelessness; it's the us vs. them in the reality of modern life. Out go the moral teachings of their religions concerning compassion and altruism as attention is giving only to their own flock. Religious edicts that were pronounced to force ethnic members not to marry or date outside one's caste or social position is about controlling who, where, how, and what resources, will go where. Once again, its ultimately about the resources, people. What about the universal belief that all people on this planet are God's creatures as well?

What is truly sad about some religions today is that in order to solve this dilemma, they have created exclusionary mechanisms that operate through the de-humanizing of some people and their cultures. Have not some religious orders decreed that only white people are messengers of God's word? Have not some religions attempted to "save" heathens and savages in the name of their Lord? Have not some religions blamed moral depravity of the lower classes on "poor breeding?" But is it really fair to blame organized religions for these discriminations? Or is the behavior displayed by religious groups merely biological in origin and reflective of the protective biological mechanisms of the individuals that make up the flock? Since our species has two genders, which gender of Homo spaiens do you think created this protective ideology? Is it all the male's doing? Or has the female also been a part of this behavior?

Let the Hunt Begin

To answer these questions, a more basic question must be answered: Why did our ancestors migrate north out of Africa? One can only speculate again, but to me the question is obvious. If a tree stays in one place and produces fruit on a recurring basis, then the species that depends on that fruit for survival will remain within the immediate area of the tree. If our ancestors were scavengers of fallen prey on the savanna and became dependent on that food source, then if the prey moved, they most likely moved with the food source. Herds of gazelle, antelopes, and wildebeests, then as now, migrate in patterns that follow their own food sources. These grassland foods change location in concert with the yearly patterns produced by the Earth's movement through the cosmos.

Beast follows food patterns of the grasslands, new species follows beast. I know that's a stretch, and the idea may not contain solid evidence of the transition from scavenging to large animal hunting along migration trails north out of Africa, but it does seem to fall in place when we see 35,000 year-old images of hunting scenes on the caves of France. Our ancestors had more than two million years to migrate and develop hunting skills. They did not evolve from scavenger to great hunter overnight merely by packing up their belongings and moving to southern France. There has to have been a transition.

Now, a new, but most important assumption must be accepted: As the new environment left only those capable of incorporating and elaborating this new-found scavenging and cognitive ability for savanna survival, early Homo sapiens' brains began to increase in size over thousands of generations. As the soft spongy-like material of the brain increased to make room for these new cognitive skills, while still retaining the old rain forest instructions, the female's pelvic bone structure did not keep pace. This to me is still one of the great mysteries that we may debate for many years. If the brains of our ancestors began to enlarge, why didn't the bone structure of the female widen to maximum to accommodate her baby's larger brain? Actually, female bone structure did grow wider in the hip region to accommodate the birth plumbing, but not to the extent needed to accommodate the larger and more complex brain of succeeding species that led to Homo sapiens. It has been suggested that bipedalism had the greatest influence on keeping the female's bone structures within limits. If the bone structure expanded to accommodate the modern brain of Homo sapiens, it would have prevented the female from being able to stand up and walk at all, let alone expand the birth canal large enough to give birth. We merely have to observe the recent rash of multiple births that have emerged from fertility drug treatments. The female carrying four to eight fetuses are required to remain in bed during the last trimester, some time even longer; not only in bed, but with their hips elevated to relieve pressure on the fetuses.

So in the evolution of the species, what happened led to this: The brain of a baby born in 1999 is wired for the basic survival skills needed in the old, primate environment in which it would once have been born, but the new and complex cultural world requires a more complex brain with cognitive, mechanical, mathematical, musical, communicative, and social skills to interpret these new outside influences. Throughout the eons, innate chemical instructions have been encoded in the DNA, which instructed the brain to unleash all the stored memories that are used to interpret the complex outside world of one's local environment today. What it means for the newborn child is that all this newly imbedded and coded information continues to unfold for up to several more years. Hence, the ability for the female to give birth to a smaller brained-child to travel through the birth canal has its advantage, but it burdens the female with additional years of childcare to insure that this magnificent new species will continue. It is truly a miracle of how it all comes together.

The latest information from the neurosciences tells us that the brain of a new born human adds information at a rapid pace up to the age of three. Although it grows at a slower pace after that age, the brain of the newborn continues to grow and store information about its surroundings in huge quantities. What this meant in evolutionary terms is that the pre-human female was forced to care for her young longer and longer periods of time as the brain of the new species grew in size OUTSIDE her body. In most modern human societies, today's female cares for her young for as little as 10 years, and up to 13 or 14 years of age before the child truly begins to seek independence. In the modern chimpanzee family, in contrast, weaning occurs somewhere at around the age of two. Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex Among Apes, 1982, 1989.

This brings us to an another important juncture in the evolution of Homo sapiens -- the evolution of sexual dimorphism, or the separation of the sexes based on their respective roles in a social setting. The requirement that the female nurture her young over a long period brings us to the problem of the female as gatherer of food only in close proximity to the home, and the male as hunter, looking for food over long distances that the female could not or would not traverse because of her nurturing requirements.

Man in the Mist: The Evolutionary Musings of a Blue-Collar Worker©

Copyright, Evolution's Voyage, 1995 - 2009