The Parting of the Ways
A few years back a cartoon strip called Bizarro, drawn by one of my favorite artists, Dan Piraro, touched on Homo sapien's evolution. It featured a two-panel strip in which the one on the left depicted a lone chimpanzee sitting propped up against a tree. He had his legs crossed and had one arm behind his head as a pillow. The other hand is holding a peeled banana that he is about to drop into his eagerly opened mouth. The chimp's eyes were large and happy, while his mouth shown a thankful grin ready to receive this gift. The sun is out and one can easily imagine it is summer and that cool breezes are softly brushing the leaves of the tree where he rests. In the cartoon's right panel is a modern human male in a dark room, bent over a desk with papers strewn in disarray. The light from a desk lamp shows the sweat pouring down his face, which holds an obviously pained and exacerbated expression. He is entering numbers into an adding machine as the paper flies out the back of the device. In plain view on the desk is a folder with the words "1040 Tax Form" on the cover. Below and centered beneath the two panels was the punch line: "Whose The More Highly Evolved Of The Two Species?"
This humorous depiction of human evolution is really not a joke to some scholars and has touched off a few heated exchanges between some of my evolutionary-minded friends. Are humans really the most highly evolved species on the planet? Is humankind more highly evolved if we can destroy all the species on our planet in less than 30 minutes with weapons of mass destruction? Does any other species on Earth foul the air, pollute the water, and deplete the soil in the quest for profits that benefit only select fellow members of their kind? I don't want to give you the wrong impression; Homo sapiens have done innumerable good deeds in its long journey, but these arguments are for debate at another time and place. No, my aim at this point is not to argue the final stages of our evolution and humankind's conscious formation of morality, but to attempt to answer why our human ancestors left paradise in the first place and split from our primate cousins.
Why would you leave paradise? There can be only one answer: because there was no other choice. We do know from geological studies that a polar glaciation occurred around 2.5 million years ago; this decreased average temperatures by 10 degrees Fahrenheit or more, kicking off punctuated events in the whole ecosystem. The Fossil Trail, p. 197, 1995. When all that water created large hunks of ice in one part of the globe, something had to give in other parts of the globe. In this particular case, there was less rain available to fuel the great rainforests of Africa. As a result, forest antelopes declined rapidly, to be replaced by an antelope species that dwells on open savannas. To further lock in the timeline at around 2.5 million years ago, skull fragments near Kenya's Lake Baringo gave us the first configurations of the genus Homo. A View to a Death in the Morning, 1993.
But, as for the climate shift that occurred, it's really no great mystery because our planet is still relatively young, vibrate, and thus, unstable place in the universal timeline. In geological time, our planet is a feisty, young puppy. The constant venting of the heated core with its expansions and cooling contractions lead to geological shifting, rubbing and grating of the top part of the Earth's uppermost shell. This of course affects the total environment, which in turn affect the weather at various local environments. It also, rarely, produces a super shift of geological proportions. Since the shape of the geology that composes the continents includes the plains, the deserts, the vegetation, and the mountains, any shift in the geology produces a shift in the climates.
Our ancestors, who once sat under the fruit trees in the fertile rain forests, happily reflecting on the wonderful bounty around them, soon found that their paradise was becoming less habitable. The incessant rains that created the vast rain forests became occasional reminders of what once were, and most of the lush environment turned into semi-arid savanna. It did not occur overnight, but the change did not take hundreds of thousands of years either. The most important part of this scenario is that large territories that once held a infinite amount of resources shrank, leaving our primal ancestral parents no choice but to face increasing competition amongst themselves over remaining resources within those territories. Creationists, in their attempt to forestall the inevitable, also ask the question: If man evolved from the apes, why are there still monkeys in the jungle? Don't touch that dial, the answer you seek is straightaway.
A Long and Winding Road
While one can hazard only an educated guess as to why our ancestors emigrated north, it does seem to have fallen into two camps:
1. That individual ancestors, or more likely, small family clans, decided to break off from larger groups to search for other food sources, which they followed north while others, less capable or adventurous, remained behind. This body of debate also suggests that males, because of their physical size and aggressiveness, were appointed as leaders to guide and protect the weary on their path north. One speculation by Anthony Stevens and John Price, Evolutionary Psychiatry: a new beginning, 1996 agree that there was increased competition for limited resources, but they believe that it was a part of normal population growth. As populations grew in size for the same area, they reached critical mass for shrinking resources. This prompted the splitting of large groups into smaller, competing groups with their own hierarchies. (a sort of, "this town ain't big enough for the both of us" mentality). Stevens and Price argue that this point is critical, because leadership becomes crucial for survival. They feel that the leader of the new group needed to have "charisma" that was traditionally granted by divine will and through direct communion with the gods. It is their speculation that this exalted role lead to the schizoid genotype found within the general population today. Their premise rests upon a specific behavior known in our societies today that acknowledges that such paranoid schizoid personalities do exist, and that they must have evolved from our primal history. If these personalities are accompanied with an ability to network and form alliances with others, the behavior could easily become a leadership role. (hey, I'm not making this up -- look it up).
2. That individuals or small clans were cast out by alliances of physically stronger individuals, and that those who were cast out headed north, following a trail of protein food sources. There can be no argument that increased competition took place for a shrinking resource base, but there can only be studied analysis of the actual struggle and its outcome. We study the behavior of today's primates and their hierarchical positioning maneuvers and work our way backwards to our ancestors. Consensus says that our ancestors formed hunter-gatherer groups in their evolutionary trek, but once again, only structured analysis can suggest how these individuals formed social groups in the first place and what the behaviors within those groups were.
I feel that I should attempt to establish my belief our ancestors, had an innate ability to assess visible resources within a specific territory and could correctly relate those resources to survival. I believe that this ability to understand resource counts and limitations within a limited geographic area was so basic and tied to survival, that as it existed then for our ancient ancestors, it is still in place in the brains of all animals who live in complex social settings; that of course, includes Homo sapiens. It is alive and well with modern humans in the form of social status and the toys we consume in a particular territory to impress others of our "importance."
I also believe that complex social and cultural interactions have created a brain that interacts with cultural influence at its local environment, perhaps in stages of two year adjustments, until the organism is capable of self-survival. These adaptations to local conditions are "cemented" in, and therefore are difficult to change.(nurture vs. nature) Think child development and "the terrible twos," only stretch this throughout a persons lifetime. I have called this behavior, which is tied with the inter-action of genes and culture at specific locations on the planet as Cultural Longitude and Latitude Behavior, or CLL for short. There has been work done to buttress this theory. Robert Thatcher, a neuroscientist at the University of South Florida College of Medicine in Tampa, has made numerous readings of the EEGs of adolescents and adults and confirms that some reorganization occurs about every two year. His theory believes that these changes take place in response to waves of nerve growth that sweep across the cerebral hemisphere. Could this sweep of growth be similar to static electricity where energy is built up and released? Only instead of released energy, could the nerve growth be stored memories and algorithmic instructions being set in place? Discover magazine, 1997.
This "cementing" of behavior every two years could explain the variants in "intelligence" found by some scientists who wish to make an issue of race, class, and intelligence. I hazard to guess that everyone starts with the same brain, but that variants in local cultures "cement" the best adaptation to the local environment. The best way to explain it is that once a behavior or instruction is learned, the brain "remembers" the continuing activity and adapts so well, that it becomes "automatic." That is why you can drive to work every morning and sometimes realize with a flash of self-retrospection that you don't remember the details of the morning commute. Very recent work by Dr. Richard Nisbett and his colleagues at the University of Michigan has further evidence that culture has a larger influence on the brain’s cognitive processes, revealing that the brain is more malleable. In studies done comparing European Americans to East Asians Dr. Nisbett found that people who grew up in different locations think differently. In the studies found that Easterners seem to think more "holistically," showing greater tolerance for contradiction and more attention to context and relationship. Westerners appear to be more "analytical" and depend on formal logic to reach conclusions. New York Times, Aug. 8th 2000.
For an example of how important culture is in our thought process, let's conjure up an image of a so-called genius from Yale, who carries within him or her qualities that are valued by the dominate culture values as constituting "intelligence." Now, let's kidnap that Yale genius and place him or her in a new location on the planet without any authority or contact with the outside world. Let's say that our genius has been assigned to work in a garage repairing automobile engines in Beijing. Assuming that he or she does not speak the language, and has no influence on his hierarchical position, we suddenly find the genius is a klutz and most likely the object of ridicule by his fellow workers, who dominate that culture at that specific location on the planet.
This is the variance in cultural knowledge at different locations even though we humans all carry the core of genetic evolutionary modules. Some of these modules can be explained as higher-functioning, informational gathering modules. In the module I’m trying to describe, I believe that such a higher, gathering brain module was in place then as it is today in modern primates and, of course, in Homo sapiens. Combining perhaps three to six smaller modular areas in the brain that measured various resources, the brain then combines the various modules into this higher, complex module to determine movement and intensity of effort to obtain those resources. These modules should not be confused with Harvard's Howard Gardner's "multiple intelligences," which could be considered even higher modules of information gathering and processing.
The processes that I am arguing for are a combination of Professor Gardner's logical-mathematical, and intra- and interpersonal intelligences at a lower level; combining resource calculations and their relationship between oneself and other's in one's "clan or tribe." Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, 1983.
I suspect included in these smaller brain modules are areas that take in and analyze the physical structures of the weather, trees, vegetation, soil, and roots; everything that may be related to the problem-solving task ahead. Other modules may include abilities to measure the complex facial and body movements of other kin and non-kin attempting to obtain the same resources within the same area. In evolutionary psychology, one must remember, that a brain module is not necessarily located in a specific, defined area in the brain; brain functionality is spread out over the entire brain. The brain developed, not by plan, but by adaptation to the needs of the local environment. But, in hindsight, one must wonder at the complexity of nature; while adapting to the moment by creating new layers atop of old areas in the brain for the new adaptations. I speculate that it also was storing away for possible recall, every emotion, muscular response, or body function of the old adaptations no longer needed. It is just like that junk drawer that you have somewhere in the house. You know, the place where you store items that once had a fleeting moment of functionality but are no longer necessary? Once you are done with these items, you put them in this drawer, safe in the knowledge that they are there if you need them again. There are scientists who believe that these stored memories and functions of our evolutionary past may be stored in "junk" DNA, which actually outnumber "active" DNA in large numbers.
We have seen brain scans of the brain in motion as it thinks; try to imagine rolling lightning as seen in a far-away cloud on a summer's night. You can see how the lightning illuminates one part of the cloud and then rolls to other parts as it discharges its electrical connections. I feel certain that as the science of brain-mapping improves, we will be able to confirm the locations of various modules and the routes they take in completing an algorithmic loop. By the use of structured study of the human animal's outward movements, we know that most behavioral behaviors are centered in the brain, but it is up to science to locate them and give us the road map.
Combine All Ingredients in a Large Mixing Bowl
For the sake of categorization, and lack of a better term, I call this modular mechanism for gathering the lower-level brain modules needed for the ordering of basic resource needs together, "The Resource Calculation Bias." Simply put, it helped our primate ancestors then and Homo sapiens today to calculate the objects that we need, and how and what algorithmic steps are necessary in obtaining those things. The Resource Calculation Bias works something like this: Let's see, our primal ancestors most likely knew that there were so many fruit trees per 100 trees or square mile; then they needed to know how much fruit it would take to feed themselves, their mate, and the children that are nurturing to self-sufficiency. These calculations, of course, were based on the everyday learning experiences that our ancestors accrued throughout their lifetime and passed from generation to generation. In our modern-day world, as then, this calculation also includes information from friends and relatives, as well as from alliances we have managed to foster.
Continuing our speculations, our ancestors would also have to take into consideration the weather, the shape of the tree they would have to climb, and the banana-gathering abilities of other members of their clan And although not likely, once they obtained the resources some internal musing might have been called for. "Do I only provide for myself and immediate family?" "Do I share those resources with others who are not my immediate kin?" Since modern chimpanzees are known to be self-aware, we can say with some authority that our ancestors most likely had the same mechanisms. If self-awareness is in place, then it is possible for empathy to be included in the possible emotions of our ancestors. Ridiculous, you say, that a primate could have self-awareness and other intelligent mechanisms? As early as 1917, Wofgang Kohler established that chimpanzees are capable of solving new problems through the realization of cause and effect. In 1970, Gordon Gallup proved that chimpanzees have self-awareness by placing a red dot on their foreheads and observed them looking into a mirror. The chimpanzees were aware that the dot belonged to them. Jane Goodall has noted that chimpanzees use self-made tools such as sticks and stones and has seen them hunt, kill, and eat small animals. But one of the greatest examples of chimpanzee cognitive ability is the work of husband and wife team of R. Allen and Beatrice Gardner who taught various chimpanzees hand gestures which the chimps used to communicate similar to sign language. Chimpanzee Politics, 1989, p. 18).
So, this limited self-awareness is possible with our ancestors and, in our theory, can be used in conjunction with The Resource Calculation Bias in forming conclusions on what step-by-step algorithms are needed, both for our ancient ancestors and for modern humans, to complete a given task. Still sound a little far-fetched? Frans de Waal wrote that, "If we look straight and deep into a chimpanzee's eyes, an intelligent, self-assured personality looks back at us." Ibid., p. 18. Let's ask ourselves the question: What did our ancestors do then, and what do the primates of today do all day? Watch day-time television soap operas? Surf the internet? Hop into the car and go to the grocery store? Nuke some food in the microwave? Discuss which commercial was the best during the Super Bowl? No, primates today, and most likely our ancestors then, watched each other and the relationships among others in their group incessantly; what those relationships did or did not do was and is of overwhelming importance. Watching friends, relatives, an occasional stranger that drifted into the area, and of course, always for predators, pretty much sums up our ancestral social environment. That's it, nothing else. Observe those things in that small space long enough and you become an expert on watching the movements of others and everything in that place that affects your environment.
Fight, Flee, or Copulate
As for the first argument, that individuals or small clans within larger groups had made a conscious decision to break from larger groups and form groups for their own benefit is to give credit too soon to the abilities of the future Homo sapiens. It is true that modern Homo sapiens believe that they are the ultimate evolutionary creation in the universe; some actually believe that we are alone in the universe, but whatever the truth of the matter, our primal ancestors most likely did not have enough upper brainpower to make fuzzy conceptions that influenced future possibilities. You have to remember that when the rain forests of our ancestors still flourished, they most likely lived in small groups that occupied an area no larger than several square miles.
To understand how we arrive at this conclusion, we must briefly review brain structure. The modern human brain (called the "triune brain") consists of three layers in which each layer represents a major leap forward in the brain's abilities and performance. First visualized by brain researcher Dr. Paul MacLean in the 1940s, he named these three layers, the Reptilian, the Paleomammalian, and the Neomammalian. The first, and core layer is the "reptilian" brain, which is considered to be an extension of the brain stem. To me it would have made more sense to call it the primal or core brain, but the classification that Dr. MacLean gave us seems to have stuck in the cultural gearbox. This first layer contains the instructions for self-preservation and gene transmission -- FFC -- Fight, Flee, and Copulation. I could have used the three F's to make you pay attention during this boring part, but I wanted to keep my PG-13 rating.
The second layer, the which MacLean called the Paleomammalian, is now designated as the "limbic system." Now, why this no longer called the Paleomammalian is anyone's guess, but I have to assume that medical school instructors got tired of correcting misspelled words for the old designated area. The limbic system, which we share with all other mammals, has to do with emotions and ways to express those emotions. The limbic area combines "fright" with "flight" and allows us to physically move away from fear. The third layer, which MacLean called the Neomammalian is now called the neurocortex. This is your thinking cap, and is the center for complex problem solving and memorizing; it works in conjunction with the other two other layers. This layer helps us to speak our language, to judge moving objects and calculate their possible trajectories, to ponder the future and past, and to transmit culture. The neurocortex is also is the center of a complex blend of desires and wishes as well as the more complicated thought processes such as past and future trajectories of moving objects. The neurocortex most likely developed slowly with the increase in brain size as our primal ancestors began the complex behaviors of scavenging, hunting, gathering, sexual division of labors, grooming, socialization, mating, child-rearing, dominance, and submissiveness. As we begin to ponder the question of why our ancestors left paradise, it is well to keep in mind the mere size of the human brain at this stage in our evolution. Studies suggest that the core, primate or reptilian brain interacted with the Paleomammalian, or limbic brain and that our ancestors were just beginning to develop the upper, or "thinking cap" Neurocortex. We know this from the physical fossil records our ancestors left behind and by measuring the interior of the skull for neurocortex size. Here's a simple rule: The larger the brain in relation to body size, the more likely you are to find complex socializations within a group. Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolutions of Language, 1996, pp. 57 – 62. Just because the elephant has a large brain does not mean that the species is smarter. The elephant requires more neuronal connections to move and coordinate all that extra mass.
Make Love, Not War
In their attempts to join primate behavior to modern human behavior, scientists have narrowed the studies to two primates: The bonobo and the chimpanzee. There can be no doubts that these two primate species at some timeline in evolution were of the same species due to the similarities in physiology, (both species share over 98 per cent of their genes with their human cousins). But it seems apparent to me that the true emotional ancestors of Homo sapiens falls to the chimpanzee. The reason for rejecting the bonobos at this stage is that the bonobos appear to resolve their emotional and territorial conflicts with sex, whereas the chimpanzees resort to physical violence, or the apparent threat of dominating another group member with violence. Resolutions of conflicts can be obtained, but only if the subordinate chimp gives noticeable gestures of submissiveness to the dominate chimpanzee. The chimpanzee shares 98.6 of its genetic makeup with Homo sapiens and has five times the upper body strength as a human and long canine teeth in which to assist in any hand to hand conflict. These are very useful tools for winning any arguments of domination over any weaker opponents. Now, doesn't that behavior sound more familiar then having humans hopping into the sack to resolve differences and reduce tensions? Perhaps someday humankind will look back upon the bonobos with fond appreciation and reflection and perhaps adapt their behavior to ours. Make love and not war and ye shall multiple.
My Way Or the Highway
Having established the chimpanzee as our emotional ancestor adds credence to my final argument as to how we Homo sapiens parted ways with our primate cousins. If, as a species, our ancestors could not have the conceptual ability to understand the big, satellite picture that their world was crumbling around them and that if they did not plan in advance and change their ways to accommodate the change, they would perish. With their small brains they could not have had the ability to know that they had better head north in search of other sources of protein. They lacked the brain capacity to form groups by democratic, or other means to select leaders that were willing and capable to lead the weak into a new land of milk and honey. What brain capacity they did have, rested on the primal pillar of violence and the ability to take what they needed. Then, as today, the "losers," the loners, the misfits, the injured, the old, the very young, and the handicapped were most likely pushed away from the remaining rain forest and forced to scavenge for whatever food they could find. You want empirical evidence? Take an hard, honest look around your society today. Those that have resources, tend to keep those resources and push those who are weak or disenfranchised as far away as possible from their territories. The élites may disguise their shunning behaviors by blaming those at the lower end of the socioeconomic levels for their lack of determination to lift themselves up, but the other side of the coin is that the dominants fail to proudly announce their exclusionary selection processes through obvious or subtle discrimination behaviors.
So to answer the creationist’s question: "If man evolved from the apes, while are their still monkeys in the Jungle?" It’s simple: Because the monkeys were more successful at being monkeys then our ancestors were. Yes, our ancestors were losers.
Man in the Mist: The Evolutionary Musings of a Blue-Collar Worker©
Copyright, Evolution's Voyage, 1995- 2009