Before we begin our journey in attempting to understand the assumptions about evolutionary psychology, we need to go back even farther into history to frame your perspective of human evolution into what I call the SAGAN and GOULD FRAMES OF MIND. This is to make you understand the enormous amount of time that our planet has been in place in the cosmos; humankind's place in that timeframe, and the brain that evolved from that passage.
In his widely popular television series that began in 1980 entitled Cosmos, Carl Sagan framed the entire history of the 15 billion year history of the universe into a one-year, 12 month, "cosmic calendar" beginning at 0001 hours on the first day. What is important for us, is that in the last ten seconds of the last day, December 31, 2359 hours, man evolved from the primates and began his journey into civilization. In this "last ten seconds" have occurred all the human events in the bible, ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Greek civilizations; Western culture, including The Renaissance, The Reformation, and Napoleon; The American Revolution, The American Civil War, World World One, WWII, and all events up to the present.
In a lecture presentation celebrating the opening of the new dinosaur exhibit at the Denver Natural History Museum, (1998?), Stephen Jay Gould was invited to speak at a sell-out crowd in down-town Denver. In attempting to explain humankind's place in the timeline of evolution, Mr. Gould had this suggestion: Extend your right or left hand as far away from the body as you can -- that distance would represent the beginning of earth's birth (some 5 billion years); then with the tip of either index finger extended, return either index finger and place it on the tip of your nose (which would represent the present). Now, take a file and file off the fingernail of that index finger -- by filing off this fingertip, you have just eliminated humankind from its place in evolution.
What is important in both these analogies is that you understand that in this "short" span of time, the architecture of the human brain is firmly in place and that the thoughts, desires, emotions, and actions that we feel internally and exhibit outwardly are adaptations that helped us survive this vast journey of time. All that you experience and feel has been in place before we humans understood our conscious thoughts and actions.
But we humans are complex creatures; not only are we aware of ourselves on a conscious level, but we are aware of "others" in our environment. And, these "others" have the same ability. In this complex mix of genetic and social environment, humankind has built the vast and wonderful world that lies before you.
These two examples of the timeline and our human ability to ponder both ourselves and others in our environment, should now help you understand that:
psychology should be put on a biological and cultural basis.
The phrase that is currently (May 2001), popular to use among graduate students today is called, "The biocultural perspective."
THAT internal, personal, and interpersonal behavior is influenced by genetic codes,
but not imprisoned by them. Culture has the greatest influence. It is the dance between
nature and nurture with nurture as the dominant leading partner that creates evolutionary
THAT the species Homo sapiens evolved from our primate ancestors, most likely the Old World Primates. (Africa). For the latest confirmation on this, please read "Out Of Africa Again...and Again?" by Ian Tattersall, Scientific American, April, 1997.
(As for new evidence that has just become available, it may no longer possible to declare the "Out Of Africa" theory as the only logical way our ancestors came to originate. An interesting little piece in the January 29, 2001 issue of Business Week, Developments to Watch section, p. 113 titled: SECOND THOUGHTS ON MAN'S AFRICAN ORIGINS, by Ellen Licking, has a lot of people buzzing in the evolutionary community. (Isn't it interesting the things you find in a business magazine?). There has always been a hot debate concerning the origin of humanity's roots, and the new evidence should make it more exciting; the majority of anthropologists and types like myself support the "Out Of Africa" model. But recent discoveries in Java, Australia, and Israel have found physical evidence that it is possible our human ancestors may have also sprung up in other places.
Regardless of the place of origin, my theory that our human ancestors were on the losing end of an exclusionary culling process that I have proposed would still fit in all places. The act of being pushed out and away from resources of one location that supported survival in one area that was less inhabitable would still create the same "bone marrow sucking" determinism to survive that characterizes human will power that appears to be universal. These "losers" as one may call them, were heavy in the upper cranium skills necessary for adaptation by thinking and not by acting in a physical mechanism to get their way. They meet, and mated with other excluded exiles, thus helping to ensure the passage of the abilities. To read more of my theory, go to my book link at: Man In the Mist. Read the first three chapters).
THAT our ancestors formed social groups for protection, food gathering, and mating opportunities. Before plant and animal domestication, these groups were called hunter-gatherers.
THAT the forming of these social groups created the need for group communication that evolved into behavioral mechanisms to communicate danger, food resources, mating signals, status, hunting, and defensive maneuvers.
THAT long-term adaptation to environmental and cultural influences eventually became part of our genetic software. Language is a perfect example; all humans on the planet have the innate ability to learn a language. Listed below, in alphabetical order, are the behavioral traits that evolutionary psychologists, so far, have determined all humans on our planet share. Those with question marks are in the running to be considered as modules, but still raise question to their validity.
THAT the social organization of our human ancestors in hunter-gatherer groups remained relatively static during the Pleistocenne Epoch. Genes and culture had time to co-evolve in harmony.
THAT from 40,000 to 10,000 years ago, during the Upper Paleolithic Era, cultural changes began to outpace epigenetic development. (after E.O. Wilson).
THAT in the Neolithic Agricultural Era to present we see cultural advances soaring. It is most likely that we humans retained the genetic hardware of the Paleolithic Era that interacts with out modern day genetic software.
I know that this could be difficult to understand, but I personally believe that
internal, personal, and interpersonal behavior is influenced by genetic codes, but not
imprisoned by them. In our long evolutionary voyage, we have gone from total reflex action
in the environment (nature) to understanding the cues from our kin and close companions as
the basis for knowing the best course of action (nurture). In our modern world with vast
communication networks in place, culture has the greatest influence. It is the dance
between nature and nurture with nurture as the dominant leading partner that creates
evolutionary psychology. (With the publication of the new book, The Nurture
Assumption, Fall 1998, greater emphasis and study will be focused on group selection
and rejection behavior mechanisms, (peer group interaction) which up till now, have been
generally ignored by social scientists).
In the behavioral traits listed above, these distinct modular groupings of behavior sometimes have various other names: evolved cognitive structures; special learning mechanisms; psychological mechanism devices; mental mechanism devices; functionally specialized computational devices; and Darwinian algorithmic mechanisms. These areas, when activated by the circumstance that the individual finds itself in, give the brain specific algorithmic (step-by-step) instructions that have evolved from our ancestral pasts to adapt to all situations that we now face as humans.
Above, I have mentioned that nature and nurture are intertwined. Now, in the list below, you will see cultural universalities that the anthropologist George P. Murdock complied in 1945. Culture is the passing of conscious knowledge that we have deemed to be of importance to our kin, friends, and associates and is passed to them through a timeline. The timeline could last for an hour (a hot stock tip), or last thousands of years, (tips on how to meet the opposite sex). It is at this point in human development that we think than human diversity also added the parallel mechanism of cultural transmission, and as a result, the two are linked, in what E. O. Wilson has described as co-evolution. I think it best that Wilson explain it in his own words as written in his book, Consilience, p. 127. Culture is created by the communal mind, and each mind in turn is the product of the genetically structured human brain. Genes and culture are therefore inseverably linked. But the linkage is flexible, to a degree still mostly unmeasured. The linkage is also tortuous: Genes prescribe epigenetic rules, which are the neural pathways and regularities in cognitive development by which the individual mind assembles itself. The mind grows from birth to death by absorbing parts of the existing culture available to it, with selections guided through epigenetic rules inherited by the individual brain. Once you understand this, I want you to read the cultural behaviors listed below. Once again, the list is in alphabetical order. Compare this list with the one above for the modular human behavior mechanisms. Can you begin to see the similarities and begin to relate to the co-evolutionary process?
To understand human behavior from an evolutionary perspective, one must
now add the cultural environment of the individual, plus the specific circumstances of the
individuals entire lifes experience, and then calculate determination (degree
of will) of future plans, which include needs, wants, and wishes. And of course, throw in
If you want to know the true meaning of human behavior, remember the first rule of evolution: Evolution is the adaptation to local environments. Put on a pair of someones shoes and walk in them. Adapt to that persons local environment; relive that persons memories, and share that persons dreams. You will then understand that persons behavior. It is -- at the same time -- both simple and difficult.
In an interview published in the Wall Street Journal's special millennium edition, Saturday, January 1, 2000, a reporter asked E. O. Wilson if he thought that the evolution of human nature had changed much in 1,000 years. Wilson replied that he thought that it had not much changed in 100,000 years, and therefore would not change that much in the next 1,000 years. He did venture to say that the following human behaviors are unlikely to change in any fundamental way:
A tendency toward hierarchy.
A tendency toward, emphasis upon, and deep personal concern about status and recognition.
A great value placed individually upon self-esteem as part of individual integrity.
A desire for a substantial degree of personal privacy, including private space.
Deep sexual bonding and deep parental bonding, with both types of bonding having numerous and complex manifestations in cultural life.
An aversion to incestuous behavior.
Tribalism of some kind, even if it comes down to national soccer teams.
Despite my deep respect for Dr. Wilson, I believe that attempting to predict the genetic future of humankind will meet with the same success that other crystal ball gazers have had in past years for humankind's inventions: He could be completely off track. How we evolved during the past 1,000 years which included wars, mass starvations, exploitations of women and children for cheap labor, ethnic cleansing, and allowing epidemics in third world nations may not be the way we want to evolve in the future. If we truly discover the secrets of human nature in the genetic code, we may decide that certain genetic traits would be better if reduced or eliminated. After all, genetic engineering is right around the corner, and could have profound consequences on Homo sapiens. I know this -- it won't take 1,000 years. As an aside headline in the WSJ interview, Dr. Wilson gives my opinion added emphasis: "The conflict over the origin of humanity and ethics -- this will be the struggle for men's souls."
Origin: October 1995
Updated: June, 2003
Evolution and Human Behavior
Official Journal of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society
(formerly titled Ethology and Sociobiology)
Elsevier Science Inc.,
655 Avenue of the Americas,
New York, NY 10010
Human Nature: An Interdisciplinary Biosocial Perspective
Aldine de Gruyter
200 Saw Mill River Road
Hawthorne, New York 10532
One final note to leave you with: I can't agree more with E. O. Wilson and his updated, unscientific definition of Human Nature and I just wanted to share it with you: "Genius animated with animal craftiness and emotion, combining the passion of politics and art with rationality, to create a new instrument of survival." From his book, Consilience, P. 106