Update on the Trinitarian Structure of Modern Humans (12.26.08)
In other words, even supposing that life arose elsewhere and began evolving large brains, a large brain would never be sufficient to allow for humanness. Rather, the key to the entire enterprise -- the missing link, so to speak -- is the extremely unlikely invention of the helpless and neurologically incomplete infant who must be born approximately 12 months "premature" so that his brain can be assembled at the same time it is being mothered. If we had come out of the womb neurologically complete, then there would be no "space" for humanness to emerge or take root. We would be Neanderthals. Literally.
Those who have read my book know that I do not find this at all incompatible with a spiritual view. For one thing, I never rule out the invisible hand of providence. Furthermore, infantile helplessness is the space where verticality enters the evolutionary picture. All other animals are completely limited and determined by their genes. Only humans have the privilege of being ushered into a transcendent, non-genetic vertical world of love, truth and beauty which is both timeless and anterior to their discovering it. It was always "there," but only became accessible as a result of the unique circumstances of human development.
Comes now a study by two real anthropologists, Professors Stine and Kuhn, who (unwittingly) provide further evidence for the Gagdadian view: "Diversified social roles for men, women, and children may have given Homo sapiens an advantage over Neanderthals, says a new study in the December 2006 issue of Current Anthropology. The study argues that division of economic labor by sex and age emerged relatively recently in human evolutionary history and facilitated the spread of modern humans throughout Eurasia." Coming out of the contemporary academic milieu, they apparently cannot help putting a quasi-Marxist spin on their findings, seeing them merely in economic terms rather than drawing out their psychological implications: "The competitive advantage enjoyed by modern humans came not just from new weapons and devices but from the ways in which their economic lives were organized around the advantages of cooperation and complementary subsistence roles for men, women, and children." Sort of a combination of Adam Smith and Eve.
To back up a bit, there was a time when two distinct versions of... of folks roamed the planet... much like today, actually. That would be the Neanderthals and us -- or Homo sapiens sapiens. Neanderthals emerged around 250,000 years ago, taking their bow and exiting the evolutionary stage around 30,000 ago. Signs of division of labor only appear with the arrival of modern humans (not Neanderthals) into Europe around 40,000 years ago. (Interestingly, this is right around the time of the "creative explosion" of Homo sapiens sapiens discussed in Chapter 3 of my book, an unprecedented outpouring of cave art, musical instruments, body decoration, burial of the dead, and other distinct evidence of actual "humanness.")
An article in the Times notes that, "At sites occupied by modern humans from 45,000 to 10,000 years ago... there is good evidence of different occupations.... It seems reasonable to assume that these activities were divided between men and women, as is the case with modern foraging peoples. But Neanderthal sites include no bone needles, no small animal remains and no grinding stones for preparing plant foods."
The question is, "what did Neanderthal women do all day?," since the roller derby was a far off dream, and the WNBA only came into existence in the late 20th century. Neanderthal skeletons "are so robustly built that it seems improbable that they just sat at home looking after the children, the anthropologists write. More likely, they did the same as the men, with the whole population engaged in bringing down large game."
In other words, it seems that Neanderthals were not trinitarian but essentially binarian (adult-child) or perhaps even unitarian, in that everyone, even children, participated in the hunt. The study again focuses on the economic angle, speculating that modern humans, because of "their division of labor and diversified food sources, would have been better able to secure a continuous food supply." Furthermore, unlike the Neanderthals, they wouldn't have put their "reproductive core" -- that is, women and children -- at such a great risk.
But there is a shadow side to this picture, and that is the evolutionary effect that completely devoted mothers would have had on children. In chapter 3.3 of my book, Humans and How They Got That Way: Putting the Sapiens into Homo, I argued that it is completely reasonable to assume that humans became human in the distant past in the identical way that they become human today. I can see that I'm not going to have time to flesh out the entire theory here, but that is what the book is for. But the bottom line is that as human brains became larger and larger (and pelvises became narrower due to bipedalism), it became necessary for women to give birth earlier and earlier, to the point that infants had to be born neurologically incomplete, to such an extent that much of the brain's development had to take place outside the womb -- a pattern completely unique among the primates.
More than anything else, it was this delayed development, or neoteny, that created the possibility of our acquisition of humanness. But that is not all. Because human infants were born in this way, it obviously became increasingly necessary for human mothers to specialize in mothering -- otherwise, these helpless infants would not have survived. But there was an obvious benefit, as I believe that this situation of increasingly helpless babies and increasingly devoted mothers created a sort of runaway positive feedback loop for greater intelligence:
"It seems obvious that, in order for babies to survive, they had to become adept at 'evoking' the environment they needed to survive -- specifically, an intelligent, caring mother. Perhaps it sounds odd, but it seems an inescapable conclusion that, in order for babies to specialize in babyhood, they had to 'select' mothers who were intelligent, capable, and empathic enough to be up to the task of caring for them. Think about it: caring for a helpless infant is at least as complex and challenging on a moment-to-moment basis as hunting for game. [Memo from relatively new father: I was not wrong about this -- ed.] Let's face it: those mothers who did not develop these complex mothering skills may have gotten their genes into the next generation, but not long enough for that generation to do the same."
As I said, I don't have time to present the full argument with all of its implications here. However, you will note on page 127 of my book that I cited research indicating that the brains of Neanderthals were actually larger than ours, but that they seem to have become fully developed at an earlier age. In other words, it seems possible that they were not born as premature, so that the window of development slammed shut sooner, so to speak. What this suggests to me is that they were more animal than human, more under the influence of genes than of humanness. All Neanderthals were hunters because that is what their genes designed them to do. Hunting was not a "role," any more than hunting is a role for cats or coyotes. Roles were invented by modern humans, those roles being father, mother, and helpless infant.
And as I also argued in my book, once you have the abstract category of any role, then in effect you have every role. This is why it is foolish for feminists to be upset at the idea that the female of the species was selected by the baby for the role of mothering, because it actually means that women are liberated from genes to choose any role they want to, whether it is the role of mother or the role of Neanderthal roller derby queen.
There is nothing which is more necessary and more precious in the experience of human childhood than parental love.... nothing more precious, because the parental love experienced in childhood is moral capital for the whole of life.... It is so precious, this experience, that it renders us capable of elevating ourselves to more sublime things--even divine things. It is thanks to the experience of parental love that our soul is capable of raising itself to the love of God. --Meditations on the Tarot