Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Remumbling Our Individual and Collective Prehistory

If you don't know human history, then you're like a man with amnesia, right? Or worse, like Obama, which proves that leaders who don't know our history condemn us to relive the bad parts.

But what if you don't know your prehistory? Actually, we all implicitly know our prehistory, since we are evidently -- if evolutionary psychologists are correct -- doomed (or privileged, depending) to repeat it. We know it by way of our "instinctive" actions, inclinations, preferences, institutions, etc.

As alluded to yesterday, it is possible that we are all related to a single tribe of common ancestors that split from Africa 50,000 years ago. And who knows, maybe that tribe included a couple of elders we know of as Adam and Eve.

Whatever the case, their descendants have been wandering in the bewilderness ever since, adapting to novel environments quite different from what they would have encountered in Africa.

A group of hunter-gatherers can only sustain about 100-150 people before it generates another spinoff sitcom: "Those migrating eastward faced new environments" and "would have had to relearn how to survive in each new habitat" (Wade).

The first wave of migration was into more friendly and familiar latitudes, but humans eventually pressed northward into Europe, where "the problems of keeping warm and finding sustenance during the winter months were severe." Note that was before the present period of comfy global warming that began some 10,000 years ago, so environmental pressures would have been exceptionally harsh: like natural selection, only worse.

Interestingly, there was also the matter of confronting the protohumans of a previous wave of migration, e.g., Neanderthals, Home erecti, and other almost-but-not-quite humans. (This brings to mind a comment by Bertie Wooster about a man whose face looked like nature had begun fashioning a human but given up halfway.)

I did not know this, but these primitive subgeniuses were apparently the residue of a group that had split from Africa some 500,000 years before, meaning that they had been evolving independently from the African humans all that while. (I had been under the assumption that Homo erectus was a direct precursor of Homo sapiens sapiens, when they are different lines out of an earlier common ancestor.)

Now that I think about it, it's almost like a premature birth, isn't it? Their timing was just a little bit off -- okay, half a billion years off -- so they weren't quite ready to leave the womb of Mother Africa, not yet fully half-baked humans.

Could the story of Cain and Abel be an archetypal recollection of our genocide of these distant cousins? Whatever the case, the world wasn't big enough for two kinds of humans, so these squatters "disappeared about the time that modern humans entered their territories."

Suspicious, no? Next time some leftist clown blames whites for what happened to the Indians or some other victim group, remind him of what primitive humans did to the Neanderthals. End the occupation! Of the world.

In any event, once these different human groups were situated in their unique environments, "each little population started to accumulate its own set of mutations in addition to those inherited from the common ancestral population."

So, as I wrote in a comment yesterday, it is as if there is that common genetic clay that is further tweaked by unique circumstances. If the human clay didn't have this shape-shifting potential, then we'd all still be in Africa. Anyone who attempted to leave would have simply died out like a palm tree trying to live in Alaska, or like a professor trying to survive outside the artificial hothouse environment of academia.

Which leads to the question: how much of the human genome is shared, how much unique to particular groups/races? That is difficult to assess, but Ward suggests that perhaps 14% of the genome would have been subject to recent selective pressures and local adaptations. He also mentions that an analysis of the genomes of 2,000 African Americans "found that 22% of their DNA came from European ancestors and the rest from African groups..."

This sounds about right, assuming a baseline of 200,000 years ago, 150,000 years of which are shared by all. A very big leap also occurs with the transition from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle to permanent settlements around 15,000 years ago. This required a major rewiring, not so much for exterior circumstances as interior, i.e., psychic, ones.

Living in much more population-dense communities obviously required vastly more subtle and wide-ranging interpersonal skills, diminished aggression, delayed gratification, and a hierarchical instead of purely horizontal group organization. Are we to believe that such dramatic phenotypic changes influenced, and were under the influence of, no genotypic changes?

Indeed, fossil records show that there is a gradual thinning of our bones at this time, implying that we didn't require such heavy skeletal underarmor for the constant head-bashing: "humans shed bone mass because extreme aggressivity no longer carried the same survival advantages."

Those New Guineans mentioned in yesterday's post didn't have to remember their prehistory, because they were still living in prehistory, "using Stone Age technology and embroiled in endemic warfare." If those are the new Guineans, imagine the old ones.

It would be an interesting experiment to adopt one of those New Guinean babies and see how he does in modern society. Would he be under no genetic constraints whatsoever? That would be a rather extreme position, but if true, then Wade's ideas would pretty much be out the window.

In the Coonifesto there is a wise crack by Norbert Elias to the effect that

"It seems as if grown-up people, in thinking about their origins, involuntarily lose sight of the fact that they themselves and all adults came into the world as little children. Over and over again, in the scientific myths of origin no less than religious ones, they feel impelled to imagine: In the beginning was a single human being, who was an adult" (emphasis mine).

Well, Wade has another headslapper by Elias, that "Many people seem to have the unspoken opinion that 'What happened in the twelfth, fifteenth or eighteenth centuries is past -- what has it to do with me?' In reality, though, the contemporary problems of a group are crucially influenced by earlier fortunes, by their beginningless development."

So, it is as if there is a personal prehistory in the form of a preverbal infancy etched into our neurology, and a collective one etched into our genome.

To be continued...


mushroom said...

I was always fascinated by Jung. Archetypes go along for the pre-history racial stuff. If the pre-verbal individual things are the basis of mind parasites, there must be some that are good, adaptive -- like symbiotic, as well as the bad destructive ones?

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, it would depend on the environment and the level of insight/self-mastery. I guess you could say that archetypes are like alleles, which are the different patterns of expression a gene can take. Some of Jung's ideas are sound -- for example, introversion and extroversion seem to be quite heritable. "Archetypes" may simply have to do with the basic elements of human nature based upon common experience for the past 200,000 years.

Van Harvey said...

Speaking of which, I'd recently glimpsed a few articles about discovering that something like memories, especially of traumatic events, can be passed down from mother to child in the DNA, and some speculation of their being able to influence traits as well. I haven't been able to look into it in order to call 'Genius!' or 'Quack!', but it is interesting.

Anyone know anything more about it?

Phobias may be memories passed down in genes from ancestors

Gagdad Bob said...

I have heard of that, at least in mice, I think it was.

Gagdad Bob said...

As I recall, it's like the trauma "turns on" a gene or something.

Magister said...

a personal prehistory in the form of a preverbal infancy etched into our neurology, and a collective one etched into our genome

Both of which are pre-linguistic and therefore out of reach of leftist indoctrination.

Dude, you are seriously harshing the Obama buzz.

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, if there is a Natural Man then there can be no Socialist Man, and I'm with Lou Rawls on that question.

Gagdad Bob said...

For those who don't know the Raccoon Cosmic Anthem.

julie said...

Bummer - the nice folks at EMI don't seem inclined to let Americans listen to it...

Rick said...

"... Neanderthals, Home erecti, and other almost-but-not-quite humans. (This brings to mind a comment by Bertie Wooster about a man whose face looked like nature had begun fashioning a human but given up halfway.)"

Could explain my persistent clowns phobia.

mushroom said...

Julie, that could be an Opera or OS/X thing. Pale Moon runs it.

Mozilla is adding DRM. I'm glad I abandoned Firefox already.

I hadn't heard Lou in a long time. I had forgotten what a great vocalist he was. Listening to those lyrics, how times have changed.

Gagdad Bob said...

That song has a groove that won't quit. Steely Dan have been mining it for years.

julie said...

Thanks, Mushroom - it's probably an iPad problem then. I did switch to Opera from Firefox; if I hadn't already, the DRM issue probably would have been reason enough. I'm not thrilled with Opera, but it'll do.

Christina M said...

I've always wondered where our memories go and whether they're etched into our cells. They go somewhere, because we take them with us.

Magister said...

Rawls has a really fine "live" album recorded in a studio to simulate a club atmosphere. Some tight grooves on there, too.

Steely Dan has that natural man feel on Rikki Don't Lose that Number, but the obvious nod is to Horace Silver. What a great band, first rate cats all around.

BTW, Scruton has a great passage later on (134):

The experience of the sacred is interpersonal. Only creatures with "I" thoughts can see the world in this way, and their doing so depends upon a kind of interpersonal readiness, a willingness to find meanings and reasons, even in things that have no eyes to look at them and no mouth to speak. That, in my view, is what Alberti meant by the striving for concinnitas. True architects [ and here he might as well mean social architects as well ] do not subdue their material to some external purpose; they converse with it, allowing the material to interrogate the space in which they build. Because we are subjects, the world looks back at us with a questioning regard, and we respond by organizing and conceptualizing it in other ways than those endorsed by science. The world as we live it is not the world as science explains it, any more than the smile of the Mona Lisa is a smear of pigments on a canvas. But this lived world is as real as the Mona Lisa's smile. And the same overreaching intentionality that informs our responses to the human face informs our responses to the human habitat, which comes to us as a place haunted by those who have made their home in it.

Our world is pervaded by memories, to which we owe respect if we ourselves expect in turn to be so remembered. I attended a memorial service yesterday afternoon for a dear colleague who died suddenly of a fast-moving cancer. Eight of her colleagues and students spoke on her behalf. It was profoundly moving to hear how deeply she had touched their lives, and I felt profoundly moved -- and I guess inspired, again -- to be worthy of that kind of memory. We can live so terribly alone, and the world can seem so careless and forgetful. There is something very deep in all our hearts that longs for recognition and memory. Why does our culture so relentlessly attack this longing and everything that grows from it?

Christina M said...

I'm glad I got to see Magister's Scruton quote.