We're all really Cave Men, aren't we?
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Author:  Jeremy1952 [ Sun Nov 16, 2003 6:38 pm ]
Post subject:  We're all really Cave Men, aren't we?

Ridley expounds both sides of the EEA ("environment of evolutionary adaptedness") question. It seems to me thinking people who consider the issue have to agree with one side or the other. Was there a time in the past when our biological adapting went on, then we stopped evolving, such that we are adapted to "then" and not to "now"? Or is the biological evolution of human beings something that goes on continously, so our adaptedness may be a couple of millenia behind, but is ever catching up, and is nowhere near the hundreds of thousands of years behind that Symons asserts?

. . .for more than a million years people lived in a way that couldn't have changed much. They inhabited grasslands and woodland savannas, first in Africa, later in Eurasia, and eventually in Australasia and the Americas. They hunted animals for food, gathered fruits and seeds, and were highly social within each tribe but hostile toward members of other tribes. Don Symons refers to this combination of time and place as the "environment of evolutionary adaptedness," or EEA, and he believes it is central to human psychology. People cannot be adapted to the present or the future; they can only be adapted to the past. But he readily admits that it is hard to be precise about exactly what lives people lived in the EEA. They probably lived in small bands; they were perhaps nomadic; they ate both meat and vegetable matter; they presumably shared the features that are universal among modern humans of all cultures: a pair bond as an institution in which to rear children, romantic love, jealousy and sexually induced male-male violence, a female preference for men of high status, a male preference for young females, warfare between bands, and so on. There was almost certainly a sexual division of labor between hunting men and gathering women, something unique to people and a few birds of prey. To this day, among the Ache people of Paraguay, men specialize in acquiring those foods that a woman encumbered with a baby could not manage to--meat and honey, for example.

Kim Hill, at the University of New Mexico, argues that there was no consistent EEA, but he nonetheless agrees that there were universal features of human life that are not present today but that have hangover effects. Everybody knew or had heard of nearly all the people they were likely to meet in their lives: There were no strangers, a fact that had enormous importance for the history of trade and crime prevention, among other things. The lack of anonymity meant that charlatans and tricksters could rarely get away with their deceptions for long.

Another group of biologists at Michigan rejects these EEA arguments altogether with two arguments. First, the most critical feature of the EEA is still with us, It is other people. Our brains grew so big not to make tools but to psychologize one another. The lesson of socioecology is that our mating system is determined not by ecology but by other people-by members of the same gender and by members of the other gender. It is the need to outwit and dupe and help and teach one another that drove us to be ever more intelligent.
Second, we were designed above all else to be adaptable. We were designed to have all sorts of alternative strategies to achieve our ends. Even today, existing hunter-gatherer societies show enormous ecological and social variation, and they are probably an unrepresentative sample because they mostly occupy deserts and forests, which were not mankind's primary habitat. Even in the time of Homo erectus, let alone more modern people, there may have been specialized fishing, shore-dwelling, hunting, or plant-gathering cultures. Some of these may well have afforded opportunities for wealth accumulation and polygamy. In recent memory there was a preagricultural culture among the salmon-fishing Indians of the Pacific Northwest of America that was highly polygamous, If the local hunter-gathering economy favored it, men were capable of being polygamous and women were capable of joining harems over the protests of the preceding co-wives. If not, then men were capable of being good fathers and women jealous monopolizers. In other words, mankind has many potential mating systems, one for each circumstance.

Science is neither a philosophy nor a belief system. It is a combination of mental operations that has become increasingly the habit of educated peoples, a culture of illuminations hit upon by a fortunate turn of history that yielded the most effective way of learning about the real world ever conceived. E.O.Wilson

Edited by: Jeremy1952 at: 11/16/03 6:39 pm

Author:  PeterDF [ Tue Nov 18, 2003 7:19 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: We're all really Cave Men, aren't we?

Great Post!

People cannot be adapted to the present or the future; they can only be adapted to the past.
Hmm! Most animals are adapted to the present.

An alternative view might be that (ignoring cultural evolution) we would continue to evolve until any innate, ancestral, behavioural attributes that would have evolved when we lived in the EEA, which might cause individual people not to pass on their genes have disappeared. At least, that is, up until the point where the trait becomes rare enough not to be considered part of the normal human condition. At this point - once the optimal level had been reached - the selective pressure would maintain it at that level, and adaptive evolution would be "complete" until there was some change in the environment which might set up a new selective pressure to set it off again. If this view is the correct one, evolution will stop, once we are properly adapted to the world we would then be living in. Against this view is the argument that cultural evolution moves so quickly that the environment is constantly changing and selective pressures would never be stable for a long enough period to provide a consistent selective pressure. If this view is the correct one the cultural evolutionary "hare" is so much faster than the Darwinian evolutionary "tortoise" that the tortoise will never catch the hare.

I hope this makes sense; these are complex issues.

I think the human animal is definitely cosmopolitan rather than specialist. By this I mean that we are very adaptable and I don't think it could be argued that we are naturally polygamous or naturally monogamous, because different societies might well favour different cultural arrangements. What could never arise would be a society where adult inter-sex bonding was absent.

If we are to answer the question you set, I think that we have to define what is innate and what is culturally defined behaviour. I have heard some evolutionary psychologists and philosophers make (cringe making) claims about how Darwinian adaptive change might alter phenomena that, I think, are obviously cultural in origin. I think that it should be possible to define - at least provisionally - what the differences between evolved and cultural phenomena are.

Now, we certainly have an evolved capacity for rational thought, but (and this is a massively important "but") this is a general-purpose capacity. We evolved this trait to assess and decide between different options that are presented to our senses and which evoke a subjective or emotional response. (I am saying here, that we simply won't deal with any sensory phenomenon that doesn't evoke a subjective or emotional response. This is another way of saying that we won't deal with something if it doesn't interest us. There is an important caveat to the last sentence but this is getting complicated enough)

If we take our evolved capacity for rational thought out of the equation, we are left with emotions and subjective responses to the world. Now, I argue that this is where we should be looking for innate behavioural attributes. We react emotionally, or with a positive or negative subjective response, to certain elements in our environment. We react positively to a smile; we enjoy looking at evocative images; we like certain things in our environment and dislike others. If you think about it these are the things that make us happy or sad and are the basis for our value judgements and, I venture to say, provide all human motivation.

These elements can be very specific. And, sometimes, it is intriguingly difficult to understand why we might certain things evocative. Why do some people find steam trains evocative? Or a herd of wild, white stallions pounding through the surf? (I've proposed answers to some of these questions but there isn't space here)

My point is that we might find different cultural solutions, which satisfy our evolved basic urges. Monogamy or polygamy to satisfy our basic sexual urges or train spotting to indulge our passion for steam trains. (I wonder if there were chariot-spotters in ancient Rome - I'll bet there were.) Don't look for evolved capacity for things like monogamy, because you won't find it. Monogamy and polygamy happen in humans because we have an evolved capacity for sexual pair bonds and we will come up with different solutions to satisfy the need for pair bonds using our capacity for rational thought. (Most other animals just wouldn't have thought of choosing between the possible options - they just have the evolved response - not the enhanced capacity for rational thought that humans have.)

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