Tag Archives: culture

Some Notes on the Development of Our Species

In recent days there has been a bru-haha in the conservative blogosphere as a result of Rich Lowry dismissing John Derbyshire from his position as a writer for National Review Online. The occasion was an controversial article on race relations written by Mr. Derbyshire.

The fight is basically political. Rich Lowry is associated with the Catholic, classically-establishment Establishment, wing of the conservative moment. John Derbyshire is associated with the atheist, scientifically-educated, insurgent wing of the conservative movement.

I want to talk about this in some upcoming posts, but as the occasion for the fight relates to the science of human origins, I thought I would share a brief history of our species. Much is tentative and subject to possible revision, but this should provide some context to the discussion. (As both Catholics and atheists tend to view Creationism derisively, this should not be controversial, either).

Around six million years ago, the ancestors of human beings, chimpanzees, and bonobos (“dwarf chimps”) were part of the same ancestral population. As the modern populations feature behaviors such as murder, suicide, warfare, terrorism, bisexuality, care for the injured, tool making, and purposeful deception, it seems sensible that the ancient population from which humans, chimps, and bonobos derive did, too.

The three populations began to diverge after an environmental catastrophe associated with a shift in the Congo River. This catastrophe also impacted gorillas. Chimps evolved in an area where they were in competition with gorillas. They became the most interpersonally vicious of the populations. Bonobos evolved in a forested environment without gorillas. They became the most interpersonally peaceful. Our ancestors seem to have left the forest to compete with wild hogs in the woodlands.

As the old saying goes, “Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Only pigs treat us as equals.”

While our ancestral population remained small in absolute terms, their ability to move in woodlands allowed them to spread out over much of Africa.

Humans slowly evolved. The general trend appears to have been an increase in absolute size (important for woodland competition), a decrease in sexual dimorphism (a not-fully-understood development that may have been cause by an increase willingness of human “betas” to murder “alphas” for perceived unjust behavior), and a darkening of skin color (chimps and bonobos both have white skin). These trends continued until all human populations were larger than bonobo or chimp populations, all human populations featured a smaller relative size difference between males and females than any bonobo or chimp population, and all human populations had brown-to-black skin tone.

Ancestral humans left Africa in multiple waves. Different waves were adapted to different conditions. Finally, hundreds of thousands of years ago, all of Eurasia was patrolled by human populations. Three important ones were Neanderthals (based in Europe and west Eurasia), “Peking Men,” (based in Asia), and Anatomically Modern Humans (based in Africa and the Near East). These populations overlapped in the way that other megafauna do.

All modern populations derive from some combination of these ancient populations. All modern populations appear to be primarily descended from Anatomically Modern Humans. Europeans contain a measurable degree of Neanderthal admixture. Asian populations contains measurable degrees of Peking Men admixture. African populations appear to be exclusively descended from Anatomically Modern Humans.

Some time after the mixture-and-replacement of other populations with Anatomically Modern Humans and their hybrid descendents, Behaviorally Modern Humans emerged in the Near East. The oldest cities, such as Jericho, are older than agriculture. From this is seems clear that the major advantage of Behaviorally Modern Humans against ancient populations was the ability to live in large coordinated groups, or “eusociality.” Behaviorally Modern Humans appear to be about as eusocial as ants or bees.

The eusociality of Behaviorally Modern Humans allowed them to develop caste systems of leaders, warriors, and slaves, just like other eusocial animals. With the advent of slavery farming became possible, and with the advent of a distinct military caste (that is, the first gradient of modern warfare) military campaigns became possible.

Behaviorally Modern Humans created a new form of war in which a military caste, led by a leadership caste and fed by a farmer caste, would invade neighboring communities, exterminate males and children, and rape and impregnate females. This led to rapid hybridization and spread, such that Behaviorally Modern Humans soon replaced nearly all Anatomically Modern Human communities.

Resource competition between Behaviorally Modern Human societies led to an increase in the rate of human evolution. Humans have evolved more in the past 10,000 years than in any other 10,000 year period of our species.

Traits in which there is a ‘correct’ number of expressions are soon fixed in a population. Humans have 2 eyes, 1 nose, and 10 fingers, for example.Traits which are generally unimportant (or are basically social traits which exist in some equilibrium) follow a normal distribution. General intelligence, time-orientation, and the five factors of personality follow normal distributions. From this we can conclude that for most of our accelerated period of evolution, there was no ‘right’ amount of these traits to have.

These traits are both inherited and culturally transmitted. It makes no sense to talk of ‘nature vs. nurture.’ Our cultural environment determines how these inherited traits are expressed. A better phrase might be “nature via nurture.”

Human populations differ in terms of the averages in these traits. For instance, newborn (1 day old) Chinese are more afraid of strangers (more “introverted”) than newborn Kenyans. Likewise, there is variation within these populations. There is more variation within populations than between population. There are, for example, a very many extroverted Chinese, and a very many introverted Kenyans. People talk of differences in “averages,” but this is a misleading way to talk. The difference between the 50th percentile and the 53rd percentile in extroversion, for example, is likely to be barely noticeable.

Rather, average differences matter in the extremes. If you take 1,000 random Kenyans and 1,000 random Chinese, and you take the top 20 of that group of 2,000 in terms of extroversion, that top 20 will be overwhelmingly Kenyan. Likewise, if you take the top 20 in terms of introversion, that 20 will be overwhelmingly Chinese.

Approximately 2,000 years ago, the leadership caste of China undertook a massive reorganization of society to reduce the military caste to peony and to establish a “Civil Government.” This was the greatest cultural revolution in human affairs since the invention of agricultural slavery 8,000 years previously. Through a trial-and-error process, the Chinese leadership class eliminated the centers of powers of the military caste and replaced it with a standing civil service supported by secured property owners. While the new system naturally attracted barbarian predators, the cultural transformation proved imperious to counter-revolution. Within a millennial the system was being tentatively mimicked from London to Edo.

The emergence of Behaviorally Modern Humans led to an unprecedented acceleration in human evolution. The creation of Civil Government had a likewise world-altering impacted. Society under the Civil Government was strongly downwardly-mobile. It was nearly impossible to improve one’s lot in society, but very easy to make foolish decisions that reduced one to rags. Every generation the foolish would lose property, and poor would starve to death, and the healthy children of the survivors acquired the survival traits of higher general intelligence and longer time orientation.

The increase in the concentration of wealth enabled by Civil Government allowed the new societies to invest massive resources in exploration efforts, in search of further resources to exploit and extract. World-historical empires such as Britain, France, Spain, the Ottoman Empire, and the Great Ming wrecked destruction on their backwards cousins. The mobilizations for war of these societies, and the increase efficiencies of Civil Government, led to greater and greater demand for labor (that is, surplus of capital). The Great Ming solved this by creating the most effective sanitation system in the world, allowing organic population increase to meet its needs. The Ottoman Empire solved this issue through enslaving neighboring populations. The Western European Civil Governments (which had missed out on the economies of scale that come from creating a secure geographic core) established a “triangle trade” that relied on tenuous geographic centers in Europe, Africa, and the Americas to supply their capital, labor, and natural resources requirements, respectively.

The geographically diverse, scattershot nature of the European empires meant that they (unlike Near Eastern, central Eurasian, or East Asian societies) experienced regular sociogenetic shocks. The Western European Civil Governments found that their African client states controlled land that was inhospitable to Europeans, largely because of genetic adaptations against malaria possessed by West Africans but not Europeans. Likewise, the living conditions established by the Central Governments in the New World proved inhospitable to the native populations there. Likewise, the Civil Governments encouraged different groups to settle in different areas, such that (for example) the Yankee core of the future United States was settled by English who had experienced more rapid downward mobility than the Scotch-Irish who settled the future southeastern united States.

This all goes to say that the New World may exhibit the most human diversity on the planet, close only to Africa. The more settled and stable populations of Eurasia, by contrast, are comparatively monocultural with limited genetic diversity.

Americans use the term “race relations” to refer to the cultural and genetic human diversity in their midst. Unsurprisingly, both the cultural and genetic pathways of the populations that settled in the United States remain relevant, often in unexpected ways. Anyone with a naive understanding of psychometric methods would expect East Asians and Western Europeans to have a disproportionate share of wealth in the United States, and of course they do. Who could have expected, however, that much of African-American culture would be a hybrid of west Africa with the highlands of Scotland? Talk of historical contingency!

It is with this context that John Derbyshire wrote his article on Taki Magazine. Every point Derbyshire makes is predictable if one assumes he is writing of a population that did not experience rapid downward mobility in historic times that spent centuries under the leadership of a different population with a different appearence but a similar pre-Civil Government ethic.

To put it slightly less obtusely, John Derbyshire wrote an article describing personal safety in the presence of the descendents of West Africans whose ancestors were controlled by the Scotch-Irish.

To put it even more plainly, Derbyshire wrote about blacks and violence.

And that is why he is no longer employed.

Evolutionary Cognitivism, Part VI: More Than Genes

The central realization of Bjorklund & Pellegrini’s text is on page 335: “Evolutionary developmental psychology assumes that not only are the behaviors and cognitions that characterize adults the product of natural selection, but so are characteristics of children’s behaviors and minds.” For too long educators have assumed that children are incompetent adults when in fact they are competent, and adapted, as children. When we ignore this, or fight this, we place outside normative concerns about the vital task of educating children.

To their credit, the authors tackle this subject. They write that “formal school may represent the best example of the ‘evolved-mechanisms-are-not-always-currently adaptive principle” (340). Bjorklund & Pellegrini are surely write on the same page that “just because some tendencies… are ‘naturally” based on evolutionary examination does not mean that they are morally ‘good’ or inevitable,” surely it is morally wrong to ignore these differences out of a concern for political correctness. If our job as educators is to get the best from every student, then we must leverage the nature of those students.


For instance, the authors also report that “Beginning during the preschool years, boys in all cultures (and males in many nonhuman mammalian species) display higher rates of rough-and-tumble play (R&T) than girls” (338). The implication of this is that boys and girls run different sets of genetic programs, or at least genetic programs tuned in different ways, and are optimized for different environments. It may well be, for instance, that boys would do better with schooling where R&T play was used as a reward for academic achievement while girls would do best in an environment where R&T is absent. Unfortunately, our school system does not recognize this, and we pretend that both boys and girls can be optimally educated in a classroom designed for a generic, sex-neutral “child.”

Other changes may be more controversial, but should be addressed. If we expect the best out of each student, is it wise to expect all students to exceed in all areas? For instance, if there is a biological component to mathematical reasoning ability in which boys score higher (Benbow, 1988; Benbow, Lubinski, Shea, & Eftekhari-Sanjani, 2000), or a biological component to language ability in which girls score higher (Stanley, 1993) . Similarly, if males show more variation in many attributes, from chess ability to physical height (Howard, 2004). For that matter, if height predicts IQ when correcting for environmental variation (Magnusson, Rasmussen, & Gyllensten, 2006; Silvertoeinen, Posthuma, van Beijsterveldt, Bartels, & Boosma, 2006) would it make sense to divide a similarly age cohorot into classes by height than the current, semi-random system? Alternatively, if we prefer a policy of “dumbing-down” anti-elitism (Benbow & Stanley, 1996) then should this not be decided rationally and openly, instead of being the default result of the status quo?

On another note, I found the Bjorklund & Pellegrini’s concept of culture fascinating. For culture I what I think they mean when they write “[Infants are born with] epigenetic programs that have evolved over eons and are responsive to the general types of environments that our ancient ancestors experienced.” Bjorklund & Pellegrini share with Tooby & Cosmides (1992) an idea that genes and environment interact to produce behavior, this text’s author stress that “biological and environmental factors at multiple levesl of organization transact to produce a particular pattern of ontogeny” (335). This “developmental systems approach” teaches us to view culture not merely as a set of arbitrary dictates, but as a darwinian algorithm that has evolved just as our genes have evolved. We are rightfully fearful of large-scale genetic engineering because we do not understand how such complex machinery works. We should equally be fearful of large-scale social engineering because society, no less so than genetics, as both are equally part of our epigenetic inheritance. Both are programs designed to keep us alive in a species-typical environment.

Bibliography
Benbow, C.P. (1988). Sex differences in mathematical reasoning ability in intellectually talented preadolescents: Their nature, effects, and possible causes. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 11: 169-232.
Benbow, C.P. & Stanley, J.C. (1996). Inequity in equity: How “equity” can lead to inequity for high-potential students. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law 2(2): 249-292.
Benbow, C.P., Lubinski, D., Shea, D.L., Eftekhari-Sanjani, H. (2000). Sex differences in mathematical reasoning ability at age 13: Their status 20 years later. Psychological Sciences 11(6): 474-80.
Bjorklund, D. F., & Pellegrini, A. D. (2002). The origins of human nature: Evolutionary developmental psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Howard, R.W. (2005). Are gender differences in high achievement disappearing? A test in one intellectual domain. Journal of Biological Sciences 37: 371-380.
Magnusson, P.K.E., Rasmussen, F., & Gyllensten, U.B. (2006). Height at age 18 years is a strong predictor of attained education later in life: cohort study of over 950 000 Swedish men. International Journal of Epidemiology 35(3): 658-663.
Silvertoinen, K., Posthuma, D., van Beijsterveldt, T., Bartels, M., & Boosma, D.I. (2006). Genetic contributions to the association between height and intelligence: evidence from Dutch twin data from childhood to middle age. Genes, Brain, and Behavior 5(8): 585-595.
Stanley, J.C. Boys and girls who reason well mathematically. Ciba Foundation Symposium178: 119-134.
Tooby, J., & Cosmides, L. (1992) The Psychological Foundations of Culture. In The Adapted Mind, Jerome Barkow, Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, eds. New York: Oxford University Pres.


Evolutionary Cognitivism, a tdaxp series
1. Selection and Cognition
2. Epigentics and Diversity
3. Children and Civilization
4. The Implicit and the Explicit
5. Man Among Men
6. More Than Genes
7. Bibliography