Tagevolution

Cult Of The Caveman: Paleofantasies

Atossa Araxia Abrahamian on Paleofantasy by Marlene Zuk and the assumptions of the paleo lifestyle set, noting that it has become a popular diet amongst libertarians:

Charges of hypocrisy, however amusing, are facile. Paleo is an improvement on a diet of processed, sugary junk. It’s not the first diet to banish starches, and it certainly won’t be the last. In fact, by any other name, the Paleo diet would be just that — a diet.

But more substantial problems lurk in the reasoning behind Paleo principles. By assuming that all that was once natural is now good, militant Paleo leans on biological determinism to back up its theories. While it may not advocate for a complete reversion to cave-dwelling, it accepts that we evolved in a certain way to do certain things and not others, and that advances in technology, civilization, and culture can do little to change that. This logic, however seductive, is incomplete. You can’t get an ought from a was. [...]

Incomplete or flawed interpretations of our biology have long been used to marginalize women, racial groups, even entire civilizations, and nutrition may well become the next variant in this pattern of discrimination. If rice isn’t “natural,” does that make those entire continents with highly developed cultures who eat it “un-natural”? Doesn’t agriculture, however flawed it may be in certain societies, support billions of people? Let’s not forget that for centuries women were considered ineligible to participate in most professions, sports, and diversions on the basis of their supposed female “nature.” Are modern bread-eaters somehow less human than those carrying out “primal” urges by sprinting, lifting, and eating meat?

These troubling questions are probably not the point of an apparently well-meaning lifestyle program. Many adopters of the Paleo diet do so for no reason other than weight loss, or vanity, or ailments caused by certain foods; others are simply curious about how so-called “ancestral” nutrition will affect them, or how certain types of foods affect their bodies. If their giddy testimonials are to be believed, the Paleo diet can cure everything from diabetes to anxiety attacks, which sounds wonderful. Still, the social and political implications of Paleo reasoning ought to be more closely examined, especially as the lifestyle gains adherents.

Full Story: The New Inquiry: Natural’s Not In It

Previously: Hardwired to Nurture: What the New Testosterone Study Really Says About Men

Morlocks – The Future Of Human Evolution?

On two species of humanoids in HG Wells’ The Time Machine — Eloi and Morlocks — Edward Strickson writes:

So, is it likely that this is our future? We can speculate, but I’d lean pretty far towards a no. As we combine our cultures and try to spread equality, it’s less likely that entire branch of us will be isolated, unless there is a natural disaster or something similar that separates us. But this does not mean that we will not change, just that the extremes of Eloi and Morlocks are (thankfully) looking less likely as time goes on, at least in my point of view.

Full Story: Teen Skepchick: Morlocks – The Future Of Human Evolution?

The historic tendency of “masters” to have sex with slaves may also prevent our evolution from ever bifurcating along class lines.

Strickson thinks that of the two species we’re more likely to end up like the Eloi: “Many more of us are able to get on with our lives without immediate dangers, knowing that if anything befalls us we will be looked after.”

I disagree. Modern medicine has licked a number of diseases, and increased our likelihood of surviving accidents. Yet our lives are not without immediate dangers. We risk death every day in the U.S. when we step into automobiles. The rest of the world face other dangers, ranging from war lords to malaria. We still have no cure for AIDs, which is still one of the most common causes of death in world.

Meanwhile, global warming is baking our planet, necessitating more adaptation and/or evolution. Perhaps the Morlocks, with their underground habitats, are our species’ future after all.

Evidence Of Previously Unconfirmed Ancient Human Species Discovered

Homo rudolfensis skull

The BBC reports:

Anthropologists have discovered three human fossils that are between 1.78 and 1.95 million years old. The specimens are of a face and two jawbones with teeth.

The finds back the view that a skull found in 1972 ago is of a separate species of human, known as Homo rudolfensis. The skull was markedly different to any others from that time. It had a relatively large brain and long flat face.

But for 40 years the skull was the only example of the creature and so it was impossible to say for sure whether the individual was an unusual specimen or a member of a new species.

With the discovery of the three new fossils researchers can say with more certainty that H.rudolfensis really was a separate type of human that existed around two million years ago alongside other species of humans.

Full Story: BBC: New human species identified from Kenya fossils

Researchers Say Humans Didn’t Wipe Out the Neanderthals

new xmen neanderthals

I thought the idea that humans killed off the Neanderthals was already losing currency. And now a paper published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution casts more doubt on that particular hypothesis.

i09′s Alasdair Wilkins summarizes:

A team of Spanish and Swedish researchers say that new DNA evidence paints a far grimmer view of the state of Neanderthals. Their analysis suggests the Neanderthal population had crashed 50,000 years ago, and a relatively small band of survivors then recolonized central and western Europe before their final end 20,000 years later. In a statement, Love Dalén of the Swedish Museum of Natural History explained what they discovered:

Instead the paper’s authors suggest climate change had a greater impact on neanderthals than previously thought.

Alasdair Wilkins writes: “This also raises the question of just how humans would have really fared against a Neanderthal population at full strength. I’m sensing some pretty serious alternate history fodder here…”

i09: The extinction of Neanderthals had nothing to do with us

Image from New X-Men

Reason Is Used for Justification, Not to Determine Truth

Protagoras

For centuries thinkers have assumed that the uniquely human capacity for reasoning has existed to let people reach beyond mere perception and reflex in the search for truth. Rationality allowed a solitary thinker to blaze a path to philosophical, moral and scientific enlightenment.

Now some researchers are suggesting that reason evolved for a completely different purpose: to win arguments. Rationality, by this yardstick (and irrationality too, but we’ll get to that) is nothing more or less than a servant of the hard-wired compulsion to triumph in the debating arena. According to this view, bias, lack of logic and other supposed flaws that pollute the stream of reason are instead social adaptations that enable one group to persuade (and defeat) another. Certitude works, however sharply it may depart from the truth.

The idea, labeled the argumentative theory of reasoning, is the brainchild of French cognitive social scientists, and it has stirred excited discussion (and appalled dissent) among philosophers, political scientists, educators and psychologists, some of whom say it offers profound insight into the way people think and behave. The Journal of Behavioral and Brain Sciences devoted its April issue to debates over the theory, with participants challenging everything from the definition of reason to the origins of verbal communication.

New York Times: Reason Seen More as Weapon Than Path to Truth

(Thanks Bill)

This evolutionary psychology explanation is (like most evol pysch) speculative. Regardless of whether reason evolved “for” the purposes of argument, or merely reached a point where it was flawed but “good enough” we may never know. But I do think most people use reason more to defend their positions rather than to arrive at accurate positions (what does that mean for me, and my arguments?) To quote Michael Shermer in Why People Believe Weird Things, “Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons” (via that Cracked article).

See also Systematic Ideology and Cultural Cognition.

Humanity’s Next Evolution May Be Mental, Not Biological

Mark Changizi, author of the upcoming book Harnessed: How Language and Music Mimicked Nature and Transformed Man, writes:

Where are we humans going, as a species? If science fiction is any guide, we will genetically evolve like in X-Men, become genetically engineered as in Gattaca, or become cybernetically enhanced like General Grievous in Star Wars. [...]

Simply put, none of these scenarios are plausible for the immediate future. [...]

We have already been transformed via harnessing beyond what we once were. We’re already Human 2.0, not the Human 1.0, or Homo sapiens, that natural selection made us. We Human 2.0’s have, among many powers, three that are central to who we take ourselves to be today: writing, speech, and music (the latter perhaps being the pinnacle of the arts). Yet these three capabilities, despite having all the hallmarks of design, were not a result of natural selection, nor were they the result of genetic engineering or cybernetic enhancement to our brains. Instead, and as I argue in both The Vision Revolution and my forthcoming Harnessed, these are powers we acquired by virtue of harnessing, or neuronal recycling.

In this transition from Human 1.0 to 2.0, we didn’t directly do the harnessing. Rather, it was an emergent, evolutionary property of our behavior, our nascent culture, that bent and shaped writing to be right for our visual system, speech just so for our auditory system, and music a match for our auditory and evocative mechanisms. [...]

The road to Human 3.0 and beyond will, I believe, be largely due to ever more instances of this kind of harnessing. And although we cannot easily anticipate the new powers we will thereby gain, we should not underestimate the potential magnitude of the possible changes. After all, the change from Human 1.0 to 2.0 is nothing short of universe-rattling: It transformed a clever ape into a world-ruling technological philosopher.

Seed: THE NEXT GIANT LEAP IN HUMAN EVOLUTION MAY NOT COME FROM NEW FIELDS LIKE GENETIC ENGINEERING OR ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, BUT RATHER FROM APPRECIATING OUR ANCIENT BRAINS

(via Justin Pickard)

New Evidence Suggests Neanderthals Cooked and Ate Vegetables

Neanderthal

Researchers in the US have found grains of cooked plant material in the teeth of the remains.

The study is the first to confirm that the Neanderthal diet was not confined to meat and was more sophisticated than previously thought.

The research has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The popular image of Neanderthals as great meat eaters is one that has up until now been backed by some circumstantial evidence. Chemical analysis of their bones suggested they ate little or no vegetables.

BBC News: Neanderthals cooked and ate vegetables

As Humans Evolve, Our Brains Are Actually Getting Smaller

Leader

Today’s human brain is about 10 percent smaller than the Cro-Magnon brain from more than 20,000 years ago.

When it comes to brain size, bigger doesn’t always mean better. As humans continue to evolve, scientists say our brains are actually getting smaller. [...]

Cro-Magnon man, who lived in Europe 20,000 to 30,000 years ago, had the biggest brains of any human species. In comparison, today’s human brain is about 10 percent smaller. It’s a chunk of brain matter “roughly equivalent to a tennis ball in size,” McAuliffe says.

The experts aren’t sure about the implications of this evolutionary trend. Some think it might be a dumbing-down process. One cognitive scientist, David Geary, argues that as human society grows increasingly complex, individuals don’t need to be as intelligent in order to survive and reproduce.

But not all researchers are so pessimistic. Brian Hare, an anthropologist at the Duke University Institute for Brain Sciences, thinks the decrease in brain size is actually an evolutionary advantage.

NPR: Our Brains Are Shrinking. Are We Getting Dumber?

Why Smart People Do More Drugs

Alex Grey, stoned ape

Kevin Lovelace writes:

Evolutionary Psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa has recently been publishing a version of his Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis over at Psychology Today. His theory, amongst many other things, establishes a connection between intelligence, novelity seeking and the consumption of psychoactive drugs. Or, as the Atlantic Wire put it: “Smart People Do More Drugs — Because of Evolution.” The quick version, hopefully without boiling it down too far, is that Kanazawa believes that more intelligent individuals are better equipped to deal with novel situations – and in fact seek those situations out. Thus, highly intelligent individuals are more likely to seek out experiences with psychoactive drugs, which are essentially novelty sinks. He’s not claiming that this behavior has a traditionally positive effect – in fact his wording shows a pretty strong bias against psychoactive experimentation but simply that people with high IQs are more likely to seek these experiences out. [...]

What struck me, is not that he found proof of this tendency – eyeballing the amount of Ph.D’s in the room the last time I tripped has me anecdotally primed for such a conclusion – but how interestingly it matches Terence McKenna’s “Stoned Ape” theory of human cognitive development. While history and the fields of Anthropology or Evolutionary Biology haven’t been too kind to many of McKenna’s theories over the years since he passed away, one that continually strikes me as relevant – perhaps because of my own theories of hybridization and technological development – is the Stoned Ape.

Full Story: Grinding: The Return of the Stoned Ape

See also:

Smart kids more likely to be heavy drinkers

Brothers McKenna dossier

Art: Alex Grey

How Technology Made Us Humans


The Man of Year Million

In his book, “The Artificial Ape,” anthropologist and archaeologist Timothy Taylor makes the startling claim that we did not make tools, tools made us.

He reminds us that the oldest stone tools we’ve found are 2.5 million years old. But the genus to which we belong, Homo, is only 2.2 million years old, at least according to the current fossil record. Our species, Homo sapiens, has been around for less time than the gap between tool creation and our genus.

In a fascinating interview with New Scientist, Taylor believes “earlier hominids called australopithecines were responsible for the stone tools . . . The tools caused the genus Homo to emerge.”

How does that reverse the human-technology equation? Taylor believes that the creation of tools – in his example a sling to carry an infant – is “how encephalisation took place in the genus Homo.” The creation of technology to take care of infants allowed them to be born more helpless. In other words, the development of initial tech allowed evolutionary forces to shape us in a particular fashion. In fact, perhaps forced them to do so.

ReadWriteWeb: How Technology Made Us Humans

Will our brains shrink due to our external ones? Not necessarily. The current trend is a demand for more and more intelligent and educated people to operate and program those machines. Even though I’d like to see computers get easier to operate and program, I would still expect see a demand for humans to do increasingly complex work with them.

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