Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Haunting Issue

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," weighing humanity in the balance and finding it wanting since 2005! I'm your host, Anne Johnson. That's me in the picture. I'm the one who's alive.

Ever since I read in National Geographic that fossil-hunters found a 400,000-year-old Homo sapiens skull with a larger brain case than our modern noggins, I've been wondering about that person and the people who surrounded him (I think it was a male).

So far as I remember, sloppy blogger that I am, the entire human race had a common female ancestor who lived about 135,000 years ago. This means that if any DNA from that larger-brained sapiens is in us at all, it's not a thimble-full.

So what do you think these larger-brained people were like, 400,000 years ago? Take away all our stuff, all our techno, and they were probably smarter than we are. Maybe they had enhanced psychic powers.

Maybe they were so intelligent that they were free of hate -- and thus fair game for haters.

Because it does seem to me that much of the goodness we do as a species is counterbalanced by hate, hate, hate. If you have one person, he or she will sit down and write a rant. If you have two people, they will either argue, or they'll agree that the other guy is wrong. If you have three people, at least one of them will be hated by the other two.

Figure this one out. Among the students of my school who are Hispanic, there's a degree of animosity between the Dominicans and the Puerto Ricans. You cannot convince these kids that Dominica and Puerto Rico are two islands, very similar, in a similar part of the world, and after all, the kids themselves all now live in America. Why can't they get along?

In the area where I grew up, Appalachia, there were gangs that fought one another. Go and figure that one out. We all lived in the mountains, but it mattered which mountain and which high school you attended.

So if you take this tendency to hate, and you lard onto it genuine differences in opinion, then your species just will never get along like a happy herd of wildebeests. Even if your species is supposed to be so much more intelligent than wildebeests.

Then we take this tendency to hate, and we lard onto it popular leaders who stoke the hatred with their rhetorical fire, and just look at us now! Makes you long for the Maya to be right about 2012. Turn the planet back over to the ants! They've got it going on.

What do you think? Were those long-ago humans superior to us? Could they have lived in a society free of hate? Are we actually devolving?

Personally I weigh in as at least wishing we knew more about the Big Brains. And less about haters.


Alex Pendragon said...

I hate this. I really, really hate this.

wingsofflight said...

On a slightly off-topic comment, as a psychology student I'd add that it's generally easier to class everyone in the group of "students at this school now" rather than show similarities between two groups.

I'd never considered emotion to be too affected by evolution of the brain, though it makes sense. It's an interesting theory, to say the least. I think in terms of evolution, our brain size must've shrunk due to it being better for us at the time than the larger ones.
Generally it would be the size of their outer cortex that was bigger - sorry to use jargon - bassicaly the emotional area of their brain wouldn't be any larger than it is today; at least in theory.

I second the idea that we learn more about the big brains :)

Pom said...

Larger brains. Smaller brains. I guess I don't think size matters. I do remember being taught in jr high science that it wasn't the size that counts - it's the connections within the brain that really matter. Einstein's brain was no larger than the average person but there were more connections between neurons or some such thing.

I have learned that I'm much more loving, compassionate, and concerned with others when I'm not actually around them. When I have to be social I learn that not everyone comes with the same intentions and all bets seem to be off.

sott'Eos said...

Since chimps and humans have about a 96% overlap in DNA, you can bet that our DNA is 98%-99% the same as that 400,000 year-old ancestor. Still only a 'thimblefull' since DNA is so small. :-)

Matt Gerlach said...

I remember when I was a little kid growing up in a mostly rural area of Ohio, I didn't live "in town" enough for the "in town" kids to want to talk to me, but I didn't live far enough out in the country (i.e. I wasn't on a farm and didn't get up to do chores before going to school) so the country kids thought I was too much of a "city kid."

You just can't win with some people, I guess.

Intense Guy said...

Reading up in Wikipedia (the source of all truth) and you find this statement about the big brained Neanderthals, "...the 2010 sequencing of the Neanderthal genome indicates that Neanderthals did indeed interbreed with H. sapiens circa 75,000 BC (after H. sapiens moved out from Africa, but before they separated into Europe, the Middle East, and Asia). Nearly all modern humans have 1% to 4% of their DNA derived from Neanderthal DNA. (To appreciate how big of a percentage this is, consider that humans and chimps only differ in 1.5% of their DNA.) This 1-4% bit of DNA is only present in non-african humans."

The haters amongst us will immediately claim "african humans" are "dumber".

I'm with the Maya - end it all in 2012...there isn't much hope for the current crop.


maybe if we had smaller brains we'd be nicer

kimc said...

I was going to mention the larger brains of Neanderthals, who were not necessarily smarter. Jean Auel postulates that the extra space was better memories.
A larger brain is a problem with childbirth. They say it's the reason so many human mothers die in childbirth compared to other animals. And it's the reason our babies are born early enough to be quite helpless at birth, and for quite some time after. So maybe the smaller brained version of our ancestors outbred the big-brained ones?
As for the hate, the war-like stuff: isn't that really adolescent male stuff mostly, and we live it in proportion to how much we idolize and respect adolescent males? In modern American, where we worship youth, but still don't think much of females, we are stuck with it. It times and places where wisdom and maturity are more valued, maybe not so much. What if being a soldier/warrior were a shameful profession? Why shouldn't they be treated like hookers? This is just speculative. (to answer my own question; it's because deep down we all really know that all society is resting on the foundation of the threat of violence. [On the other hand, since sex is pretty foundational too, why do we treat hookers with less than respect?])
Gang leaders are the shamans of modern life, without the proper training to be shaman. They tell the members of gangs the myths they live by....