Miscellaneous content from the original enlightened caveman. Some serious, some not. Take your chances.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

From the Mailbag - Taking Aim At The Caveman

Here's a comment that was posted to the site recently by a new reader. Without coming right out and saying it, this person pretty much disagrees with my entire Enlightened Caveman concept. So, I'll mount a modest counter-argument and leave it to you to decide. Keep in mind - my interest here is truth. If someone comes along and reasonably discredits these concepts, I'll pull the plug right away. But it'll take more than this offering, I can assure you of that. Here's his comment:

Just found this blog, so this is a response to your basic thesis and not the above article.
As a species, we are domesticated. The human cranium has decreased in size since "caveman" times. This is typical of any animal that has become domesticated. Dogs have 30% less brain size than wolves. Another trait displayed by domesticated animals is that they retain juvenile characteristics into adulthood. They really never grow up. The instincts disappear. Many of the attributes you are contributing to our "old" brain are actually the result of domestication. We're not nearly as intelligent as we used to be. Our sensory capacities are pitifuly lacking. We are no longer wild...or free. Evolutionarily, we are going down a one way street that's a dead end. Between the ages of 10 and later adolescence when the brain is done developing, a pruning of the neurons takes place. It's not our nature for that to happen. We are not recieving the complex stimulation that is necessary for complex neural systems to completely develope. Do some research on the behavior and the proper care of lab rats. The parallels to our society may surprise you. There are still wild undomesticated cultures surviving on this planet, preserving the precious genetics that have taken hundreds of thousands of years to perfect. We have not progressed. What other animal is stupid (or arrogant)enough to completely destroy the environment they depend on for survival? We live in cages, someone else feeds us, and we even have exercise wheels. We are conditioned to peck at the right buttons on the ATM and out comes our reward. Once domesticated, an animal's survival instincts are gone. It can't be reversed.

Let me start by saying that cranium size is a major red herring. It's irrelevant to any discussions of this type, mainly because no one (as far as I can tell) has been able to correlate minor differences with specific differences in mental ability. Here's what we know. The trend in hominid evolution has been toward larger and larger brains. However, following the last ice age, there has in fact been a decrease (albeit relatively minor) in cranium size, but not just for humans. According to William Cromie of the Harvard University Gazette (read more), "As the severe climate of the ice ages ended, the bodies and faces of most large animals have gotten smaller. In humans, chewing softer, processed food also has contributed to reducing face size by decreasing the largeness of our jaws and jaw muscles. " But again, even if we call Cromie a hack with an agenda (given his employer - it might be a safe bet), this shrinking human cranium has not taken place since we have been "domesticated." Ergo, it does not follow that domestication had anything to do with it. (Oh yeah and the softer food and jaw aspect probably explains the dog/wolf thing, too, even though it's also irrelevant.)

With the amateur stuff out of the way, let's get to the meat of this discussion. This reader seems to feel that our modern world has dulled our senses and left us less mentally able than our "wilder" ancestors. While I'll forcefully agree that our cultural evolution has become progressively kinder and gentler, I'm not about to assent to the notion that we are nothing more than genetic terriers when we were once wolves. This sounds absurd to begin with, and then the evidence offered confirms it.

We are not nearly as intelligent as we used to be? Uh. Pardon me? Come again? I realize that our society can come screeching to a halt if Nick and Jessica get into a tiff, but let's get real - we're smarter as a species than we have ever been. Not only do we simply know more stuff, but more of us actually know how to think than ever before. That's probably, and I'm guessing here, the defining trend in modern human cultural evolution - the march toward rationalism. Every year, more and more people choose science over superstition, evidence over revelation, and knowledge over ignorance. So, I'll vehemently disagree with that point.

A pruning of the neurons? It's not in our nature? This is where I started thinking maybe someone was playing a joke on me. If, by pruning of neurons, this person means that the number of brain cells decreases after the brain is fully developed, then my response is, "duh." It's called aging, and it IS in our nature, since our genes code for this process to happen exactly as it does. It has nothing to do with reproduction so, again, it's irrelavant to the original point, if there is one.

"We are not recieving the complex stimulation that is necessary for complex neural systems to completely develope. " (Spelling error that reveals disdain for proofreading - his.) OK, this one we can do something with. The consensus, from my reading, among evolutionary biologists and evolutionary psychologists is that the dominating adaptations of the human mind over other hominids were socially oriented. This is to say that the complex stimulation necessary for our complex neural systems to completely develope (it's kind of fun to pronounce it like envelope) is interaction with other humans. It was the human ability to figure out how to play well with others that launched mankind to the heights to which he has risen. And it's true even today.

My son's pediatrician told me that in his first six months of life, the world alone was enough to wire and myelinate the synapses of his brain properly - he could just hang out in his crib listening, watching, smelling, tasting, and feeling his environment and his brain would put it together perfectly. So we just left him alone in his stroller for hours at a time and you know what, she was right. Just kidding. Seriously, from there, however, she said that it was critical that he get lots of human contact. If he did not, the future would not bode well for him. This is common sense and it's also anecdotal evidence that supports the idea that our mental focus is, first and foremost, on other humans, which is exactly what's causing us many of our problems.

"There are still wild undomesticated cultures surviving on this planet, preserving the precious genetics that have taken hundreds of thousands of years to perfect." Here's where this intrepid reader betrays his ignorance regarding evolution (and maybe even his allegiance to the sham of multiculturalism). To say that some "undomesticated" cultures are preserving genetics would seem to imply that the domesticated ones are not preserving their genetics. Hogwash. This is no way to think about evolution. It's simple - is there anything in the genome of any population on earth that is providing either a reproductive advantage or a reproductive disadvantage? If there is, then you can bet Mother Nature is on the scene making her cuts, getting ready for next season, but the answer is pretty much no. Sure, we still have some genetically-based childhood diseases that manage to persist due to their recessive nature. However, for the most part, anyone can reproduce. Or maybe it's better to say that not being able to reproduce is significantly less likely to be genetic than it is cultural. The bottom line, the most granular idea you'll find on this site, is that our genes have not changed significantly in tens of thousands of years. This is not my personal thesis. This is widely accepted by folks infinitely smarter than I (though I wonder how we'd compare in terms of cranium size - since that apparently matters now).

At the end of the day, I think I smell a socialist, or at least a multi-culti, anti-capitalist. "What other animal is stupid (or arrogant)enough to completely destroy the environment they depend on for survival?" Before I answer, please tell me the first animal to do this. It certainly isn't humans, considering the fact that there are more of us now than there have ever been. "Once domesticated, an animal's survival instincts are gone. It can't be reversed." This is operating on the flawed premise that our genetic survival insticts have disappeared. As I've said before, they're there, lurking beneath the surface. If we were to suddenly find ourselves in a post-apocalyptic era, you can be sure that they'd take center stage in short order.

The few survivors would band together and look after each other. Family members would form the tightest circles. Outside the family (even sometimes in the circle), those who betrayed trust would be ostracized. Also, a leader or leaders would emerge possessing the skills necessary to survive in the new harsh environment. All others would pay very close attention to (and defer to) the actions and desires of the leaders, for this would be their life line. Most would die. The ones that lived would be the best at keeping the group strong. This is caveman 101.

This site exists to make the point that even though our lives are comfortable and we are not in a bloody daily struggle for existence, our genetically-driven social tendencies are completely unaware of that fact. They still focus on status and appearances at the expense of practicality and reason. But it doesn't have to be this way. Sure, "domestication" is a factor, but only in so far as it indicates just how far we've come from needing the kinds of solutions our genes have to offer. We can either mount vapid arguments such as this one, insisting that doom and gloom are all the future holds (standard anti-capitalist rhetoric), or we can get to know ourselves and where we come from, and then deliberately decide what we want to be going forward. As I am an eternal optimist, I'll take the latter, thank you very much.

Thanks for the fodder, lefty.

8 Comments:

Blogger Michael Gersh said...

I think that you properly nailed that lefty, Caveman. He seems to have taken the lefty self hatred of Americans to a new level, that of hatred of his own species. If cranial size had anything to do with intelligence, Whales would have furniture, and could have protected themselves from humans with rowboats and spears.

He mat be right one one thing, though. We are, or at least, I am, domesticated. While I still WANT to impregnate one thousand women per year, I would rather keep my wife at home to take care of the kids. Ergo, the fillies in the neighborhood are left to the younger, though less well equipped, local bulls. But I must say that the Viet Cong knew better than to consider us, and our murderous proclivities, to be at less than optimum levels. Only a lefty could forget that SOME of us actually go to war.

So, don't believe for a moment that the fellow was kidding you. He clearly actually believes that U.S. Marines are inferior to Hmong tribesmen, or suburban dads are inferior to Amazonian cannibals. He never actually met any. I have, and he couldn't be more wrong.

12/26/2004 12:34:00 AM

 
Blogger strangewatters said...

Looks like I've hit a nerve. The comments about my
gender, political orientation, race, SES,etc., reveal a lot about you. The fear and disdain in your rhetoric make it clear that we're not going to be able to share equinimity in our debate. Check your research. The conclusions you are jumping to are as inaccurate as your perception of me. I'll work on my spelling. I wish you peace of mind.

12/26/2004 12:06:00 PM

 
Blogger Chris Wilson said...

Hmm. I'd say I'm the one who's hit a nerve. I'll admit to a subconcscious assumption that you're male. Maybe that's because I don't get many women responders, for whatever reason. In any case, I'll take that hit - my bad. As far as making any comments about your race or socioeconomic status, I find myself now wondering about your education status. On what reading comprehension planet do you infer anything about either of those two topics in what I wrote? Maybe what my comment reveals about me is that I am capable of mounting a counterargument about important issues, even ones that bleed over into politics, without reference to race or SES. As for your political orientation, I stand by my assumptions. If I'm wrong, tell me why.

As for fear and disdain...please! I haven't the slightest fear of whatever argument you might mount. As I said at the outset, should someone come along and offer reasonable evidence that disproves my concept, I'll willingly walk away. Though you may not believe me, I truly want you to put your best foot forward. Challenge my biases and my beliefs. I can take it. I welcome it. If you are successful in changing my mind, then that means I am better off for having discarded erroneous yet comfortable beliefs.

As for disdain, let me apologize if I inadvertantly sent that message. First of all, I really appreciate the fact that you'd take the time to comment on the site. That said, if you tell me I'm wrong, you should expect that I'll defend myself. I don't deal in personal insults (no, calling someone a socialist is not a personal attack) and I don't have anything against people who disagree with me. I think anti-capitalist multiculturalists are severely misguided, but that doesn't mean I won't break bread with them (if they pay their own way:-)

So...please do us all the favor of illuminating me on the conclusions to which I've jumped and what particular aspects you believe are incorrect. But keep in mind, you have to offer EVIDENCE for your assertions. I can't just be wrong because my statements disagree with your worldview. So come on, sister, help a brother out. We're all in this together.

12/26/2004 02:05:00 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"
We are not nearly as intelligent as we used to be? Uh. Pardon me? Come again? I realize that our society can come screeching to a halt if Nick and Jessica get into a tiff, but let's get real - we're smarter as a species than we have ever been. Not only do we simply know more stuff, but more of us actually know how to think than ever before. That's probably, and I'm guessing here, the defining trend in modern human cultural evolution - the march toward rationalism. Every year, more and more people choose science over superstition, evidence over revelation, and knowledge over ignorance. So, I'll vehemently disagree with that point."

And rightly so. Discovering your blog (one of the rational, godless posters on my blog recommended it) made my day. Thanks for being one more voice against the intellectual primitives. I use evolutionary psychology -- the data, specifically -- in my syndicated relationship advice column. You wouldn't believe -- or, then again -- you would believe, the hate mail I get from people who simply don't like the way biology plays out. It's usually women, unfortunately, who say that men simply "should" be different -- when I tell them that men are physiologically ill-prepared to be chatty, then explain why (here, if you're interested: http://www.advicegoddess.com/columns/column122.html)

Anyway, keep up the great work. All the best, -Amy Alkon, syndicated columnist and godless harlot, www.advicegoddess.com

12/26/2004 03:04:00 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Let me start by saying that cranium size is a major red herring. It's irrelevant to any discussions of this type, mainly because no one (as far as I can tell) has been able to correlate minor differences with specific differences in mental ability."

Actually there is a significant correlation between intelligence and brain size, especially the volume of frontal grey matter.

http://www.gnxp.com/MT2/archives/002366.html

http://today.uci.edu/news/release_detail.asp?key=1187

1/01/2005 10:00:00 PM

 
Blogger Chris Wilson said...

I didn't say there isn't a correlation. Of course, one of the main features of hominid evolution has been the ever-increasing brain size. I'm simply saying that there isn't any research (that I've seen) that correlates cranium (i.e. brain) size and intelligence sufficiently that we could feel safe in saying that folks with big heads are smarter than folks with small heads. The two articles provided offer nothing to change that reality. Irrelevant, your honor. Move to strike.

1/01/2005 10:57:00 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chris, if you accept that a correlation exists between brain size and intelligence, and that larger heads tend to contain larger brains, then why wouldn't you feel safe in saying that folks with bigger heads tend to be smarter than folks with smaller heads? Not in every case of course, but on average. Logically, how could it be otherwise?

mac in japan

1/02/2005 04:37:00 AM

 
Blogger Chris Wilson said...

Good question. I think the key is to think about variation. The wide range of brain sizes out there has to be fairly wide. While I would feel confident in saying that a person with a 1350cc brain is highly likely to be smarter than a person with a 1000cc brain, I don't think I'd make the same statement if the second person had a 1300cc brain.

All of the studies I've seen deal with fairly large differences in brain size, which is why they seem pretty conclusive. However, most humans will find themselves somewhere in the middle of the bell curve (by definition, I suppose). When the difference is slight, I have a hard time imagining where the reproductive advantage that drives evolution would come from. As we all know, stupid people mate like gangbusters.

We also have to remember that cranium and brain size aren't necessarily closely correlated anymore. It makes sense to suppose that over the eons other factors have played into cranium size, like the reduced jaw muscles that come from eating softer foods. Maybe at one time, cranium size could have been a predictor of intelligence. But now, I don't think so.

But hey, I'm no scientist so I could easily be wrong. And even if I were a scientist, I could still easily be wrong. Ain't that a bitch.

1/02/2005 12:55:00 PM

 

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