The Myth of a Constant Humanity

Reading through the pages of National Geographic and archaeology books as a kid.  I would often encounter passages that asserted human beings had been more less unchanged as a species since the rise of Homo sapiens.  The line was drawn somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago.  Geologically an instant ago, historically too long ago to touch off debates about present day peoples.  At the time I sucked up all this information, not putting any thought into this proposition.

Most every book or publication I read as a kid asserted that there are no significant biological differences between different groups of human being.  Because all populations of humans are easily capable of interbreeding all are assumed to be more or less equivalent across the ages.

When I read through my first books on ancient history and mythology, writers always went out of their way to point out that people thousands of years ago in lands far away were having the same thoughts and issues that we do today.  Part of the intent was to make ancient history seem more immediate to young readers.  Another, now obvious subtext was the idea: humanity is constant across time and place.

Years later as an adult, I was reading about game theory and the co-existence of different survival strategies in the male populations of various species.  Our initial supposition might be that a single most successful strategy would outcompete all others.  Such is not the case.  Instead, all strategies settle into a Nash equilibrium and coexist.  A common pattern in species is to have a protector male and a seducer male.  The protector’s strategy is to gain dominion over a harem and then stand guard.  He is the manly man.  In many species, the sneaky seducer male is hard to tell apart from females so he can blend in.  The seducer male infiltrates the harems assembled by the manly men.  In this system, there’s an optimum ratio of the population that could be composed of manly men and an optimum ratio for girly men.  If there’s too many harem makers, it’s a field day for the seducers.  If there’s too many seducers, there’s not enough dupes holding on to harems.

Humans are most definitely a species in which we observe a wide variety of survival and reproduction strategies.  As conditions have changed for the human species, a different set of individuals succeeds in reproducing.  While many traits of humanity are universal, their distribution and degree varies widely across populations separated by time and/or place. At our present accelerated rate of social and technological change, the selectors for fitness are also constantly changing.  We can therefore assume that the composition of the human race has the potential to change radically with every generation.  Every generation is a new human race.  Our lifetimes decide what the human race will become…

We can derive through common sense that every isolated human population has selected for unique distributions of traits or even combinations of universal traits that result in new, unique attributes.

Politically correct wisdom insists it takes millions of years for any significant differences to arise between populations.  Yet this doesn’t seem to be the case with other animals.  A Russian geneticist named Belyaev managed to breed wild foxes into domesticated animals within a short time.  The wild ancestors of barely a decade ago would snap and growl at any human that came near them.  The descendants on the other hand exhibited all the traits we associate with domesticated dogs.  They wagged their tails, barked, and were receptive to human body language.  Amazingly, they also developed the patched and multi-colored coats we associate with domesticated dogs.  One trait(tameness) when strongly selected for resulted in many unintended changes in linked traits.  Based on this result, one could anticipate an extensive degree of variation between isolated human populations.

If wild dogs can be turned into domesticated dogs within several generations, it makes no sense to suppose that isolated human populations exposed to varying stresses for thousands of years would be the same.

When it comes to human beings, it’s not just the body that is bound to show a great deal of variation but also the mind.

Living as skilled urban professionals for centuries produced the Ashkenazi Jews and the Parsees, both groups known for superior skills in logic and reasoning.

Millennia of wilderness survival produced the Australian Aborigines, a population with a poor aptitude for logic skills but with a highly developed intuitive/pre-conscious mind.  They are able to easily enter into trance and meditative states.  They also have an ability to sense magnetic fields that is vestigial at best in other human populations.

The assumption that human traits are constant across place and population fails to bear up against the least bit of scrutiny.  The idea of human uniformity is unfortunately the only view we will ever see espoused within the bounds of political correctness.  We can expect it will stay that way for the time being because an entire card house of beliefs and values has been built on this shaky foundation.

Advertisements

3 responses to “The Myth of a Constant Humanity

  1. As you’ll be happy to know, too much is made of the Belyaev experiment:
    http://retrieverman.wordpress.com/2011/11/19/marbled-and-pearl-phase-red-foxes/
    Belyaev suggested that his team was actually selecting for for genes that affect neurotransmitters that also affect melanin production. So in this hypothesis, the selection for “tameness” increased the likelihood of producing spots. But captivity produces a series of selection pressures on wild species that might be connected to selecting for both neurotransmitters and spots. It’s not tameness as defined by this experiment that affects morphology. It is simply being bred in captivity that produced the spots.

    Again, we actually don’t know the exact genetic basis behind the spotting, but we do know that these are phases that have been selected for in captivity.

    Mark Derr in How the Dog Became the Dog points out that the control population of foxes in the Belyaev experiment also produced these spotted forms. It was not the selection for tameness or docility that produced the spots.

  2. Another post that deals with Belyaev:
    http://retrieverman.wordpress.com/2011/09/20/the-myth-of-neoteny/
    One of the big flaws in Coppinger’s analysis is the reliance upon the Belyaev fox farm experiment to generate most of this theory. I agree that this is an interesting study, but it can’t tell us everything there is to know about dog domestication. It’s not a good 1:1 comparison. In the end, I think the most important thing to come from the experiment is
    the change in the critical period time between non-selection and selection for tameness foxes. That change in critical periods can have really major effects upon the development of any animal, because a longer period gives an animal much longer time to become social to more creatures. Further, the floppy ears and spots have occurred in farmed foxes for many years, and there is no evidence that these foxes are tame. There are whole strains of non-tame farmed foxes that are spotted. And then, there’s the case of a line of Mexican wolves that were kept at Carlsbad Caverns. After generations of keeping them in captivity, they started to develop dog-like features, even though they had never been selected for tameness. Because of these features, the wolves were thought to be hybrids with dogs and were euthanized. However, the DNA analysis of surviving wolves from this lineage revealed that they were pure Mexican wolves.

  3. All fashion of the mind and thought, including science and religion are adaptive mechanisms. Humans have gradually gone from adapting to the elements and their physical environment to adapting to living within close quarters of each other in increasingly high density populations. Thus all modes of thought and dialectics developed between individuals have evolved collectively under their various circumstances (language, economic environment factors and whatnot). I personally suspect that anatomic homo sapiens spread themselves throughout the ecosphere much more rapidly than conventionally imagined and were much more proliferant and “evolved” (in a solely imaginary linear progression sense) than has been discovered.

    There may have been many more ‘cousins’ like Neanderthal present at least across the Eurasian landmass, and there remains many questions as to when and if there was speciation if ever.

    Would not behavioral adaptive traits overtake the rate of change we see in more physically expressed forms of change?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s