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Joined: 17 Mar 2006
|Posted: Sat Dec 04, 2010 1:24 am Post subject: A giant 4 million year-old monkey might also be going insane
|I've been taking on a research project for the last few years
that has started to produce results, though I can't say that it is
clear how useful those results will be.
Cosmology, origins of Christianity, evolution, anthropology. Evidently
there's something that's been bugging me, and I've been trying to
figure out what.
It is so easy to accept the world we were born into as the way things
have always been. Okay, the people back 100 years ago sent
postcards instead of emails, but other than that... right? I think it's
fair to say that we, as animals, haven't changed all that much, but
that the technology and culture of our society has. If you believe in
evolution, as I do, then simple things like driving a car take on a kind
of mysterious quality -- what was it in our evolutionary background that
led us to be able to navigate a vehicle weighing a ton or more at speeds
that exceed the fastest runner by an factor of 10 or more? Mysterious.
What is it with those beautiful women and high-status men? I don't
expect to lay out the whole argument in a single screen shot, but, in brief,
the differences between the sexes, so called "sexual dimorphism", provides
a clue into the reproductive strategies in play during the existence of
homo sapiens, and, by extension, throughout the hominid line of evolution.
In short, a pronounced difference between the bodies of the different
sexes is associated with a polygynous society. Think elephant seals
and their harems, think winner take all tournaments.
Those strategies and behaviors must still be with us. Evolution doesn't
change creatures that fast. The strategies that led us to exist here
and now, must still be operative in us.
Our closest evolutionary relatives are no longer with us, and we have
only small clues to help us understand how they behaved, while our
closest living relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos, don't follow a
straight line -- as they say, "it's complicated". It's hard to avoid, though,
the notion that the reproductive strategies of our ancestor's ancestor's
ancestors must still be with us, still driving us even in the age of
I find that when I think in these terms, I can explain, or at least
better understand, contemporary human behavior. Sexual fetishes,
hoarding, divorce rates, homosexuality, even rape, all these can be
made sense of, when you understand that we are what got us here.
The story, and the data behind it, go on and on, and I've only just
begun to take it all in.
Still, it forms a kind of "lens", this 4-million year, what-would-an-early-
hominid-understand perspective. I've started seeing my day-to-day
interactions with people through this lens, without, of course, abandoning
the normal contemporary view.
Meanwhile, I've still been assimilating a comparison I encountered
some time ago, about how big humans are.
The comparison was simple, but striking. If you imagine that atoms
were the size of marbles, then one human hand would be big enough
to spread across the United States of America. I've found it useful
to focus a bit more closely, and make a follow-on comparison.
If atoms were the size of marbles, then a single joint in a single
finger of one hand would be the size of Oregon, filled 300 miles high
with marbles. I'm not quite prepared to prove this, but I do hope to
derive it independently sometime, as well as "flesh" out various
caveats and implications. Suffice it to say, it turns out that we are giants.
These are powerful truths. And I wonder now if they are too powerful.
Most of the time, my thinking and behavior reflect the conventional
view, the kind of thought process one gets from watching television,
or from having gone through a conventional educational upbringing.
Having had a lifetime of this thought process, the conventional view
is normally plenty effective, and is the superior view.
But sometimes, I see it all through the lens of a giant 4-million-year-old,
hominid, surrounded by similar creatures.
I just wonder where this will end. Will this strange new mindset
come to predominate? And how will it seem to those that don't
share it? Sanity is famously a social construct, determined by
adherence to a majority view.
I survived the incorporation of Game theory into my mindset,
but by thinking myself to be a giant 4-million year old hominid,
I might already be technically considered insane.
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