Lecture Series on Human Evolution

Lecture Series on Human Evolution

A series of five 2018 lectures on human evolution, beginning with the great apes as a behavioral baseline and ending with higher intellectual functions.

  1. Great Apes: The baseline for human evolution

They are “almost us” when it comes to emotional expressions and postures. The lesser apes and monkeys only have a little of that, mostly the play face and the grooming arm lifts. Only orangutans among the great apes show a distinct capacity for imitation. Gorillas have become vegetarians, with gut length to match, and most cannot recognize themselves in a mirror. But otherwise, chimps and bonobos have the most human-like behaviors.

  1. The Lifestyle that Led to Humans

The hunter-gatherer-scavenger lifestyle shows how sharp tools were manufactured and used in power scavenging, the habitat of the African Rift Valley, and how, in times when the grass was greener for awhile, it led prehumans up the Red Sea, Dead Sea, and on to Dmanisi, Georgia in the first Out of Africa at 1.8 million years ago.

  1. The Fast Track to a Bigger Brain

This third lecture takes a complex-systems look at one aspect of the meat supply that is subject to boom-and-bust. It constitutes amplifying feedback for certain alleles and seems capable of producing trait hitchhiking. It shows a route to a bigger brain that is not dependent on the usual Darwinian selective survival. Instead it involves a less familiar aspect of natural selection, selective reproductive opportunity, in a boom time as another way to shift allele ratios. It operates so quickly that the cosmic-ray mutation rate becomes the rate-limiting aspect of brain enlargement, 460 cc every million years.

  1. Our Kind of Language: Mind-reading, Writ Large

It helps you to gossip about “Who did what to whom, where, when, and with what means?” But how do you enable someone else to “read your mind,” to reconstruct all of your model of the action inside their head? To help that person guess well, you use the syntax of long-sentence language. By the third year, babies have self-organized their brain for the structuring that they often hear.

  1. Our Kind of Looking Ahead: Higher Intellectual Functions

Groups as the setting for increasing cooperation; group selection. Our mental life far exceeds that of the great apes. “Going meta” another level. Higher intellectual functions and consciousness. Creativity’s quality problem, when starting with amalgamations as incoherent as dreams. What in 1987, I called a Darwin Machine, may be the foundation. Might we be “Just out of beta?”