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Human Superiority - Was It Divine Intervention
A very intelligent writer, HeadlyVonNoggin, made the point that it seems almost miraculous that humans would develop the immense capabilities to create societies and technologies in the remarkably short period of time that we did it in!
In order to fully judge the situation it is useful to know the background facts.
The Upper Palaeolithic Revolution
- Anatomical modern humans such as you and I first appeared 200,000 years ago.
- For 160,000 years these new humans lived much like the predecessors before them.
- Suddenly, 40,000 years ago, those humans began developing advances which we now understand to be exclusively 'human'. This is the 'Upper Palaeolithic Revolution". It saw:
- New hunting techniques
- New technology such as using 'blades', bone weaponry, and 'harpoons'
- New ways of dealing with death (burials)
- The emergence of symbolic art - no human art has been found further back than 50,000 years.
- This symbolic art has been proposed to be the 'start of language' and therefore arguably it was during the upper palaeolithic revolution that language first came about!
Due to these new abilities, humans were able to establish dominance over the other hominids and great apes. From then on, the dominance of humankind was set in stone and we had only ourselves to fear (and we did a great job of warring each other for the next 40,000 years).
A Genetic Explanation
Modern humans came about 200,000 years ago, whilst it took 160,000 years for us to begin showing these modern human characteristics.
The idea, then, is that a genetic mutation of the brain occurred within those competitive 160,000 years that allowed us greater sociability and other cognitive abilities.
You might ask "what then was the mutation in the brain" and to this I can only speculate a minor chemical change in the shape of neurons that allowed them to connect more efficiently.
But why would Evolution make us so much Better?
Now, there is nothing that says evolution only changes us in a minor way just enough so that we can barely survive. It is feasible that the change gave us a very large advantage - I feel there's not really a strong argument in saying "but why was the advantage such overkill" for this reason.
What Kind of Change?
It has been shown that the fats gained from fish (and such is the importance of omega3) creates more flexible neurons than the fats from animals. These neurons are considered to be more efficient due to the increased flexibility of the ion channels (see here for a children's scientific explanation).
Perhaps, then, it is a similar concept concerning our neurons compared to that of the other apes. Maybe the genetic mutation that occurred oh so long ago was one of fundamental biochemistry in our brain. After all, the DHA fatty acid that causes a clear difference in neuron function will use the less efficient but almost identical DPA acid (which we can get from animal fat) if no DHA is present. It seems plausible then that a very small mutation can lead to a very big difference in the brain, especially since a small mutation to billions of neurons would undoubtedly lead to a huge difference.
Closing the Case
In order to know for sure if this is the case we would have to time travel.
Now we have reached the frustrating science of neurology, and the even more frustrating topic of history - we cannot know what kind of neurons are competitors had 40,000 years ago because neurons decay rapidly after death, all we can do is speculate.
We can of course try and study our own neurons and compare that to those of great apes alive today.
In the end - and this is definitely not the first time this has happened - the argument comes to a grinding halt at the road block known to us as a gap in missing scientific knowledge.
Theistic nay-sayers may of course claim that this lack of knowledge means our superiority arose from a God intervening during the upper palaeolithic period, but I'm sure you agree that that particular argument would be fallacious.
Thank you for your time!
Do you think it is possible that in 60,000 years a mutation in the brain lead to human's having superior cognitive abilities?
Important Facts from the Video
- Art was sought after as the only way to determine when we first started to 'think' as this was an example of clear communication.
- Scientists began their search of art by following the path that humans took out of Africa.
- They found no art in Africa or middle-Asia but did find it in Europe.
Neanderthals v Humans
- Neanderthals had very simple tools and didn't produce art and no attempts at ornaments.
- With the appearance of modern humans in Europe 40,000 years ago, Neanderthals (who had long been there already) were out-competed by modern humans who used their superior brains.
- Neanderthal had larynxes that suggest they could speak like humans do.
- In Israel, a neanderthal hyoid bone was found and compared to that of a modern human hyoid. They were the same, meaning that neanderthals were physically capable of speech like humans, perhaps better.
- Their large chests and large noses meant they were likely to make louder sounds than us.