How Problem Solving and Neurotransmission in the Upper Paleolithic led to The Emergence and Maintenance of Memetic Equilibrium in Contemporary World Religions

Abstract

I examine the origin and development of religious belief in light of known constraints on human cognitive evolution. By examining various factors of the Upper Paleolithic, I consider the evidence for the emergence of consciousness and language, the use of human reasoning skills, and specific neuro-endocrine factors, in developing a hypothesis regarding possible proximate causes of religious behaviour: the proposition that religious belief developed as a memetic response to natural occurrences. The perceived solutions to problems through religious belief and rituals created a feeling of environmental control or memetic equilibrium the payoff of which was not merely practical, but neurochemical.

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How Problem Solving and Neurotransmission in the Upper Paleolithic led to The Emergence and Maintenance of Memetic Equilibrium in Contemporary World Religions

Introduction

The purpose of this paper is to examine the origin and development of memetic transference and equilibrium in light of currently known varying constraints on human cognitive evolution. This, I believe, will provide a working model which will allow us to better understand why various entrenched and indoctrinated belief systems like world religions play such a dominant role in today’s cultures. In order to get a relatively clear picture of such constraints, we must attempt to faithfully and responsibly represent the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness (or EEA). Since sophisticated memetic transference appears to be a relatively recent phenomenon, my analysis of the EEA will be restricted mostly to the Upper Paleolithic period. This will involve considering several contributing factors such as hominin migratory patterns, food availability/acquisition, physiological changes (including genetic mutations), meteorological/climatological and geographic changes, tool use, and other artifact records, e.g. objects of art, burial rituals, etc. After developing a representation of the environment in which our ancestors evolved, I consider the evidence for the emergence of consciousness and language, the use of human reasoning skills, and specific neurobiological factors, in an effort to develop a hypothesis regarding the origin and development of what I refer to as memetic equilibrium. My hypothesis involves the proposal that when consciousness and languages co-evolved to a sufficiently sophisticated level, memetic responses to natural occurrences gave way to greater symbolic representation and evolved conceptual schemas. As human consciousness developed, so too did our ancestors’ capacity to consider and attempt to solve more environmental problems. Problem solving, when felt to be satisfactory, produces a feeling of environmental control, stability: in short—memetic equilibrium. But the pay-off is not merely practical, providing purely functional utility; it is biochemical, and it comes in the form of neural rewards.

The relationship between the gradual emergence of conscious awareness and sophisticated languages, combined with the desire to maintain biological equilibrium, generated in our ancestors the need to establish and maintain memetic equilibria in order to fill in conceptual gaps in terms of understanding three important factors: causality, morality, and mortality. The desire to explain phenomena in relation to maintaining survival and reproductive stasis (S-R Value) generated a consciously reflective normative stance in the minds of our ancestors. And this transitional stage framed the need to introduce supernatural agency into explanatory schemas; hence, the eventual development of mythologies and religion which we see so firmly entrenched world-wide in today’s cultures.

The EEA (Upper Paleolithic)

By the time of the late Middle to Upper Paleolithic periods (70-10kya), our ancestors were, in many important respects, about as fully human as we are today. By the time they had started leaving Africa (approximately 60-100 kya), they had moved into Eurasia with increasingly sophisticated technologies:

Not only did they possess a new Upper Paleolithic stoneworking technology, they made tools from bone and antler, they brought with them art, in the form of carvings, engravings, and spectacular cave paintings; they crafted intricate personal adornments; they afforded some of their dead elaborate burials with grave goods; and their living sites were highly organized with evidence of sophisticated hunting and fishing [techniques]. The pattern of intermittent technological innovation was gone, replaced by constant refinement. Clearly, these people were us (Tattersall 2003, 26).

By 40kya, the physiological features of H. sapiens are pretty well identical to ours today. Brain development had evolved from some 400 cubic centimeters 4 million years prior to our current average of about 1350 cc’s. Our dentition and gut-size changed according to an omnivorous diet; a reduced gut size due to a higher intake of protein through meat helped supply the necessary energy needed for the recently developed larger brain.[1]

Human pharyngeal development evolved to a point in which the larynx drops in our vocal tract by the age of two thus allowing for greater articulation of sounds/speech.[2] Geographically, by approximately 20 kya, the last glacial maximum (LGM) was retreating. Meteorological effects had brought about changes in weather patterns, changes in flora/fauna development, and changes to survival strategies in terms of hunting, gathering, and scavenging. For example, Isla Castaneda’s team have determined through n-alkane carbon isotope dating, that the first migrations of Homo sapiens occurred during extremely rainy and wet conditions thus facilitating movement more easily:

Our data suggest that variability in the strength of Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) is a main control on vegetation distribution in central North Africa, and we note expansions of C3 vegetation during the African Humid Period (early Holocene) and within Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 3 (≈50–45 ka) and MIS 5 (≈120–110 ka). The wet periods within MIS 3 and 5 coincide with major human migration events out of sub-Saharan Africa. Our results thus suggest that changes in AMOC influenced North African climate and, at times, contributed to amenable conditions in the central Sahara/Sahel, allowing humans to cross this otherwise inhospitable region.[3]

In terms of genetic mutations, Richard Klein maintains that the foxp2 gene mutation was quite possibly responsible for sparking language, and contributing significantly to the development of both art and culture. As well, we have good reason to believe that our ancestors would have existed in relatively small, kin-based, nomadic groups, hunting, gathering, and scavenging for subsistence. By approximately 40kya, when the artifact records indicate how symbolic thought was represented in many newly developed and diverse ways, Homo sapiens were clearly at the forefront. And so we have at least a cursory understanding of some of the numerous constraints which existed during the EEA and contributed to the cognitive evolution of our ancestors. Let’s now look more closely at the emergence of consciousness and language during the Upper Paleolithic to see when and how cultural advances were occurring.

The Co-Evolution of Language and Consciousness

In the Tractatus Logico Philosophicus, Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world” (Wittgenstein 1981, sec. 5.6). What cannot be thought cannot be said, and what cannot be said, limits what one can know about the world. This may apply quite appropriately to hominin evolution and the emergence of consciousness and language. For human language is a tool which requires intelligence (i.e. the necessary brain size), syntax (i.e. rules), socialization (i.e. use/reference), vocalization (i.e. the necessary pharyngeal development), and creativity. It is a communal tool which allows users to manipulate their environments in diverse ways e.g. reducing locomotion, articulation of situations and events, determining and understanding social status, describing the natural world, deception (when necessary), warning, etc. I believe the greater the sophistication of ancestral languages, the greater the means by which to identify and manipulate variables in changing hominin environments. But sophisticated languages could not have developed without the co-evolution of human consciousness.

Unlike any other species, we Homo sapiens have a highly developed consciousness. But what, exactly, is consciousness? When, exactly, did it develop and emerge? And what evolutionary advantages would it have given our ancestors?  I will provide a brief functional definition which at least covers some of the necessary conditions which should adequately serve our purposes here.

  1. First of all, human consciousness involves perceptual awareness of our environment. But all species (from amoeba to zebra) have perceptual awareness of their environments.
  2. Unlike most species however, we are aware that we are aware of ourselves, our environment, and the relationship between the two. In other words, we are self-aware that we are both distinct from and a part of (an) ecology. This is what we could refer to as a type of second order or meta perception or what is often referred to as metawareness.
  3. We also have the capacity to recognize the relationship between our beliefs and our ecology. We can, through trial and error, modify our ideas, concepts, and actions in the attempt to increase the likelihood of our survival and reproductive capacities. And we can acknowledge benefit or harm relative to those beliefs and their efficacy as they are incorporated into survival strategies.
  4. Another extremely important factor in the emergence of consciousness is that we have a strong sense of mortality. As depicted in the eventual customs and burial rituals of our ancestors, we know that we are going to die. This paints a very clear conceptual picture about our own lives.[4]
  5. This has led to the emergence of a theory of mind. That is, we developed a very good capacity not only for seeing the world from the vantage of others, but in making associations about the behaviour of others based on that capacity. This has given rise to an increased ability in understanding our social standing, our abilities in making inferences about the thoughts of others, spotting deception, and for emotional feelings such as empathy.

The co-evolution of language and consciousness provided our ancestors with the newly developed—though gradually acquired—sense of mental abstraction wherein they could now see themselves in relation to the world (and its attributes), their kin, their extended social networks (the in-group) and those in the out-groups. They could then better articulate and understand relationships between themselves, their environment and others. The greater their ability to articulate through language the various relationships within their experiences, the more ‘aware’ they would have become of these relationships. And reciprocally, the more ‘aware’ they become of relationships between themselves, the world and others, the more need there would be to be able to articulate and understand these relationships in order not only to make better sense of their experiences, but to mentally rank them in terms of their suspected Survival-Reproductive (S-R) value. Nobody knows for sure how the actualization of the natural historical time period of our ancestors’ individual and group consciousness came to be. Nobody knows precisely when it happened, nor for how long. All we have are historical clues, the understanding and use of consistent logic, and the desire to put the pieces together in as epistemically responsible manner as possible. What follows is my attempt to provide insight into the early stages of cultural development and influence in an effort to put forward a hypothesis regarding the origins of mythologies and religion. This will hopefully provide a working model which will allow us to better understand why various entrenched and indoctrinated belief systems like world religions play such a dominant role in today’s cultures.

Biological and Memetic Equilibrium

Biological Equilibrium

All biological species have a complex relationship with their ecological niches or environments. Given a specified number of variables and constraints, species tend to gravitate towards equilibrium after potentially moving through phases of proliferation and near-extinction.  According to Looman:

A model of ecosystems shows that four basic factors are operative in ecosystems: the constraint, or habitat-type; the regulator, or carrying capacity of the substrate; the input, or organisms; and the operator, death. The Theory of Biological Equilibrium (TBE) proposed, postulates that Natural Biological Equilibrium is reached when the individuals in an ecosystem are in dynamic balance with the carrying capacity of the substrate of the ecosystem. [5]

Within each niche, species develop fluctuating relationships between various floral/faunal species. Prior to the emergence of consciousness and language, humans, like all species, can be defined functionally as pre-conscious systematic reciprocating feedback-looping biological machines acting in accordance to blind algorithmic processes within varying ecological niches. We can now ask to what extent the macro programs of sex and survival, and the varying constraints of the EEA, had led to the feedback of information which created a biological or naturalized definition of value as that which was consciously or reflectively considered to be good to the organism Homo sapiens in relation to its current niche. Good is defined here, in the EEA, not as Plato would define it (as some universal Form), but as that which establishes and attempts to maintain (a) biological equilibrium. Goodness, then, is measured purely in terms of fitness for survival and reproduction (or S-R value).

Memetic Equilibrium

In terms of cultural language reference, ideas, procedures, etc., I have adopted Richard Dawkins’ useful term memes to refer to cultural units of information which various cultures have invented, developed, and transferred to each other. Dawkins defines memes as

tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms and eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation (Dawkins 1976, 206)

Although I do not personally subscribe to the entire theory of memetics, I do believe the term ‘memes’ can be an extremely useful one in defining all cultural artifacts. By the time of the so-called Cultural Explosion (the period of the Upper Paleolithic dating about 40-70 kya), all of the necessary conditions were in place to bring about such an increase in hominin cultural activity (a perfect storm of causal elements). The artifact records give us some indication that intentionality and direction depicted in symbolic representation reveals a sharp increase in material manipulation which could not have been done without a fairly developed consciousness and languages which could facilitate such expression. I maintain that consciousness and language are at least necessary conditions for sophisticated symbolic representation, i.e. you simply cannot make or paint the shape of a horse without some concept of ‘horseness’ to which the figure or symbol (or meme) refers. The mental template and concept must be present prior to the manipulation of materials. And such manipulation is a strong indication of intentionality of representation; a representation which could not have been made figuratively without the precursors of language and consciousness. By 40kya, it appears that the necessary conditions for consciousness and language had reached a critical point. Within varying ecological niches, cultures developed identities (through memetic transference). The greater the articulation of language for reference combined with a feedback-looping relationship with an increasingly developing consciousness, the greater the memes can be acquired and applied.  A memetic equilibrium now emerges—both with individuals, kin and throughout social groups. Rituals, rites of passage, and other activities designating importance develop and entrench meaning and significance to specific memes.

Some examples might include hunting techniques, migration patterns, survival strategies, pair-bonding, and mythologies regarding causal origins, morality, etc. Challenges to such memes may cause memetic disequilibria amongst individuals, kin, or entire groups. Schisms may develop and further distinguish group identities. In this manner, challenges to and fluctuations from an established memetic equilibrium indicate positive and negative value—for the individual, the kin, or the group.

As we can see in some of the artifact records, there is a fairly clear indication of a pattern of sophistication of materials manipulation increasing significantly around 40kya.When communication became more socialized and prevalent, the understanding of environments by our ancestors would have given way to a greater capacity to conceptualize in ways both conducive to and nonconducive to survival. There appear to be three strong motivating factors for this memetic transference in terms of developing explanatory schema during the Upper Paleolithic:

  1. Causality
  2. Morality
  3. Mortality

It is my hypothesis that after our ancestors developed the capacity to consciously reflect on their environment and their place in it, and established cultures with thriving memetic transferences developed, future experiences would have required explanation relative to their current conceptual (memetic) schemas. With the newly developed capacity for information acquisition, and the conscious ability to direct inductions, the ancestral desire to solve problems in the EEA would have involved the invention of novel memes. The greater the ability for these memes to satisfy the established conceptual schemas of particular individuals within a social group, the greater their value—irrespective of whether or not the memes were ultimately conducive to individual, kin or group survival. The memes did not always have to increase the likelihood for survival and reproduction—by the time language and consciousness had emerged to a sufficient degree, memes simply had to present in the minds of the individual, kin or group, the illusion of understanding, benefit and perceived control. But what is the driving mechanism behind this desire for memetic equilibrium? The answer lies in our neurochemistry.

Problem Solving, Emotions and Neurotransmitters: The “Zing”

It is important to note that the S-R Value attained through memetic development and transference is often contextual and only has to produce an illusion of benefit with a neural payload in order to be valued. What delivers the neural reward or payload are specific neurotransmitters which are chemicals which relay, amplify and modulate electrical signals between neurons and other cells. They affect our memory retention, perception of pain, mood, and abilities to learn, by binding to specific receptor sites in our brains. There are over 50 known types of neurotransmitters; the ones that concern us most in our endeavour include, but are not limited to: endorphins, dopamine, serotonin (5-HT), oxytocin, and vasopressin. Regions of the brain most commonly affected by these neurotransmitters include but are not limited to: the nucleus acumbens, caudate nucleus, ventral tegmental area, medial prefrontal cortex, and ventral striatum[6].

The important point to note is that it is the ‘zing’ of the perception of problem-solving which will reduce stress and return individuals, kin or groups to memetic equilibrium. At the Canadian Institute of Stress[7], for example, findings have demonstrated a clear indication that transcutaneous stimulation of opioid neuropeptides reduces fatigue, impaired psychomotor performance, and brainwave hyperstimulation.

In terms of cognitive abilities, learning, and problem-solving, there is an intimate relationship between emotions, neurotransmitters, and the environment. Without a more sophisticated symbolic form of representation, it is doubtful that our ancestors would have been able to articulate specific natural occurrences in their environments which elicited powerful emotional responses. Once the capacity to consciously and symbolically represent such occurrences evolved, our ancestors would have found the need to memetically explain gaps within their conceptual schemas. Those gaps most acutely relevant to their survival/reproduction capacities would have caused the greatest amount of stress (due to the potential decrease in S-R value and resulting disequilibrium). We can make a relatively safe assumption, then, that once the capacity for conscious memetic gap-filling was possible, this would have been a powerful tool for dealing with environmental stress conditions.

Sapolsky summarizes such an emotional neuroendocrine feedback loop this way:[8]

The neuralendocrine causal mechanism which is simplified above represents only one of many diverse pathways stress responses feedback loop in different regions of the human brain. However, the fact that Sapolsky has acknowledged that threats can be either real or perceived is a good indication of the power memes can have in terms of interpretations of threats.

And this does not mean that the memes had to satisfy criteria which we, today, believe to be indicative of an epistemically responsible view of our world and ourselves. The memes simply had to do the job in satiating the need to reduce stress levels among individuals, kin or groups. And so sometimes, the drive to establish and maintain memetic equilibrium can override or eclipse the importance of biological equilibrium.

So memes can kill you. For example, immature proto-science in the form of religious or mythological belief has and still does stand in the way of human survival. Examples range from tossing virgins into volcanoes to taking vows of celibacy to disallowing condom use in third world countries. But this is because our ancestors developed the conscious capacity to attribute value to those concepts which brought about memetic equilibrium. And sometimes, the importance of memetic equilibrium can eclipse biological equilibrium in terms of hierarchical value. It is in this complex array of feedback-looping mechanisms between memes and bio-physiological responses that gives rise to a close relationship between biological and memetic equilibrium.

Causality, Morality and Mortality:

Strong Motivating Factors for Memetic Transference and Equilibrium

1. Causality

In the process of human survival and in the effort to maintain biological equilibrium, various stresses would have occurred within any nomadic ancestral group e.g. predator avoidance, natural disasters, in-group/out-group conflicts, etc. With the co-evolution of language and consciousness, greater problem-solving tools developed which would have provided the means by which to consciously attempt to reduce stress in an effort to maintain both biological and memetic equilibrium. Consider the following thought experiment involving a situation some 30-40kya in which our hominin ancestors witness a natural disaster such as the eruption of a nearby volcano. Forty thousand years ago, such a powerful force would have produced within our ancestors a conceptual gap. In order to fill this gap, rather than advancing a plate tectonic model by which to understand this type of activity (for they simply did not possess the mental maps to allow for this), it may well have been filled in with what was conceptually available to them at the time (what is sometimes referred to by philosophers as ‘facticity’).

In some instances, this may have taken the form of a god-of-the-gaps. Of course, in place of a god, one might imagine the memetic invention of an evil deity as well e.g. demons, devils, etc., because a volcano is seen as a natural variable which can bring about great harm. The important point to note is that without more sophisticated forms of understanding in which to conceptualize causal forces in the natural world, the attribution of agency to both fortuitous and harmful events was intellectually economic and may simply have made sense within specific conceptual schemas. The idea of agency attribution to causal forces can be seen quite evidently even today. Notice how, even in the 21st Century, some inhabitants of New Orleans viewed Hurricane Katrina as a deliberate act of agency. And for those who have definite in-group agendas, such a natural act can be understood as wrathful by a vengeful agent. For example, a group by the name of Repent believe that Hurricane Katrina was a deliberate act of God (Christian) to wipe out the ‘southern decadence’ of “drunken homosexuals engaging in sex acts in the public streets and bars”.[9] And Fred Phelps, the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church and website: www.GodHatesFags.com also stated that Hurricane Katrina was God’s retribution for homosexuals. And then there’s Pat Robertson who maintained that the devastating 7.0 earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, was due to a centuries-old pact between Haitians and the devil.

2. Morality

Understanding what triggers emotional responses to various experiences would have generated the conscious and deliberate acts of directing behaviour in ways which can alleviate stress and optimize neural payloads. Kin and group-shared interests and the ensuing cooperation in those interests is yet another way in which memetic equilibrium is maintained. And this can be found in a shared understanding of a list of do’s and don’t's which may or may not be endorsed by an unseen force but will most likely be endorsed by kin and generally, the group. The various necessary conditions which developed throughout the EEA have eventually allowed us to invent all kinds of ideas about how we should behave towards one another, and towards those not belonging to our particular group.

In relation to other groups who share different sets of memes, one can see the potential for memetic disequilibria and conflict. Pecking orders can be viewed as proto-moral systems as well. Crude: toe the line, or else![10] This can be seen in other mammalian species as well such as chimpanzees, lions, wolves, meerkats, etc. In a variety of species other than ours, pecking orders are clearly defined and the rules of behaviour are clearly known by the group. Once consciousness and symbolic representation reached a sufficient point in cognition and expression within our species, the attribution of moral incentives as rules defining group behaviour would have developed in more complex and articulate ways. Consequently, reward and punitive measures are often well-defined in the pecking orders of other animal cultures. If other mammals have systems of behaviour which elicit implicit or explicit values which are known and shared by a group, then we can analogously infer that our ancestors would have had similar reward/punishment responses to in-group (and eventually, out-group) behaviours. We must not forget that the memes which happen to be valued by one in-group need not be conducive to increasing S-R Value for the individual, kin or entire group. The memes simply needed to satisfy memetic gaps and reduce stress thus producing the illusion of control.

3. Mortality

Once a group member died, and our ancestors possessed the necessary conditions to acknowledge their own ignorance relative to their conceptual schemas (i.e. language and consciousness), they would have been able to observe that the dead individual differs from them in distinct, comparative and disanalogous ways i.e. he is not like us any more, he is not moving, he smells bad, he is changing i.e. decaying, something is wrong/bad (where ‘badness’ again refers to a disruption in biological equilibria and a decrease of S-R Value; for the state of death has an S-R Value of 0 [zero]). To have made this distinction between life and death and relate it back onto themselves through this conscious feedback loop would have been a very powerful comparative tool which would have clearly presented our ancestors with a causal understanding of a very important relationship about themselves and others like them. A theory of mind would have transferred back onto them the realization that individuals who die are not coming back.

So the idea of immortality: that a person is not really gone, may fly in the face of reason, but it is one that would have provided a memetic buffer which would have eased the primal angst of their mortality. The hereafter, then, is a memetic lie which fills a very big and emotionally troubling gap. From the moment our ancestors first realized their mortality to this day—we have been in denial of it. It is a neural ‘zing’ which feedbacks and provides what a particular group considers to be important or valuable—hence, the eventual ritualized burials we see about 30 – 70 kya. The stress of fear, the feeling of dread, expressed in its neuroendocrinological relationship, is appeased by gap-filling memes of mythologies of the hereafter. The mythologies can then become highly ritualized. The concept of immortality restores emotional stasis or equilibrium to individuals within a group. It is a neural-induced deception devoutly to be wished. If it goes unchallenged, and gains favour within a group, it may become firmly entrenched and well respected. Awareness of one’s own eventual demise, then, is a considerable disruption to one’s memetic equilibrium. In response, memes developed as neural-induced gap-fillers in order to establish and maintain equilibrium.

Conclusion

I believe that we have significant evidence indicating many of the evolutionary constraints which contributed to the transitional phases through which hominins evolved cognitively from pre-conscious to gradually increasingly conscious states. We have seen how pre-conscious and linguistically limited hominins would have, like all species in the EEA, developed patterns of behaviour consistent with increasing the likelihood of survival-reproductive value (S-R value) and maintaining biological equilibrium. With the co-evolution of language and consciousness, our ancestors were able to better understand relationships in terms of causality, morality, and mortality. And this is where we begin to see the incorporation of more and more memes into emerging and developing cultures. As more and more memes develop within specific cultures, a memetic equilibrium develops. Deviations from the memetic equilibrium may produce disequilibria amongst individuals, kin or groups.

I have also argued that memes have the capacity to deviate from biological equilibrium if the perceived benefit of the meme(s) is intended to increase S-R value. And so there is an intimate connection between the memes of any particular individual, kin or group and their biological equilibrium. We have also seen how some memes may provide practical benefit which may increase the S-R value for the individual, kin or group. When problem-solving is coherent with one’s belief system, there can be a practical payload—a shared meme within a community which may be valued for specific practical reasons. It can solidify endorsement which further segregates the very important beliefs from other types of beliefs, strategies, etc., and helps to establish in-group memetic equilibrium.

But we also saw how memes can provide the illusion of benefit and actually decrease S-R value and biological equilibrium. Even if memes as explanations for things causal, moral, and spiritual are inconsistent with physical constraints, the neural payload (the ‘zing’) may eclipse the practical survival value e.g. if you chuck all the virgins into the volcano and have no fertile women left, you eventually take the whole tribe out of existence.

Once one has the capacity to realize the benefit or feeling of having been right in a certain respect relative to their current beliefs; once one has this knowledge of their belief set and then can actively go about resolving a particular problem that is, in some ways, consistent or coherent within that particular belief system, then one has the capacity to recognize the memetic relationship between concepts, beliefs, and actions and so emerges the conscious recognition and pursuit of S-R value.  The desire to increase S-R value provides the pursuit of a memetic equilibrium which feedback loops to one’s biological equilibrium thus creating an intimate relationship and providing one with the zing of perceived control. Since the early stages of our ancestors’ evolved conscious ability to acknowledge the extent of their control over survival and reproduction, they have been filling in conceptual gaps with explanations that maintain their memetic equilibrium. Since the relatively recent co-evolution of sophisticated languages and consciousness in the Paleolithic Period, there would have been a desire generated by which to control their environments and increase their chances of surviving and reproducing through a perceived understanding of things causal, moral, and mortal.

This perceived control produces a neural reward that can produce satisfaction regardless of whether or not it increases individual, kin, or group S-R value.

This is one of the paradoxes of Homo sapiens: we experience the unity and diversity of a mind shaped by eons of life as hunter-gatherers. We experience its unity in the common possession of an awareness of self and a sense of awe at the miracle of life. And we experience its diversity in the different cultures—expressed in language, customs, and religions—that we create and that create us. We should rejoice at so wondrous a product of evolution (Leakey, 1994, 156).

Rejoice, indeed. What a zing!

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Notes


[1] Richard Wrangham and others have argued, of course, that the cooking of vegetables could have also released the types of nutrients needed to supply energy for the rather quickly developing hominid brains. See: Wrangham et al, 1999. But meat provides greater protein needed for brain encephalization.

[2] See Lieberman:1975 and 1984.

[3] Isla S. Castañeda, Stefan Mulitza, Enno Schefuß, Raquel A. Lopes dos Santos, Jaap S. Sinninghe Damsté, and Stefan Schouten Wet phases in the Sahara/Sahel region and human migration patterns in North Africa PNAS published online before print November 12, 2009, doi:10.1073/pnas.0905771106.

[4] Several researchers have devoted considerable time to examining the effect of ancestral conscious realization of imminent demise. See Boyer: 2001; Alper: 2001; and Atran: 2002.

[5] Biological Equilibrium in Ecosystems 1. A Theory of Biological Equilibrium, by J. Looman © 1976 Opulus Press.

[6] Image from: http://images.google.ca/imgres?imgurl=http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh314/images/03_01.gif&imgrefurl=http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh314/310-339.htm&usg=__2xCLZkwZAXMFzjQZy5-cG6Z0MpM=&h=300&w=450&sz=56&hl=en&start=3&um=1&itbs=1&tbnid=GnXLRllY-KFxyM:&tbnh=85&tbnw=127&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dnucleus%2Bacumbens,%2Bcaudate%2Bnucleus,%2Bventral%2Btegmental,%2Bmedial%2Bprefrontal%2Bcortex,%2Band%2Bventral%2Bstriatum%26gbv%3D2%26ndsp%3D21%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DN%26um%3D1

[7] See: http://www.stresscanada.org/

[8] Sapolsky, 2003.

[9] See: http://www.repentamerica.com/pr_hurricanekatrina.html

[10] See de Waal, 2000,2001.

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