The great leap: "60,000 years ago humans were on the brink of extinction. An evolutionary eyeblink later, there are over 6 billion of us. How did we do it?" [Guardian Unlimited > [ t e c h n o c u l t u r e ]] [Universal Rule]
More and more evidence is emerging that something unusual happened with humans about 60,000 years ago. I'm waiting for the movie. [A Man with a Ph.D. - Richard Gayle's Weblog]
The breakout 60-40,000 bc is the tipping point where man left the world of animals. More and more the thesis behind this shift has been that complex language appeared at this time. A blind alley for research has been the search for a mechanical adjustment in the body - the throat/larynx area. Soft tissue does not last - hence "proof" of language as a product of mechanical adaptation cannot be found.
More progressive researchers think instead about mindset and culture as evidenced in rates of innovation in tools and art which can be observed. There is no doubt that the rate of innovation becomes exponential for homo sapiens at this time. Poor old Neanderthal has almost no innovation. Art appears to explode fully realized at this time "Lascaux"
The theory that appeals to me is that early man could speak even Neanderthal. But early language as with say highly evolved apes and monkeys was not merely vocal but used a wide range of visuals. Alarm calls, food calls, are all part of the language of many primates. This language is by definition trapped in the present. "Hungry" "Back off" "I want you" I'm sad" etc My mother in law still lives in this world of the emotional present. It is a language of self - we see the world only through our eyes and only in the now. There is no future. The driving force is emotion. This mindset does not allow us to imagine a future and hence there can be no speculative innovation. You can only learn by observing the work of another directly. It is very hard to to exchange ideas outside of a tribe. I bet the vocal apparatus evolved in this prolonged era of mother in law world view. So the tools were ready for a different application.
So how did we speak in anew way that enabled us to think of a future and to learn indirectly?
Robin Dunbar suggests that complex speech evolved for man from the primate habit of grooming. All Primates groom. The reason is to keep up emotional health in a hierarchy. Grooming enables you to form and sustain your protective political alliances and community within the tribe that keeps you safe from internal aggression. You get the protection of some alphas and you support each other when you have been put upon by a higher person. We do this at the office but today we use words and we call it gossip. Human society like all primate society is highly political and hierarchical. Think of high school! The cool set - cliques etc.
This is Dunbar's aha! As we moved onto the Savannah where we had to hunt in an organized manner - unit size had to grow so that there were at least 8 adult males. This drove a tribal size of about 40 with perhaps 8 adult females and 15 youths and children. As the unit size grew there was a conflict between the grooming time needed to hold the structure together and the time needed for other activities such as hunting and food preparation. You can only groom one person at a time but you can gossip with many - especially is you are a woman and you are sitting by the fire working on skins with the other women while looking out for the kids. So we started to chat! Getting my drift?
Might social software act as a chat/gossip amplifier? Might it be a driver for an extension of mindset and consciousness that gossip drove 60,000 years ago?