The generic human need to make and listen to music, for instance, might be explained at the level of evolutionary psychology, but the emergence of the classical symphony certainly cannot. In fact, the insistence on finding explanations of cultural difference in terms of biological evolution exactly misses the point of the great evolutionary innovation represented by Homo sapiens, the massive development of non-genetic learning.
— Bernard Williams
, English moral philosopher, described by The Times as the “most brilliant and most important British moral philosopher of his time.” (1929-2003), Truth and Truthfulness
, Princeton University Press, 2002, p. 28.
" “Mythmaking could never discover the origin and meaning of humanity” — and contemporary philosophy is also irrelevant, having “long ago abandoned the foundational questions about human existence.” The proper approach to answering these deep questions is the application of the methods of science, including archaeology, neuroscience and evolutionary biology. Also, we should study insects." "
— Edward O. Wilson
, American biologist, researcher in sociobiology, biodiversity, theorist, naturalist and author, paraphrased by Paul Bloom in The Original Colonists
, The New York Times, May 11, 2012.
What if we’re not, in fact, meant to have language and music? (…) The reason we have such a head for language and music is not that we evolved for them, but, rather, that language and music evolved—culturally evolved over millennia—for us. Our brains aren’t shaped for these pinnacles of humankind. (…) These pinnacles of humankind are shaped to be good for our brains. (…)
They’d have to possess the auditory structure of…nature. That is, we have auditory systems which have evolved to be brilliantly capable at processing the sounds from nature, and language and music would need to mimic those sorts of sounds in order to harness—to “nature-harness,” as I call it—our brain. (…) Human speech sounds like solid objects events, and music sounds like human behavior. (…)
Being human today is quite a different thing than being the original Homo sapiens. (…) Unlike Homo sapiens, we’re grown in a radically different petri dish. Our habitat is filled with cultural artifacts—the two heavyweights being language and music—designed to harness our brains’ ancient capabilities and transform them into new ones.
Humans are more than Homo sapiens. Humans are Homo sapiens who have been nature-harnessed into an altogether novel creature, one designed in part via natural selection, but also in part via cultural evolution.
The purpose of anthropology is to make the world safe for human differences.
— Ruth Benedict
, American anthropologist, cultural relativist, and folklorist (1887-1948)
What is the significance of the Internet and today’s communications revolution for the evolution of the mind?
Steven Pinker: “Probably not much. (…) In terms of strict biological evolution, it’s impossible to know where, if anywhere, our species is going. Natural selection generally takes hundreds of thousands of years to do anything interesting, and we don’t know what our situation will be like in ten thousand or even one thousand years. Also, selection adapts organism to a niche, usually a local environment, and the human species moves all over the place and lurches from life style to life style with dizzying speed on the evolutionary timetable. Revolutions in human life like the agricultural, industrial, and information revolutions occur so quickly that no one can predict whether the change they will have on our makeup, or even whether there will be a change.
The Internet does create a kind of supra-human intelligence, in which everyone on the planet can exchange information rapidly, a bit like the way different parts of a single brain can exchange information. This is not a new process; it’s been happening since we evolved language. Even non-industrial hunter-gatherer tribes pool information by the use of language. (…)
That has given them remarkable local technologies—ways of trapping animals, using poisons, chemically treating plant foods to remove the bitter toxins, and so on. That is also a collective intelligence that comes from accumulating discoveries over generations, and pooling them amongst a group of people living at one time. Everything that’s happened since, such as writing, the printing press, and now the Internet, are ways of magnifying something that our species already knew how to do, which is to pool expertise by communication. Language was the real innovation in our biological evolution; everything since has just made our words travel farther or last longer.” “
Poetry is an anthropological thing, like counting. We’re programmed this way.
We are so used to the notion of our own inevitability as life’s dominant species that it is hard to grasp that we are here only because of timely extraterrestrial bangs and other random flukes. The one thing we have in common with all other living things is that for nearly four billions years our ancestors have managed to slip through a series of closing doors every time we needed them to.