Learning Sciences of Change

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Archive for the ‘Humans’ Category

In Search of the First Human Home

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Having a sense of home, as we understand it today, is a product of symbolic thinking, a capacity that makes us unique among animals.

Intimations of home likely began in early hominids’ need for shelter. Australopithecus species, to which the famous 3-million-year-old Lucy belonged, often sheltered in trees, where they may have sought cover under dense clumps of leaves in the way in which great apes do today when it rains. Much later, about 400,000 years ago, hunter-gatherers, probably belonging to the species Homo heidelbergensis, constructed a camp on a beach at Terra Amata, now a suburb of the French city Nice. One large hut was about 30 feet long, and consisted of an oval palisade of saplings stuck in the ground, reinforced with a ring of stones, and presumably brought together to form a roof. Just inside a break in the ring where the doorway was, a campfire had burned in a hearth. It is hard to not think that these early humans felt at home in this basic structure. Some might even argue that the crucial element was not the shelter itself but the hearth, where the flames would have formed a center of attention and social activity. In this limited sense, feelings of home were evidently there from the very beginning.

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Written by learningchange

May 4, 2014 at 9:19 am

Some questions on Human Evolution

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There is no question that our large brains have provided humans an extraordinary advantage in the world. Still, the human brain is an incredibly expensive organ, taking up only about 2 percent of the body’s mass yet using more than a fifth of the body’s energy, and until about 2 million years ago none of our ancestors had a brain larger than an ape’s when compared to body size. So what kicked off the push for a larger brain? One possibility is that increased smarts helped our ancestors make better tools. Another is that larger brains helped us interact better with each other. Perhaps radical changes in the environment also demanded that our ancestors deal with a shifting world.

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Written by learningchange

April 10, 2014 at 9:14 pm

Posted in Evolution, Humans

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A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and Its Evolution

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Why do humans, uniquely among animals, cooperate in large numbers to advance projects for the common good? Contrary to the conventional wisdom in biology and economics, this generous and civic-minded behavior is widespread and cannot be explained simply by far-sighted self-interest or a desire to help close genealogical kin. In A Cooperative Species, Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis–pioneers in the new experimental and evolutionary science of human behavior–show that the central issue is not why selfish people act generously, but instead how genetic and cultural evolution has produced a species in which substantial numbers make sacrifices to uphold ethical norms and to help even total strangers. The authors describe how, for thousands of generations, cooperation with fellow group members has been essential to survival. Groups that created institutions to protect the civic-minded from exploitation by the selfish flourished and prevailed in conflicts with less cooperative groups. Key to this process was the evolution of social emotions such as shame and guilt, and our capacity to internalize social norms so that acting ethically became a personal goal rather than simply a prudent way to avoid punishment. Using experimental, archaeological, genetic, and ethnographic data to calibrate models of the coevolution of genes and culture as well as prehistoric warfare and other forms of group competition, A Cooperative Species provides a compelling and novel account of how humans came to be moral and cooperative.

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Written by learningchange

April 9, 2014 at 10:30 am

Cognitive Abilities in Chimpanzees and Humans

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The purpose of the present study was to determine the efficacy of investigating spatial cognitive abilities across two primate species using virtual reality. In this study, we presented four captive adult chimpanzees and 16 humans (12 children and 4 adults) with simulated environments of increasing complexity and size to compare species’ attention to visuo‐spatial features during navigation. The specific task required participants to attend to landmarks in navigating along routes in order to localize the goal site. Both species were found to discriminate effectively between positive and negative landmarks. Assessing path efficiency revealed that both species and all age groups used relatively efficient, distance reducing routes during navigation. Compared to the chimpanzees and adult humans however, younger children’s performance decreased as maze complexity and size increased. Surprisingly, in the most complex maze category the humans’ performance was less accurate compared to one female chimpanzee. These results suggest that the method of using virtual reality to test captive primates, and in particular, chimpanzees, affords significant cross‐species investigations of spatial cognitive and developmental comparisons.

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Written by learningchange

March 12, 2014 at 7:53 pm

Posted in Cognition, Humans

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Evolving Human Nutrition: Implications for Public Health

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While most of us live our lives according to the working week, we did not evolve to be bound by industrial schedules, nor did the food we eat. Despite this, we eat the products of industrialization and often suffer as a consequence. This book considers aspects of changing human nutrition from evolutionary and social perspectives. It considers what a ‘natural’ human diet might be, how it has been shaped across evolutionary time and how we have adapted to changing food availability. The transition from hunter-gatherer and the rise of agriculture through to the industrialisation and globalisation of diet are explored. Far from being adapted to a ‘Stone Age‘ diet, humans can consume a vast range of foodstuffs. However, being able to eat anything does not mean that we should eat everything, and therefore engagement with the evolutionary underpinnings of diet and factors influencing it are key to better public health practice.

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Read also:  Evolution of the Human Diet: The Known, the Unknown, and the Unknowable

Food and Evolution: Toward a Theory of Human Food Habits

Written by learningchange

March 10, 2014 at 9:03 pm

Posted in Evolution, Humans, Nutrition

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Evolution of human intelligence

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The evolution of human intelligence refers to a set of theories that attempt to explain how human intelligence has evolved. These theories are closely tied to the evolution of the human brain and to the emergence of human language.

The timeline of human evolution spans approximately 7 million years, from the separation of the Pan genus until the emergence of behavioral modernity by 50,000 years ago. The first 3 million years of this timeline concern Sahelanthropus, the following 2 million concern Australopithecus and the final 2 million span the history of actual human species (the Paleolithic).

Many traits of human intelligence, such as empathy, theory of mind, mourning, ritual, and the use of symbols and tools, are already apparent in great apes although in lesser sophistication than in humans.

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Read also: Evolution of the brain and intelligence

Written by learningchange

October 20, 2013 at 10:35 pm