Learning Sciences of Change

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Posts Tagged ‘evolution

Brains plus Brawn and The Evolution of the Human Head

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of whether or not human evolution is a story of brains over brawn. I study the evolution of the human body and how and why the human body is the way it is, and I’ve worked a lot on both ends of the body. I’m very interested in feet and barefoot running and how our feet function, but I’ve also written and thought a lot about how and why our heads are the way they are. The more I study feet and heads, the more I realize that what’s in the middle also matters, and that we have this very strange idea —it goes back to mythology—that human evolution is primarily a story about brains, about intelligence, about technology triumphing over brawn.

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Read also: The Evolution of the Human Head

Written by learningchange

14/04/2014 at 14:34

Posted in Brains, Evolution, Head

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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

10/04/2014 at 21:14

Posted in Evolution, Humans

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How Homo became Sapiens – on the Evolution of Thinking

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Our ability to think is one of our most puzzling characteristics. What would it be like to be unable to think? What would it be like to lack self-awareness? The complexity of this activity is striking. Thinking involves the interaction of a range of mental processes — attention, emotion, memory, planning, self-consciousness, free will, and language. So where did these processes arise? What evolutionary advantages were bestowed upon those with an ability to deceive, to plan, to empathize, or to understand the intentions of others? In this compelling work, the author embarks on an evolutionary detective story to try and solve one of the big mysteries surrounding human existence — how has the modern human being’s way of thinking come into existence? He starts by taking in turn the more basic cognitive processes, such as attention and memory, then builds upon these to explore more complex behaviours, such as self-consciousness, mind reading, and imitation. Having done this, he examines the consequences of ‘putting thought into the world’, using external media like cave paintings, drawings and writing.

My aim in this book is to describe how uniquely human thinking has emerged. I view knowledge as biologically grounded and I will start from the theory of evolution. However, as I shall argue, the biological foundation does not conflict with a humanistic outlook. On the contrary, I want to show that much of a humanistic worldview can be derived from an evolutionary story of our origins. I have dual objectives for the book. On the one hand, I want to present my own theory of the evolution of thinking. The theory is a synthesis of material from several scientific disciplines. On the other, I want to tell a story about how the cognitive capacities of Homo sapiens were shaped in a way that is accessible to a general audience.

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Written by learningchange

09/04/2014 at 10:33

How Cooperation became the norm

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Most of the contributions to Cooperation and Its Evolution grapple with the distinctive challenges presented by the project of explaining human sociality. Many of these puzzles have a ‘chicken and egg’ character: our virtually unparalleled capacity for large-scale cooperation is the product of psychological, behavioural, and demographic changes in our recent evolutionary history, and these changes are linked by complex patterns of reciprocal dependence. There is much we do not yet understand about the timing of these changes, and about the order in which different aspects of human social psychology (co-)evolved. In this review essay, I discuss four such puzzles the volume raises. These concern punishments and norm-psychology, moral judgement and the moral emotions, hierarchy and top-down coercion, and property rights and legal systems.

The structural parallels between the four preceding cases are clear. In all four, we find two features of human social life that now seem inextricably entangled, and we are left wondering how one could ever have evolved without the other. The most promising strategy, in all four cases, is to break the target phenomenon into its constituent parts and attempt to construct a gradual transition in which those parts were cumulatively assembled, each successive change in one enabling further alterations in the other. It is an explanatory strategy that has reaped dividends in other areas of biology, and it will no doubt do so in the human case too. But there are so many pieces of the jigsaw we do not yet have—and so many alternative ways to fill in the gaps. In sum, Cooperation and Its Evolution is essential reading for anyone who seeks a better understanding of the puzzles we face in explaining human social evolution and a sharper picture of the space of possible solutions.

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Read also: Cooperation and Its Evolution

Written by learningchange

09/04/2014 at 10:31

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

09/04/2014 at 10:30

Darwin and Design – Philosophical Questions of Intelligence and Human Behavior

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Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection provided a scientific answer to a philosophical question: must design imply a designer?  To the dismay and disbelief of many of Darwin’s contemporaries, and a great many still, his theory can answer the question in the negative. But there are many more questions yet to ask about seemingly designed systems, such as those posed by Alan Turing and John Searle: might such organized systems, natural and manmade, themselves be intelligent? The history of these inquiries among philosophers, scientists, and writers is the subject of Prof. James Paradis’ MIT course, “Darwin and Design.” The class explores such a diverse range of texts as Aristotle’s Physics, the Bible, Adam’s Smith’s Wealth of Nations, William Gibson’s Neuromancer, and of course, Darwin’s Origin of Species. Alongside the scientific conclusions so-called “Darwinism” draws are the implications for human self-understanding. Given the thousands of years in which humanity placed itself at the center of the universe, and the few hundred in which it at least held fast to concepts of its special creation, what, asks Prof. Paradis, does Darwinism mean “for ideas of nature and of mankind’s place therein?”

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Written by learningchange

13/03/2014 at 12:29

Posted in Darwin, Design, Evolution

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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

10/03/2014 at 21:03

Posted in Evolution, Humans, Nutrition

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The Story of the Human Body

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In this landmark book of popular science, Daniel E. Lieberman—chair of the department of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University and a leader in the field—gives us a lucid and engaging account of how the human body evolved over millions of years, even as it shows how the increasing disparity between the jumble of adaptations in our Stone Age bodies and advancements in the modern world is occasioning this paradox: greater longevity but increased chronic diseaseThe Story of the Human Body brilliantly illuminates as never before the major transformations that contributed key adaptations to the body: the rise of bipedalism; the shift to a non-fruit-based diet; the advent of hunting and gathering, leading to our superlative endurance athleticism; the development of a very large brain; and the incipience of cultural proficiencies. Lieberman also elucidates how cultural evolution differs from biological evolution, and how our bodies were further transformed during the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions.  While these ongoing changes have brought about many benefits, they have also created conditions to which our bodies are not entirely adapted, Lieberman argues, resulting in the growing incidence of obesity and new but avoidable diseases, such as type 2 diabetes. Lieberman proposes that many of these chronic illnesses persist and in some cases are intensifying because of “dysevolution,” a pernicious dynamic whereby only the symptoms rather than the causes of these maladies are treated. And finally—provocatively—he advocates the use of evolutionary information to help nudge, push, and sometimes even compel us to create a more salubrious environment.

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Read also: Book Review

The Evolution of the Human Head

An Introduction to Human Evolutionary Anatomy

Written by learningchange

10/03/2014 at 20:02

Music Emotion and Evolution

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For many, music exists to express emotions. Music stimulates both psychological mood and physiological changes including heart rate and breathing. Music can help anxiety. It drives the body with loud, fast music making people lively and promoting dance. Slow, soft music can make people calm or sad. Are these inherent responses to music or are they culturally learned? To find out we must look at the brain responses to music emotion and evolution.

There are many characteristics of music affecting our emotions. Sad music seems to use a lower pitch, smooth transitions, and low intensity movements. Happy music appears to use loud, fast and high pitch, associated with rapid dancers high-energy movements used for dancing. While music effects physiological system, it also stimulates the reward centers. In fact, music can be addictive, bringing great rewards in the excitement of playing live music, dancing at live concerts, and just listening to that favorite song over and over. Music is great to one person, offensive to another.

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Written by learningchange

30/10/2013 at 13:46

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

20/10/2013 at 22:35