Saturday, June 05, 2004

Human Evolution and Behavior

One of the most dominant and profitable field of study involves the discovery and interpretation of human behavior. Almost every aspect of our lives revolves around understating the behavior and actions of others. Psychologists, so called psychics, even businessmen use various tools and approaches in trying to dissect the behavior of others. Some, in the guise of spiritual help, such as psychics, use the weak minded and gullible to profit out of the mystery or expectation of their subjects. Others, such as Psychologists, use certain evaluative methods and tools to dissect the inner thoughts and actions in order to help an individual become part of the mainstream norm of society. Businessmen on the other hand, use their skills and judge of character to turn a profit, in some instances, taking complete advantage of a person. Countless books always surface about the mysteries of the opposite sex, how to understand and take advantage of a given situation. However, most of human behavior can be summarized into a more cohesive subject, when taking into account our evolutionary history. We don't need psychologists or psychics to provide us the reasons for our actions.
One must first understand that almost every behavior exhibited by human beings can be easily traced back to our evolutionary background. Just because we live in cities, drive cars, listen to headphones, fly in planes, and have the technological world at our fingertips, doesn't mean that we are not the same human beings that searched the Savannah for food, migrating thousands of kilometers, always in fear of predators, obtaining the next meal, seeking shelter from the elements, etc. The biggest difference between human beings now, and those that lived 80,000 years ago is culture. We have gone through an amazing cultural evolution, as evident in such various fields as art, developing and harnessing the forces of nature, manufacturing items that ease our survival, and pretty much everything we know of today. However technologically advanced we've become, we are not far removed from our progenitors, and there has been an insignificant amount of physical evolution since.
Physical evolution has not prepared human beings for the vigors of urban life, and all the associated problems that we experience on a daily basis. Our evolutionary behavior can still often outshine the cultural behavior that we've tried hard to develop. One must understand our society in the context of the physical evolution that resulted in Modern Humans. We have in essence, evolved as a hunter-gatherer species. The male members of a given clan would often go on extended hunting expeditions to provide high caloric foods such as buffalo meat, while the females would remain at a residential encampment(even in nomadic societies, the base would remain until the whole tribal unit moved together) and gather roots, vegetables, fruits, and small animals that could have easily been trapped. This in essence is our latent character, it is these behaviors that we've spent the last few millennia fighting against. In Modern times, work functions in the same way as a hunting expedition. The difference these days is that going to work and providing for the family has ceased to become solely male, and females often participate. This complicates the behaviors and actions that our evolution has resulted in. In Paleolithic times, when men went on a hunting expedition, women were forced to take care of the children, paying a heavy burden with almost no free time available. Evolution thus helped keep a stable household (even if the household was not monogamous). Since the male spent so much of his energy hunting, and the female of gathering and rearing young, there was very little time for cheating. In fact, since most males were off hunting, females didn't even have the choice in the matter. These days however, we have become an intramural society, and the sheer economics of the world today does not allow the stratified households that humanity evolved for. The rate of divorce, unfaithfulness and general problems with relationships have widened because of our cultural evolution. There is no cure for any of the social ills that have resulted as changes in our cultural evolution have clashed with the physical evolution that is present in our species. We are still creatures of the Earth, but with a facade of civilized behavior. Exteriorly, we may seem civilized and light years beyond our ancestors, when in fact, internally, we are not far removed from the Savannah. We have thus become a walking contradiction. The greatest tool for survival that human beings have ever evolved would be our adaptability. We have spread across the globe, living in countless climactic niches, and have managed to infiltrate pretty much all ecological zones of the planet. In fact, it is our amazing adaptability that has caused the modern ills of the society that we live in.
For a more thorough illumination of this concept of adaptation and survival, please read Desmond Morris' book entitled The Naked Ape. This is the most cohesive and thoughtful book ever written about human behavior. Forget what you may think you know about psychology, because this book illustrates almost all of our current social woes, as well as our social successes. It does not trash our advancement or denigrate our species. It does not pass judgment on human behavior and actions, but instead, illustrates why we act the way we do. Remember, In order to change or even address a given subject, one must have a complete and thorough understanding of it.

Note: I am not claiming that we should revert back to pre-neolithic human ideals. The information I have presented is a direction that our cultural evolution has progressed in, and retreating to the status quo of society as it once was is not beneficial. What is important is to realize where we have come from, understand our human condition, and perhaps learn a great deal about ourselves in the process. In this moder-day, complex world, we must first understand our place within it, understand our underlying biological and cultural processes, and embrace the course of the future with greater knowledge and potential for progress.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am confused only on one idea this time. I dont know what you meant by Physics in the beginning. If you are talking about the science of Physics, then you have it all wrong. Physics then is just how the world runs, why things act the way they do, such as why a ball gains speed going down a hill, or a car can slow to a stop without a break if on flat ground. But I am sure you do not mean this, but what you mean is unclear. Besides that, very nice. I again enjoyed it and will have to return to this page after I finish my book and look up The Naked Ape. It sounds good.

~Fellow Agnostic