Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The Descent of Man: How Collaboration Made us What we are

 

 


 

150 years ago, Darwin published "The Descent of Man" -- another great intuition by one of the greatest scientists in history. Today, we understand how humans are what they are because they collaborate with each other -- something that we tend to forget in our current views that emphasize cutthroat competition. Here is how Richerson, Gavrilets, and De Waal comment on this point in their recent article on "Science"

"What makes us different is that our ancestors evolved greatly enhanced abilities for (and reliance on) cooperation, social learning, and cumulative culture—traits emphasized already by Darwin. Cooperation allowed for environmental risk buffering, cost reduction, and the access to new resources and benefits through the “economy of scale.” Learning and cumulative culture allowed for the accumulation and rapid spread of beneficial innovations between individuals and groups. The enhanced abilities to learn from and cooperate with others became a universal tool, removing the need to evolve specific biological organs for specific environmental challenges. These human traits likely evolved as a response to increasing high-frequency climate changes on the millennial and submillennial scales during the Pleistocene. Once the abilities for cumulative culture and extended cooperation were in place, a suite of subsequent evolutionary changes became possible and likely unavoidable."


3 comments:

  1. Professor Bardi, Have you seen this article? https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/12/02/magazine/tree-communication-mycorrhiza.html Text can be found at https://energyskeptic.com/

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    1. Yes, I know this story. Fascinating. If you want to read more about it, I suggest the book "The Inner Life of Trees" by Peter Wohlleben, very much based on the work by Suzanne Simard. I am writing about this subject in a chapter of the new book I am preparing.

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  2. Descent of man from the trees... Or ascent out of the river?
    Will we ever know?

    Regarding the myth of Man as the Pinnacle of Evolution:
    I am suspicious about the word "unavoidable" in the last sentence. We are just one link in a (hopefully) long chain into the future. There will probably be homo-like apes for another few million years.
    And why were we "chosen" by the "unavoidability" and not some other (maybe more intelligent?) species, like the octopus?

    Let's continue to work together. It's hard.

    And as a final comment on the trees. It feels great to plant trees and see them grow. It is a spiritual connection that is hard to explain.

    Goran

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Who

Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)