In 1953 Watson and Crick wrote a brief letter to the journal Nature to lay claim to being the first to identify the mechanism for replication of genetic information.
It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material.
I’m following Watson and Crick’s example to lay claim to a new idea here on this blog that is read daily by millions of people that are curious to understand the evolutionary origins of a religious fire ape that has used its unique intelligence and behaviors to dominate its planet, while at the same time denying its obvious state of overshoot and the damage it is doing to the ecosystems that sustain it.
About 1 or 2 million years ago our primate ancestors mastered the use of fire to cook food. Cooking increased the energy available from food thus enabling the evolution of a larger brain. These primates used their more powerful brain to cooperate and create technologies like stone tools and weapons that enabled them to prosper and expand their range.
Several hundred thousand years ago the evolution of increased brain power and associated social cooperation bumped up against a barrier. This barrier resulted from a reduction in reproductive fitness when the brain became powerful enough to understand its own mortality. Several different hominid lines were blocked by this barrier. Then about one or two hundred thousand years ago, one small tribe in Africa evolved a mechanism to break through this barrier. The evolutionary trick was to simultaneously evolve an extended theory of mind with a behavior to deny unpleasant realities like mortality. The two otherwise maladaptive features when combined became a powerful adaptive advantage by enabling the evolution of a more powerful brain with an extended theory of mind.
Having broken through the mortality awareness barrier, the tribe became what we now call behaviorally modern humans, with religions rooted in life after death, and exploded out of Africa to populate the entire planet, initially displacing all other hominids, and today is well underway to displacing many other species, including perhaps itself.
The cognitive barrier, and the mechanism for breaking through it, is explained by Ajit Varki’s Mind Over Reality Transition (MORT) theory. I created this blog to explore and broadcast MORT because it answers many important questions for students of human overshoot.
Varki has shown that an extended theory of mind explains many of the behaviors unique to humans.
What Varki does not explain is why did humans use their extended theory of mind to cooperate more frequently than to fight?
I’ve recently read a new book by Richard Wrangham titled “The Goodness Paradox” in which Wrangham explores the paradox of humans having low reactive violence and high proactive violence.
As an aside, Wrangham is also the originator of the “cooking made us human” theory that I discussed above, and I recommend his earlier book on this topic.
Wrangham argues that the success of behaviorally modern humans is due to social cooperation which enabled more effective resource acquisition, defense, offense, technology advancement, trade, and the specialization of skills that are characteristic of our species.
Wrangham’s novel idea is that social cooperation was enabled by self-domestication. The self-domestication process was accomplished by tribe members ganging up on and killing any overly aggressive males in their tribe. Over time we thus became a kinder gentler species that can walk into a Starbucks filled with strangers and not be at risk of being torn limb from limb as would happen to a chimpanzee in the same situation.
Domestication of a species often results in many non-selected side effects such as neoteny, white patches of fur, and the floppy ears of dogs. Wrangham explores many characteristics of humans that may be side-effects of domestication such as our unique tendency to enter exclusive same-sex relationships.
Wrangham thinks the key enabler for human self-domestication was the evolution of an extended theory of mind that permitted tribe members to conspire and plot against their aggressors.
What Wrangham does not explain is what enabled the evolution of an extended theory of mind?
So here’s my big Watson and Crick like idea that I’m laying claim to for future generations to admire.
It’s called the Denial to Domesticate (DtD)™ theory and is a unifying bridge between the two brilliant theories of Varki and Wrangham.
DtD states that MORT enabled Self-Domestication.
More specifically, mastery of fire for cooking enabled a big brain, which was blocked from being used to its fullness by mortality awareness, which evolved reality denial to enable an extended theory of mind, which enabled individuals to conspire to kill aggressors, which self-domesticated our behaviors, which enabled large groups of humans to cooperate, which enabled us to take over the planet.
Readers of this blog will know that our core enablers, fire (think climate change) and reality denial (think peak oil, species extinction, etc. etc.), do not bode well for our future. We are fire apes that deny reality.
Being an electrical engineer well past his prime, and having completed the important work, I leave it to keen young geneticists to flesh out the details of my revolutionary DtD™ theory.
P.S. I’ll bet you a Starbucks donut that one of the side-effects of DtD will prove to be symbolic language.
P.P.S. 1905 was the big year for Albert Einstein, and 2019 may be my big year. I will of course offer to share the Nobel with Varki and Wrangham because without them I’d be nothing.
P.P.P.S. Note how an engineer can pack so much profound insight into a few words:
Fire to cooking to intelligence to denial to god to plotting to capital punishment to self-domestication to Apollo 11 to 7 billion too many.
October 15, 2021 edit
Here is a very good interview with Wrangham on his theories.