"The Origins of Human Nature"

Caton Hacker

Lightning Talk Presented: March 10, 2014
Published: March 15, 2014

Charles Darwin suggested human origins were from simpler forms and he propounded a mechanism-natural selection to explain evolutionary change among humans and other creatures. Scientist has theorized that humans have evolved from simple primates, but what does that say about the origins of our human nature? What does that say about our behaviors, development, and decisions of where they originate from? By studying not only primates, but other animals, we can see how and where the origins of human nature came to be.

Neanderthals, or the Homo neanderthalensis, lived 135000 years ago, with multiple theories' suggesting that they originated from Africa. The physical structure of a Neanderthal was that they were tall, athletic, and powerfully muscled. There craniums were long, low, thick skulled with a little forehead. There cranial capacity was 1600 cubic centimeters with modern humans being 1400 cubic centimeters. Compared to their body size, their brains were considered small.

Neanderthals invented various agricultural techniques, paintings, engravings, carvings, and were able to learn from stone tools like trial and error, along with other practices like burial for their dead.

It is very difficult to reconstruct evolutionary history due to the fact there is very little evidence. However, we do know they were very curious, sympathetic, independent, and enjoyed art. They would test different types of rocks to see what is the strongest, bury a family member after they had passed away, and expressed themselves in caves amongst the walls. They also did not baby their infants, but instead let them roam and grow up more independently.

Due to their body structure, they were able to utilize their anger to set boundaries for their packs to keep away predators and thrive as a species. This was considered one of their most useful traits though now modern society sees it as a dilemma.

The United States alone must have tens of thousands of classes in anger management for its disruptive citizens, yet no one asks "Why? Why are so many in needs of these special classes?" Emotions, or at least some emotions, are seen as problems, not part of mature being. This emotion that modern society sees as a 'problem' is what made humans be where they are today. Anger is only an emotional response that is related to one's psychological interpretation of having been offended, wronged, or denied. Anger may be utilized effectively when utilized to set boundaries or escape from dangerous situations which is exactly what the Neanderthals did.

Another specie that learned how to utilize this trait is the Homo erectus.

More than 34000 years ago, the physical structure of the Homo erectus is a little different form the Neanderthal. They are less muscular, face is flatter, the cranium is higher, skull wall thinner, and the brain is larger compared to their body proportions.

Even though the Homo erectus was less muscular then the Neanderthals, the strongest modern professional wrestler would have been a poor match for a Homo erectus. This shows that they were still based upon being fit and strong to be more dominate then other creatures. With their muscle being less than the Neanderthals, it shows that something else was happening, evolution, particularly in the brain.

The Homo erectus brain was about 900-1100 cubic centimeters and was considered more appropriate considering their body size. Some parts of the brain are very smaller than the Neanderthals but one part that increased in size is the cerebral cortex.

This increase of the cerebral cortex, the locus of cognitive intelligence that makes complex thought and problem-solving possible, is what separates humans and animals, considering the intelligence of the specie.

Humans are able to be consciously aware, experience feelings or meanings, and communicate with one another. Animals are considered not able to do all of these things. If we observe animals very closely though, some animals can do all of these things. When a cat howls in a back ally over a death of a companion, it is showing all of these things. The cat is aware of the death, it feels an emotion, and the cat responds by howling, communicating to everyone that it is sad. Studying these animals shows the origin of our behaviors and shows us where we have come from today.

This higher intelligence has come with a price, infants requiring even stronger group bonding and cooperation to ensure their survival. These infants also require plenty of scope for freedom to experiment, to learn, to try to do things- they needed ever more autonomy.

This shows that evolution was acting but in a confusing way. Charles Darwin's theory on natural selection is mostly based upon the changes of a species due to their surroundings such as environment and food source. This did happen, but the change of our brains was a huge part of our evolution. The Neanderthals and the Homo erectus were very similar but some very key characteristics separated these two species. Not just the physical structure of the two, but the brain development. Yes, they did share some behaviors like curiosity, sympathy, independency, and appreciation for art. But the Home erectus were more intelligent and were able to solve problems much easier than the Neanderthals. This led to the rise of the Homo sapiens, modern day humans. The only way this could have happened is the traits of our ancestors along with the evolution of our brains.

I will end on a quote from Christopher Wills, a biologist at the University of California, who says "The force seems to have accelerated our brain's growth is a new kind of stimulant: language, signs, and collective memories- all elements of culture. As our cultures evolved in complexities, so did our brains, which then drove our cultures to still greater complexity. Big and clever brains led to more complex cultures, which in turn led to yet bigger and cleverer brains."

Works Consulted

    Anderson, Walt. Evolution Isn't What It Used to Be: The Augmented Animal and the Whole Wired World. New York: W.H. Freeman, 1996. Print.

    Clark, Mary E. In Search of Human Nature. London: Routledge, 2002. Print.

    Desmond, Adrian J., and James R. Moore. Darwin's Sacred Cause: How a Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin's Views on Human Evolution. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. Print.

    Dunbar, R. I. M. Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1996. Print.

    "Homo Neanderthalensis." Homo Neanderthalensis. Smithsonian Institution, n.d. Web. 1 Mar. 2014.

    Dunsworth, Holly M. Human Origins 101. Connecticut: Greenwood, 2007. Print.

    Lampton, Christopher. New Theories on the Orgins of the Human Race. New York London Toronto Sydney: Franklin Watts, 1989. Print.

    Leakey, Richard. The Origins of Humankind New York: Brockman, 1994. Print.

    Mithen, Steven J. "Mind of the first stone toolmaker." The Prehistory of the Mind: A Search for the Origins of Art, Religion, and Science. London: Thames and Hudson, 1996. 99. Print.

    Mithen, Steven J. The Prehistory of the Mind: The Cognitive Origins of Art, Religion and Science. London: Thames and Hudson, 1999. Print.

    Regal, Brian. Human Evolution: A Guide to the Debates. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2004. Print

    Rushton, J. Philippe. Race, Evolution, and Behavior: A Life History Perspective. New Brunswick, NJ, USA: Transaction, 1995. Print.

    Tanner, Nancy Makepeace. On Becoming Human. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1981. Print.

    Wolpoff, Milford H., and Rachel Caspari. Race and Human Evolution. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997. Print.

The Gibraltar 1 skull, discovered in 1848.