Hoffecker, the ‘super-brain’ and genetic similarity.
Today I came across a summary of a conversation with John Hoffecker, an American paleoanthropologist of the University of Colorado Boulder, about the relationship between the cultural explosion seen in human artifacts, especially art works, beginning at least 75,000 years ago and the evolution of the ‘modern human mind’. In the context of this particular piece, ‘human mind’ refers to our capacity to communicate abstract and novel ideas through speech or symbolism, not of course the brain, the physical size and structure of which had already been changing for a long time prior to the appearance of modern man. This got me thinking about the idea put forward by Flannery in ‘Here on Earth’ that it may have been a reduction in genetic diversity in early H. sapiens that led to elevated levels of cooperation and altruism (much the same way as it does in ants or bees due to close genetic relationships). I wonder if a significant genetic bottleneck occurred at about the same time as this abstract cultural revolution? Could increasing cooperation and altruism have led to a greater capacity, or perhaps put more succinctly, need, to share thoughts? I’m going to have a look at the literature and see what I come up with. I’d welcome the suggestion of any articles from readers that may broach this topic. Beware however that many articles in this area are filled with teology and science ruining anthropocentrism, so keep your Ockham’s razor and objective mindset at the ready.
Exciting stuff. It was after all, most likely this cultural paradigm shift (genetic in nature or otherwise) that led to agriculture, civilisation, government and technology advances like desktop computers and electric tea-kettles. Well worth the effort of investigation.
UPDATE: It just so happens that prevailing thought is that a bottleneck/s of some kind occurred around the 70,000 ya mark or more recently. Parsimony at work! I found the following papers relating to this;
You can find the summary of the chat with Hoffecker here: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110420125510.htm