Achieving the Highest Possible Level

Remember when we said that the ITBS can reliably predict future performance as early as grade 4?

Using the ITBS for a 10-year-old determines current position along the pathway to excellence. Then it reports to students, parents, and the public:

Expect this placement level entering high school age 15.

Expect college entrance availability at age 17 to 18.

The future.   As they say, there is more to life than academics. FFE helps determine what that “more to life” is for every student.

The FFE response shifts the emphasis from ALL students to EACH student. When? At about age 12.

Parents might be thinking, “What? My 12-year-old would not know an actuary from an architect!”

That may be true. However, that 12-year-old DOES know what she or he LIKES and DISLIKES. If we ask two 12-year-olds, Harold and Marie, a series of age-sensitive questions, they will quickly reveal their likes and dislikes. For example:

“Harold, which of these activities would you really like to do?”

“Marie, which of these activities would you mostly try to avoid doing?”

Build a model airplane? Harold, “NO!” Marie, “Oh, yeah.”

Sit alone and read a book? Harold, “YES!” Marie, “Forget it.”

By age 12, those likes and dislikes are pretty firmly in place. The report identifies for each student categories of strongest likes and dislikes.

The ITBS publisher has a survey asking questions like that. The report from that survey is just the launching tool.

Ages 12 to 14 can now be used to narrow down the “likes to do” side. How?

  • English teachers could use each student’s personal theme to suggest or guide writing assignments.
  • Science teachers could adjust assignments to require more digging into topics.
  • Summer breaks could be used to pursue experiences relevent to students’ interests.

All classes have some link to the world of work—social science, fine arts, even physical education.

The Foundation for Excellence is designed to aggressively pursue the highest possible level a student can attain on the excellence pathway. This will lead to the highest possible placement in high school and maximize college or trade school acceptance possibility.


The Foundation for Excellence guides the student to the highest possible level of readiness for the life work she or he is pursuing.

What have we learned?

What have we learned? The pathway to humanness as laid out in “How Did We Get Here?” is built on facts drawn from published scientific papers. So…

…what is written has nothing to do with the supernatural or mystical. No facts are drawn from religious documents written two to three thousand years ago. What is written is not based on some sort of miraculous communication.

Just facts.

The listing of observed behaviors stored in the brain as homo sapiens appear are also based on facts drawn from published scientific papers. Remember, each evolutionary step was drawn from what appeared before. Here are the observed behaviors:

Documented early include fear, learning, memory, parenting, caring for others, and seeking one another. Earlier, cooperation and communication and appear. The difficult transition from amphibian to reptile and then reptile to mammal had a great deal of parenting involvement.

Elaborate mating rituals involve color, sound, body movement. Mating and sex go together; research indicates animals enjoyed sex. Social harmonies appeared. Some mammals stay with a mate for life, confirming once again the gender attraction seen since genders appeared. Sharing and cooperation become broader. Death was understood. Research shows the roots of empathy are embedded deeply in our evolved behaviors.

Another observed fact: behaviors evolved and DID follow through to the Axial ages.

Also known is this very important piece of information:

A mysterious force of attraction appears early. Some evolutionary steps appear to have required that mysterious, unknown force. In other key evolutionary steps, that mysterious, unknown force appeared to have guided Darwinian interpretations. This evidence seems strong enough to be called a fact but … science would not accept that.

The currently dominant religions of the world started long AFTER homo sapiens had arrived. These physical and emotional steps were in already in place. Thus…

…the core issue for current religions is:

Quit using religion to explain evolution.

Instead, use evolution to explain religion.

Why? Because any modestly intelligent person who reads “How Did We Get Here?” and who has declared himself or herself religious will challenge that current religion’s creation story.

Is that meant as a slap at religion? No. But children should be taught the truth. The truth can then be used to anchor a religion’s beliefs. Perhaps beginning with factual information and building the religion’s beliefs around it would actually benefit the acceptance of religions.

Ancient Emotional Behaviors

Dinosaurs and the pre-mammals both appear just before the Great Dying. Both somehow survived. While still pre-mammals, a remarkable transition put lactation in place. Not long after the Great Dying, pre-mammals began the transition from cold- to warm-blooded. The female pre-mammals developed a placenta, setting up the final step: live birth. That lactation developed much earlier was finally used. At this point, they were mammals, not pre-mammals.

Each of these—lactation, warm-blooded, placenta, live birth—were giant steps in very small animals. This complex transition from reptile to mammal happened when the mammal was the prey, not the predator. Reptiles ruled. Generation after generation, the little parents must have stayed with the eggs and then the babies, providing warmth and moisture. A Darwinian cause is plausible; but parenting certainly seems to have played a role in these giant steps.

The comet 65 million years ago eliminated the predators; mammals were finally free.   Five million years later, a blink of the eye in geologic time, insects, lemurs, bats, primates, meat eaters, whales, dolphins and porpoises roamed the earth and swam in the oceans. Primates began the mammal line leading to us.

The monkeys were the first of the primates to veer off the evolutionary path that led to homo sapiens. This left the apes, including orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, gibbons and our predecessors. Slowly but surely, they separated. First went the gibbons, then orangutans, then the gorillas and finally the chimpanzees. Most are now endangered species.

Only our group, called hominids, remained. They walked upright. The brain had been enlarged during those four remarkable transitions to the first mammal. Instinctive responses were in the brain and still are. Evolved behaviors and emotions were stored there.

Early behaviors documented include fear, learning, memory, parenting, caring for others, and seeking one another. Earlier, cooperation, communication and what appears to be a mysterious force of attraction. The difficult transition from amphibian to reptile and then reptile to mammal had a great deal of parenting involvement.

Elaborate mating rituals involve color, sound, and body movement. Mating and sex go together; research indicates animals enjoyed sex. Darwin wrote that “males drive away rival males … females excite or charm those of the opposite sex and select the most agreeable partner.” Social harmonies appeared. Some mammals stay with a mate for life, confirming once again that attraction exists between the genders. Sharing and cooperation become broader. Death was understood. Research shows the roots of empathy are embedded deeply in our evolved behaviors.

How well did those emotional behaviors evolved from Big Bang to hominids carry forward into Homo Sapiens? Hominids split off from chimpanzees, but did not leave their past behind them. Chimpanzee and human DNA have 98% in common. Those emotions developed before hominids split off represent a good deal of the commonality.   But did those developed emotional behaviors still exist after the new variable, language, was in place?

Physical appearance became more human-like. Advanced behaviors such as tools, cooking, and hunting equipment appeared. A number of groups appeared and moved onto a good deal of Europe, Asia and Africa. All eventually became extinct. Before all became extinct, though, homo sapiens had appeared. Unfortunately for them, environmental conditions were hostile.

A volcano eruption eliminated all but a small number of homo sapiens. Those that survived prospered and began populating the globe. By this time, they used tools, cooked their food, made jewelry, and made spears and bow and arrow for hunting.

As the summary in the previous section show, a substantial array of emotions and behaviors had been seen even before hominids appeared. The questions, remains, though: what effect did thought have on these ancient emotional insticts?

Populating the earth took a lot of time; those nomadic groups moved slowly. Traveling in groups, they lived off the plants and animals around them. Evidence also shows their behaviors were consistent with those passed onto hominids. Eventually, though, groups started connecting with one another, and civilizations appear.

To answer the question posed above, five groups – five civilizations from Europe, Asia and North America – will be followed from the time these independent groups began merging into larger groups.

As much information as possible was first gathered about the civilizations in India, China, Greece, and Israel. This information was expanded by drawing on the work of three widely-respected researchers. Information regarding the last group, the Native Americans, was gathered independently.

Based on what was seen, did those slowly evolving behaviors pass onto homo sapiens? Generally speaking, the answer is “yes.”

A Review of Gender Separation

We’ve covered a lot of ground since we began a few months ago. In the next couple of posts, we’ll review the facts that have been presented thus far.

The 12.5 billion years following Big Bang witnessed six colossal and scientifically unexplained events. These events culminated with the first appearance of two genders: male and female.

Let’s work backwards. Over a long period time, the stuff that made males separated itself from the stuff that made females. Before that, the makings for the two genders were all mixed up in one complex cell. How did that material get into the complex cell? Whatever was necessary to cause genders to separate must have been drawn from those first complex cells.

That first complex cell was built from kinds of single-celled bacteria, the preceeding form of life. Those first single-celled organisms had to draw from what preceded them, but no life preceded them. From an ocean of chemical soup, green and acidic, were the ingredients that got together to form life. Where did they come from? Big Bang!

Remember, each step draws on what existed before it. The link from Big Bang to gender is undoubtedly complex; but it had to be there.

Right after Big Bang, a mysterious force caused matter to seek other matter, stopping the momentum to fly away in straight lines forever. This mysterious force: attraction. Attraction also brought those ingredients for first life together. Attraction brought two single-celled species together to make a more complex cell. Some sort of attraction got the male ingredients to a different place than the female ingredients in that complex cell. Some sort of attraction caused the two genders to separate and seek each other for the rest of history.

The appearance of gender was a critical in the evolutionary process. Clearly, an unexplained force was operating. Again, attraction is the key connecting word here, from start to finish, at every step. For instance, cells can signal one another—within cells, signals are sent from one part to the other. The idea of a mysterious force is not far-fetched. This force guided the pathway from Big Bang to gender. The best scientists do not have a cause. Think about it. Do you see a cause?

Over the time spanning from 1.2 billion years ago to 300 million years ago, life became much more complicated for those separated, two genders, finally leaving the water and walking on land.   The attractive force between the two genders was obvious. The evolutionary process took off. It started with just a cell. Over time, though, the sponge appeared, followed by jellyfish. In both cases, gender attraction led to gender cooperation and gender cooperation led to reproduction. Those steps required communication. Communication needed to be stored – not yet in a brain, but in a pre-brain condition. That storage included both physical and emotional needs.

Sponges and jellyfish were soft. Soon enough, the precursor to bones appeared and, in a little more time, what is now your backbone developed, with a connecting cord to the brain. Environmental conditions, pure unadulterated randomness, and gender attraction led to rapid progress.

Next came fish and a bony skeleton. One type of fish moved into shallow, fresh water. Soon some male fish moved from spraying sperm over floating eggs to inserting sperm inside the female onto the eggs. That helped strengthen the bones that became arms and legs, which in turn allowed them to crawl out of water. Amphibians.

Water levels dropped sharply; egg-dropping places were hard to find. Internal fertilization was now common; that had to have a strong connection to gender attraction. The female did not just jettison eggs and move on; if a site for laying the eggs was not available, the female held them in. Time passed; the female held the fertilized egg longer and longer.

Soon females began to lay their eggs on land—no water needed. Parenting behaviors were first seen as fish spread, including behaviors to protect the eggs and the newly born.   Emotional behaviors like fear, learning, memory, parenting, caring for others, and seeking one another have been documented. The reptile brain was pretty advanced. You, and all homo sapiens, still carry substantial remnants of that brain.

The Axial Age

Migration into Greece may have begun around 10,000 BCE, mostly from the east from India across present-day Turkey. Tough terrain here; mountain ranges kept groups apart and therefore independent – no central ruler as seen in China.   Different groups reigned until 1100 BCE, when conquerors took over. A productive civilization did not appear for another 500 years. From about that time, first Socrates, then Plato, and finally Aristotle explored philosophical issues of what life is all about.

The views of Socrates concentrated on good and virtuous life, saying “an unexamined life is not worth living” – in other words, think for yourself. Do not accept superstitions, class distinctions, or the dictates of others. He spoke as easily to slaves and servants as those with more stature. Some quotes from Plato, his student, set the tone:

Wise men speak because they have something to say. Fools because they have to say something.

We can forgive a child afraid of the dark; the real tragedy is when men are afraid of the light.

Ignorance, the root and stem of all evil.

This quote from Plato captures the central issue well: “There will be no end to the troubles of state or humanity itself until philosophers become kings of the world, or until those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands.” This was a little later than 800 BCE. The dominant themes: (a) life is not a chance event and means more than just eat, live, die; (b) the importance of caring for the world around them; and (c) an individual’s behavior should not be controlled by bribes or mystic beliefs.

The fourth group, a clan called Jews, appeared around 2000 BCE. The initial location was probably in Egypt. Abraham, viewed as an ancestor by Judaism, Christianity and Muslims, was the leader. Perhaps 500 years later the group left Egypt for Israel, which they viewed as home. The Ten Commandments appears, becoming the religious, moral, and ethical foundations for the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic cultures.

The first three of the commandments address religion, acknowledging only one God, respecting that name, and setting aside time for his work. These are beliefs, not behaviors. The others addressed morality-defining behaviors: caring for one’s parents, being true to one’s spouse (and not desiring another’s partner), not stealing, being honest, and not murdering. The time was around 1400 BCE. At this time, the idea of just one god was quite radical.

The Jewish people, surrounded by potential enemies, took a pounding, leaving many of the tribes to simply mix into other cultures. However, one group survived intact and may have been carried on. In that group, the concept of a future divine grace, which would end conflict and suffering, was introduced. Those beliefs reached out to include all people, not only those in the Jewish clan. Essentially, set the current time aside; better times are coming.

Once again, as was seen in the other civilizations, a person is responsible for her or his behavior. The Ten Commandments defines acceptable behaviors. Social justice was firmly rooted. Their beliefs at this time certainly do not conflict with what was seen at the other locations. The time is just after 800 BCE.

Three excellent scholars identify the years 800 to 200 BCE as pivotal years which they have called the Axial Ages. Their work focused on those last four sites—India, China, Greece, and Israel—as the long line of hunter-gatherers quit moving and began living together. Living together required depending on one another. Animals preceding those early people just accepted things like day and night, seasons, rain, trees, wind, and stars.

Why is this particular time of interest to these three researchers? Because this was the first time – first time people lived, learned and interacted together. As the human mind develops, it tries to make sense of it all. No previous books or televisions or newspapers — nothing. This was all brand new.

Initial work was done by Karl Jaspers, who provided the term Axial Ages, and wrote in 1953, The Origin and Goal of History. Jaspers argued that during the Axial Age “the spiritual foundations of humanity were laid simultaneously and independently in China, India, Persia, Judea, and Greece. And these are the foundations upon which humanity still subsists today.” Participating in this growth were the minds of great Axial Ages contributors like Confucius in China, in Buddha in India, Zarathustra in Iran, Elijah, Isaiah and Jeremiah in Palestine, and Homer (later Plato and Aristotle) in Greece.

In our current times, based only on personal experience, people who think of themselves as religious mostly see religion as believing, without ever really questioning the specific creeds, writings, or doctrines of their faith. The interpretation of these three authors is that the summary conclusions of Axial Ages thinking took a very different direction. All agreed humans were capable of transcendent thinking, but the outcome did not require any connection to theoretical doctrine or a person’s spiritual beliefs. As you read the following quotes, remember Native American beliefs.

Karen Armstrong writes that the “Axial Ages pushed forward the frontiers of human consciousness and discovered a transcendent dimension in the core of their being. They did not necessarily regard this as supernatural and most refused to discuss that issue.” For those readers who view themselves as religious, this statement undoubtedly conflicts with your spiritual beliefs. She also writes, “What mattered was not what you believed but how you behaved. Religion was about doing things that changed you at a profound level.” A connection to the Native Americans is there. “Not what you believe but how you behave” – at this point in time, only the “what you believe” part fits.

Bellah writes: “The theoretical breakthrough in each axial case led to the possibility of universal ethics, the reassertion of fundamental human equality, and the necessary respect for all humans, indeed for all sentient (conscious) beings.” And this summary by Armstrong is powerful: “Nobody, they believed, should ever take any religious teaching on faith or second hand. It is essential to test everything and to test any teaching empirically, against your personal experience.”

As the Axial Ages came to a close, having the beliefs common to all four independently developing religions provided just a moment when civilization could have been so very different. At this moment, the universal beliefs included respect for all humans. Called for was that all human interactions conform to a set of ethics based on social justice, behavior toward one another and to all living things. Jasper said it would, “…give rise to a common frame of historical comprehension to all people without regard to particular articles of faith.” Judgment was based on behavior, not on knowledge or conformity to rigid doctrines. If you are even an amateur student of history, you know that “doctrines” won. For example, Armstrong writes, “Telling the historical truth is, to some religions, unacceptable.”

The four widely-separated sites had basically come to the same general conclusion. And those general conclusions did conform to the evolved emotions and behaviors that were passed onto homo sapiens.

Each of the four regions had independently come to a conclusion, without contact with one another. Thus each viewed their model as the best possible summary of what humanity should be. That meant trouble. Bellah, near the end of his book, says it better:   “In our present situation in a world of multiple traditions is that when theory has come loose from its cultural context, it can assume a superiority that can lead to crushing mistakes.” The assumption of superiority did lead to crushing mistakes. For example, think of the Crusades: certainly a crushing mistake.

Five different locations have been studied. Based on what we’ve seen, did those slowly evolving behaviors pass onto homo sapiens? The answer certainly appears to be, “Yes.”

Improving on Predictions

In the last Foundation for Excellence post, we wondered: are predicted results chiseled in stone, unchangeable?


With that kind of information as early age 10, as a parent and/or student who cares: YOU can intervene to raise the performance level by age 14.

When parent, student, and teacher work together, the performance level of nearly any student CAN be sharply improved between ages 10 and 14.

This student is fully capable of:

  • Raising high school placement from the predicted “Regular” to “Advanced.”
  • Raising the college availability from “Selective” to “Highly Selective.”

Where do those predictions come from?

Welcome to the multi-purpose IOWA, given in grades 3 to 8 every fall. The predictions discussed above are based on solid connections to Gatekeeper tests.

  • The prediction of 8th grade scores in 4th grade are based on IOWA scores from both 3rd and 4th The predictions have a reliability of 0.80 and above.

This is just one use. Within the Foundation for Excellence, the IOWA tests also:

  • The term “validity” appeared on the first page. Parents, students, and teacher receive an annual review of the effectiveness of Foundation for Excellence with annual IOWA reports.

That kind of promise of validity monitoring cannot be found in national improvement efforts like Common Core State Standards or No Child Left Behind.

As we’ve already discussed, around age 14 or 15 each student will face two important gates.

The two gatekeepers refers to the same information: How far along the pathway to excellence are you now, at age 14 or 15?

Gatekeeper 1 uses that information to determine the level of high school placement for that student.

Gatekeeper 2 uses that information to determine which college, university or other schooling would be open and accepting to that student.

In the next post, we’ll pursue “who cares” a little further.

Different Tribe, Same Story

The Hopi have a story, passed for generations, that the world was destroyed three times. The first world was one of endless space and after congenial living and then strife, the world was destroyed by rain and fire. Survival came by living underground with ants with emergence when the world cooled down. At the second level, greed brought them down and this disaster was characterized by a cold period with ice covering the earth. After surviving, this time they destroyed one another by war and the destruction was by a flooded world. The astounding element is that each disaster actually did happen during the creation event – by fire, by freezing, and by very high water. Brains existed at those times storing emotional responses. Could these elaborate stories possibly actually be some memory?

In the Pueblo story, the people found the opening into the Fifth World too small. A fly, sent out to explore, reported this was the world Mother Creator had promised. The opening was made large enough with the help of an antelope and a badger. Indeed, homo sapiens’ assent into the world was done with the help of all the animals in the long evolutionary line preceding us!

The Lenape Nation creation story begins with a piece of coal from the earth and involves a tortoise, then a man, then a woman. Does this have a Genesis tone? The Navajo have sacred mountains from which they rose from the underworld (which, although a story, has some truth). In a sense, they have a sacred geography. The Crow’s religious basis is that all life came from a single source, not well defined, called Wa-do Sioux.   A map of the sky was given at the top of Bear Butte, South Dakota, which guided the life of the Lakota, Dakota, Arapaho, and Nakota Nations. Receiving this star map, to these Nations, is n-tah; equivalent, to them as the Old Testament report of the Ten Commandments being received by Moses.

The Cheyenne story builds off a visit to one of their own, Sweet Medicine, received four sacred arrows and a medicine bundle in a cave near Bear Butte, South Dakota. The Pawnee beliefs include emerging from the darkness into the world of light in their creation. Does that not sound like Big Bang? One place, Shipapu, is the place of origin and one road ancient Pueblos built leads there, thereby placing their place of origin near them. For Kootenai, at the beginning of time, a supreme being called Quilxha Nupika created the people. The task given them at the time was to guard and keep the land forever. In the Apache creation belief, worship and mythical figures connect to animals and plants.

Did the emotions and behaviors appearing before humans evolved pass on to the Native Americans? From the perspective presented above, they did. Not only did the Native Americans display them, they expanded them. Here were humans who could think and ask questions, and their response was an inseparable connection between personal interactions, the earth around them, and religion. Frankly, it sort of sounds like these early homo sapiens had begun asking, “How Did We Get Here?” as well as “Why am I Here?”

One group slowly migrated southeast to what is now India. For a long time, a religion based on violence dominated. But though many worshipped violence, many did not. Slowly but surely their religion moved closer to the behaviors passed onto hominids from the chimpanzees. This led to Buddhism and Hinduism, now called religions, but then more a way of life.

Generally, here in North America, “wisdom” goes in a category called “intellectual.” “Compassion,” on the other hand, belongs in a separate category led by emotion. Buddhism differs sharply, teaching that the two must be merged, just like a bird needs both wings to fly. Buddhists are taught to selflessly help those who are suffering. His Holiness the Dalai Lama wrote,

According to Buddhism, compassion is an aspiration, a state of mind, wanting others to be free from suffering. It’s not passive — it’s not empathy alone — but rather an empathetic altruism that actively strives to free others from suffering.

Hinduism is not that different.   Hinduism accepts that human intelligence is linked to environmental damage. People should unselfishly behave to maintain earth’s natural balance to repay God for the gifts given.   The Universe is viewed as a divine creation so animals and plants, hills and rivers all can be worshipped, much as was seen with the Native Americans.

In this region, then, around 800 BCE, the religious beliefs of the two developing religions matched quite well the behaviors that had evolved over time and were part of the first hominids. Wisdom and emotions were interdependent. People seeking and believing in these two new religions were rejecting a religion based on violence which, for thousands of years, preceded them.

Move onto those first settlers in China. Contrary to the grasslands group, the environment here was rugged. Abundant large, edible animals influenced life style. An early civilization (about which little is known) appears to have made a satisfactory environment.   Around 2000 BCE, available information marks the appearance of a king whose appearance story sort of parallels the New Testament’s story.

The all-powerful God had sent an egg carried by a bird. The egg was eaten by a woman who then gave birth to the first king. Only the king could contact the all-powerful God. Therefore all other people must worship and obey the king – or else the king would ask the all-powerful to do some damage them (ruin their crop, for example.) Over time, the king (and his ancestors with the same bloodline and, therefore, the same connection to the all-powerful) ruled a substantial area.

The years preceding Hinduism and Buddhism had religion as a worship of violence and cruelty which, over time, lost to a more compassionate approach. In this society, the king and those at the upper levels knew little about raising crops or any sort of hard work. The labor was done by the peasants, a much, much larger group. The king’s ancestors blood connection meant he should be capable of predicting the future to key issues like “Should warriors be sent to conquer this land?” “Will this year’s crop be enough to feed the people?” The peasants were mistreated, but kept in by fear of the kind bringing vengeance onto them. Eventually, when critical predictions by the king were wrong and caused hardship, the masses lost confidence in the king.

The focus changed. Karen Armstrong explains, “an ethical ideal that had hitherto been unconcerned about morality” appeared:

If a ruler was selfish, cruel, and oppressive, Heaven would not support him…if the ruler was wise, humane an truly concerned for the welfare of the subjects, people would flock to him.

The concept of an all-powerful God was not altered, but the expectations of that all-powerful God changed dramatically.

The two civilizations, geographically distant from one another, went through the same sort of experiences. Each went through hard times, when cruelty and mistreatment were part of their beliefs/religions. Although the route in China differed sharply from that to Hinduism and Buddhism, but the both outcome at this time were pretty much the same. The outcome was, once again, quite consistent with evolved emotions and behaviors passed onto homo sapiens. The time is now approaching about 800 BCE.

Learning from Native Americans

The goal here is to find out if inherited emotions and behaviors were still in place. Answering this question has turned out to be a challenge. Why? Because tribal languages differed profoundly with English and European languages. The only information to trust had to come from the Native Americans themselves. Jeannette C. Armstrong, speaking for the Okanagan, explains the culture difference.

“In Okanagan … the word for seeing a dog means ‘happening upon a small thing’ and ‘sprouting profusely (as in fur.)’” She continues, “When you say the word ‘dog,’ you don’t ‘see’ a dog image, you summon an experience of a little furred life, the exactness of which is known only by its interaction with you or something. While I may see a dog, the Okanagan sees her or his past connections with all “small sprouting profusely” things. That culture that all things, organic and inorganic, are interdependent changes the way visual images reach the brain.”

Think about that: “…all things, organic and inorganic, are interdependent.” Our current culture has treated oceans and rivers as sewers and ignores nature’s demands. The Native Americans’ language and culture viewed humans and animals and plants and rivers and the moon and the sun – all things as interdependent. No wonder those first Europeans and American explorers saw them as ignorant savages. They were indeed different, in that they viewed life from a very different perspective, but looking back, their perspective actually made a lot of sense.

After seeking information from centers for Apache, Seminole, Lenape, Iroquois, Abenaki, Shawnee, Chinook, Crow, Osage, Blackfoot, Navajo, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Cherokee, Pawnee, Comanche, Chickasaw, Sioux, Caddo, Pueblo, Ojibwa and Kootenai tribes, this thoughtful letter from the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki was received: “Many tribal members consider knowledge about traditional religious practices to be private information transmitted among individuals who have long-term, personal relationships.”

The writer’s term “long term, personal relationships” refers to an often-forgotten common thread across the tribes. The tribal stories, often long and complicated, moved from generation to generation by way of a few chosen people, sometimes called shamans. No written record: true. But the content of these carefully-learned stories may actually have begun way, way back in history.

Digging, trying to stick to only Native American authors, the author finally accumulated some reports of first behaviors. Even though the many tribes were widely separated in terms of location and conditions, those stories had common themes. From today’s perspective, that common theme might be called religion — but NOT the kind of religions with which you are familiar. For Native Americans, behaviors and religion are inseparable.   Native American beliefs and behaviors define their religion; their religion defines the beliefs and behaviors.

To speak of the people is to speak of land – remember how the dog was viewed: “small sprouting profusely”? Without land there is no life; to sustain the land, a responsible social and cultural outlook by humans must exist. Why? Because, like the people before them, they were responsible to guard the land for those who would follow. Each generation had the responsibility to do the same. Although different words and examples are used, this general sense of the interdependence of earth and life and creation and living and religion seems be persistent, at least in a general sense, in all tribes.

Simon Ortiz, speaking for the Pueblos, summarizes nicely thoughts found in nearly all the tribal reports. He says, “If anything is most vital, essential and absolutely important to Native cultural philosophy, it is the concept of interdependence: the fact that without land there is no life, and without a responsible social and cultural outlook by humans, no life-sustaining land is possible.”

The “sweat lodge,” used in different tribes, sometimes with different names, is a good example. One person’s needs (perhaps due to sickness) leads to a healing ritual. However, the healing process focuses not on the individual but on the entire family and village, the crops, the air, water, and everything conceivably attached to that patient’s world. The god to whom they appeal was not in a distant place but was here, now, at this location.

Can you see that this belief is consistent with the emotions and behaviors passed onto homo sapiens? Generally speaking, in our cultures, the importance and needs of the individual take precedence over needs of the group as a whole. The Native American theme displays a distinctly different culture. So, for them, the definition of “religion” is something like, “the proper way to live.” The land provided to them is heaven. What has been and what will be is now; this land, this location.

This summary is based on the information gathered. Here are some examples. As you read, see if you can identify themes.

An interesting beginning quote from Leslie Marmon Silko speaking for the Pueblos: “The remains of things — animals and plants, clay and stones — were treated with respect, because for the ancient people all these things had spirit and being.” Continuing, “Survival depended on harmony and cooperation not only among human beings, but also among all things — the animate and the less animate, since rocks and mountains were known on occasion to move.”

For Lenapes, life was suppose to be spent in harmony with the environment and with the world around them. Along the same general theme, the Iroquois worship concentrated on what existed, such as thunder, maize and other regular parts of life. Interpretation of dreams was very important. Ceremonies were related to the activities of life. The Abenaki (at times spelled Abnaki) also believed that what happened on earth was clearly connected to religious beliefs.

Crow People’s religious beliefs are deeply rooted in the earth; the earth is alive and so is everything related to it. The Blackfoot connected religious believes to the rains, the wind, and the earth. Animals of the Earth, especially the buffalo, bear, raven, wolf and beaver, are given respect but are not part of a religious belief. The Lakota Sioux view as sacred these seven elements: land, air, water, rocks, animals, plants, and fire. (Think back now to first life on earth. The implication here is that first life appeared when the organic and inorganic separated. Inorganic remained important to the Native Americans.)

Navajo religion also concentrates on balance and harmony. Maintaining good health is more than avoiding illness; it involves maintaining balance with the earth and the people around you. The spirituality is maintained by healing ceremonies. Similar report on Pawnee early religion, which was tightly connected to maintaining a balance with nature, with worship directed from the stars to the corn itself. (“…involves maintaining balance with the earth and the people around you.” Would earth be approaching the sixth extinction if that theme had remained dominant?)

For the Comanche, what is written supports that the idea that everything has a spirit and the main emphasis is on maintaining harmony in the universe. Dreams and visions played a role. Similarly, Apache ceremonials concentrate on the Sun, the rain, the crops and the harvest, a duality connecting religious force connect to here, this earth, and now.

The Ojibwa also focus on the community. The culture was fashioned from rocks, rivers and lakes, trees and roots, and the sun, moon, and stars. If one loved nature, nature would love in return. Life and religion were inseparable. The requirements of personal behavior had mostly to do with personal interactions with others and nature. Religious rituals usually focused on thanks for nature’s gifts.

The creation stories are passed from generation to generation. They would not belong in this section except for one thing: anyone who carefully read the How Did We Get Here? event thus far will recognize that the great floods, extended darkness, life beginning in the water, a frozen world actually did happen!   As you read this, think about:

Did those first Native Americans, way, way back, actually somehow recall these stories, perhaps in dreams, and then pass them from generation to generation? Remember, they were isolated for a long time AND they maintained these stories orally from generation to generation long before writing appeared. So many of the tribal creation stories seem to contain these happenings – connections to the deep, deep past…

Next week, we’ll explore some of these stories.

Nomadic groups migrate and mix

As homo sapiens step out of Africa, complexity compounds. Why? Thought. What is thought? A very long answer is possible; try this short summary. The chimpanzees could not ask, “Why are flowers so beautiful?” “Why does the earth provide food?” “Where did the our moon and the sun come from?” Humans could, and still do.

Humans are self-conscious, each searching, often as a spectator, for her/his place in the surrounding world. For other animals, time is now, but humans have a perspective of the past and speculate about the future. Animals can communicate, but human languages are much more complex, subtle and philosophical. Humans look for life’s meaning and are willing to sacrifice themselves for specific ethics or values, a trait not seen along the evolutionary line.

The groups were not exactly speeding along. Native Americans first arrived at the Bering Straits, connected at that time by a land bridge to Alaska. How long did it take to get there? Well, the distance from Africa to Bering Straits is about 6000 miles if the group were to travel in a straight line. The nomadic groups followed the food, not a compass. Suppose the wandering groups wandered 8000 miles to get to that land bridge to Alaska. The trip took 32,000 years, from 50,000 BCE to 18,000 years. To travel 8000 miles in 32,000 years meant they moved a quarter mile a year. If life expectancy was 30 years, a person spent an entire life in an eight-mile span. Peaceful, though; no one had ever been there before.

Nomadic groups lived off the plants and animals of the earth. Small groups, perhaps around fifty to one hundred, stayed at a location until the food supply waned; then move on. Gender equality existed as the males and females hunted animals and searched for wild fruit or nuts or anything edible. No sign of greed or cruelty, just, apparently, one happy family. The air was clean; the water was clean; no habitats had been destroyed. They existed in harmony with nature. That is how our homo sapiens ancestors lived for about 95% of their time on earth.

So, as each group was basically independent, what evidence does appear in artifacts suggests that the collection of emotional behaviors passed on from evolution’s beginning were still in place. Group independence did not last forever.

Fresh minds. As groups merged, had they experienced or did they know about power – a few people controlling many peasants? Did they know about inequality and prejudice? Had they experienced or did they know about one stronger group stealing all from near neighbors? These, and many more, would appear for the first time. Those next few thousands of years should be a challenge. One brief example.

One group of nomads reached the grasslands of Southern Russia and, over time, expanded north to Scandinavia and south toward Greece, with the separating groups later losing touch. Their lives incorporated the environment surrounding them. All was peaceful; truthfulness was required. Things were good.

But horses and metal weapons appear. Marauders from far away could reach and attack weaker neighbors. Cruel marauders stole cattle and crops and killed the people. Those senses of good, integrated beliefs of life and peace were challenged. Causing pain was contrary to their beliefs; but these marauders were doing serious harm.

Beliefs of on group were based in honesty, fairness and caring for others was challenged. The marauders, on the other hand, had contrary beliefs — one emphasizing and worshipping this kind of stealing and cruel treatment . The challenge for that first group: Doing damage to others is against our beliefs BUT without responding, our way of life – and out lives – are gone. What do they do?

(“Beliefs” was used where many would have used “religion” because current interpretation of “religion” is so very different. At this point, belief and behavior were inseparable.)

Hmmm. Tough situation. To answer, five groups – five civilizations – will be followed from the time these independent groups began merging into larger groups. The five civilizations are drawn from Europe, Asia and North America. Start at home in North America.

Artifacts show that Native Americans reached Wisconsin 10,000 years ago as that last glacier had moved north.   Had they moved in a straight line, that would have been 4000 miles, but from the Bering Straits around the glaciers was more likely 5000 or 6000 miles.   Rough estimate: Say 6000 years (18,000 BCE to 10,000 BCE) and 6000 miles. That comes out to about a mile a year. Estimates are that life span was about 30 years, so the average person in the group saw only about 30 miles of geography in a lifetime. In our time, that is about a three hour bike ride.

As glaciers withdraw, water levels rose, and the land bridge was no more. Those who made it across were isolated. News could not reach North America from Europe, Africa or Asia. To a lenient statistician, that first population of the North American continent provided about as good a random sample as possible. These tribes probably had no real communication with others ever since they left Africa and made their way to the Bering Straits. In our next post, we’ll explore these tribes.

Developing the Tools to Thrive

Our line had split off from the chimpanzees but a lot of work still needed to be done. A lot of arrogant humans refuse to accept chimps as their heritage. Just out of curiosity, what percent of the chimpanzee (our last common ancestor) DNA is the same as ours, the home sapiens DNA?

10%? 50%? Not 75%, for goodness sake. No! Must be less than that.

At this point, science can quite accurately compare human DNA to that of other animals. For chimpanzees, the correct answer is 98%. As your fetus grew inside your mother, the development included all of those steps, beginning to end. You are a current event made out of history.

That point being made here is that the story of “How Did We Get Here?” is not just a curiosity; it is YOU. Your DNA has strands common to every other living thing, even the lowly bacteria, which shares 8% with you. The capability to show all those emotions seen as you got here were passed onto homo sapiens.

Traits changed slowly over time – traits like walking upright, hand dexterity, which included an “opposing thumb” used to thread a needle or write a letter. Tools developed, at first simple tools like using a sharp rock for cutting, to much more complex tools, like spears and sharp points. Cooking meat began, allowing for changes in the stomach structure. Each of these increased brain size.

Fossil evidence during that period led to a lot of now extinct names like Australopithecus, homo ergaster (perhaps a predecessor to us), and Neanderthal. The homo sapiens line appeared about 150,000 years ago (heavy on the “about”; literature has a good deal of disagreement.) The Neanderthal million year head start on homo sapiens allowed them to spread all across Eurasia perhaps a million strong. They were actually bigger than the homo sapiens and, like homo erectus, were quite successful, living from 500,000 years ago to about 25,000 years ago. They were strong, used tools, played music, cared for the sick and buried the dead, and may have been religious. In some locations, Neanderthal and homo sapiens shared living space. Cross-breeding probably happened; it seems reasonable to assume that if they could crossbreed, they probably would – sex drive seems to have been a powerful force since the very beginning.

Across the time of homo sapiens first appearance, the earth had a severe drought. Respond and survive was the key; perhaps the extinction of Neanderthal was due to too much dependence on available meat. Homo sapiens survived but the environment was playing serious games. As homo sapiens appeared, climate went through perhaps twenty cycles of very cold then warm temperatures; glaciers built up then withdrew. Global temperatures could vary by 15 to 20 degrees F. in one cycle. This was about a 75,000 year challenge.

Fossil evidence shows homo sapiens migrated out of Africa more than 100,000 years ago; some made it to India and perhaps beyond. Then, as if things were not bad enough, about 74,000 years ago the Toba volcano (in what is now Indonesia) suddenly exploded, causing immense damage as skies darkened with thick debris. Those struggling homo sapiens now had to deal with both truly lousy weather and the smoke and dust blown around from the volcano. Some theories have this disaster wiping out all but a few thousand homo sapiens living in a part of Africa not impacted by the volcano’s damage. Science is not positive if any of that group leaving Africa survived the Toba volcano blast at 74,000 years ago.

These dramatic climate swings obviously impacted the evolution parade. To respond to bitter cold, a specie had to develop better hunting and butchering tools. Most (but not all) scientists feel the inability to respond to the glacial onslaught and cold weather led to Neanderthal extinction. Apparently, about 30,000 years ago as the Neanderthal were nearing extinction, one of those cold periods was particularly harsh.

An important issue science seems to agree on is this: At some time, the number of homo sapiens must have dwindled down to a pretty small number — some say perhaps just a few thousand. This is based on the knowledge that the variation in genes in all humans is actually quite small compared to variations found in other mammals. Some scientists feel such a small group was left because of the Toba volcano; others suggest the reduction was due to harsh weather conditions. Perhaps it was a little of each.

Obviously the remaining homo sapiens group survived and prospered because, 60,000 years ago, they began leaving Africa.   This was not a bunch of ignorant, grunting savages. They kept growing intellectually. They used tools, cooked their food, made jewelry, and did elaborate paintings on walls using different colored pigment. They developed spears and bow and arrow for hunting.

The evolutionary story documents steadily increasing complexity. Genders separated, and after that, sought one another. Parenting starts early. As living things begin to live together, behaviors like empathy, cooperating, caring for others, and successfully sharing responsibilities appear. Next week, we’ll explore this complexity a little deeper.