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.

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.

A New Part of the Brain

As hominids appear, how is the brain doing? That remarkable set of evolutionary events (warm-blooded, lactation, live birth) caused an ever-larger brain structure. A new part of the brain developed. Housed here are the concepts of satisfying and not satisfying behaviors as well as a variety of other emotional behaviors. For example, solid research has established that our first look at a stranger leads to a like-or-dislike decision. The thoughtful brain may later change that opinion; but the instinctive brain sets the stage. Humans make a lot of their decisions based on that quick, unconscious reaction. The quick reaction appears first in the evolutionary line; the thought response is much later — and slower.

From this new part of the brain, rarely does a signal cause a behavior to happen. Instead, it produces tendencies to respond in certain ways. The brain did NOT develop with higher brain functions separated from automatic reflexes. For example, if a person partakes in some sexual activity that is clearly career-ruining, people ask, “What was he thinking!” to which the answer is, “He was not thinking.” His response was an uncontrolled, automatic emotional response. This part of the brain contains the value judgments humans often unconsciously make. These responses made unconsciously exert a very strong influence on our behavior.

Social interactions required more brain space. Eventually, as language, imagination, beauty and abstract thought appeared, the brain needed to grow bigger by adding layers. These demanded an addition to the brain; in fact, two additions to the reptilian brain, one to the backside of the brain and the other to front part. At home here are language, abstract thinking, imagination and awareness of ourselves. In most mammals, they add just a little; in humans, they sort of cover up the original reptilian brain.

In the past few years, those studying the brain have taken issue with past beliefs that the brain was, in a sense, compartmentalized, left brain for some things, the right brain for others, sort of like LEGO blocks. Those left-brain this, right-brain that ideas have been dismissed. The two sides of the brain share a common basic structure.

Brain sections dealing with higher order thinking evolved side-by-side with the earliest layers. Communication pathways within the brain, when faced with a new issue, somehow seek out all the various areas of the brain related in some manner to that new issue. You see the word “taco.” The brain reaches for all possible connections. Neurons will zip off, searching for possible prior experiences with “taco” that are stored in your brain. Since each person has unique environmental experiences, the neuron firing will differ from person to person. One big integrated systems responds immediately to some query reaching the brain.

For a newborn, the brain’s visual circuitry only connects as needed by the newborn’s eye. If an infection distorts so seriously that infant’s eye to make it functionally blind, correction by surgery done ten years later cannot rebuild the pathways that should have been built much earlier. Those millions of potential connections available earlier, the ones that need to be activated by use, seem to have an alarm clock. After a while the alarm clock goes off; thereafter, the connections disappear, never again to be made. The number of available connections is largest at age 2; by adulthood, only about 60% of available links have been connected. The other 40% were pruned; gone.

Thus the brain of a child born in a home where only English is spoken connects some different nerves then that of a child born where only Chinese is spoken. The connections for those two will differ from a child born where only Finnish is spoken. A child born where all three are spoken will make all the connections. In a sense, then, cells that fire together wire together. Timing is critical; available nerves which are not connected within a certain time period eventually disappear. The timing of the action-potential activity is critical in determining which connections are strengthened and which are weakened and eliminated.

For a child, good vision requires being exposed to a sharply focused visual world during this period of brain development. Without that, the child will not have normal brain development. Your author is a living example. Born with severe astigmatism — so severe the first ophthalmologist labeled it “functional blindness” – the default was not identified and corrected until age 8. Strong eye-glasses then solved the problem. But that was too late. To this day, concepts are easy (Darwinian evolution, probabilistic statistics, the entire number system) but details (remembering the spelling of words, recalling what the person who just left had been wearing, remembering a name one minute after an introduction) are all impossible. No part of my brain has a place for those. If the connections for seeing the details were never activated; before age 8, they disappeared.

This does not mean all learning ends as adulthood looms. The brains of mammals continue to respond to and learn from new experiences. The newer parts of the brain – the ones that developed after reptiles appeared – can make new connections. Brain researchers have a number of interesting theories on how that exactly works but the bottom line is: learning continues essentially until death.

The hominid level is reached. The brain and emotions have come a long way. Animals by this time had displayed a wide variety of emotional behaviors which the brain caries from one evolutionary step to another. At the fish level was seen fear, learning, memory, parenting, caring for others, and seeking one another. Earlier, cooperation, communication and what appears to be a mysterious force of attraction.

In the long transition from amphibians to reptiles, parenting appeared to have a role. Now review the role of parenting in these steps to lactation, warm blooded, placenta developed, live birth started, and the newborn needed parental help to stay alive. Elaborate mating rituals involve color, sound, body movement. Mating and sex go together; research indicates animals enjoyed sex. Darwin: “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 gender attraction seen since genders appeared. Research shows the roots of empathy are embedded deeply in our evolved behaviors. Sharing and cooperation become broader. Death was understood.

The Evolution of Emotions

Let’s summarize. To begin, in an initial step, the male does not wait until the female eggs were in water. Instead, like those adventurous placoderms before them, the male fertilizes the eggs while they are inside the female. With internal fertilization step complete, all the ingredients needed to create an image of the parents were together inside the female.

Slowly but surely, the reproduction-in-water issue was solved as a remarkable egg, called amniote, evolved. An interesting story. Let’s set the scene:

  • As water sites got further and further apart, the female did not just drop the eggs anywhere; instead, held the eggs inside longer.
  • Amphibians had a kind of tissue surrounding the yolk in the egg. The extra internal time toughened that tissue. Soon, as the embryo grew, the tissue surrounded it, and closed.
  • As that happened, fluids maintaining life stayed inside the now-enclosed tissue.
  • As time passed, the egg shell itself got more and more resilient. Inside the shell, the embryo’s tissue was surrounded by a fluid which collected waste and passed on air to the embryo.
  • That last amphibian step, egg-to-tadpole-to-frog, now happened inside the tissue.

Imagine how much time that took for the mutation-natural selection sequence to cause the change. This happened only because 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.

That was the amniotic egg which led to reptiles – animals that did NOT need to stay near water. Now the females laid the eggs on land. Reptiles of today include turtles, crocodiles, lizards, and snakes. Some still need water nearby; others live in the desert. The process that yielded reptiles was complete about 300 million years ago.

As the time clock moves from 1.2 billion years ago to 300 million years ago, from the first appearance of gender to our ancestor reptiles walking on land, how has the evolution of emotions progressed? Start with these sort of background statements.

The most valid animal emotional behavior data is anecdotal. Accurate reports regarding the emotions and behaviors of animals must come from observing, without interruption, animal behavior in their natural environments. Unfortunately, science does not have much respect for such information. Mark Bekoff, arguably the most trusted name in the area of animal emotions, explains that much more clearly and eloquently.

One anecdote, of course, should not lead to a firm decision; two independent reports with similar results tend to be eye-openers, but when report after report after report have a consistent theme, respect is called for. This “emotion” section will lean heavily on information based on observation and anecdotes. Thankfully, there are many scientists pursuing this line of research.

In earliest posts, some kind of special attraction – a mysterious force – seemed to have an impact on all events. In terms of emotion, attraction and cooperation were already seen. Clearly communication existed as well as some behaviors one would associate with a brain. What additional emotion-based research can be found from 1.2 billion to 300 million years ago?

About a half million years ago, about the time sponges appeared, the ancestors of those cherished lobster dinners, crustaceans, appeared.   One crustacean, the hermit crab, actually has no shell of their own. Instead, they find and live in abandoned shells of others. Research searching for hermit crab emotions unearthed two surprising emotional developments this early. First, the hermit crab reacts to pain, and second, the hermit has enough memory to avoid pain. Emotions and memory.

A little later, before the bony fish appeared, those ferocious placoderms provide fossil evidence of internal fertilization. The author of this Scientific American article writes,“The paired pelvic fins in placoderms permitted the males to deposit sperm into the females. This eventually gave rise to the genitalia and legs of tetrapods. And jaws may have originally evolved to help male fish grab a hold of females and stabilize them during mating, only later taking on the role of food pro­cessing. Sex, it seems, really did change everything.” This certainly appears to confirm that force of attraction and reinforce that if some action is rewarding, that action will be sought again and again.

Fish appeared just a little later. In most cases, fish lay eggs to reproduce. The female lays them; male comes by and fertilizes. But this is not impersonal. In most cases, the male is with the female as the eggs laid, immediately fertilizing them. The fish displayed various forms of protecting their young, including building walls. Here the two genders are working together after fertilization, indicating some sort of bond that holds them together. Examples of fairly elaborate nests out of the reach of predators abound. Having the male and female at the same location is not necessary; but many species apparently enjoy (or something) being together at that time. Attraction. Parenting. Being together. Protecting both the born and unborn. Do not believe people who say this did not begin until mammals.

A device that scared fish was inserted in a fish tank, immediately swimming from the feared object to escape. Next time, they were shown a bright light 10 seconds before the scary insertion. Well, over time fish learned to avoid the fearful event by leaving when the light turned on. Then, seven days went by with no light, no fear. On the eighth day, the light turned on. The fish immediately swam to escaped. So, at this point in the evolutionary process, the fish brain demonstrated hearing, fear, learning, and memory.

Bony fish, from which amphibians evolved, are in our evolutionary line. In about 20% of the specie, one of the parents holds the fertilized egg in its mouth, protecting the eggs from danger while waiting for the fry to hatch. That takes about a week. The story continues: In one specie, the father stays with the fry. If danger is near, the father swims to the fry and takes them in his mouth, holding them until danger is gone. What is seen here certainly seems like parenting, already tucked in the brain of some fish.

Here is a new emotion, branching out a little further. Generally, guppy females seek a male with bright orange coloring. However, when a female sees other females mating with a male with non-orange coloring, she will copy that behavior to also seek a male of similar coloring. Culture, seeking to conform to the group, the female is NOT following her own genetic drive but is responding to the behavior of others, as in “Monkey see. Monkey do.” Living in groups creates a whole new set of responses in the brain. Notice that this behavior is connected to parenting (seeking a mate) but has reached beyond parenting.

The female lays eggs; the male fertilizes, sometimes using internal fertilization. Somehow, they most communicate. They appear to choose to stay close. Why? Was it rewarding or maybe just the expectation of a reward? The no-contact technique was more convenient and much safer. That just provides predators a target twice as big! Does it not seem that something else made them seek one another?

The earlier speculative “automatic response” seems to fit here AND seems to be taking on more specific meaning. Something like the “anticipation of satisfaction” certainly seems to be going on. Even now for humans, the anticipation of satisfaction is a common behavior motivation. Catch that: not an actual satisfactory experience but instead being drawn to one another by the expectation of satisfaction.

Remember, these behaviors impact the structure of the DNA and the brain. Genders cooperating to allow internal fertilization certainly seems linked to emotional responses, stretching further the role of expectation of satisfaction in the mating process. Randomness followed by natural selection certainly is true; but from this perspective, it looks like developing emotions are taking a far bigger role in this evolutionary process than science has been willing to accept.

A substantial reproductive change occurred in this step. Usually, the egg (laid in the water) contains a not-yet-fully-developed amphibian. The animal’s DNA , though, then guides the transition of the newly-born to a land-dwelling amphibian.